These last days of December have been a long obituary session, in between Franca Sozzani, George Michael, Carrie Fisher and now Debbie Reynolds. The star died yesterday at 84 from a severe stroke, one day after daughter Carrie Fisher.
Born Mary Frances Reynolds in El Paso, Texas, in 1932 the actress flourished after her contract with MGM. Fame arrived when, at 19, she co-starred with Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen in the musical Singin' in the Rain.
She went on to star in a lot of film musicals, including I Love Melvin (1953), The Affairs of Dobie Gillis, Give a Girl a Break (both 1953), Susan Slept Here, Athena (both 1954), Hit the Deck and The Tender Trap (both 1955).
She continued her career in film until she was in her thirties, becoming a cabaret performer, appearing mainly in Las Vegas and then turning her interest on television.
She returned to the big screen in the '90s, whe she also bought a hotel and casino in Las Vegas, displaying part of her extensive collection of vintage Hollywood props, sets and costumes. Her museum relocated in the resort city of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, but her collection – including more than 3,500 costumes, 20,000 photographs, and thousands of movie posters, costume sketches, and props (such as Charlie Chaplin's bowler hat and Marilyn Monroe's white "subway dress" from The Seven Year Itch) - was auctioned off when the museum filed for bankruptcy in 2009.
It is worth rewatching Singin' in the Rain since this was the first film in which Reynolds had a prominent role (at the time she was an inexperienced performer and struggled to keep up to pace with Kelly's impressive dancing routines).
The film, with its scene featuring Gene Kelly euphorically dancing in the rain while the lights magically turn the drops of water into silvery ribbons, was an ode to optimism (and who doesn't need a healthy dose of it at the moment?), and fashionistas with a passion for costumes will remember that it includes costumes by Walter Plunkett (hair styles by Sydney Guilaroff and make up by William Tuttle).
For the occasion Plunkett, who loved the realism of history, conjured up the flapper period. In the film Reynolds's performs a number in which she sings "All I Do Is Dream of You" with other chorus girls all dressed in a pink satin shortie accented with a gold braid forming a basket on one side that contained sweets and candies. The costume was accessorized with a close fitting cloche hat.
Reynolds then dances with Kelly and O'Connor in the "Good Mornin'" number wearing a simple yet striking design with stripes of color across the bodice; when she duets with Kelly on "You Were Meant For Me" (with coloured lights and a wind machine to create a fake atmosphere...) she wears a diaphonous violet flapper dress with a capelet and matching shoes with bows. But there are plenty of flapper inspirations in the rest of the film, like the green foliage dress, so simple yet quite modern and poetical as well.
Plunkett created pieces that rivaled the work of Travis Banton and Adrian and he's best known for Gone with the Wind, though he designed for many other movies, including Million Dollar Mermaid (1952) and Forbidden Planet (1956). But, for the time being, grab your copy of Singin' in the Rain and enjoy it.