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By now, the grueling footwork that went into 's "Good Morning" scene is the stuff of legend.
The four-minute song-and-dance number featuring all three of the film's stars (Kelly, Reynolds, and Donald O'Connor) took 15 hours to get right.
When Alton moved on to choreograph One for the Money he hired Kelly to act, sing and dance in a total of eight routines.
His first career breakthrough was in the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Time of Your Life, which opened on November 11, 1939, where for the first time on Broadway he danced to his own choreography.
In 1940, he was given the leading role in Rodgers and Hart's Pal Joey, again choreographed by Robert Alton, and this role propelled him to stardom.
During its run he told reporters: "I don't believe in conformity to any school of dancing. While I am a hundred percent for ballet technique, I use only what I can adapt to my own use.
"He showed up on time and worked his little tail off," Kelly once said.
The fact that Reynolds could keep pace with her co-stars at all is remarkable.They both rebelled, and, according to Kelly:" We didn't like it much and were continually involved in fistfights with the neighborhood boys who called us sissies...I didn't dance again until I was fifteen." Kelly returned to dance on his own initiative and by then was an accomplished sportsman and well able to take care of himself. He enrolled in Pennsylvania State College to study journalism but the economic crash obliged him to seek employment to help with the family's finances.He began to focus increasingly on performing, later claiming: "With time I became disenchanted with teaching because the ratio of girls to boys was more than ten to one, and once the girls reached sixteen the dropout rate was very high." After a fruitless search, Kelly returned to Pittsburgh, to his first position as a choreographer with the Charles Gaynor musical revue Hold Your Hats at the Pittsburgh Playhouse in April, 1938.Kelly appeared in six of the sketches, one of which, "La Cumparsits," became the basis of an extended Spanish number in Anchors Aweigh eight years later.
"Gene always said, 'You choreograph to the woman,' so he choreographed to Debbie's capabilities.... It was the early 1950s, and I was an innocent kid who had never been French-kissed. I was stunned that this thirty-nine-year-old man would do this to me.' During dance rehearsals, she once ducked into one of MGM's rehearsal rooms and sat under a piano crying. If you're not sweating, you're not doing it right." Though it's reported that Reynolds eventually took a perspective of gratitude for everything Kelly had put her through, because it made her a better performer, the exacting director later admitted, "I wasn't very nice to Debbie.