The Singin' In The Rain Scene Put Donald O'Connor In Bed For Three Days

The late Andy Kaufman used to refer to himself as a "song and dance man" whenever people tried to label him a comedian (via Society of Rock). However, the art of song and dance had its pioneers long before Kaufman ever stepped up before a crowd. According to Britannica, Donald O'Connor ("Singin' in the Rain") was "reportedly able to dance before he could stand up straight, to sing before he developed a vocabulary, and to play several musical instruments before he learned to read music." True, O'Connor hailed from a family of vaudeville performers who traversed the country as an exhibitionist troupe, but Donald seemed to have a penchant for the performing arts that transcended what one is able to learn through the application of mere instruction. He was born for it. 

"It's so wonderful... if your whole day is rotten, once they start the music, it seems to melt away," the actor once said (per Brainy Quote). His optimism and grandeur were unparalleled, but even the sunniest characters among us have their rainy days from time to time. According to IMDb, O'Connor was bedridden for three days after one particular sequence in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952) knocked him off his dancing shoes. 

Make 'Em Laugh left Donald O'Connor bedridden

If you've ever seen "Singin' in the Rain," you probably remember Donald O'Connor's astonishing execution of "Make 'Em Laugh" where his singing and dancing abilities culminate in a superb performance that invokes both slapstick physical antics and regimented choreography. The sequence features O'Connor as the prime subject with very few auxiliary performers contributing to the spectacle. He is the only one actually dancing in the scene, so the task of amusing the audience essentially fell solely upon him. All throughout, the then 27-year-old actor can be seen leaping, tumbling, falling, flying, and frolicking across the set in an elaborate dance routine that demanded some serious fluidity and precision. All the while, O'Connor frantically belts his heart out, delivering a supercharged ditty without missing a single note. Moreover, the scene was captured in a single take. 

Apparently, the scene was so physically distressing for the actor, he retired to a hospital bed for three whole days in order to recover from it (via IMDb). It's rather ironic that the "Make 'Em Laugh" sequence begins with O'Connor declaring that "you can't let a little thing like this get you down" to fellow actor Gene Kelly. While it certainly got him down in real life, he was back at it after the three days of rest had restored him to proper health. All the same, the show indeed must go on (he also says this in the iconic "Make 'Em Laugh" scene). 

Donald O'Connor was smoking four packs of cigarettes a day

"I was smoking four packs of cigarettes a day then, and getting up those walls was murder," O'Connor said while reflecting upon the scene and its staggering effect upon him. "They had to bank one wall so I could make it up and then through another wall. We filmed that whole sequence in one day. My body just had to absorb this tremendous shock. I came back on the set three days later." The actor's lungs were hardly suited for the endurance that "Make 'Em Laugh" required. He somehow managed to pull it off, though not without a degree of minor consequence (per IMDb).

Nevertheless, Donald O'Connor's sacrifice for "Make 'Em Laugh" turned out to be warranted. The late Roger Ebert once deemed it "one of the most amazing dance sequences ever filmed," and — true to form — also described it as "breathtaking."

O'Connor had to redo the scene because of a mistake

Because of a camera flaw where the aperture wasn't properly prepared and the device's lens was covered in fog at one point, Donald O'Connor was made to perform "Make 'Em Laugh" again a day after his first flawless execution of it. "Gene said, 'Do you think you could do that number again?" O'Connor recalled. "I said, 'Sure, any time.' He said, 'Well, we're going to have to do it again tomorrow." Maybe he spoke too soon, despite his apparent readiness and enthusiasm to pull off the bit (via IMDb). 

Had he only been required to do it once, perhaps the actor wouldn't have suffered notable rug burns and severe exhaustion that confined him to a hospital bed for three days (per IMDb). In any case, O'Connor's execution of "Make 'Em Laugh" and overall contribution to "Singin' in the Rain" as a whole distinguished him as one of the greatest physical comedians and performers of the past century.