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One of the best numbers in The Pirate came thanks to a suggestion by Gene Kelly.
The immensely talented Cole Porter lent his genius to the musical adaption, and Kelly had requested a special song – one for a clown.
While the idea had endless possibilities, Porter struggled with it, unable to work out something he liked.
However, Kelly’s continued enthusiasm sparked a creative surge, and Cole finally wrote what would become “Be a Clown.”
Kelly said, “Tears came to my eyes. That’s wonderful—so great.”
Producer Arthur Freed said, “It’s the best number Cole has ever written.”
The playful song added levity to the picture and also gave Kelly and Judy Garland a chance to dance together. After the release of The Pirate, the song had another life...
Years later, another Arthur Freed musical was in the works – Singin' in the Rain.
The team felt that Donald O’Connor needed a song that fit his energetic character, something like “Be a Clown.”
The answer to their problem became “Make ‘Em Laugh” written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
There was just one problem. "Make 'Em Laugh" was a little too similar to "Be a Clown."
As fate would have it, while the Singin' musical number was being rehearsed, Irving Berlin, one of Cole Porter’s close friends, stopped by the set. Upon hearing the song, he immediately recognized the basic melody and asked about it. Freed quickly changed the subject to avoid stating the obvious.
Singin’ co-director Stanley Donen said, “The song is 100 percent plagiarism, and partly, we are to blame. None of us had the courage to say to him, ‘It works for the number, but it’s a stolen song, Arthur.’”
Despite the immense similarities between the songs, both versions – and especially their performances – are enjoyable.