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The immensely talented Cole Porter lent his genius for the musical adaption of The Pirate. Interestingly, one of its best numbers came thanks to a suggestion by Gene Kelly.
Kelly asked Porter to write a clown song. However, Porter struggled with the number, though he finally did come up with something.
Kelly’s enthusiasm for it sparked a creative surge, and Cole filled out the song which 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.”
Years later, when another Arthur Freed musical was in the works, this song came back up.
While working on 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.
Singin’ Co-director Stanley Donen said, “[The song] is 100 per cent 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.’”
As fate would have it, while the musical number was being, Irving Berlin, one of Cole Porter’s close friends, stopped by the set. Upon hearing the song, he immediately recognized the similarity, and Freed changed the subject quickly.
Despite the immense similarities between the songs, both versions – and especially their performances – are enjoyable.