Gene Kelly

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Gene Kelly
Gene kelly.jpg
Kelly in 1943
Born Eugene Curran Kelly
(1912-08-23)August 23, 1912
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died February 2, 1996(1996-02-02) (aged 83)
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
Citizenship American (Irish citizenship granted late in life)[1]
Education Peabody High School
Alma mater University of Pittsburgh
Occupation Dancer, choreographer, director, actor, singer, producer
Years active 1938–1994
Known for
Political party Democratic
Children 3

Eugene Curran Kelly (August 23, 1912 – February 2, 1996) was an American dancer, actor of film, stage, and television, singer, film director, producer, and choreographer. He was known for his energetic and athletic dancing style, his good looks, and the likable characters that he played on screen.

Best known today for his performances in films such as An American in Paris (1951), Anchors Aweigh (1945)— for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor—and Singin' in the Rain (1952), he starred in musical films until they fell out of fashion in the late 1950s. He starred in, choreographed, and/or directed some of the most well-regarded musicals of the 1940s and 1950s, debuting with Judy Garland in For Me and My Gal (1942), and followed by Du Barry Was a Lady (1943), Thousands Cheer (1943), The Pirate (1948), On the Town (1949), and It's Always Fair Weather (1955), among others. In his later career, he starred in two films outside the musical genre: Inherit the Wind (1960) and What a Way to Go! (1964).[2] Throughout his career he also directed films (some of which he starred in), most notably the 1969 film Hello, Dolly!,[3][4][5] which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.[6][7]

His many innovations transformed the Hollywood musical, and he is credited with almost single-handedly making the ballet form commercially acceptable to film audiences.[8]

Kelly received an Academy Honorary Award in 1952 for his career achievements, the same year An American in Paris won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. He later received lifetime achievement awards in the Kennedy Center Honors (1982), and from the Screen Actors Guild and American Film Institute. In 1999, the American Film Institute also numbered him 15th in their Greatest Male Stars of Classic Hollywood cinema list.

Early life[edit]

Kelly's senior picture from the 1933 yearbook of the University of Pittsburgh

Kelly was born in the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh. He was the third son of James Patrick Joseph Kelly, a phonograph salesman, and his wife, Harriet Catherine Curran.[9] His father was born in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, to an Irish Canadian family. His maternal grandfather was an immigrant from Derry, Ireland (now Northern Ireland), and his maternal grandmother was of German ancestry.[10] When he was 8, Kelly's mother enrolled him and his brother James in dance classes. As Kelly recalled, they both rebelled: "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 15." [11] At one time his childhood dream was to play shortstop for the hometown Pittsburgh Pirates.[12] By the time he decided to dance, he was an accomplished sportsman and able to defend himself. He attended St. Raphael Elementary School[13] in the Morningside neighborhood of Pittsburgh and graduated from Peabody High School at age 16. He entered Pennsylvania State College as a journalism major, but the 1929 crash forced him to work to help his family. He created dance routines with his younger brother Fred to earn prize money in local talent contests. They also performed in local nightclubs.[11]

In 1931, Kelly enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh to study economics, joining the Phi Kappa Theta fraternity.[14] He became involved in the university's Cap and Gown Club, which staged original musical productions.[15] After graduating in 1933, he continued to be active with the Cap and Gown Club, serving as the director from 1934 to 1938. Kelly was admitted to the University of Pittsburgh Law School.[16]

His family opened a dance studio in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. In 1932 they renamed it The Gene Kelly Studio of the Dance and opened a second location in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1933. Kelly served as a teacher at the studio during his undergraduate and law student years at Pitt. In 1931 he was approached by the Beth Shalom Synagogue in Pittsburgh to teach dance, and to stage the annual Kermesse. The venture proved a success, Kelly being retained for seven years until his departure for New York.[17]

Kelly eventually decided to pursue a career as a dance teacher and full-time entertainer, so he dropped out of law school after two months. He increased his focus on performing and later claimed: "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 16 the dropout rate was very high."[11] In 1937, having successfully managed and developed the family's dance school business, he finally did move to New York City in search of work as a choreographer.[11] Kelly returned to Pittsburgh, to his family home at 7514 Kensington Street by 1940, and worked as a theatrical actor.[18]

Stage career[edit]

After a fruitless search for work in New York, 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 cumparsita, became the basis of an extended Spanish number in the film Anchors Aweigh eight years later.

His first Broadway assignment, in November 1938, was as a dancer in Cole Porter's Leave It to Me!—as the American ambassador's secretary who supports Mary Martin while she sings My Heart Belongs to Daddy. He had been hired by Robert Alton, who had staged a show at the Pittsburgh Playhouse where he was impressed by Kelly's teaching skills. When Alton moved on to choreograph One for the Money he hired Kelly to act, sing, and dance in eight routines. In 1939 he was selected for a musical revue, One for the Money, produced by the actress Katharine Cornell, who was known for finding and hiring talented young actors.

Kelly's first big breakthrough was in the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Time of Your Life, which opened on October 25, 1939—in which, for the first time on Broadway, he danced to his own choreography. In the same year, he received his first assignment as a Broadway choreographer, for Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe. He began dating a cast member, Betsy Blair, and they got married on October 16, 1941.

In 1940, he got the lead role in Rodgers and Hart's Pal Joey, again choreographed by Robert Alton. This role propelled him to stardom. During its run he told reporters: "I don't believe in conformity to any school of dancing. I create what the drama and the music demand. While I am a hundred percent for ballet technique, I use only what I can adapt to my own use. I never let technique get in the way of mood or continuity."[11] His colleagues at this time noticed his great commitment to rehearsal and hard work. Van Johnson—who also appeared in Pal Joey—recalled: "I watched him rehearsing, and it seemed to me that there was no possible room for improvement. Yet he wasn't satisfied. It was midnight and we had been rehearsing since 8 in the morning. I was making my way sleepily down the long flight of stairs when I heard staccato steps coming from the stage.... I could see just a single lamp burning. Under it, a figure was dancing...Gene."[11]

Offers from Hollywood began to arrive, but Kelly was in no hurry to leave New York. Eventually, he signed with David O. Selznick, agreeing to go to Hollywood at the end of his commitment to Pal Joey, in October 1941. Prior to his contract, he also managed to fit in choreographing the stage production of Best Foot Forward.[citation needed]

Film career[edit]

1941–45: Becoming established in Hollywood[edit]

Gene Kelly dances with Jerry of Tom and Jerry in Anchors Aweigh (1945), an iconic performance which changed at least one critic's opinion of Kelly's skills.

Selznick sold half of Kelly's contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for his first motion picture: For Me and My Gal (1942) starring box-office champion Judy Garland. Kelly claimed to be "appalled at the sight of myself blown up twenty times. I had an awful feeling that I was a tremendous flop." For Me and My Gal performed very well and, in the face of much internal resistance, Arthur Freed of MGM picked up the other half of Kelly's contract.[11] After appearing in a cheap B-movie drama, Pilot No. 5 (1943) and in Christmas Holiday (1944), he took the male lead in Cole Porter's Du Barry Was a Lady (1943) with Lucille Ball (in a part originally intended for Ann Sothern). His first opportunity to dance to his own choreography came in his next picture, Thousands Cheer (1943), where he performed a mock-love dance with a mop.

He achieved a significant breakthrough as a dancer on film when MGM loaned him to Columbia to work with Rita Hayworth in Cover Girl (1944), a film that foreshadowed the best of his future work.[19] He created a memorable routine dancing to his own reflection. Despite this, noted critic Manny Farber was moved to praise Kelly's "attitude," "clarity," and "feeling" as an actor while inauspiciously concluding, "The two things he does least well—singing and dancing—are what he is given most consistently to do."[20] At the end of 1944, Kelly enlisted in the U.S. Naval Air Service and was commissioned as lieutenant, junior grade. He was stationed in the Photographic Section, Washington D.C., where he was involved in writing and directing a range of documentaries, and this stimulated his interest in the production side of filmmaking.[14][21]

In Kelly's next film, Anchors Aweigh (1945), MGM gave him a free hand to devise a range of dance routines, including his duets with co-star Frank Sinatra and the celebrated animated dance with Jerry Mouse—the animation for which was supervised by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. That iconic performance was enough for Farber to completely reverse his previous assessment of Kelly's skills. Reviewing the film, Farber enthused, "Kelly is the most exciting dancer to appear in Hollywood movies."[22] Anchors Aweigh became one of the most successful films of 1945 and Kelly was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor. In Ziegfeld Follies (1946)—which was produced in 1944 but not released until 1946—Kelly collaborated with Fred Astaire, for whom he had the greatest admiration, in the famous "The Babbitt and the Bromide" challenge dance routine.

1946–52: MGM[edit]

After Kelly returned to Hollywood in 1946, MGM had nothing planned and used him in a routine, black-and-white movie: Living in a Big Way. The film was considered so weak that the studio asked Kelly to design and insert a series of dance routines; they noticed his ability to carry out such assignments. This led to a lead part in his next picture, with Judy Garland and director Vincente Minnelli— a musical film version of S.N. Behrman's play, The Pirate, with songs by Cole Porter, in which Kelly plays the lead opposite Judy Garland. The Pirate gave full rein to Kelly's athleticism. It is also notable for Kelly's work with The Nicholas Brothers – the leading black dancers of their day – in a virtuoso dance routine. Now regarded as a classic, the film was ahead of its time but flopped at the box-office.

Leslie Caron and Kelly in the trailer for An American in Paris (1951)

MGM wanted Kelly to return to safer and more commercial vehicles, but he ceaselessly fought for an opportunity to direct his own musical film. In the interim, he capitalized on his swashbuckling image as d'Artagnan in The Three Musketeers—and also appeared with Vera-Ellen in the Slaughter on Tenth Avenue ballet in Words and Music (1948). He was due to play the male lead opposite Garland in Easter Parade (1948), but broke his ankle playing volleyball. He withdrew from the film and convinced Fred Astaire to come out of retirement to replace him.[23] There followed Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949), his second film with Sinatra, where Kelly paid tribute to his Irish heritage in The Hat My Father Wore on St. Patrick's Day routine. This musical film persuaded Arthur Freed to have Kelly make On the Town, in which he partnered with Frank Sinatra for the third and final time. A breakthrough in the musical film genre, it has been described as "the most inventive and effervescent musical thus far produced in Hollywood."[11]

Stanley Donen, brought to Hollywood by Kelly to be his assistant choreographer, received co-director credit for On the Town. According to Kelly: "...when you are involved in doing choreography for film you must have expert assistants. I needed one to watch my performance, and one to work with the cameraman on the timing...without such people as Stanley, Carol Haney and Jeanne Coyne I could never have done these things. When we came to do On the Town, I knew it was time for Stanley to get screen credit because we weren't boss–assistant anymore but co-creators."[11][24] Together, they opened up the musical form, taking the film musical out of the studio and into real locations, with Donen taking responsibility for the staging and Kelly handling the choreography. Kelly went much further than before in introducing modern ballet into his dance sequences, going so far in the "Day in New York" routine as to substitute four leading ballet specialists for Sinatra, Munshin, Garrett and Miller.[14]

Kelly asked the studio for a straight acting role and he took the lead role in the early mafia melodrama Black Hand (1950). This exposé of organized crime is set in New York's "Little Italy" during late 19th century and focuses on the Black Hand, a group that extorts money upon threat of death. In real-life incidents upon which this film is based, it was the Mafia, not the Black Hand, who functioned as the villain. Even in 1950, however, Hollywood had to tread gingerly whenever dealing with big-time crime, it being safer to go after a "dead" criminal organization than a "live" one. There followed Summer Stock (1950)—Garland's last musical film for MGM—in which Kelly performed the celebrated "You, You Wonderful You" solo routine with a newspaper and a squeaky floorboard. In his book "Easy the Hard Way," Joe Pasternak, head of one of the other musical units within MGM, singled out Kelly for his patience and willingness to spend as much time as necessary to enable the ailing Garland to complete her part.[11]

There followed in quick succession two musicals that secured Kelly's reputation as a major figure in the American musical film. First, An American in Paris in 1951 and—probably the most popular and admired of all film musicals—Singin' in the Rain in 1952. As co-director, lead star, and choreographer, Kelly was the central driving force in both of these films. Johnny Green, the head of music at MGM at the time, said of him,

Gene is easygoing as long as you know exactly what you are doing when you're working with him. He's a hard taskmaster and he loves hard work. If you want to play on his team you'd better like hard work, too. He isn't cruel but he is tough, and if Gene believed in something he didn't care who he was talking to, whether it was Louis B. Mayer or the gatekeeper. He wasn't awed by anybody, and he had a good record of getting what he wanted.[11]

An American in Paris won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The film also marked the debut of nineteen-year-old ballerina Leslie Caron, whom Kelly had spotted in Paris and brought to Hollywood. Its dream ballet sequence, lasting an unprecedented seventeen minutes, was the most expensive production number ever filmed at that time. Bosley Crowther described it as, "...whoop-de-doo ... one of the finest ever put on the screen."[14] Also in 1951, Kelly received an honorary Academy Award for his contribution to film musicals and the art of choreography.

Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly from a lobby card for Singin' in the Rain

The following year, Singin' in the Rain featured Kelly's celebrated and much imitated solo dance routine to the title song, along with the "Moses Supposes" routine with Donald O'Connor and the "Broadway Melody" finale with Cyd Charisse. Though the film did not initially generate the same enthusiasm as An American in Paris had produced, it has subsequently overtaken the earlier film to occupy its current preeminent place among critics and filmgoers alike.[25]

1953–57: The decline of the Hollywood musical[edit]

At the peak of his creative powers, Kelly made what in retrospect some see as a mistake.[14] In December 1951, he signed a contract with MGM that sent him to Europe for 19 months to use MGM funds frozen in Europe to make three pictures while personally benefiting from tax exemptions. Only one of these pictures was a musical, Invitation to the Dance, a pet project of Kelly's to bring modern ballet to mainstream film audiences. It was beset with delays and technical problems, and flopped when finally released in 1956.

Michael Kidd, Kelly, and Dan Dailey in It's Always Fair Weather (1955), directed by Kelly and Stanley Donen, their last collaboration

When Kelly returned to Hollywood in 1953, the film musical was already beginning to feel the pressures from television, and MGM cut the budget for his next picture Brigadoon (1954), with Cyd Charisse, forcing him to make the film on studio back lots instead of on location in Scotland. This year also saw him appear as guest star with his brother Fred in the celebrated I Love to Go Swimmin' with Wimmen routine in Deep in My Heart. MGM's refusal to lend him out for Guys and Dolls and Pal Joey put further strains on his relationship with the studio. He negotiated an exit to his contract that involved making three further pictures for MGM. The first of these, It's Always Fair Weather (1956), co-directed with Donen, was a musical satire on television and advertising, and includes his famous roller skate dance routine to I Like Myself, and a dance trio with Michael Kidd and Dan Dailey that Kelly used to experiment with the widescreen possibilities of Cinemascope. MGM had lost faith in Kelly's box-office appeal, and as a result It's Always Fair Weather "premiered" at 17 drive-in theatres around the Los Angeles metroplex. Next followed Kelly's last musical film for MGM, Les Girls (1957), in which he partnered a trio of leading ladies, Mitzi Gaynor, Kay Kendall, and Taina Elg. It too sold few movie tickets. The third picture he completed was a co-production between MGM and himself, a cheapie B-film, The Happy Road, set in his beloved France, his first foray in a new role as producer-director-actor. After leaving MGM, Kelly returned to stage work.

1958–96: After MGM[edit]

In 1958, Kelly directed Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical play Flower Drum Song.[26] Early in 1960, Kelly, an ardent Francophile and fluent French speaker, was invited by A. M. Julien, the general administrator of the Paris Opéra and Opéra-Comique,[11] to select his own material and create a modern ballet for the company, the first time an American had received such an assignment. The result was Pas de Dieux, based on Greek mythology, combined with the music of George Gershwin's Concerto in F. It was a major success, and led to his being honored with the Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur by the French Government.

Kelly as Hornbeck in Inherit the Wind

Kelly continued to make some film appearances, such as Hornbeck in the 1960 Hollywood production of Inherit the Wind. However, most of his efforts were now concentrated on film production and directing. In 1962 he directed Jackie Gleason in Gigot in Paris, but the film was drastically re-cut by Seven Arts Productions and flopped.[14] Another French effort, Jacques Demy's homage to the MGM musical, Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967), in which Kelly appeared, was popular in France and nominated for Academy Awards for Best Music and Score of a Musical Picture (Original or Adaptation), but performed poorly elsewhere. He appeared as himself in George Cukor's Let's Make Love (1960).

He was asked to direct the film version of The Sound of Music, which had been previously turned down by Stanley Donen. He escorted Ernest Lehman out of his house, saying "Go find someone else to direct this piece of shit."[27]

His first foray into television was a documentary for NBC's Omnibus, Dancing is a Man's Game (1958), where he assembled a group of America's greatest sportsmen—including Mickey Mantle, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Bob Cousy—and reinterpreted their moves choreographically, as part of his lifelong quest to remove the effeminate stereotype of the art of dance, while articulating the philosophy behind his dance style.[14] It gained an Emmy nomination for choreography and now stands as the key document explaining Kelly's approach to modern dance.

Kelly appeared frequently on television shows during the 1960s, including Going My Way, which was based on the 1944 film of the same name. It enjoyed great popularity in Roman Catholic countries outside the U.S.[14] He also appeared in three major TV specials: The Julie Andrews Show (1965), New York, New York (1966), and Jack and the Beanstalk (1967)—a show he produced and directed that again combined cartoon animation and live dance, winning him an Emmy Award for Outstanding Children's Program.

In 1963, Kelly joined Universal Pictures for a two-year stint. He joined 20th Century Fox in 1965, but had little to do—partly due to his decision to decline assignments away from Los Angeles for family reasons. His perseverance finally paid off, with the major box-office hit A Guide for the Married Man (1967) where he directed Walter Matthau. Then, a major opportunity arose when Fox—buoyed by the returns from The Sound of Music (1965)—commissioned Kelly to direct Hello, Dolly! (1969), again directing Matthau along with Barbra Streisand. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards and won three.

In 1970, he made another television special: Gene Kelly and 50 Girls and was invited to bring the show to Las Vegas, Nevada—which he did for an eight-week stint on the condition he be paid more than any artist had ever been paid there.[14] He directed veteran actors James Stewart and Henry Fonda in the comedy western The Cheyenne Social Club (1970), which performed poorly at the box office. In 1973 he worked again with Frank Sinatra as part of Sinatra's Emmy nominated TV special, Magnavox Presents Frank Sinatra. Then, in 1974, he appeared as one of many special narrators in the surprise hit of the year That's Entertainment!. He subsequently directed and co-starred with his friend Fred Astaire in the sequel That's Entertainment, Part II (1976). It was a measure of his powers of persuasion that he managed to coax the 77-year-old Astaire—who had insisted that his contract rule out any dancing, having long since retired—into performing a series of song and dance duets, evoking a powerful nostalgia for the glory days of the American musical film.

In 1977, Kelly starred in the poorly received action film Viva Knievel!, with the popular stuntman, Evel Knievel. Kelly continued to make frequent TV appearances. His final film role was in Xanadu (1980), an expensive theatrical flop that has since attained a cult following.[14] In Kelly's opinion, "The concept was marvelous but it just didn't come off."[11] In the same year, he was invited by Francis Ford Coppola to recruit a production staff for American Zoetrope's One from the Heart (1982). Although Coppola's ambition was for him to establish a production unit to rival the Freed Unit at MGM, the film's failure put an end to this idea.[14] In 1985 Kelly served as executive producer and co-host of That's Dancing!, a celebration of the history of dance in the American musical. Kelly's final on-screen appearance was to introduce That's Entertainment! III. His final film project was in 1994 for the animated film Cats Don't Dance, released in 1997 and dedicated to him, on which Kelly acted as an uncredited choreographic consultant.

Working methods and influence on filmed dance[edit]

When he began his collaborative film work, he was influenced by Robert Alton and John Murray Anderson, striving to create moods and character insight with his dances. He choreographed his own movement, along with that of the ensemble, with the assistance of Jeanne Coyne, Stanley Donen, Carol Haney and Alex Romero.[8] He experimented with lighting, camera techniques and special effects in order to achieve true integration of dance with film, and was one of the first to use split screens, double images, live action with animation and is credited as the person who made the ballet form commercially acceptable to film audiences.[8]

There was a clear progression in his development, from an early concentration on tap and musical comedy style to greater complexity using ballet and modern dance forms.[28] Kelly himself refused to categorize his style: "I don't have a name for my style of dancing.... It's certainly hybrid...I've borrowed from the modern dance, from the classical, and certainly from the American folk dance—tap-dancing, jitterbugging.... But I have tried to develop a style which is indigenous to the environment in which I was reared."[28] He especially acknowledged the influence of George M. Cohan: "I have a lot of Cohan in me. It's an Irish quality, a jaw-jutting, up-on-the-toes cockiness—which is a good quality for a male dancer to have."[11] He was also heavily influenced by an African American dancer, Robert Dotson, whom he saw perform at Loew's Penn Theatre around 1929. He was briefly taught by Frank Harrington, an African American tap specialist from New York.[29] However, his main interest was in ballet, which he studied under Kotchetovsky in the early Thirties. As biographer Clive Hirschhorn explains: "As a child he used to run for miles through parks and streets and woods—anywhere, just as long as he could feel the wind against his body and through his hair. Ballet gave him the same feeling of exhilaration, and in 1933 he was convinced it was the most satisfying form of self-expression."[14] He also studied Spanish dancing under Angel Cansino, Rita Hayworth's uncle.[14] Generally speaking, he tended to use tap and other popular dance idioms to express joy and exuberance – as in the title song from Singin' in the Rain or "I Got Rhythm" from An American in Paris, whereas pensive or romantic feelings were more often expressed via ballet or modern dance, as in "Heather on the Hill" from Brigadoon or "Our Love Is Here to Stay" from An American in Paris.[28]

Kelly in rehearsal with Sugar Ray Robinson and assistant Jeanne Coyne in the NBC Omnibus television special Dancing is a Man's Game (1958)

According to Delamater, Kelly's work "seems to represent the fulfillment of dance-film integration in the 1940s and 1950s". While Fred Astaire had revolutionized the filming of dance in the 1930s by insisting on full-figure photography of dancers while allowing only a modest degree of camera movement, Kelly freed up the camera, making greater use of space, camera movement, camera angles and editing, creating a partnership between dance movement and camera movement without sacrificing full-figure framing. Kelly's reasoning behind this was that he felt the kinetic force of live dance often evaporated when brought to film, and he sought to partially overcome this by involving the camera in movement and giving the dancer a greater number of directions in which to move. Examples of this abound in Kelly's work and are well illustrated in the "Prehistoric Man" sequence from On the Town and "The Hat My Father Wore on St. Patrick's Day" from Take Me Out to the Ball Game.[28] In 1951, he summed up his vision as follows: "If the camera is to make a contribution at all to dance, this must be the focal point of its contribution; the fluid background, giving each spectator an undistorted and altogether similar view of dancer and background. To accomplish this, the camera is made fluid, moving with the dancer, so that the lens becomes the eye of the spectator, your eye".[8]

Kelly's athleticism gave his moves a distinctive broad, muscular quality,[28] and this was a very deliberate choice on his part, as he explained: "There's a strong link between sports and dancing, and my own dancing springs from my early days as an athlete.... I think dancing is a man's game and if he does it well he does it better than a woman."[11] He railed against what he saw as the widespread effeminacy in male dancing which, in his opinion, "tragically" stigmatized the genre, alienating boys from entering the field: "Dancing does attract effeminate young men. I don't object to that as long as they don't dance effeminately. I just say that if a man dances effeminately he dances badly — just as if a woman comes out on stage and starts to sing bass. Unfortunately, people confuse gracefulness with softness. John Wayne is a graceful man and so are some of the great ball players...but, of course, they don't run the risk of being called sissies."[11] In his view, "one of our problems is that so much dancing is taught by women. You can spot many male dancers who have this tuition by their arm movements—they are soft, limp, and feminine."[11] He acknowledged that, in spite of his efforts—in TV programs such as Dancing: A Man's Game (1958) for example—the situation changed little over the years.[11]

He also sought to break from the class-conscious conventions of the 1930s and early 40s, when top hat and tails or tuxedos were the norm, by dancing in casual or everyday work clothes, so as to make his dancing more relevant to the cinema-going public. As his first wife, actress and dancer Betsy Blair explained: "A sailor suit or his white socks and loafers, or the T-shirts on his muscular torso, gave everyone the feeling that he was a regular guy, and perhaps they too could express love and joy by dancing in the street or stomping through puddles...he democratized the dance in movies."[30] In particular, he wanted to create a completely different image from that associated with Fred Astaire, not least because he believed his physique didn't suit such refined elegance: "I used to envy his cool aristocratic style, so intimate and contained. Fred wears top hat and tails to the Manor born—I put them on and look like a truck driver."[11]

Personal life[edit]


Kelly, photographed by Allan Warren, in 1986

Kelly married three times. His first marriage was to the actress Betsy Blair in 1941. They had one child, Kerry (b. 1942), and divorced in April 1957.[31]

In 1960, Kelly married his choreographic assistant Jeanne Coyne, who had previously been married to Stanley Donen between 1948 and 1951. Kelly and Coyne had two children, Timothy (b. 1962) and Bridget (b. 1964). This marriage lasted until Coyne's death in 1973.

Kelly married Patricia Ward in 1990. Their marriage lasted for six years until his death.[32]

Political and religious views[edit]

Kelly was a lifelong supporter of the Democratic Party. His period of greatest prominence coincided with the McCarthy era in the U.S. In 1947, he was part of the Committee for the First Amendment, the Hollywood delegation that flew to Washington to protest at the first official hearings by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. His first wife, Betsy Blair, was suspected of being a communist sympathizer, and when United Artists, who had offered Blair a part in Marty (1955), were considering withdrawing her under pressure from the American Legion, Kelly successfully threatened MGM's influence on United Artists with a pullout from It's Always Fair Weather unless his wife was restored to the part.[14][33] He used his position on the board of directors of the Writers Guild of America West on a number of occasions to mediate disputes between unions and the Hollywood studios.

He was raised as a Roman Catholic, and he was a member of the Good Shepherd Parish and the Catholic Motion Picture Guild in Beverly Hills, California.[34] However, after becoming disenchanted by the Roman Catholic Church's support for Francisco Franco against the Second Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War,[35] he officially severed his ties with the church in September 1939. This separation was prompted, in part, by a trip Kelly made to Mexico in which he became convinced that the Church had failed to help the poor in that country.[35] After his departure from the Catholic Church, Kelly became an agnostic, as he had previously described himself.[36]

He retained a lifelong passion for sports and relished competition. He was known as a big fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Yankees.[citation needed] From the mid-1940s through the early 1950s, he and Blair organized weekly parties at their Beverly Hills home, and they often played an intensely competitive and physical version of charades, known as "The Game".[33]

His papers are currently housed at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University.

Kelly was an accomplished French speaker :

Late in life, Kelly was awarded Irish citizenship under Ireland's Citizenship by Foreign Birth program. The application was initiated on his behalf by his wife Patricia Ward Kelly.[37]

Illness and death[edit]

Kelly's health declined steadily in the late 1980s. In July 1994, he suffered a stroke and stayed in a hospital for seven weeks. In early 1995, he had another stroke in Beverly Hills. Kelly died on February 2, 1996. His body was cremated, without funeral or memorial services.[38]

Awards and honors[edit]

Plaque honoring Gene Kelly at his alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh


  • 1999 – Anatomy of a dancer, directed by Robert Trachtenberg, PBS, 2002.
  • 2013 – Gene Kelly, to live and dance, by Bertrand Tessier, France 5, 2017.

Musical films[edit]

Kelly appeared as actor and dancer in the following musical films. He always choreographed his own dance routines and often the dance routines of others and used assistants. As was the practice at the time, he was rarely formally credited in the film titles:[8]

Year Title Role Notes
1942 For Me and My Gal Harry Palmer
1943 DuBarry Was a Lady Alec Howe/Black Arrow
1943 Thousands Cheer Private Eddie Marsh
1944 Cover Girl Danny McGuire
1945 Anchors Aweigh Joseph Brady Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actor
1945 Ziegfeld Follies Gentleman in 'The
Babbit and the Bromide'
1947 Living in a Big Way Leo Gogarty
1948 The Pirate Serafin
1948 The Three Musketeers D'Artagnan
1948 Words and Music Himself
1949 Take Me Out to the Ball Game Eddie O'Brien
1949 On the Town Gabey
1950 Summer Stock Joe D. Ross
1951 An American in Paris Jerry Mulligan Nominated — Golden Globe for Best
Actor in a Musical
1952 Singin' in the Rain Don Lockwood
1954 Brigadoon Tommy Albright
1954 Deep in My Heart Specialty in 'Dancing Around'
1955 It's Always Fair Weather Ted Riley Mr. Kelly simply went to the local
(Beverly Hills) hardware store and
bought clamp-on skates "off of the shelf."
1956 Invitation to the Dance Host/Pierrot/The Marine/Sinbad
1957 Les Girls Barry Nichols
1958 Marjorie Morningstar Noel Airman
1960 Let's Make Love Himself
1964 What a Way to Go! Pinky Benson
1967 Les Demoiselles de Rochefort Andy Miller
1974 That's Entertainment! Himself Also archive footage
1976 That's Entertainment, Part II Himself Also archive footage
1980 Xanadu Danny McGuire
1994 That's Entertainment, Part III Himself Also archive footage


Date Production Role Notes
November 9, 1938 – July 15, 1939 Leave It to Me! Secretary to Mr. Goodhue Was also a chorus boy in this production, backing Mary Martin in her famous number "My Heart Belongs To Daddy"
February 4, 1939 – May 27, 1939 One for the Money various roles
October 25, 1939 – April 6, 1940 The Time of Your Life Harry
September 23, 1940 – October 19, 1940 The Time of Your Life Harry
December 25, 1940 – November 29, 1941 Pal Joey Joey Evans
October 1, 1941 – July 4, 1942 Best Foot Forward Choreography
December 1, 1958 – May 7, 1960 Flower Drum Song Director
February 22, 1979 – April 1, 1979 Coquelico Producer
July 2, 1985 – May 18, 1986 Singin' in the Rain Original film choreography
Nominated — Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Choreography


Year Title Role Notes
1958 Omnibus Himself Episode: "Dancing: A Man's Game"
1962–1963 Going My Way Father Chuck O'Malley 30 episodes
1965 Gene Kelly: New York, New York Himself
1965 The Julie Andrews Show Himself
1967 Jack and the Beanstalk Jeremy Keen, Proprietor (Peddler) Emmy Award for Best Children's Program
1971 The Funny Side Himself Series host
1973 Magnavox Presents Frank Sinatra Himself
1977 Yabba Dabba Doo! The Happy World of Hanna-Barbera Himself Documentary Host
1978 Gene Kelly: An American in Pasadena Himself
1979 The Mary Tyler Moore Hour Himself Guest Star
1980 The Muppet Show Himself
1985 North and South Senator Charles Edwards Miniseries
1986 Sins Eric Hovland Miniseries
2007 Family Guy Joseph Brady (Road to Rupert) Archive footage, uncredited

Radio appearances[edit]

Year Program Episode/source
1943 Suspense Mystery Radio Play Thieves Fall Out[41]
1946 Hollywood Players The Glass Key[42]
1949 Suspense Mystery Radio Play To Find Help[43]


  1. ^ RTE Publishing. "Gene Kelly was proud of Irish roots - RTÉ Ten". Archived from the original on 2014-07-29. Retrieved 2014-10-27.
  2. ^ DiLeo, John (2002). 100 Great Film Performances You Should Remember, But Probably Don't. Limelight Editions. p. 225. ISBN 978-0-87910-972-1.
  3. ^ "100 Greatest Film Musicals". Retrieved 2016-04-08.
  4. ^ "The Best Movie Musicals of All Time". Archived from the original on 2016-02-21. Retrieved 2016-04-08.
  5. ^ "The Top 100 Greatest Movie Musicals of All Time". Archived from the original on 2016-02-06. Retrieved 2016-04-08.
  6. ^ "The 42nd Academy Awards (1970) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved April 8, 2016.
  7. ^ "Hello, Dolly!". The New York Times. Retrieved April 8, 2016.[dead link]
  8. ^ a b c d e Billman, Larry (1997). Film Choreographers and Dance Directors. North Carolina: McFarland and Company. pp. 374–376. ISBN 0-89950-868-5.
  9. ^ "Heritage Gazette Vol.12 no.1: Entertainment and Recreation (May 2007)". Retrieved 2014-10-27.
  10. ^ Hirschhorn, C. (1975). Gene Kelly: A Biography. Regnery. ISBN 9780809282609. Retrieved 2014-10-27.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Thomas, Tony (1991). The Films of Gene Kelly – Song and Dance Man. New York, NY: Carol Publishing Group. ISBN 0-8065-0543-5.
  12. ^ "On Stage: Kate Hepburn, Richard Rauh and old Nixon". Retrieved 2014-10-27.
  13. ^ "St Raphael Elementary School". Archived from the original on 2014-10-08. Retrieved 2014-10-27.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Hirschhorn, Clive (1984). Gene Kelly – a Biography. London: W.H. Allen. ISBN 0-491-03182-3.
  15. ^ The Owl. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh. 1933. p. 158. Archived from the original on 2012-09-22. Retrieved 2010-06-09.
  16. ^ The Owl. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh. 1938. p. 198. Archived from the original on 2012-09-22. Retrieved 2010-06-09.
  17. ^ cf. Hirschhorn, p.33.
  18. ^ 1940 US Census via
  19. ^ Hess, Earl J.; Dabholkar, Pratibha A. (2009). Singin’ in the Rain: The Making of an American Masterpiece. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-7006-1656-5.
  20. ^ Farber, Manny, The New Republic, May 15, 1944, as reprinted in 'Farber on Film,' Library of America, 2009, pg. 163
  21. ^ According to Blair, p.111, he directed Jocelyn Brando in a semidocumentary about war-wounded veterans.
  22. ^ Farber, Manny (April 27, 1945) The New Republic, republished in Farber on Film (2009) Library of America. p. 255
  23. ^ Astaire, Fred (1959). Steps in Time. London: Heinemann. p. 291. ISBN 0-241-11749-6.
  24. ^ Blair, p.104: "Gene was the central creative force in this initial collaboration, but he was always generous about Stanley's contribution.... Unfortunately, and mysteriously for me, Stanley, over the years, had been less than gracious about Gene"
  25. ^ In 1994, Kurt Browning, offered an ice skating interpretation of Singin' in the Rain on his television special You Must Remember This. In 2005 Kelly's widow gave permission for Volkswagen to use his likeness to promote the Golf GTi car. The advertisement, shown only outside the U.S., used CGI to mix footage of Gene Kelly, from Singin' in the Rain, with footage of professional breakdancer David Elsewhere.
  26. ^ In an episode foreshadowing his later conflicts with the studio, Elia Kazan in the late 1940s offered Kelly the role of Biff in Death of a Salesman on Broadway, but MGM refused to release him. cf. Blair, p.112
  27. ^ "Book Review: 'The Sound of Music Story' by Tom Santopietro - WSJ". Retrieved 2015-05-18.
  28. ^ a b c d e Delamater, Jerome (2004). "Gene Kelly". International Encyclopedia of Dance. vol. 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 38–40.
  29. ^ cf. Hirschhorn, p.25,26: "What impressed Gene was the originality of the man's [Dotson's] dancing, as it was quite unlike anything he'd seen before. The tricks Dotson was doing were absolutely fresh. He went back to see that act a couple of times, and admitted pinching several steps for his own use.... Just as he had done with Dotson, Gene made up his mind to 'steal' as much as he could from numerous touring shows...both he and Fred were absolutely shameless when it came to pilfering, and very good at it."
  30. ^ Blair, p.176
  31. ^ "Marriage Ends For Gene Kelly, Actress Wife". The Palm Beach Post. 1957-04-04. p. 10. Archived from the original on 2013-01-25. Retrieved 2012-12-07.
  32. ^ Krebs, Albin (1996-02-03). "Gene Kelly, Dancer of Vigor and Grace, Dies". p. 5. Retrieved 2012-12-07.
  33. ^ a b Blair, Betsy (2004). The Memory of All That. London: Elliott & Thompson. ISBN 1-904027-30-X.
  34. ^ "Our History | Church of the Good Shepherd". Retrieved 2015-05-18.
  35. ^ a b "Gene Kelly: cultural icon". Catholic New Times. 2005. Archived from the original on 2012-01-19.
  36. ^ Yudkoff, Alvin Gene Kelly: A Life of Dance and Dreams, Watson-Guptill Publications: New York, NY (1999) pp. 42, 59
  37. ^ Kelly, Patricia Ward (April 21, 2013). "My Genealogy". The Irish Independent. Retrieved 2 February 2016.
  38. ^ cf. Blair, p. 8
  39. ^ "6th Berlin International Film Festival: Prize Winners". Retrieved 2009-12-26.
  40. ^ "National Medal of Arts". National Endowment for the Arts. Archived from the original on 2011-07-21. Retrieved 2011-05-23. 1994-Gene Kelly – dancer, singer, actor. One website, Movie Treasures Archived 2011-07-14 at the Wayback Machine., refers to this award as the "National Medal of Freedom" causing some people to mistake the award for the entirely unrelated "Presidential Medal of Freedom." The award Gene Kelly received was the National Medal of the Arts. Kelly's name does not appear on the list of Presidential Medal of Freedom Winners.
  41. ^ Blackstone Audio "Suspense" vol. 2 issued 2015
  42. ^ "Gene Kelly Joins Hollywood Players in "Glass Key"". Harrisburg Telegraph. November 23, 1946. p. 19. Retrieved September 12, 2015 – via open access publication – free to read
  43. ^ "Suspense - To Find Help" Escape and Suspense. To Find Help starring Gene Kelly, Ethel Barrymore and William Conrad, aired on January 6, 1949. It was adapted from Mel Dinelli's stage play The Man and from the film Beware, My Lovely (1952) starring Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan.

Further reading[edit]

  • Wise, James. Stars in Blue: Movie Actors in America's Sea Services. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1997. ISBN 1557509379 OCLC 36824724

External links[edit]