MGM was the
largest and most powerful studio in Hollywood in 1941 when Gene Kelly arrived in town. He came direct from the hit Broadway show "Pal Joey" and planned to return to the Broadway stage after making the one film
called for in his movie contract. His first film for MGM was "For Me and My Gal" (1942) with Judy Garland. What kept Kelly in Hollywood were "the kindred creative spirits" he found behind-the-scenes
at MGM. The talent pool was especially large during World War II when Hollywood was a refuge for many European musicians and other people in the performing arts. After the war, a new generation was coming of age. Those
who saw "An American in Paris" (1951) would try to make real life as romantic as the reel life portrayed in that musical. And the first time they saw Paris, they were seeing again in memory the 17-minute
ballet sequence set to the title song written by George Gershwin and choreographed by Kelly. The sequence cost half a million dollars to make in 1951 dollars. Another Kelly musical of that era, "Singin' in the
Rain", was one of the first 25 films selected by the Library of Congress for its National Film Registry of movies that are part of the American heritage. Kelly was in the same league as Fred Astaire but instead of
a top hat and tails Kelly wore work clothes that went with the masculine, athletic dance style he was creating with his "snappy paper-tearing, roller-skating, puddle-stomping footwork."
'Patricia Ward' (1990 - 1996) (his death)
Jeanne Coyne (1960 - 1973) (her death)
Betsy Blair (1940 - 1957) (divorced)
During World War Two, Gene Kelly was a sailor stationed at the U S Naval
Photographic Center in Anacostia, DC (where the documentary "Victory at Sea" would later be assembled for NBC-TV). He starred in several Navy films while on active duty there; and in "civilian" films
while on leave.
Gene Kelly graduated from the University of Pittsburgh-- not Penn State
Graduated Penn State University.
Attended Peabody High School in Highland Park, PA
(October 1997) Ranked #26 in Empire (UK) magazine's "The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time" list.
Inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame in 1992.
Awarded the American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Award in 1985.
He was awarded the National Medal of Freedom from Pres. Clinton in 1994.
Kelly's father was Al Jolson's road manager in the 1920s.
Brother of Fred Kelly.
Had three children: Kerry, with Betsy Blair in 1940, and Bridget and Tim With Jeanne Coyne in the 1960s.
"I wasn't nice to Debbie. It's a wonder she still speaks to me." - On his working experience
with Debbie Reynolds while filming Singin' in the Rain (1952)
"There was no model for what I tried to do with dance...And the thing Fred (Astaire) and I used to bitch about was that critics didn't know how
to categorize us. They called us tap dancers because that was considered the American style. But neither of us were basically tap dancers."
The contract system at Hollywood studios like MGM "was a very
efficient system in that because we were at the studio all the time we could rehearse a lot. But it also really repressed people. There were no union regulations yet and we were all indentured servants -- you can call
us slaves if you want -- like ball players before free agency. We had seven-year contracts but every six months the studio could decide to fire you if your picture wasn't a hit. And if you turned down a role, they cut
off your salary and simply added the time to your contract."
"Kids talk to me and say they want to do musicals again because they've studied the tapes of the old films. We didn't have that. We thought
once we had made it, even on film, it was gone except for the archives."
"I arrived in Hollywood twenty pounds overweight and as strong as an ox. But if I put on a white tails and tux like Astaire, I
still looked like a truck driver".
"If Fred Astaire is the Cary Grant of dance, I'm the Marlon Brando".
"I never wanted to be a dancer. It's true! I wanted to be a shortstop for the Pittsburg Pirates."
"Gene was among the wonders of the 20th century." -Stanley Donen
"Men like Fred
Astaire, with his top hat and elegance. But women love Gene Kelly. He's so handsome, so sexy and so self-assured." Paula Abdul on Gene Kelly
"He could do anything... and did everything." - Debbie Reynolds
Biography from Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia:
Dancer, actor, director, choreographer. (b. Aug. 23, 1912, Pittsburgh.) The
enduring image of this handsome, robust performer gaily dancing to and crooning "Singin' in the Rain" (in the classic 1952 film of the same name), one of the most frequently repeated sequences in movie
history, shouldn't obscure the other impressive achievements in his lengthy, generally distinguished career. A dancer since childhood, Kelly studied economics at Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh, but had the
misfortune of graduating during the Depression and was forced to take menial jobs to support himself. At one time a dancing teacher, he finally parlayed his natural ability into a chorus-boy assignment on the Broadway
stage. In 1940 he won the leading role in Rodgers and Hart's "Pal Joey," which catapulted him to stardom. During this period he also choreographed several hit plays, including the 1941 production of "Best
It was probably inevitable that Kelly should wind up in Hollywood, where the film musical had produced some of the screen's most popular players. Kelly's good looks, brawny physique, and
vigorous, athletic dancing style set him apart from most male dancers, and while he lacked Fred Astaire's stylish elegance, he more than made up for it with his own ebullience and winning personality. Paired with Judy
Garland inFor Me and My Gal (1942), he got off to a fine start, making a hit with audiences and eliciting favorable reviews. Kelly spent most of his film career at MGM, home of the fabled Arthur Freed unit, which
produced Hollywood's finest musicals.P>DuBarry Was a Lady, Pilot #5, The Cross of Lorraine andThousands Cheer (all 1943) gave Kelly prominent exposure and allowed the MGM publicity machine to build upon his initial
success. In 1944 the studio loaned him to Columbia forCover Girl (opposite Rita Hayworth) and to Universal forChristmas Holiday (opposite Deanna Durbin in a downbeat musical drama); being paired with those company's top
musical stars added luster to his own career, and in Cover Girl he helped design his first bravura solo specialty, the ingenious double-exposure number "Alter Ego." He returned to Metro a top draw, and started
exercising more control over his work on-screen. In Anchors Aweigh (1945) he and choreographic partner Stanley Donen concocted a brilliant and innovative dance sequence with the animated Jerry the Mouse. (The musical
also earned Kelly a Best Actor Oscar nomination, and marked the first of three screen teamings with Frank Sinatra, whom he taught to dance.) Ziegfeld Follies (1946) teamed him with Fred Astaire for the amusing
"Babbitt and the Bromide" number. Words and Music (1948), a dubious biography of songwriters Rodgers and Hart, enabled him to make a guest appearance performing an impressive rendition of Rodgers'
"Slaughter on 10th Avenue" ballet. The Pirate (1948) teamed him with Judy Garland in a particularly exuberant musical, and The Three Musketeers (also 1948) allowed Kelly, as D'Artagnan, to use his graceful
body movements in a nonmusical swashbuckler. Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949), a modestly entertaining baseball musical, gave Kelly and Donen screen credit for contributing the picture's storyline. Only Living in a
Big Way (1947), a notorious flop about postwar reacclimation, marred Kelly's late 1940s winning streak.
Kelly and Donen earned their director's stripes with On the Town (1949), the wonderful Betty Comden-Adolph
GreenLeonard Bernstein musical about sailors on leave in New York, New York, in which Kelly also starred. Among its other distinctions was the fact that this musical left the confines of a Hollywood studio and filmed
its exteriors on location. After makingSummer Stock (1950) with former costar Judy Garland, Kelly took a dramatic role in that year'sBlack Hand which cast the dark-haired performer as an Italian-American crimebuster.
Although directed by Vincente Minnelli, An American in Paris (1951) bore Kelly's mark just as strongly. (He is a lifelong Francophile.) His singing and dancing were never better showcased, and the lengthy Gershwin
ballet that climaxes the film is one of the highpoints of Kelly's career. It earned him a special Academy Award that year. He took a supporting part in an all-star, picaresque drama,It's a Big Country (also 1951) before
joining forces with Donen forSingin' in the Rain (1952), arguably the finest movie musical of all time, and a delightful spoof of Hollywood's chaotic transition from silent films to sound. Supported by Donald O'Connor
and Debbie Reynolds, Kelly the Actor turned in one of his best performances, while Kelly the Dancer/Choreographer provided inventive terpsichore and Kelly the Codirector contributed dynamic staging. With this one film
he reached the apogee of his career.
Kelly went dramatic again in The Devil Makes Three (1952), and then had to face the fact that MGM was scaling back on the production of lavish musicals. Lerner and Loewe's
Brigadoon (1954), directed by Minnelli, was supposed to have been filmed in Scotland, but budget cutbacks kept it on a soundstage instead. Although quite entertaining it was not the film Kelly had hoped for. He
persuaded MGM to let him make Invitation to the Dance (1957, but filmed years earlier), but this earnest, ambitious episodic dance musical was not a great success artistically or financially. Les Girls (also 1957) was
Kelly's last starring musical, a pleasant soufflé with Cole Porter songs and George Cukor direction. (Kelly did make an amusing cameo as Yves Montand's dancing coach in 1960's Let's Make Love and appeared in Jacques
Demy's French-made homage to the Hollywood musical, The Young Girls of Rochefort in 1968, though his singing voice was-incredibly-dubbed in the French-language version. But his singing and dancing, for the most part,
was confined to television from the 1960s on.)
Acting had never been Kelly's strongest suit, but he was tailor-made for the part of a charming heel in Marjorie Morningstar (1958). He was less ideal in the role of
a cynical reporter, inspired by H. L. Mencken, in Inherit the Wind (1960). By this time Kelly was content to spend most of his time behind the camera. He directed The Happy Road (1957, in which he also starred), The
Tunnel of Love (1958), Jackie Gleason's pantomime vehicle Gigot (1962), a 1965 telefilm remake of Woman of the Year the all-star comedy A Guide for the Married Man (1967), the overstuffed musical Hello, Dolly! (1969),
and The Cheyenne Social Club (1970).
Kelly appeared, both in old film clips and newly shot footage, in MGM's musical compilation film,That's Entertainment! (1974). He agreed to direct new sequences (which teamed
him withZiegfeld Follies dancing partner Fred Astaire) for the 1976 sequel and also appeared as one of the "hosts" of the second sequel, That's Entertainment! III (1994). He made subsequent screen appearances
inViva Knievel! (1977),Xanadu (1980),Reporters (1981), andThat's Dancing! (1985). Kelly was married to actress Betsy Blair from 1941 to 1957.