Gene Kelly, Creative Genius

A personal celebration of his life and work

Not for a year, but ever and a day...

 

This page is about the continued relevance of Gene Kelly in 2012, and beyond, one hundred years after his birth.

 

The 2012 Olympics has just ended in London. And the Americans have landed a craft on Mars. So, what has this to do with Gene Kelly? Firstly, Gene has featured very briefly in both events. In the opening ceremony of the Olympics, during a montage of famous British films, he could be seen swinging on the famous lamppost. I have no idea why Gene Kelly and Singin’ In The Rain were included in a British celebration but it was very welcome. Following the landing of Curiosity on the surface of Mars, the daily report on the NASA website describes how Curiosity ‘awoke’ to its first day of exploration to the strains of Good Morning, also from Singin’ In The Rain.

Fun items to be sure, and an indication, if it were needed, that both Gene and his most beloved film are still part of life as we know it, on this and any other planet.

But there is a deeper relationship between the Olympics, the Mars landing and Gene Kelly. I have been struck, when watching the Olympic coverage, by the words of several of the successful athletes in interviews following their triumphs. They have said, directly into the camera, that anyone can do anything if they have a deep desire and are prepared to work very, very, hard.

No doubt the technicians, scientists, designers, planners, at NASA would say the same. Their success did not come only through luck or because they were given ample funding. They did not throw a bag of mathematical formulas into the air to have it spill out every number in the correct order to facilitate the work. It was a long, hard slog, with trial and error and dedication to their dream.

I have been researching the life of Gene Kelly for several years, and it became clear almost from the beginning of my investigations that Gene had this same work ethic. It can be summed up in the song he sings to Jerry Mouse, in Anchors Aweigh. “…Don’t expect to get much help if you don’t help yourself. Will you try?”

There is no sign of any blood, sweat or tears when we simply watch Gene dance or see a film he has directed or produced, or hear him sing. He makes everything appear so easy, so attainable and natural that we all imagine we can jump off the sofa and go twirling our umbrella down the street. Okay, I tried it once, but my watching grandson disowned me, so my dancing career was short-lived.

I strongly believe that the reason we keep on watching him, the reason that all of his films will, by the end of 2012, be available on DVD, and An American In Paris and Singin’ In The Rain are now  available on Blue-ray, as well as in numerous ‘special editions’, is that he worked so very hard to attain perfection in all that he did, and he makes us believe we can do the same. He came to the set of every scene of every movie - no matter how good or bad he thought the movie was - fully prepared, just as our athletes and the people at NASA came to their respective events fully fit and ready to go. We merely sit back and enjoy with them the results of their toil, or, better still, rise up, inspired to go all-out to achieve whatever we have long dreamed of.

In spite of his insistence on self-help and hard graft, Gene is the ultimate encourager of others. His message was, and is, that you can do anything you want to do, if you work hard enough. This is obvious from the number of names listed on the page named I could encourage you. There are also his pupils back in Pittsburgh, some of whom tell of his great wisdom in dealing with them and his encouragement that they could do anything if they tried. There is a heart-warming story of how he encouraged a disabled girl in one of his classes to get up and dance. Others whom he personally encouraged to reach their full potential include Jeanne Coyne, his second wife, who was a pupil in his classes; Cyd Charisse and Vera Ellen, who both discovered a whole new sensual aspect to their dancing; Kenny Ortega, who went on to  create High School Musical, with Zac Efron, another who asserts that Gene is his hero. The list is long. You can read the stories of how Gene encouraged, lifted and helped so many, and of his struggles and sacrifices in his quest for perfection in his work, in the pages of this site.

 

 

So, is Gene Kelly relevant in 2012? There is no doubt.

Does he have something to say in the 21st century? Certainly.

Do people still draw hope, joy and inspiration from him? Resoundingly – yes.

How else would you explain the explosion of websites, social media, videos, dedicated to him; conferences, film festivals and retrospectives, newspaper and magazine articles focusing on him; radio and TV shows featuring his work; tributes from dancers, film-makers, TV and movie and music stars?

 

The ensuing list is by no means comprehensive, but gives a flavour of the diverse ways in which Gene and his work are being celebrated in this special year. I will no doubt be adding to them in the coming months.

 

The Web:

You can find links to several Gene-related sites on my Links page. There are also numerous Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter pages dedicated to Gene.

i-love-gene-kelly.tumblr.com opens with the words: The biggest and best actor, dancer, choreographer, singer and genius that the art world has ever known. No bias there then!

There is even a Facebook page dedicated to Gene Kelly’s bottom. I have no idea why!

There is to be a Centennial Blogathon on the Classic Movie Blog site.

There are countless tribute videos on Youtube and other video sites, many of which have entailed a huge amount of time and effort. Type in Gene’s name on Youtube to see how many are out there.

 

The Film festivals and tributes:

AFI Centennial Retrospective, showed fifteen of Gene’s films in February this year.

The Glasgow Film Festival showed nine films, also in February.

PBS featured Gene in its Capitol Fourth, with the National Symphony Orchestra.

TCM showed Singin’ In The Rain nationally in cinemas in July, and will do so again on 22nd August.

They showed the newly restored Singin’ In The Rain at Graumann’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles as the highlight of the TCM Festival in April.

The Lincoln Center showed twenty-three films in July.

The BFI in London heavily featured Gene’s films in two of its series.

The Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences held a two-night tribute to Gene, with comments from Hugh Jackman, Justin Timberlake, Kenny Ortega and many others.

Iowa City library is holding a month-long Gene Kelly festival.

BBC Radio 2.  Friday Night is Music Night. A tribute to Gene through his songs. Friday 28th September.

A theatre in Cleveland, Ohio was to have made a tribute TV show but was prevented for legal reasons. They will now show An American In Paris.

 

The Courses and articles:

Kelli Marshall. (Also owns a popular blogsite dedicated to Gene.) Gene Kelly in the 21st Century.

Took place earlier in the year at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference in Boston.

A course at the National Media Museum in Bradford, England, in July.

Howard Reich. Chicago Tribune. May. In which Reich describes Gene as, The greatest song and dance man who ever lived.

 

The Slightly bizarre:

Blackpool, a seaside town in the North West of England has created a floral tribute comprising Gene on the lamppost. Take a look. http://creativeinterpreters.com/tag/gene-kelly/

 

 

 

The Artist:

Perhaps one of the most unexpected ways in which Gene has become a focus for discussion is with the release of a silent, black and white film called The Artist, starring Jean Dujardin, and Bérénice Bejo. It won multiple Oscars. It is now available on DVD. It is a wonderful film in its own right but becomes more fascinating because of its obvious correlation with Singin’ In The Rain and the character of Don Lockwood. It has been said that Dujardin ‘channelled’ Gene Kelly playing Don Lockwood,  in his portrayal of George Valentin, the slightly arrogant, self-satisfied silent movie star. The most obvious similarity, for me, between Dujardin and Gene is their mutual ability to project joy from the screen into the heart. The first time I saw The Artist I left the cinema feeling good.

There has been much written about The Artist, and Gene’s name has been in every item I have read. I am not sure about the motives of the creators in basing the story on a similar one to that of Singin’ In The Rain, but it has been an effective, well-timed platform for discussion of Gene’s work.

 

In An American In Paris, Jerry and Milo discuss her desire to set up an exhibition of his paintings. Jerry is not happy, feels that his work is not yet good enough. Milo says,

“It’ll mean work, hard work.” Jerry replies,

“That doesn’t matter.”

You gradually see the realisation on his face, that with the right tools and enough effort, he really could have an exhibition, where the public could see and admire his work. Maybe Jerry wasn’t talented enough to make it as a top artist – he should have stuck to singing and dancing – but the principle is there – if you work hard enough, you can achieve almost anything.

Fast-forward to the climactic ballet, and there you can witness Gene’s life-principle becoming reality. He worked for months; choreographing, encouraging, directing, dancing, discussing, co-operating. The result is as near perfection as is possible. Created more than sixty years ago and still delighting,  inspiring and moving audiences in 2012.

 

Of course, 2012 is not the only time that Gene has been celebrated. A writer once said of him, “Gene Kelly never needed to make a comeback – he never went away.”

How true those words are, so many years later. I believe he never was too hung up on ‘special’ days and times. But it is good to stop and reflect on all he has accomplished, from when he was born and grew up in Pittsburgh in a time when, if you wanted to eat, you had to work. He often made statements such as, “All I know is work.”

But there is no need to quote accusingly: “All work and no play makes Jack – or Gene - a dull boy.”

As with the Olympians and the people from NASA, there is great joy and pleasure and relaxation when all the hard work produces the desired result. Gene, dancing on screen, is the epitome of love, joy and dreams fulfilled. Off-screen he could be happy and relaxed in what he had achieved.

 

Since 2005 Gene Kelly has been an inspiration in my life. I have taken his principle, that you can do almost anything if you work hard enough and want it enough, and translated it into positive action on many occasions. Small instances, perhaps, in the great scheme of things, but real and important to me. He has, through his immense efforts in his work, and his unstoppable energy and drive, brought joy and renewed hope and a lot of pleasure into my life.

That is why I want to join with the rest of the world in celebrating him, as an artistic genius, an exceptional human being, and a genuine role model.

 

Not for a year, but ever and a day. Thank you, dear Mr. Kelly.

 

 

100 YEARS AND STILL DANCING

 

 

 

This is how Gene Kelly spent his 36th birthday, on a baseball field playing a charity match with good friends,

scooping his cake off the ground where it had been accidentally dropped.

 

 

I have a feeling that Gene enjoyed that day much more than he would enjoy any

formal recognition of special occasions in his life.

I guess he would be embarrassed, though possibly inwardly thrilled, by all the adulation

and admiration he is engendering this year.

But it is good to celebrate the achievements of a great man, and to realise that he is

probably more loved and honoured now

than he was in his most successful years.

So, Gene, you will just have to grin and bear it!

 

 This is my personal celebration of Gene’s centenary.

The poetry may leave much to be desired but the sentiment is real!

 

 100 YEARS AND STILL DANCING

 

He entered the world poised, eager to move.

Rocking, bouncing on mother’s knee.

He crawled, stood, tottered, walked, ran.

He raced the wind, small feet scarcely a-ground

And so the legend began.

He skated, elated.

Skipped, hop-scotched, short-stopped.

A whirlwind, acrobatic, energetic.

Fleet of foot

He sprinted, bounded, jumped long and high,

Twisted, somersaulted, sprang.

Reached for the sky and the prize

 

Finally, inevitably,

He danced.

He spun, split the air, leapt.

He jigged, hoofed, adept.

Stepped, flung, twirled dervish-like

Ignoring gravity.

He taught, fought, sought his best.

He learned, burned, embraced life with zest.

His world, a stage.

People flocked to see

His moves, his personality.

Like moths to a flame

 

His mercurial feet flew him

To fame, to fortune

He danced on film. Projected

Sad, bad, mad, glad

And every emotion between.

He clowned, splashed, duetted, pirouetted.

Creating.  Amazing.

Sensual, earthy, costume tight-fitting

Censor-outwitting.

Hot-footed, hot-headed, hot-bodied

Trailing flaming masculinity

Filling the eye with delight.

Dancing the light -

Fantastic.

 

He taps out the rhythm of our lives

With his fabulous feet.

He dances the beat of our hearts

With his passion and grace.

Quick-silver spirit, constantly reaching,

Soaring, beautiful, century-long.

Dignified, caring, strong.

Gives himself, wholehearted,

Touching, moving

To laughter, to tears,

To love, to dreams,

To inspiration.

 

His quest successful.

Forever in our hearts.

Dancing. Enchanting.

Joybringing.

 

This is an account of my own Centenary celebrations. No, I'm not a hundred years old, I just wanted to do something special as a reminder - as if I needed reminding - of how positive an influence Gene Kelly has been in my life.

 

Even before the year began, in November and December 2011, the British Film Institute in London celebrated the work of MGM, and featured several of Gene’s films. This was an amazingly wonderful time for me, travelling back and forth many times from my home in the centre of England. The first film was An American In Paris, preceded by an interview with Leslie Caron. She is a formidable lady, with a great memory and a lovely sense of humour. She talked about how Gene discovered her and looked after her interests when she first went to Hollywood.

This film is very special to me. Seeing it on TV back in 2005 was in some ways a turning point in my life, leaving me with a need to discover more about the man on the screen who had transfixed me with his light and energy and passion and power. So you can imagine my joy at seeing the movie as it was meant to be seen, in a theatre filled with an expectant and appreciative audience.

A few weeks later I saw it again, a few miles from Central London, on a double bill with Brigadoon. My father and a friend accompanied me, and we all thought it a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

I saw Take Me Out To The Ball Game, then It’s Always Fair Weather  with an Irish friend I had met through Gene. We spent only 24 hours together but our mutual love for all things Kelly meant that we felt very comfortable together and had great fun. Finally, a few days before Christmas, I took my eleven-year-old grandson to see On The Town. He freely admits to liking the Gene films he has so far seen, and we shared candy and laughed together all through the movie. I love the way Gene crosses all generational boundaries. My father is ninety-one years old and he took equal pleasure in watching Gene’s films.

 

As I said with AAIP, it is a whole new experience seeing Gene’s movies on the big screen as they were meant to be seen. Yes, everything is physically bigger, (especially that fabulous face and body of Gene’s ;-)) ) but everything is also emotionally punchier, and certainly funnier. I knew of course that many of Gene’s musicals are funny, but I don’t remember laughing out loud too often when watching them on DVD. Even though I knew when every humorous scene or line of dialogue was coming, I still laughed out loud, along with the rest of the audience.

 

I thought I would never again have the opportunity to see Gene in a theatre so I made the most of the London celebration. Imagine my joy, soon after, on hearing that the Glasgow Film Festival was to honour him also. Glasgow is 300 miles in the opposite direction from London, so it was a long but pleasant train journey for myself and my friend. We saw 5 films in 5 days. We were 300 miles closer to the North Pole but it felt as if we were 300 miles closer to heaven!

 

 

(A version of this review might also be found on Kelli’s blogsite,  http://genekellyfans.com )

On Saturday lunchtime it was time for SITR and it was quite an experience. 400 people packed into the film theatre, the atmosphere was electric, they laughed and clapped all through and went crazy at the end. A great feeling I will not forget in a hurry. I remembered seeing it with a few fans in a tiny theatre in Toledo, Ohio, and with more than 2000 people in the open air in London when I met Betsy and Kerry. It holds many special memories for me. I did some eavesdroping on audience comments and they were all positive. The SITR audience ranged from 4 years to probably 84, male and female.

An American In Paris - 11am on Sunday. The audience was more subdued but they 'got' every subtle joke and responded to Gene amazingly. Again the atmosphere, especially for the ballet, was tangible. I was far far away in Geneland all through it. I was trying to ascertain how many times I have seen AAIP. I never grow tired of any part of it, (well, ok, I confess, I always skip Oscar Levant’s self-indulgent symphony scene.)


Monday, 11am, was Anchors Aweigh, which I had never before seen on the big screen. So, auntsuzy finally got to see her Joe Brady big time! You might have heard me hitting the deck when Joe caressed the telephone! It was SSOOOO good on the big screen. I just couldn't take my eyes off him - okay, what's new, I hear you sigh!! If you thought he was perfect in DVD size, you should see him in that uniform giant size! And oh that white Pomeranian suit! I had to – almost - shut my eyes to stop them popping out! Poor Jerry mouse never got a single glance! The Spanish dance was a revelation to me and I will never again complain about the yellow shirt! In fact I never noticed it. Only on a bigger screen can you fully appreciate the beauty of his movement and the absolute perfection of his execution of the dance. 

 

On Tuesday morning was Take Me Out to the Ball Game. I loved seeing it again on the big screen, some great close-ups and Gene was incredibly funny but I wish it had been On The Town instead, or better still, as I have not seen it in a cinema, Summer Stock.  But beggars can't be choosers, and I'm not complaining. There were smaller audiences than SITR and AAIP but still a good number for 11am on a working day.

 

Then, to crown a great week, it was The Pirate on Wednesday. I have to say I was disappointed with it!! Yes, it's true!! Not with the content, but with the colour. It was very dark and dull. I was expecting the restored version as on the latest DVD but it was the original British Film Institute copy, which had not been restored. I think most of the films shown were BFI copies, they must have

all of Gene's films stored away in their archives. Anyway, I had to watch more closely, a real chore...

I now understand why even Gene thought it was a 'bit too much'. The man who introduced it called it 'in your face' and it certainly was. Though I am not objecting to having Gene Kelly's glistening torso 'in my face' at all. The film assaults the senses, one scene after another. Yes, I know we have seen it dozens of times on VHS or DVD but it is a totally different experience on the big screen. The audience loved every one of Gene's hammed-up facial expressions, laughed out loud in the mansion scene where Judy plays him at his own game and then almost kills him.

You get to see the vast range of Gene's skills, almost all at once - especially in the 'hanging' scene where his artistry as a performer is clear to see. Strangely, it had never really struck me before. We are so used to watching him we sometimes take him for granted I think - well I seem to have done so, but had my eyes opened again to his genius as a performer. You can see why he was such a great stage performer. He could work an audience until they were eating out of his hand. I like the slight inference that Serafin really does have supernatural powers, as when he released himself from the handcuffs and when he changed clothing almost instantly. Watching it, I suddenly thought, this could easily be made as a silent movie. You know, a lot of 'dumb show' . Everything was way over the top and no words were needed in most of the scenes. That is not a criticism it is a compliment.

A general comment: we are told, even by Gene, that The Pirate was a major critical flop, but I have read, in the archives in Boston, and in other sources, many reviews by movie critics, and they were extremely positive about it, in fact, some really raved over it, and still do.

Did I mention that Serafin was spectacularly gorgeous?? From head to toe??? But I still have no idea why he let them stick that wodge of false hair on his head. The mustache I can cope with, but the hair looked even sillier than on DVD. If it had been curly that would have been passable but it so obviously did not belong there, looked like someone had swept the floor of a barber shop and placed the clump of discarded hair on poor Gene's pate.

But all that was forgotten at the end, when his face appeared and filled the entire screen, the light from his personality and his flashing teeth almost blinding us! I should have been prepared, but I still fell back in my seat with indrawn breath. I was so stunned I think I missed the first part of the Be A Clown reprise!!

And so we ended on a high, came out of the theatre smiling and couldn't stop, even in the rain.

 

I almost booked us in for another night so that we could see On The Town on Thursday, but I had to return to work. I also missed the ceilidh and the showing of Brigadoon.

 

I think the thing I enjoyed in Glasgow - apart from the obvious - was the fact that people are still attracted to Gene. I already mentioned SITR, and the electric atmosphere.

Before each film an official from the festival, Alan Hunter, gave a short talk about the movie. He had obviously done his homework, or was an avid fan, because his facts were spot on, and he did not use a script of any kind, just spoke spontaneously. He gave many interesting facts. There was nothing new to me, except that he said Cary Grant and Greer Garson were originally meant to do Pirate!! Yes, he thought it was funny too!

He talked about the vivid colours in the film and assured us that they had not 'spiked' our coffee, it really was that bright. (But it wasn't.) He talked a little about Gene and Judy and even knew that Liza's first appearance was on Gene's TV show.

 

Thanks to the BFI retrospective and the Glasgow Film Festival I have now seen almost all of Gene's major musicals on the big screen, most of them more than once. That is something I never thought would happen. AAIP, SITR, Brigadoon, AA, The Pirate, TMOTTBG, OTT, It's Always Fair Weather. I now long to see Summer Stock and Living In A Big Way. All good things come to those who wait….

 

Here in Britain we seem to be leading the way in celebrating Gene.

There is to be some sort of celebration at the American Film Institute in Washington, but TCM's annual festival in April is so far showing only a new print of SITR, disgraceful on Gene's centenary when they have  heavily featured other, less famous, artistes on their special anniversaries. My friend and I have bought a pass for the TCM festival so we are very disappointed that we will not see lots of Gene's films. But we will do our own Gene 'pilgrimage' whilst in LA for a week. 

 

The retrospectives so far have really done Gene proud. Let's hope others in the movie and festival industries wake up to the fact that Gene Kelly is still as relevant to today's audiences as he was when he made his first film, seventy years ago.

 

 

 

 

My friend Carol and I decided to go to the TCM festival in Los Angeles as we were sure they would feature Gene heavily this year. Did they? No, only Singin' In The Rain and Cover Girl. But we made the most of every minute and had a ball. So here goes if you are interested:

 

After I had been on the road for around 18 hours, the first thing we did after checking into the hotel was to go round to Graumann's Theatre forecourt to see Gene's prints in the concrete. It was quite emotional.  We just stood there and enjoyed the moment. The forecourt is much smaller than we expected. Gene's hands and feet are smaller than we expected too. My feet are wider than his, and my hands just barely smaller than his.

The suite - Orchid Suites in Orchid Avenue if you want a place to stay in Hollywood - was wonderful. Very clean and neat, and half the price of the Roosevelt opposite. We simply walked through a small tunnel, down some steps and we were at Graumann's. So we were able to see Gene's prints as often as we liked...which was every day…

 

Next morning, a lovely 'help-yourself' breakfast was included, so, suitably fortified, we set off on the tour bus to get our bearings and to find Rodeo Drive. We drove through the retail end of Rodeo, and along Beverley, past the Wilshire hotel and some of the most expensive shops in the world. But they held no fascination for us. It was the other end of Rodeo we were eager to see. We asked the bus driver the best way to walk to it and his look said it all! You want to WALK?? Luckily we had comfy shoes and it was a perfect day, so we set off. We got into the residential end of Rodeo and started to count down - or up - the blocks. Each of the surrounding streets is lined with a different species of tree. Gene’s street is lined with tall, majestic Ficus trees, providing a beautifully shaped canopy which kinds of draws you in and enfolds you - rather like Mr. Kelly...

As we approached the 700s I started to feel weak at the knees. Carol and I fell silent, afraid to break the spell. Then we were there, 725, we were right in front of the place where Gene had spent the greater part of his life, almost 50 years.

He had walked, run, cycled, skated along this very street; had sat in those rooms, alone or with Carol Haney and Jeannie Coyne, and plotted and dreamed his amazing and unique dances into being; found joy, sorrow, pain, love in that pretty spot. I have seen pictures of the house but nothing compares with actually standing on the street.

Luckily no one seemed to be home or we might have found ourselves locked up for loitering. The front of the house and the driveway were smaller than they had looked in the pictures, and I imagined the drive and the street filled with the cars of friends each weekend. I hope they had tolerant neighbours. We looked for the silver birches in the front garden, which Betsy had talked about, originally three but one had died, she said, after she left. Well, there were three again, in front of the window. One of them must have dropped a seed and created a third tree again. They have grown very tall.

We strolled round to the alleyway at the rear of the house then back again. Now I really have a phobia about having my picture taken. I had agreed to Carol taking a couple of shots because of the occasion and Carol had some taken too. She commented on a gap in the bushes lining the centre of the road right in front of the house. She suggested it had been made by Gene, to get through when he was out and about and visiting neighbours on the other side of the street. But He is more likely to have jumped clean over them!

She said she would dodge the traffic and stand in the gap to take a more distant shot of the house with me in front of it. I reluctantly agreed as I would not be seen close up. I am so glad I did. As I stood on the sidewalk I happened to look down and right at my feet was the outline of a bare foot, drawn in concrete when it had been wet. Even the toes were neatly drawn. In the centre of the foot were the initials 'KK'. Now, so far as we know, only one KK has ever lived in that house – Kerry, Gene’s eldest daughter. I could not believe what I was seeing. We checked along the juncture of the driveway and the street, where the concrete had been renewed several times, and there was 'GK 1959'. Next to that was 'JK 1964'. (Jeannie, Gene’s second wife). We then found 'TK 1969' (son Tim) and then the word 'BRIDGET' (Gene’s younger daughter) faintly inscribed nearby. We were dumbfounded and very moved that here was a record literally set in stone, of possibly the happiest parts of Gene's life in that house. What fun he must have had through the years, making the footprint and the initials with those he loved.

This was something we had never read about or heard of before and something so sweet and personal. I will never know him, or get to see him or be part of his life in the flesh, but this day came pretty darn close to making me feel that I had.

We were both floating as we eventually tore ourselves away from the house and continued the long walk to 506 Alta Drive. The house Gene, Betsy and Kerry lived in from 1942 until he went into the navy, looks rather different today. The front is smothered by tall and bushy trees. Someone was home so I just took a couple of unobtrusive snaps and we stood at a distance looking at it.

We then walked along Santa Monica Boulevard to pick up the bus once more. We think we walked around eight miles! We finished that amazing day with pizza, but were probably still in 'positive calorie equity' with all the walking!

 

Wednesday was cold and rainy but we took the tour bus again and alighted a couple of miles from UCLA. On the way we paid a visit to Westwood Village Memorial cemetery where Gene took his last earthly trip. We strolled briefly among the graves lost in our own thoughts. It is not a nice place, completely surrounded by high-rise buildings, erected in the ‘70s. In fact if we had not persevered we would not have found it. There is very little of the 'village' atmosphere in the area. We saw Natalie Wood's grave and those of many other people whom Gene would have known and had probably attended the funerals of.

 

On to UCLA where another little 'special something' was waiting in the media library. Gene's home movies! The first was a recording of the day Gene made his prints at Graumann's, 24th November 1969. It was a little weird and very wonderful to see him make the imprints Carol and I had touched that very morning. Jeannie was there, looking a little unwell, but smiling, with Tim trying to look nonchalant and Bridget bursting with excitement. Gene enjoyed himself. We saw why one of his footprints was not quite complete and how his left side seemed to be dominant, because of the way he had stepped into the concrete. Sad huh, such detail!!

Then there was a scene called 'babies on lawn'. Sweet to watch, we thought it was Bridget and a friend's child, but suddenly there was Betsy, and then Gene burst into the scene, wearing t-shirt and shorts and playing around delightfully not with Bridget but with Kerry! We were totally taken aback, it - okay, he - was adorable, we had to watch it several times...

We assume the clip was taken at the back of the house on Alta Drive, which we had visited, or it might have been a friend’s house.

Next he was dancing and climbing barefoot over some really nasty high rocks, with Kerry on his back! Then he leapt into the water with her still precariously attached. He was bare-chested, bare-legged and unshaven if that is what floats your boat!! Me, I never look....

Next we saw Stanley Donen in a rowboat with Kerry. (He was at the TCM festival but we didn't go to listen to him. I have no desire to pay heed to someone who trashes in public what had been, on one side anyway, a dear and fruitful friendship. Seeing him here with Kerry, warmly included as part of the Kelly family, I felt it was a pity he could not swallow his bile and remain silent, if he could find nothing good to say about Gene, who always gave Donen great credit. Sorry, that’s my personal opinion, you might not agree.)

There were several other sweet family clips but we guessed Gene was doing the shooting, as we didn't see him again.

After that delicious surprise we watched Children's Letter To God, which was a delight.

After a long and cold ride home on the bus we ate burgers at Johnny Rockets - still hopefully with lots of calories in hand owing to the long walks.

 

Thursday we took a very long bus ride to Sony Pictures studio, which is actually what remains of MGM. We had booked a tour. We were amazed to find sound stages and buildings still intact from Gene's time there. (The backlot had been sold for housing development many years ago.) Some of the old buildings are named for the stars who worked there, including a 'Kelly Building'. We had a great tour guide. Mostly they are employed there, as junior directors, sound men etc and do the tours when they are free. So they know the studios very well. For Carol and I it was heaven just to walk around, knowing that Gene had probably walked every inch that we were walking. We imagined him dashing around from soundstage to Thalberg building to commissary to recording studio etc. Right next to the gates is a building labelled 'mortuary'. It is now part of the studio but was originally really a mortuary. We remembered Comden and Green telling how they used to look right out onto a mortuary when working on scripts including Singin’ In The Rain. And so another little fact came alive.

The Thalberg building looks smaller and differently placed than it appeared in Anchors Aweigh etc but the booth where Frank was turned away by the secretary who then fell for Gene's charms, (sensible girl) is still there.

Stage 6, where the guide said Gene did Singin' In The Rain, is now the offices of 'Stage 6', a part of Sony Pictures.

We were taken into the recording studio, which was unchanged since Gene's time, because of the unique acoustics of the dusty walls etc. It is world famous. Barbra Streisand records all of her albums there, it is even named for her. To stand in the centre of the room was quite an experience, imagining Johnny Green, Saul Chaplin and Conrad Salinger making their unique brand of music with the MGM orchestra, and Gene, perhaps worrying if his voice was going to make it through the day’s recording work, or if his sinus trouble would interfere with the clarity of the lyrics.

I asked the guide about the old commissary we hear so much about in MGM lore, and he said he would take the party there, but he forgot, so when the 2 hour tour was over he took Carol and I back and showed it to us. It is a stunning Art Deco building, smaller than I imagined, still with original carpet, according to the tour guide. We 'saw' Gene and the Freed unit people laughing and causing rumpus in their corner of the room, and Mayer eating his 'matzo-ball' soup on the dais behind the screen.

 He then took us to the new commissary and the head waiter gave us a menu, which still has that soup for sale!! He then took us into the Thalberg building and introduced us to the security guard who used to be a secret agent and was involved in trying to stop germ warfare, but that's a story for another day! We were at the studio for almost 4 hours! I think we caught the bus home or maybe we flew!!

For supper we rounded off a perfect day at the IHOP, where I tipped the calorie balance by ordering a big stack of pancakes!

 

 

Friday we had an early breakfast and saw Cover Girl at 9.30am. First time on the big screen for both of us. It was wonderful. Especially the alter ego dance and Long Ago. Superb. You can see more clearly, on the big screen, how the studio intended to have Gene conform to the ‘ideal’ movie-star look, especially in the Long Ago and Far Away number. His profile was perfectly delineated, his lips sculpted, skin smoothed and tinted, and not a hair out of place. Good thing MGM decided he needed no such ‘improvement’. They must have realised you can’t improve on perfection.  (Biased?? Me??). Extra make-up or not, he lit up the screen, as did Rita.

 Robert Osborne introduced it as his favourite film of the festival.

 

We then took a bus to the Paley Center for Media on Beverley, where we saw  New York New York and a long 1975 Johnny Carson show with Fred and Gene, both of which I had seen at the New York Paley but Carol had not seen. We ordered more TV shows for Sunday, as the footage had to be transferred to tape for us.

We rounded off another good day with a meal at the Cheesecake Factory on Beverley. Okay, calorie balance going into negative now!!! We took home the cheesecake, as we were too full to eat it.

 

Saturday afternoon we saw a new 70th anniversary print of Casablanca at Graumann’s, but we left before the end to join the line for Singin’ In The Rain. We couldn’t risk not getting a seat. What a thrill that was. To be in Graumann’s watching the scenes which were set in the studio version of Graumann’s. Quite bizarre, you felt like one of the 'extras' in the SITR audience. The theatre looks exactly as it was portrayed in the movie. The new version is stunning. Gene's face has a more natural look, less orange, and he is, well, perfection on legs. Even his voice sounded better in that huge auditorium, Incredibly sensual. And for anyone interested in that kind of thing, the back view of him in those white pants he wore for the You Were Meant For Me number, and the grey pants he wore in the Broadway Melody number, is very very sharp and clear in the new version...

Debbie Reynolds gave a short talk, her usual spiel of how she stuck gum on the ladder and tore Gene's hairpiece. The tale gets wilder each time I hear her tell it! But the audience took her as she is and laughed a lot. She told how Mayer chose her for the part and Gene didn't want her, but said that 'Gene’s book' says he did want her, but she liked her story the best! Robert Osborne was not sure what to do with her, so he just let her continue.

I used to be really annoyed by Debbie, with her stories of Gene making him sound like some sort of ogre. But she did make reparation in recent years, crediting Gene with responsibility for her long career when he taught her, by example, the meaning of hard work and unconditional love. She understands why he had to work her so hard, so all is forgiven Debbie, you are a real trouper, and thanks for trying to preserve some of the old Hollywood in your museum, sorry it didn't work out. At least you tried.

 

There were 1100 people in the audience, all absolutely loving every minute of the movie and showing their appreciation. Another unforgettable day.

 

On Sunday we again saw Cover Girl, which had been scheduled for a second run as it had been oversubscribed the first time.

It is such a pity that TCM did not see fit to celebrate Gene’s centenary in a fuller way. They showed only two of his movies – and Cover Girl was shown under the umbrella of ‘costume design’ not Gene Kelly’s Genius. Everyone we mentioned his name to, either thought he was great, or adored him or knew someone who was crazy about him. One lady said ‘I love him, well, everyone loves him, don’t they?’

Later we went back to the Paley and saw more Carson shows, a Jackie Gleason show and Dancing, A Man's Game, which Carol had not seen. She was awestruck. And so was I, again. I so hope they release it this year. It would be a fitting anniversary tribute to the man who changed the face of dance, an excellent opportunity to listen to him expounding his beliefs and demonstrating them in real time.

In one of the Carson shows Gene related how he had broken his arm in a fall while dancing on stage at the La Salle Hotel in Chicago in 1933. He picked himself up and walked off the stage before collapsing. The hotel was one of the most exclusive in Chicago. Trust Gene to do things big-time!

In the Steve Allen 1964 show he gave a great account of his trip as a U.N. ambassador in West Africa. The details will be on the ‘Just Good Friends’ page.

 

We ended the week by seeing a newly restored version of The Thief of Baghdad, with Douglas Fairbanks. It was shown at the Egyptian Theatre, where it first premiered in 1924. Gene would certainly have seen this. It might even have been the one he played hooky to go watch, back in Pittsburgh! We were curious to see if Gene had taken anything for use in his work, from his hero-worship of Fairbanks. Well, they were the same height and weight and very athletic, but no contest lady, Gene has the charisma and the body to fill those outfits! Fairbanks was 40 when he made this film and was like a cat, leaping around. But his face we thought was not at all attractive.

I could clearly see that Gene had studied Fairbanks’ mannerisms closely, especially for The Three Musketeers and of course The Pirate, where he even wore a similar black-shorts costume to Fairbanks’ Pirate outfit, but filled it more spectacularly…

We had not eaten for hours, so at 11pm on the walk back we stopped at a tiny hotdog stand. They tasted so good. Forget the calorie count!!

 

As we walked we lifted our hotdogs in salute to beautiful Gene who had made it such a memorable and exciting few days.

 

I took almost 200 pictures, some of which will no doubt appear on various pages of the site, along with relevant information on things we saw and heard.

 

An unrelated comment:

Before I flew out to LA I stayed over in London to see The Pirate at the British Film Institute, where I seem to be spending half my life right now. They are much more pro-active than some of the American institutions in promoting Gene’s work. I watched The Artist twice through too, before seeing The Pirate. I thought it was wonderful; funny, full of pathos, very well made and directed, The lead character reminded me so much of Don Lockwood; but as soon as Serafin appeared on screen - well, there's good, there's great, there's fantastic, there's wonderful - then there's Gene Kelly...................

 

 

 

THE NATION’S FAVOURITE DANCE MOMENTS

This programme aired on ITV in Britain on June 22nd. It featured the top 20 dances as voted for by ITV viewers. ITV is possibly the most popular terrestrial channel.

The 20 dances included Thriller and Moonwalk by Michael Jackson; Dirty Dancing by Patrick Swayze; and Grease and Saturday Night Fever by John Travolta. There was Vogue by Madonna; something by Britney Spears; Gangnam Style; Flashdance; and Cheek To Cheek by Fred and Ginger.

But guess what was number One??? Yes, it was Mr. Wet and Wonderful Kelly. Even I, besotted as I am, would not have thought he would hold quite so special a place in the hearts of the British people, given the popularity of some of the more modern dancers and dances.

Several current dancers and choreographers added comments throughout the show, and here is what some of them had to say about Gene:

Len Goodman – dancer, choreographer and long-time judge on Dancing With The Stars and Strictly Come Dancing:

“If you don’t like Singin’ In The Rain, then get a life, there’s something wrong with you. Go see a doctor.

“If Fred Astaire is champagne and caviar, Gene Kelly is beer and a burger.

Singin’ In The Rain is my favourite musical of all time. It’s falling in love, head over heels and nothing else in the world matters. That’s how love makes you feel, encapsulated in a dance.”

George Sampson, young dancer, winner of the 2008 Britain’s Got Talent show, with a Streetdance version of SITR:

“I think I first saw Singin’ In The Rain when I was about seven, and it is probably one of the reasons I started dancing.

“That three minutes of my life [when he won the contest] I felt incredible, and I can imagine that’s how Gene Kelly probably felt most of his life.”

Arlene Phillips, dancer, choreographer and judge on Strictly Come Dancing:

“Gene Kelly had the ability to turn a prop into another human being – the umbrella, the way he used it, became his girl. Singin’ In The Rain – genius!”

Other comments from dancers and choreographers:

“A true dance legend. A movie star whose innovative style influenced everyone from Justin Timberlake to Michael Jackson.”

“A bit of a rogue, rough around the edges, but always so smooth. He was Showbiz!”

“Amazing how that beautiful scene can make you feel happy all of a sudden for no reason.”

Ann Widdecombe, popular former British politician:

“When you’ve seen it you want to go out and dance in the rain.”

Even Stanley Donen appeared on screen:

[He must have repented his former nastiness, or sensibly realised that the public do not want to hear Gene criticised by a grumpy old man.]

“Gene is wonderful. The song is wonderful. Gene had a way of showing happiness. He was an athletic person and could move with great freedom of expression.”

[Then he’s back to his whining!]

“People often say it must have been fun, making the film – are you out of your mind? There was nothing but complications.” [He tells the story of the loss of water pressure when the Culver City residents watered their lawns.]

“I am delighted everyone likes it. I knew they were brilliant, the British. But now I know they are geniuses.”

Ending the programme:

“Singin’ In The Rain remains as popular as ever, and it’s now, officially, the nation’s favourite dance moment.”

Quite an achievement, Gene, more than 60 years on, and interesting that many of the comments confirm once again that you accomplished, spectacularly well, what you set out to do during your long career - you make people happy. You are amazing.

COME OUT FROM BEHIND THAT SCREEN, MR. KELLY…

On 8th and 9th March, the Royal Albert Hall in London hosted the showing of Singin’ In The Rain, re-mastered and in high definition on a large screen, with the soundtrack played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. I was present for both performances, accompanied by a different friend each night. 

What a fabulous weekend.  

How to describe the show?? Not really a 'show' but a film screening with live music. It was like nothing else, ever. The Royal Philharmonic orchestra, conducted by Neil Thomson, is superb, and John Wilson, who reconstructed the score by listening to the original orchestrations and transcribing what he heard, must be a genius. The original orchestrations, of SITR and of many other musicals, created by amazingly talented arrangers and musicians like Conrad Salinger, Johnny Green and Saul Chaplin, were destroyed by MGM and used as landfill in the making of a road in Los Angeles.

In preparation for the performance, they took out all of the music, leaving only the singing voices and the dialogue. Then they replaced the orchestral soundtrack with the live performance, synchronising it exactly. 

The film was shown on a huge screen with the orchestra sitting in front on a lower level. The Hall was full, both nights, with every age from 5 to 85 I would think, male and female.

The atmosphere was incredible - people actually love SITR passionately. The middle-aged man sitting next to me on Friday was very excited throughout the showing, standing and cheering and generally enjoying himself. On Saturday, we met a lady in the next seat who had been a Gene Kelly fan since childhood.  It was an emotionally charged evening, both of my friends felt it also, so I wasn't imagining it. The most amazing thing for me - apart from seeing Mr drop-dead-gorgeous on a HUGE screen - was his voice. When they were deconstructing the film they seem to have changed the timbre of the singing voices, and Gene sounded like he was right there, recording the songs with the orchestra.

It was as if he was standing just behind the screen, ready to emerge and take a bow at the end. I admit to a few tears when listening to You Were Meant for Me.  His voice sounded absolutely wonderful with a smoky and plaintive quality, which reached right inside.  

Then there was the dancing! The audience clapped and cheered after every number. It was a natural outpouring of appreciation and enjoyment. The senses were overwhelmed, watching him perform and seeing the complexity and beauty of his movements more clearly than you ever could on a DVD. Moses Supposes was just about the most amazing and mesmerising few minutes of the evening. Maybe we should remind ourselves that he was almost 39 years old when he did it. Donald was 13 years younger, but you never notice an age difference. Parts of the Broadway Melody ballet were equally astonishing. The sheer cleverness and passion in the veil dance, seen on the big screen, is mind-blowing. It is also extremely erotic! Thankfully that fact seems to have escaped the notice of the censors in the U.S. and England!

Donald’s Make ‘em Laugh number has to be seen on a big screen in order to truly showcase his physical comedy talents. He brought the house down.

The live music gave an immediacy and intimacy and an entirely new dimension to every part of the movie, as if someone had pressed the 'refresh' button.

Ok, I've run out of superlatives. There were a couple of things not quite perfect. Sometimes the music was a little loud for the voices, especially when they were speaking, and a couple of times the words and the mouths uttering them were not exactly in synch - just like in the movie!  But it was hardly noticeable. Sometimes the taps were a little too loud or not there at all, and there was no sound when Gene ran the umbrella against the railings in the rain number, though the squelchy taps in the dance were emphatic and convincing.

The Hall has a capacity of around 5500, and it was full, so far as I could tell, on both nights. That is 10,000+ people who were willing to pay around £45 each, in order to watch Singin’ In The Rain presented in this unique way. That says so much about the incredible hold this film has on the hearts of vast numbers of people all over the world.

The place was awash with love and joy and good feelings, and everyone had a smile on their face as they left.

SITR is still not my most special Gene Kelly film - I am waiting for them to give the same treatment to An American In Paris - and I know that Gene sometimes grew a little tired of the constant focus on SITR, seemingly to the detriment, or neglect of acknowledgment, of his other work, but at least he succeeded, with this film more than any other, in his stated aim - to be a joybringer.

It was a privilege to be present on this great occasion, to be a part of the magic. And now I have more Gene memories to add to the multitude he has already blessed me with, to keep and to cherish until the stars turn cold.

 

 

Here's the first review I have found, with pics. I will post any others I come across.