Gene Kelly, Creative Genius

A personal celebration of his life and work

Full of life and good spirits

 

This page will list some of the ways in which Gene spent his leisure time. Yes, believe it or not, he did stop work occasionally!

Gene inherited his love of sports from his father. It remained a constant all through his life and occupied much of his leisure time. In some ways Gene had an idyllic childhood, lots of fresh air, good food and the freedom to do as he pleased, especially during their extended summer holidays on Lake Conneaut in Western Pennsylvania. He could fish, ride, shoot, swim, row, cycle, read, play indoor games. He was even taught the rudiments of boxing by the world champion Harry Greb, which stood him in good stead back in Pittsburgh when the bullies started in on him. When he wanted his own space he could run into the local woods to his special place, away from all of the bustle of family life.

They were a self-contained family, the five children making up their own amusements.

As he grew his spare time was occupied with gymnastics, ice-hockey, football and baseball, at all of which he excelled. He was made to play an instrument, first the violin and piano, then his own choice, the banjo, and of course was taken to dance classes, which he did not think of as leisure or pleasure! Then he discovered girls. It was the need to be noticed by the female of the species which led to his renewing his association with dancing. He said it was the only way you could get your arms round a girl in those days. He never lacked a partner for the college dances.

As an adult, it seems that his fierce urge for perfection in his work often spilled over into his play time too. He became expert at everything he did, including sports and intellectual activities. Nevertheless from what I have read and heard, he was a real bundle of fun to be with, a tease, a joker, a relaxed and welcoming host, and someone you would want on your team at any cost.

 

Seventeen Magazine. Date unknown

Gene: I was very adept at playing baseball, had an excellent knack for street fighting and an almost uncanny ability to break windows.

 

Colliers Magazine May 1945

[Johnstown] That’s a steel town and they gave me that old floppy-wave-of-the-hand-pat-on-the-wrist treatment when I showed up. I couldn’t get around to licking everybody in town, so I played baseball and basketball every chance I got, and that convinced them I was a real guy...

 

Gene had gone to St Raphael’s grade school and then to Peabody High, where he was a star halfback and played on the basketball and hockey teams. He also found out that you could be a pretty big shot with the girls around school if you got in on the school plays. They liked football heroes, but most of these gentry possessed a bovine agility on the dance floor that horrified the ladies; the actors were pretty smooth stuff.

“These slick guys took all the best dates, and we got what was left, and this was pretty silly.”

He got into the school shows because he could dance, and he got the best dates because he was in the shows, and he found that acting was about the softest thing anybody ever invented. After High School he went up to Penn State to take journalism, and things were going all right there until the depression yanked Mr Kelly right out of Columbia Gramophone, and the family was flat on its neck.

Gene came back home, got a job teaching gymnastics at Camp Porter, for the summer and entered the university of Pittsburgh next year.

 

Saturday Evening Post July 1950

When passing years freed Gene from the thraldom of Buster Brown suits, he was in a furious rush to free himself from his apron-string bondage and become a 130-pound, tough-as-wire high school athlete. He made his letter as a peewee half-back at Peabody High, and by the time he was fifteen, he was working out with a semipro ice-hockey team, the Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets. There are still those who recall him as a rink prodigy who “might have been to hockey what Yehudi Menuhin is to the violin, if he’d only stuck with it.”

...It was Harriet Kelly’s notion to open a branch studio in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Johnstown seemed an unlikely place for such an enterprise. Since it was a steel town, “effete” was hardly the word for it. When its male citizens saw Gene coming, they placed hand on hip derisively and waved at him with simulated daintiness. This sort of thing stopped when he joined the Johnstown Elks, won a bruising fist fight at the Y.M.C.A. pool, and became known in the local pubs.

 

From Gene's letter to the Navy Department in 1954

My extra-curricular activities at high school included dramatic clubs, football, track, tennis, gymnastics and volleyball team, and associate editor of the school paper. At college I was a member of the Phi Kappa fraternity, which was a Catholic social fraternity…and I still am a member of that fraternity. After changing from Penn State College to to the University of Pittsburgh in 1930, my extra-curricular activities were curtailed because I had to work at odd dancing jobs to earn my way through school. The only study group I was connected with in my college days was the French Club.

 

Yudkoff A Life Of Dance And Dreams 1999

Hockey was a particular favourite [of Gene’s father], as befit his Canadian roots. Early on he recognised his middle son’s special talent on the ice. He made a point of purchasing for Gene, all of four years of age at the time, a pair of used ice skates with two blades instead of one, helping to instill in Gene a sense of balance that his son never lost. By the time to boy was eight, he was without doubt the best skater in the neighbourhood...

At Peabody [High school], Gene was an outstanding hockey player and a varsity letter-winner with the gymnastics and football teams. He did appear in school plays, and his poetry was published in the school newspaper, The Civitan.

 

Bert Prelutsky. The Secret Of Their Success. 2008

Growing up in Pittsburgh, I wanted to play shortstop for the Pirates. I was pretty good too, until I got to high school and faced really tough pitchers. If I could have hit a lick, I could at least have made it to the minors.

 

Great vitality...

Motion Picture. January 1943

Gene impresses you in his conversation as an essentially serious-minded person. A liberal thinker, he is proletarian in his ideals. He is a great student. In fact you could call him an intellectual since his reading matter is on the heavy side. He can talk intelligently on any subject. He also likes music, everything from Bach to Shostakovitch to Tommy Dorsey.

“I’m not just a dull dope though – I hope,” he grinned. “Even though Betsy and I hardly ever go out, we do have parties at our home every Saturday night. Our favorite pastime is playing Charades. We always have the same game over and over and we’re all obsessed with the game.”

As a kid, Gene got his cultural background from reading Shakespeare. He has done practically all of the Bard’s roles – in a minor and strictly private way – from Portia to Shylock. He is also, as a natural result, a poetry addict.

All this may make you think he’s a “long hair” who carries an encyclopedia around under his arm. But he’s really a regular guy – and a stimulating one.

 

Photoplay May 1943

Life in the Kelly household is a little complicated these days regarding Kerry. The fond parents are torn between raising her “scientifically” or picking her up when she cries. So far science is taking a beating; Gene goes nuts at the first wail of his young daughter and says, “The heck with what the book says, I can’t stand to hear her cry!” Fortunately Betsy is in accord with his views.

No one can pass him in The Game, in which he is the acknowledged Superman over all contestants in the Kelly circle…

The other night Dickie Whorf, Nancy Walker, Frank Albertson and the others were playing.

“By gosh, we’ll stump old Superman this time!” they chortled as they devised a dilly. It was Freud’s rather obscure line: Dementia praecox is very unfortunate hanging on the family tree.

Gene guessed it in forty seconds flat!

 

Modern Screen. June 1943

If he could find a flaw in George Bernard Shaw, it would be that he goes through life eating greens like a rabbit. “Say it ain’t true, George,” he mutters, being himself an anti-vegetable man. Like his father before him, he’ll take steak and potatoes. The elder Kelly polishes white bread off with potatoes and looks ten years younger than his age. Betsy gets tough about vegetables, so Gene’s learned to swallow a bean without tasting it. He’s got to have candy at breakfast and a heavy meal before going to bed...

He thinks people his age should go in more for baseball and football instead of golf. Fifty’s time enough for golf. Partly, his prejudice derives from the fact that he loathes walking. In walking, you use the muscles opposite to those used in dancing... 

 

 

 

Modern Screen. August 1944

The other day he disappeared and stayed away by himself all afternoon. 

Betsy asked where he’s been.

“Roller skating.” Replied Gene. He’s pretty fancy on skates,

so he’s been rolling happily around a public rink

all by himself all afternoon.

 

 

Screen Album. Fall 1945

Whoever heard of a hoofer that loved poetry and G.B. Shaw?…Has anybody here seen Kelly? Well, he’s the guy. Sentimental as a Jerome Kern ballad, but so restrained about it you’d never guess. Unless you saw the inscription in the volume of Irish poetry he gave Betsy for their 1st anniversary; unless you sat next to him at the opening of This Is The Army and saw those thick-lashed eyes go wet.

 

Photoplay January 1946

Kelly and his wife, a pretty redhead…bear slight resemblance to a typical Hollywood couple. Although she wears a mink coat, she wears bobby-socks and saddle shoes with it. Their Friday nights in New York are not spent at vaselined El Morocco. They are spent instead, at Polish Hall, a dilapidated Greenwich Village building where a lot of earnest couples who have taken the trouble to learn English gather to do strenuous folk dances. It is worth noting that at Polish hall, the Kellys are treated like any other couple with the price of admission.

 

Movieland.  Summer 1946

Gene Kelly is one of the most vital people in Hollywood. It seems as if, literally, he is always on his toes. After being with him for only a few minutes you go away with the feeling that he has the resiliency of a well-tempered watch spring. He is a restless soul. He has no idea of ever retiring from his active life.

 

Movie Show October 1947. Van Johnson

Because of Gene’s dancing, for example, he avoids certain sports that might knot his muscles, like tennis… He doesn’t care about swimming and the beach…When he’s not working he likes to get in grimy old clothes and dig in the garden, or play catch with the neighborhood kids

 

I Married a Dynamo. Magazine article, Betsy Blair. 1950

Next to his family, he likes work best. He’d rather dance than eat, think than loaf, labor than relax. Sometimes even after eight years of marriage it’s still difficult for me to distinguish between his states of relaxation and deep meditation.

 ...Gene seems to remember every book he has ever read. When we first met his memory seemed to me positively amazing…he’s always bumping into old friends, and never, even for a moment, does he stumble over a name or fail to recognise a face.

 ...He never spends any of his spare time studying the stock market or investing in oil wells.

 

Movieland 1954. Busy, Busy, Busy.

In spite of Gene’s gigantic schedule he’s never too busy to take an occasional outside job. Like the show that was put on very recently by the P.T.A. of Hawthorne public school, in Beverley Hills. The fond fathers – including Van Johnson, Robert Cummings…Cornel Wilde, all got into the spirit of the thing and helped with the show. “We all had something to do,” says Van Johnson, “but we couldn’t put it together into a show.” …Finally, Van had an inspiration. He paged his pal of Pal Joey days. “Gene,” he said, “you’re a Hawthorne father, and a member of the P.T.A.. Come on, get with it.”

Gene devoted the weekend – meaning Sunday, because he was working at the studio on Saturday – o producing the show. He wrote the lyrics to a ditty titled, We Are The Fathers. He even got costumes from MGM’s wardrobe department. In fact, he organized a show – and by Monday night, they wer ein shape for a dress rehearsal.

Gene and Van formed a quartet with two non-actor fathers (one was a real estate man, the other a lawyer) and Gene got them to join in the clog that accompanied it. The song-and-dance routine was the hit of the Hawthorne Follies.

Gene liked the ‘notices’ too. “Daddy,” said the Kelly’s sixth  grader, Kerry, “you were the most!”

 

World Tennis. June 1954

Gene won Racquet Club's men's doubles.

Terry Moore gave Gene his trophy.

 

Motion Picture 1955

A typical Gene Kelly idea of fun is to ask his friends to bring anything along they’re tired of, from a fountain pen to a painting. Then all of them trade items. “This way a person gets something he wants. It’s fun and it’s useful”.

 

Chicago Tribune. June 21st 1965

Gene Kelly is the most proficient skateboard rider in all of Beverley Hills.

 

Free Lance Star. August 13th 1974

On the stages where Glenn Ford once romanced Rita Hayworth there is a new kind of love game – tennis…at least two studios…are now welcoming white-shorted tennis enthusiasts…the courts are often occupied in the early morning hours by movie stars seeking to unwind… The Hollywood Indoor Tennis Club has attracted many show business personalities…members include Gene Kelly…

 

Hirschorn 1974

Gene: The volleyball games were famous, I guess, because of the high standards we tried to maintain. We used to invite teams from Santa Monica Beach and the YMCA to come out to the house. Then we’d get together a team of our own, usually Hollywood actors, and we’d fight it out. Some of the games were terrific. They provided me with a most enjoyable way of keeping fit. And it wasn’t only volleyball we played. Touch football was in vogue at the time, and we had some rough goes at that. I played a lot of tennis as well so, one way and another, any surplus energy I may have had during those years was burned up...

 

 

Philadelphia Inquirer. 1974

Kelly doesn’t travel with any one particular group of friends – except during football season. Then he meets with one steady group of pals – all male. Every Monday night they meet for dinner and to watch the game on TV at one or another’s home. Of course the dinner is served only between halves.

“The gang,” said Gene, “is made up of Billy Wilder, Mike Frankovich, Fred Astaire, Jack Haley Jr., Howard Koch, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, myself and a couple of other guys.”

 

Saturday Evening Post. July 1980

On the set of Xanadu.

Kelly is as trim and athletically built now as he was two decades ago; regular hours on the tennis court and frequent jogging with his two kids have seen to that.

 

St. Anthony Messenger. August 1980

Jack Wintz. O.F.M.

With Kelly, each age level offers its own joys and opportunities, he believes. You shift into other pursuits. You enjoy what you can and accept life's limitations with grace. Kelly has remained physically active and young of heart. He skis, plays tennis, roller-skates and often jogs wirh his daughter Bridget in the evening.

 

Gainesville. Sunday August 23rd 1982

Gene Kelly turns 70 Monday and the dancer says he plans to hang up his dancing shoes…As for turning 70, Kelly says, “It’s just another round number. Listen, I am wrapped up in my kids, and they keep me busy. We play tennis a lot, I roller skate with them, we just run around together. They keep me in shape."

 

St Petersburg Times. August 4th 1984

…”I still play a pretty mean game of tennis.”

Sports have been a part of Kelly’s life ever since he started his career as a teen-age tumbler and gymnastics performer in Pittsburgh. “Athletics is one of the foundation stones of everything I’ve tried to do,” he explains. That’s why I’m so excited about the Olympics.”…

“The big difference between competitive sports and the dance is that athletics are completely unrehearsed,” he says, sitting back in a comfortable-looking couch, his feet up on the coffee table. “Like break-dancing, it’s spontaneous. I love break-dancing – it’s real folkloric, right out of the streets, The athleticism is inherent in it.

 

Yudkoff 1999

MGM put pressure on him to play for the Metro Wolves, the Culver City entrant in the studio soft ball league…Gene was the star shortstop, a fielder of wide range and a solid batsman.. He had wanted to involve younger MGM athletes: grips…lighting men…cinematographers, chauffeurs…but it was quietly understood that the league was for executives and ‘above the line’ employees.

 

Yudkoff 1999

For Lois McClelland…these were indeed memorable evenings and so was the sight greeting her at 8am the next day. The rugged survivors of the party furiously involved in volleyball…Lois watched the King Of The Court…make the most incredible shots…they went on until mid-morning…then another group would show up around 1pm…young college kids…everyone …was taller and much younger – but Gene more than held his own and ran them ragged.

 

Betsy Blair. The Memory Of All That. 2002.

We bought a Ping-Pong table, our first joint possession. It took up the whole downstairs except the inglenook fireplace and the kitchen. We played like demons....Guts and gusto he had in everything he did. The games - Ping -pong, charades, volleyball - they were played and fought as full-bloodedly as he danced.

 

Tim Kelly, quoted in Brian Kilmeade It’s How You Play The Game. 2007. Harper Collins NY

He thought dance was a real sport and compared the moves on the field to anything on stage. Lynn Swann was his favorite football player because he loved the body control Swann showed.  Dad always believed he was a better hockey player than dancer.....

My dad was also a gymnast.  Even when he was sixty-five he could sit in a chair, pull his legs up, and go into a handstand. My dad loved testing himself and just competing.  It wasn't all about winning with him, it was about doing everything he could to win. 

Jet propelled

 

Many people have spoken of Gene’s boundless energy and zest for life. He was interested in everyone and everything around him and in the world at large. He was extremely well-read, well-travelled, an erudite conversationalist, loved music both classical and modern, loved art and history, read and wrote poetry, and could speak several languages. He liked to drink beer with his friends and put the world to rights, loved the theatre and the cinema, and spending time with his children. He was completely family orientated.

I imagine him to have been an exhausting kind of guy to be around! It was good that Betsy was equally vibrant and energetic and competitive, they were well matched when young. By the time he married Jeannie it seems that he had calmed down a little, was less restless and ‘wired’.

 

Modern Screen. June 1943

He thinks letter writing (his) should be abolished and that the world will be a better place when people understand that you can love them dearly without benefit of mail...

He likes to tinker with his car for a week, but not for an hour. Staying greasy for a week is worthwhile, getting greasy for an hour’s a waste of time.

 

Photoplay June 1944 It’s Like This – to be Mrs Gene Kelly

Gene is a natural linguist. I remember how quickly he was able to speak Spanish when we studied together before we married.

 

Modern Screen. August 1944

Gene likes the mountains and the seashore both – but what people see in the desert baffles him. He took Betsy to Palm Springs, and although they left to spend a week they came back the same night.

 

Screenland. Paul Marsh 1947

Gene thinks that soon he’ll have three weeks off from the studio. “My dad has promised to come out…and when he does, we’re going trout fishing somewhere up North. I’ve never had a vacation since I’ve been in Hollywood and I’m really looking forward to this one…I might even get dad to help me put the house in shape, but then…we’d both be so tired we’d never get the energy for that fishing trip."

 

Pittsburgh Post Gazette. 30th August 1948

Gene Kelly and his wife Betsy Blair will go abroad for six weeks just as soon as he finishes Take Me Out To The Ball Game…It’ll be the first time either the Pittsburgh dancer-actor or Miss Blair has ever been to Europe.

 

The Times. 1948 By Edwin Schallert, Drama Editor.

“I am afraid this is going to sound like exaggerated patriotism,” said Gene Kelly over the phone from Paris, “but the American musical show cannot be equaled in Europe by anything I have seen, and even our ballet today is better. But Europe offers an abundance of interest in many other fields, notably in drama.”

Kelly is on his first trip to Europe with his wife... They had just been in Rome when I talked with him, and had had an audience with Pope Pius XII. They were anticipating going to England shortly to “see a lot of shows.”

“Yours is the first transatlantic call I've had,” said Gene. “It's the first time, too, that I have ever talked across the seas. It's a big thrill.”...

“The audience with the Pope was an interesting experience,” Gene averred, “because the group was small. I was pleased beyond measure when he said, after he learned I was an actor, 'That is very fine.' He also talked for several minutes about his visit to California of some years ago. The actual audience lasted about 12 minutes.”...

“The theater of Paris today seems much dedicated to the classics, and particularly Moliere...So far I have noted very little of this stimulating character in the dance. But as I hope in the future to do two pictures with straight acting to one with dancing this is not a great loss”...

The Kellys will return to New York Dec. 15 and will appear on radio programs there before coming to Hollywood. But it will be Christmas at home for them because they want to spend it with their daughter, Kerry, now 6 years old.

They felt it would be better not to take her on the trip, which still involves certain hardships, although Gene said: “The food and accommodations have been very good – but then our trip is no criterion of the general conditions in Europe. We have seen only the better side.”

 

Times Daily. 18th November 1948

Danny Kaye tells about being at the Paris Ballet recently and hearing a voice from the boxes shouting, “Hey, you silly-looking creep, what are you doing here?” Danny gazed upward and saw Gene Kelly, who is vacationing in Europe.

 

Toledo Blade. 11th August 1949

Gene Kelly’s raring to go to Europe, his second trip this year, the moment he finishes The Knife. He’ll meet wife Betsy Blair in Paris and jog down Rome-way before flying home.

 

Los Angeles Times. October 9th 1949. Hedda Hopper.

Between pictures he does a fade-out. Unlike most stars who find it necessary to spend their vacation among the bustling throngs of New York, Gene retires to a mountain hideaway and not even the studio can contact him. His favourite and constant companion on these trips is Kerry.

 

Evening Independent. May 21st 1950

Gene Kelly plans to fish at Acapulco when he finishes Summer Stock, the long-run musical which has been delayed by Judy Garland’s illness.

 

Los Angeles Times. March 20th 1951

Gene Kelly, back from Europe, spent four weeks in Switzerland skiing. He didn’t go to swanky St. Moritz but to a small village…

 

Los Angeles Times. December 6th 1951

Gene Kelly vacations in New York. Can be seen nightly at the City Ballet Company. He’s seeking new ballerinas for his next picture.

 

Modern Screen December 1952

American In London

After Gene finished making Devil Makes Three in Münich he was ready for a short breather. He and Betsy decided on a week’s holiday in North Africa. They rented a car in Casablanca, and spent a wonderful non-spectacular seven days casually visiting all the little towns in the French Moroccan area. At least it was non-spectacular for the Kellys. French Morocco may never be the same. They are great movie fans there, which rather surprised Gene. But very respectfulones, standing quietly at a good distance, just looking. (In Germany it is quite the reverse. Stars are followed around everywhere.)

The vacation was fine, except for one thing. Kerry was in school, and couldn’t come. So her daddy promised to make it up to her as soon as they got together.

On the very first Bank Holiday after they arrived in London, all the Kellys headed for Dublin. From the moment they started, Gene and Kerry were like nine-year-olds…The mere name of the place thrills them. They prowled the countryside for hours. They haunted ancient castles. Long before the too-short holiday was ended, Gene had instilled the love of Ireland in Kerry. And it looks as if it will remain a life-long romance.

 

Warsaw Times. April 13,1953

In his second skiing accident near Zurich, Gene Kelly suffered a pulled tendon in his right leg…He has been ordered to stay off the snow slopes for six months.

 

Screen Fan. May 1953

Gene has charted a new course for Hollywood stars who have stamina and push. Last April he was in Scotland; in May he was in the South of France, attending the International Film Festival at Cannes; in June, Kelly delighted his blood cousins on the Emerald Isle by showing up in Dublin with a redheaded wife and a Celtic-faced daughter to enjoy a wee vacation. In July the Kellys rented a chateau in Chantilly from John Huston, and in August they spent a few days in North Africa. In between times, the family has been in Munich, in Rome, in Switzerland, Paris and London. Phew!

 

 Go To It. Magazine article after 1953

I hold with the idea that one must have adequate holidays. Nothing can start an artist downhill so quickly as tiredness and boredom…I enjoyed tremendously my days exploring the Thames. We rented a cruiser and it was such fun and so relaxing too…having our imagination stirred by such historical sites as Runnymede, where freedom was born for England in the signing of the Magna Carta. Another happy holiday was one nearer here when we explored the Hudson. Rivers fascinate me.

 

Modern Screen July 1953

Betsy:  “By last Christmas [1952] Gene and I were both free, and we took Kerry to Klosters in Switzerland. She stayed there and went to school for a while, and I went to Nice and finished up my work.

“In March, all of us jumped into our Sunbeam Talbot and toured Spain.”

 

Spokane Daily Chronicle. January 13th 1954

A group of movie stars, including Rosalind Russell, Gregory Peck, Gene Kelly, Jack Benny, have registered cattle brands in Nebraska. It was not learned whether the group intends to run cattle.

 

Motion Picture  magazine 1954

Gene: I liked skippering so much that I recruited Kerry as First Mate, studied navigation charts, rented a cruiser and travelled the Hudson River. Kerry took to navigation quickly, learned to catch and clean and cook fish for our dinners.

Dance. Pauline Swanson. 1954

[After realising that he was exhausted while making Brigadoon, Invitation To The Dance, and Deep In My Heart, all at the same time]. He phoned his friend Noel Coward in London,  arranged to borrow Coward’s luxurious home in Jamaica and two days later, took off…Gene lured along the Stanley Donens, first extracting a promise that there would be no shop talk. The promise was broken by Gene himself. In two days he had enough of just lazing...According to Lois Gene found it difficult to avoid mixing work with pleasure even when he and his family were in Switzerland’s great ski resorts…the family insisted he call a halt to work, talked him into putting on a pair of skis, and he crashed, as all beginners will, with resulting minor injuries…he wasn’t too afraid, for he went back to the slopes for a second try. But he was ‘terribly cautious’. For a dancer, a shattered bone can be curtains.

 Screen Album November 1954

An all-round athlete, Gene may have spent too much time in Switzerland last year, because he fell in love with skiing. This caused columnist Leonard Lyons to list as “MGM’s newest woe: star Gene Kelly’s become a ski addict.”

MGM needn’t have worried about Gene, who survived his jousts with mountains admirably, but somebody should have given a thought to poor Mrs. Kelly, who went off to Squaw Valley with her man, and broke her ankle in three places. The Kellys don’t see too much of each other week-days, since Gene works something like 18 hours per each, but Sundays are generally easy go, with friends dropping in for volley ball, charades, buffet supper, good talk, in which 11-year-old Kerry joins enthusiastically.

 

Los Angeles Times. February 24th 1963

Gene Kelly…checked into Mt. Sinai hospital Saturday to undergo several weeks traction treatment for a slipped disc.

 

Dallas Times Herald. June 1974

This spring, shortly after his wife’s death, he took the children to a cabin in the woods, outside Rapid City, South Dakota, borrowing a friend’s cabin so remote that the plumbing was still outdoors. The snow was still on the ground and the three spent a month at Eastertime cut off from the outside world.

 

People magazine 1974

Not only was Take Me Along a chance to hoof and sing again, it offered Pop Kelly a see-America vacation with his children. “The kids should get out of Beverley Hills,” he says. “We got a cabin in the Black Hills of South Dakota over Easter for ten days. We split logs for fires and had to use an outhouse. In four hours they had adapted and wanted to live there forever. That trip made me see they can do a lot of things,” beams Kelly. “They’re so protected in Beverley Hills – it isn’t the way it was in the Pittsburgh neighbourhood I came from. We fought our way to and from school every day.”

 

Woman’s Weekly 1976

Does he still keep up his dancing exercise? “Me? No! I play a lot of tennis and I play a lot of games with Tim and Bridget – football and baseball and skateboarding. So I keep active, but not purposely so...

 "I was supposed to make a movie in Europe this summer and I had said I would do it, but then Tim said to me; “Daddy, why do you have to work every summer? We’ve never had a vacation in America.” The reason for that was that when they were on vacation I could accept a film job abroad and take them with me. I thought I was doing the best for them.  So I said to Tim “You’re right.” We’re going to hire a van or something, so instead of seeing America from 5000 feet, we’ll ride around it, like I was able to do when I was growing up. Of course I didn’t have a car in those days, we hitch-hiked…we get around a lot now, me and the kids…we walk in the mountains…two hours away from us you’re in high snow, then you can go on and in twenty minutes, you’re down in the Pacific ocean...

At 61, he was beginning to see his children – and his role as father – in a new light. “By concentrating totally on a family life, I suddenly realised all the marvellous things I’d been missing out on while I was making movies. Me and the kids…we had so much fun together. We went places and did things I once complained I never had time for…for sheer contentment I really didn’t have to do anything else but just be with them…"

 

Yudkoff 1999

He took his entourage to Zermatt for a skiing holiday. Intent on being the best on the slope and accident-prone as ever, he promptly fell on a patch of ice. He ripped the cartilage in one of his knees. “The end of serious dancing for me”, he said – and so it was.

 

Robert Wagner. Pieces Of My Heart. A Life. 2008

Gene Kelly and I were never lucky enough to work together, but we played a great deal of tennis over the years, and we enjoyed many skiing vacations with our kids in Sun Valley. Gene was a wonderful man with great joie de vivre, terribly active and athletic, and one of the most competitive personalities I’ve ever encountered.