Gene Kelly, Creative Genius

A personal celebration of his life and work

 

 

Gene and Betsys’ hospitality was legendary. On Saturdays and Sundays their front door was never locked. It truly was ‘open-house’. A cold buffet would be laid out and, as Leslie Caron has said, Gene would do the Irish thing - drink his whisky and talk. There would be singing and dancing round the piano, and lively discussions. Regular visitors included Frank Sinatra, Lennie Hayton and Lena Horne, Maurice Chevalier, Charlie Chaplin, Noel Coward, Judy Garland, Phil Silvers, Saul Chaplin, Leonard Bernstein, Peter Lawford, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Roger Edens, Richard Brooks, Leslie Caron, Dory Schary, Nick and Ruth Conte, Keenan Wynn, Richard Whorf, Rita Hayworth, Johnny Green, Hedy Lamarr, George Cukor, Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, Harold Arlen, Sammy Cahn, Van Johnson, Bob Fosse, Andre Previn, Joan Collins, Oscar Levant, Kenneth Tynan, Marilyn Monroe, John Garfield, friends from New York, and on one memorable evening, you could have seen Greta Garbot sitting on their kitchen sink. Then there was the regular charity party for 100 people, at one of which Paul Robeson sang and spoke; and the night Stanley Kubrick came to show one of his early films.

The downside to this generous ‘open door’ scenario was that no one needed a formal invitation, and so it was easy to take advantage of their hospitality, to join in the fun, and later to inform on them and their guests, to ‘spy’ for the House Unamerican Activities Committee. The worst kind of betrayal.

 

Movieland 1948

That Old Black Magic

…it’s perfectly apparent that if Gene had a magic lantern, he wouldn’t rub it to get the biggest house in Bel Air.

 

Secrets Magazine. January 1981

Ahead of his demob, Betsy had been househunting and had found what she was sure was the right place. She had given Gene a detailed description by phone, saying it was the last farmhouse still in existence in the Beverley Hills area. Gene, fired by her zeal, had told her to go right ahead. Gene, not familiar with the ins and outs of mortgages, simply paid the $37,000 purchase price right off. When he moved in on demob, he hadn’t even the money to pay decorators. But time was to show this was the house of his life.

 

 

Joan Collins:He was charming with a zany sense of humour, and tremendous energy and vitality. I first met him at the Beverley Hills Tennis Club where he played a vicious game of tennis with the club pro. We were introduced, and he invited me on the spot…the door was always open, and I found the guests always fascinating. They were not just pretty faces. Some of them were considered to be intellectual heavyweights.”

 

Kathleen Tynan, wife of Kenneth: "The company was politically much more convivial than at Cukor’s and more dismayingly intellectual. No guest lolled naked here on leopard-skin divans. Instead, the Gene house was animated by the Pittsburgh-Irish host’s competitive intelligence and charm and his then-wife Betsy Blair’s active support for left causes."

 

Yudkoff 1999.

Celebrated visitors were to arrive in town and be feted in the ornate salons of George Cukor, Jack Warner, or Louis B Mayer, and then escape to the free-form adventure on North Rodeo Drive…

 

Interview Magazine 1994

Gene:  Donen and Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane and all that New York gang practically lived here at my house. Sinatra and Judy and Comden and Green were steady visitors, and then people from Hollywood started to come. Pianists and composers like Lenny Bernstein, Oscar Levant, Johnny Green, Roger Edens, and Saul Chaplin would play the piano.

It was a musical house..

A lot of Comden and Green stuff was tried out here for fun; we didn’t do it purposely. Martin and Blane began to compose songs mainly for Judy in Meet Me In St. Louis and we would hear the songs here before they would do them at the studio. We were just a group of local entertainers amusing ourselves... We’d play charades, and when the foreigners would come, like Noel Coward or Maurice Chevalier, we’d chat or talk politics... We were all, with a couple of exceptions, left-wingers, all Roosevelt people. We – the Kellys – never got invited to the upper-crust soirees in Hollywood. My parties…well, we were the working stiffs. L.B. Mayer once had us to a party for Gone With The Wind  because Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier asked for us to come. That’s the only time I was ever in Mayer’s house.

 

Lois McClelland: (Quoted in Yudkoff 1999)

He would just sit there in one of two large red chairs in the living room…

just thinking and thinking.

That’s how I remember him.

 

Movie Show. October 1947. Van Johnson.

Now let’s dissolve to Hollywood, to which both of us came…I bought a car and was riding up Coldwater Canyon one day when coming at me was Gene teaching Betsy to drive…There was mutual slamming of brakes and back-slapping…

Gene and Betsy had just arrived after their honeymoon…Nothing would do but that I came to see their rented house in Laurel Canyon, right away.

Then, and on many occasions later, we had a million laughs there. It was cottage-sized, perched high on the side of the canyon with thousands of steps, up which guests were always invited to help haul wood from the street level. It was comfortable, cozy, the Early American decoration matching the unassuming sincerity of the Kellys. Many a dinner we had of baked beans and hot dogs; we could afford better, but that was fun. Then we’d play charades or indications or The Game. I remember going to see them the Sunday Pearl Harbor was bombed;

no games that day, we were all too grim…

He and Betsy have bought a house now, somewhat larger than the Laurel Canyon cottage,

but still simple, comfortable, unassuming.

They did their own decorating, some of the interior painting and repairing.

There still is nothing pretentious about them.

 

Modern Screen January 1944

Before Kerry, they lived in a little house in one of the Hollywood canyons. They’re incorrigibly social.

They hate to go to sleep. Almost any night would find their gang at the fireplace, popping popcorn, eating hot dogs and beans and potato salad. Betsy loves picnics, Gene hates them.

“They’re young,” he says.

We’re young,” Betsy points out.

It was something of a wrench to leave the little house, but Kerry was coming, and they needed more room. They were scared at first by the size of the places they looked at – especially Gene,

who’d spent his New York years in hotel rooms and small apartments.

They finally rented what still seemed to them a mansion. But thought the rooms were spacious,

they were simply furnished. And one of the bedrooms could be easily converted into a sunny nursery for the baby. And their friends, the Dick Whorfs, lived on the same street. And in time they’d get used to a kitchen where you had to walk from the stove to the refrigerator, instead of just reaching…

Gene’s one of those who can’t understand why God made little vegetables. Betsy serves them and looks hopeful, but that’s as far as she’ll go. Things don’t matter enough, says Betsy, to make a fuss about….

He’s the Sunday chef. “The way I slave Sunday mornings!” They eat heartily around noon –melon and potato cakes made from left-over spuds, and scrambled eggs – no one, brags Kelly, can tie him for scrambled eggs, they’re eider down – and honey from the comb and sausage or bacon, for which they save their ration points.

Betsy goes to the butcher in pigtails and what Gene calls her “Claudia” look. “Takes a mean advantage of the guy’s protective instinct and brings home the bacon –“

 

Architectural Digest April 1992

In 1942, when Gene Kelly and his first wife, actress Betsy Blair, rented a house on Alta Drive in Beverley Hills, the dancer was just beginning to find his way through the intricate studio machinery that ruled Hollywood in the forties, and he was just becoming introduced to the new (to him) and challenging medium of film…During his tenure on Alta Drive, Kelly was buoyant, inventive and vastly energetic…Irrepressible is an apt word for Gene Kelly. Even – perhaps particularly – as far back as Alta Drive…the dancer was known for his fun and his festivity, and at the Beverley Hills house he hosted many joyous parties.. The Kellys played a favourite game there, a form of charades Gene imported form New York City that his biographer has described as ‘insanely competitive and extraordinarily physical.’ It comes as no real surprise to discover that, amid his rather plain furniture and decorations, the excitement in the Kelly household derived from the physicality – and the gifts – of its star tenant.

 

 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!

 

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

He’s really very adept, very facile, very capable. Usually he isn’t too interested in the house. But every now and then when he is between pictures he takes a spree and tears around doing everything. He has to do something to use up his energy – he has so much it’s frightening...

Neither of us ever has gotten over the New York habit of staying up late. When Gene isn’t working he often reads all night and goes to bed at seven or eight o’clock in the morning. Other evenings we have dinner as soon as he gets home from the studio, sometimes as early as five o’clock. Two or three times a week we go to the movies. Home again around eleven we settle down to listen to the radio, to play Casino – wonderful competition – or anagrams. Gene loves to do the crossword puzzles in the Sunday New York Times which reaches us on Thursdays.

We wouldn’t dream of going to bed without a late supper. I like milk and gingersnaps, but Gene favors eggs and bacon...

Hospitality is one thing we wouldn’t dream of economising on. Unless we go to a friend’s house on Saturday night we have a party….When we owe many people entertainment we have a buffet. Ten or twelve is a perfect number for games. But if forty people come that is all right too.

 

Photoplay. Keeping Up With Kelly 1944

Gene loves children and every kid within biking distance of the Kelly house used to come visiting on weekends to play ball, Ping-Pong, or Kick the Can with the Kellys and their friends. You could usually find a goodly portion of Metro’s younger contract list there too. Such friends as the Keenan Wynns, Nancy Walker, Judy Garland, Bob Walker and the Richard Whorfs.

 

Screen Album ?1944

Neckties, vegetables, shaving, picnics, hats and bad films are poison to him. Give him cheese sandwiches and beer after midnight, crossword puzzles, sweets, word games and a living room full of congenial intellectuals.

 

Family Circle. September 1st 1944

The Game was played by the cinema citizens. There’s no secret about the reason for the popularity of this sport. Because it calls for histrionics - in a big way.  And you know how actors love to act…Somebody makes out a list. Of 10 items…of darned near anything… Each item has to be acted out. You choose your teams. The teams stay in separate rooms. The person with the list sits in a neutral spot between the two rooms, and the captains go to him…The two captains rush to their respective teams…You have no idea how complicated the Hollywood younger set…have made this game…Gene and his gang have worked out a system of tip-offs that makes it possible to act out anything…They’ve got more signals than the Chicago bears…

Pittsburgh Press. October 30th 1944. Maxine Garrison

…when I dropped in for a chat at the comfortable, English style Kelly home in Beverley Hills – the conversation was a trifle disjointed. Gene’s share was apt to run along these lines. “Now you take that business about my saying that I refuse to do any more dancing pictures. No, Kerry, no, I’m not going to kiss you, because you didn’t hurt yourself that time, I was watching.”

But it was the cutest disjointer any conversation could have. Two-year-old Kerry Kelly, obviously the apple of her father’s eye, and fully aware of the fact.

With mama off in New York for a visit, Kerry was ruling the household with a chubby but iron hand.

She had taken off her shoes and stockings the better to enjoy the wriggling of her small plump toes, and was having herself a high old time.

She plucked handfuls of petals from the zinnias on the coffee table, and gave them to me for a present. She moved her tiny, lightweight chair about the room so she could watch her chosen speaker from various strategic angles. She clambered all over papa until, tiring of this sport, she decided to do some tumbling on the rug.

…The chitchat became a bit more orderly when Mamie, general factotum of the Kelly household, came to take Kerry off for her nap before bringing lunch to us in the living room. It was scrambled eggs, ham, toast and coffee, which we ate plate-on-knee fashion, another blow to the legend of peacock’s tongues, nectar and ambrosia popularly supposed to be staple in a movie star’s regimen.

 

 Liberty magazine. May 1945

There is a new Kelly in his house, a little blond perpetual-motion called Kerry…How many people live in the house is a debatable question, because Gene’s old friends from New York get off the Chief and move in. Meals are on a run-and-grab basis, and if anybody expects to be entertained, he is in the wrong block.

In the days when the Kelly were invited to big parties, they didn’t know how to refuse, so they would say yes and then not turn up. Gene worked hard, as is the case with most dancers, and had to keep in shape for kick-ball and a Sunday morning softball game that was a social event for certain personages of the cruder sort.

 

Screen Stars. February 1946

Isobel Lennart is…a screen writer so dynamic, so original and so consistent in creating box-office and artistic hits that MGM producers, actors and directors vie for her services…

One night, after Gene left Hollywood for Washington and the Navy, some of his friends were gathered at his house. We were playing a word game – one that Gene had always liked.

You have a sheet of paper divided into boxes, each player calls out a letter and the object of the game is to see how many words you can form.

As we finished and tallied up the scores, Gene’s young wife, Betsy, looked at her score with some dis-satisfaction. Then she raised her chin proudly and said, “When Gene Kelly plays this game, he gets a word in every box.”

We all laughed at the defiance and bravado in her tone – Betsy more than anyone else. But that comment made by Betsy was absolutely true.

Whatever Gene Kelly plays – he gets a word in every box!

 

Movieland.  Summer 1946

Once back in Hollywood Gene came face to face with…a veterans’ housing problem all his own. After he joined the Navy, his wife gave up the family home in Hollywood, little reckoning with the critical housing shortage to come. But with typical Kelly thoroughness, Gene now ferreted out a likely middle-aged house in Beverley Hills, into which the couple promptly moved, along with Kerry, three beds and a piano.

Betsy started on a furniture hunt, while Gene, to foil the nail shortage, tore down a workshed on the property and salvaged every nail with the exception of the pretzel-bent.  To start the remodelling process, the old roof was removed and a new shingle job put on, while Kerry sat quietly in a corner of the yard and sorted out the good used nails from the bad.

Gene begged, borrowed and wheedled enough lumber to build some cabinets and shelves, and he prides himself on the fact that he falls gracefully into that bracket commonly known as the helpful husband type. He’s a wizard with fixtures, plumbing and odd jobs.

 

Silver Screen. April 1947

[This is cute, though possibly uses a little ‘poetic license’ here and there!]

“Well, here’s Casa Kelly,” announced Betsy as the car braked to a stop on the palm-lined Beverley Hills street.

Lieutenant (j.g.) Gene Kelly, still in Navy blue, with his pretty wife…and their eager four-year-old Kerry, started on a tour of inspection.

“…It doesn’t look very big from the front, but it rambles a little, and you said you like farm houses,” Betsy explained…

“It’s great, honey, just great, The first house we’ve ever owned.” There was warm approval in his intense, dark brown eyes as Gene looked at the low, white-shingled home with red shutters, which somehow managed to look like a building transplanted straight from Connecticut into the middle of movietown. “Now let’s see those trees in the back yard you’ve been writing me about.”

Somewhat hampered by Kerry, who was demonstrating her glee at her daddy’s return by clinging to his knees, the trio made its way to the shady yard.

“This,” announced Betsy with the assurance of a real estates agent, “is one of the biggest avocado trees in Los Angeles County.”

Gene’s manner was as serious as that of a packing house appraiser as he gazed at the huge tree, but he could not keep laughter out of those Irish eyes.

“You know what we’ll do?” he mused, still studying the fruit laden branches. “When we get tired of eating avocados in salad, mousse, guacamole and a hundred other ways, we can throw them at each other.”

That’s Kelly, always kidding. Well, mostly always…

The Kellys wanted a badminton court and Gene wanted a patch of lawn where Kerry could play weekdays and where her pop and his friends could have a ‘catch’ game on Sundays. Some of the trees had to be cut down for clearance.

“But we couldn’t cut all of them down,” Gene explains…”Where would the birds go? We give them crumbs every day, so we couldn’t cut down all their trees. You know me, old Audubon Kelly. The birds come and sit on my shoulder and talk to me as if I were St. Francis of Assisi.”

Kidding? Sure. Gene wouldn’t just tell you straight out that he loves trees and birds. What fun would that be? He was right there on the receiving line when the Irish blarney was passed out…

…Gene learned a lot about being a home owner, he says. For one thing, the house the Kellys bought is about twenty years old – and that is old for Beverley Hills. They wanted to make some changes, but with labor and materials so scarce, they improvised. Gene, for instance, bought some lumber and nails, hauled out a hammer and built all the shelves in the basement. He took all the old hardware off the cupboards in the kitchen and put on new plastic handles. He and Betsy did some painting…They didn’t want their house to have an ‘interior decorator’ look, so they chose all their own furniture, drapes, lamps…but now…the house has taken on the comfortable, friendly, lived-in feeling that one would expect from Gene and Betsy Kelly.

Gene, always cooperative, balks however at ‘home sittings’ and ‘family portrait’ type of publicity art, and we don’t blame them.

“Our home and home life are our own,” he suggests. “It’s especially important to Kerry, for that ‘normal’ life… She has reached an impressionable age..."

 

Screenland 1947

…The word ‘navy’ brought to mind his immediate problem – his return to his home and all the thousand and one chores connected with it. It’s torn apart, in that sort of desolation that looks as though a buzz-bomb hit it, and he can’t get away from it...

“Right now, I’m at the plumber stage, and I’ve come to the conclusion that every plumber on the West Coast is an ex-Navy man….I heard them yelling ‘aye-aye’ to each other, so naturally I had to ask where they had been stationed…pretty soon we were all over the world, yakking about mutual acquaintances. And all this while, nothing is being done about the house…After the plumbers leave, you check the sink and find that it still leaks, but how can you be sore with ex-buddies?…It’ll probably be another year before we get the place into the final shape in which we want it"….he wants very much to get his house done so that the Kelly private life can be as private as possible. He wants it to be the one place where he can retire and relax after a hard days work.

You could never qualify Gene as an anti-social person, but there’s one Hollywood institution that he’ll have no part of – night-clubbing. “Too rugged for me. I can’t take all that bumping and pushing in noisy little rooms filled with smoke. I’d rather stay home.”

 

That Old Black Magic. Magazine article 1948

Betsy and I give parties, but no more or less than any other average family. Friends drop in. We sit around. We talk or we play records. Maybe some of the kids get up in the living room and dance. On Sundays we go to church. We play ball, my little girl and I tend the garden and pick the flowers

 

Liberty magazine. September 1948

After the war – Gene enlisted in the Navy as a gob and worked his way up to lieutenant (j.g.) – the Kellys bought a house in Beverley Hills. Gene, in a T shirt and slacks, his favourite apparel, did all the repair work.. The thing that Gene most hates to do is shave. He shaves in the late afternoon so it will last well into the next day.

 

Toledo Blade. 8th October 1948

Day’s Best Hollywood Story:

Gene Kelly’s dining room needs a new ceiling. It’s the custom for friends to drop in at his Beverley Hills home on Sundays for games of volley ball. The game is continuous, with one group taking over as soon as another is finished.

Last week Kelly discovered the dining room ceiling was beginning to sag. The athletes have been overworking the showers above the room, and water has seeped through and weakened the beams.

Now, Kelly says, his guests will be working on the new ceiling instead of volleyball.

 

Movieland  November 1948. Jeanne Coyne

Gene doesn’t like to have his private life publicized, nor to have pictures taken of his home and family. This stems not from a superior attitude toward the press, but because his family life is so normal and happy that he doesn’t want it tainted by publicity. He has a horror of being recognized on the street, and while he can’t help being stared at, he wants Betsy and little Kerry spared that particular nuisance. At home he is not the movie star, but a secure and contented man – yes, even down to the favorite easy chair and slippers.

 

Pittsburgh Press. 16th December 1948

Kelly has a rambling house in Beverley Hills where his red-haired wife and brunet daughter are queens of all they survey. Gene makes no bones about his devotion to his “women.” He is a sentimental Irishman and doesn’t care who knows it.

 

Photoplay February 1949

My Kids The Kellys, by Frederica Boger

Betsy and Kerry lived at home with me most of the time Gene was in the service. Shortly before he got out of the Navy, he and Betsy decided to buy a house in Beverley Hills. It was, necessarily, up to Betsy to find the house. Accordingly, she flew to Los Angeles, found the house she liked and bought it. When she came back, the deed in her pocket, “It cost so much money, mother,” she worried and kept worrying. “I just hope Gene likes it.”

The day Gene reached home, he sent me a wire. “Am delighted with the house,” he said. He knew somehow that I, also, was worrying about what he would think of it.

Together, Gene and Betsy chose most of the furniture and planned the color schemes for their home. The grey carpeting for their bedroom, the soft blue walls and and the white ninon curtains. The red and blue drapes accent the white furniture in Kerry's room, across the hall from theirs. Gene designed the cabinets that run beneath the casement windows in their bedroom. His belongings are kept there in methodical order. Gene also designed the two built-in wardrobes; one just the right height for Betsy's suits; the other just the right height for his. In fact, Gene's passion for built-in furniture being what it is, the only movable things in the bedroom are the chairs and beds...

Gay as Gene and Betsy are, and liking people as much as they do, it is only natural that their house is always overflowing with friends. I was there when Gene and Judy garland were starting work on “The Pirate.” Judy and Vincente Minnelli visited often. Among others who were in and out of the house I remember the Hume Cronyns, Phil Silvers, Jane Ball. Then there was June Allyson who came to a tea Betsy gave for me a whole hour ahead of time so that she and I could have a talk...

In the garden it always looks as though tournaments are going on. Especially weekends, when so many people are there. All the boys in the neighborhood “Go over to Kellys” to play soft-ball and kick-ball with any-kind-of-a-game-of ball-loving Gene.

Gene likes indoor games too. Parlor games. Casino. Anagrams. But, especially Classifications. Night after night we sat up until two in the morning, Betsy, Gene and I, playing Classifications. And no matter how we tried, Gene always beat us. And no wonder. Gene is forever reading. Books, magazines, newspapers, anything and everything in print.

 

Movieland. July 1949

Of all the young couples in Hollywood, the most widely admired today is the Gene Kellys…It’s because fame has not corrupted either of them. They are as plain, as simple, as sincere and unaffected as any young couple you might find in, say Wheeling, West Virginia. In other words, Gene and Betsy Kelly have not gone Hollywood; and this indeed is refreshing

 when you realise how violently and quickly most people react to success…They are frank, open and above board about everything. They are both political liberals…Practically all of their friends are productive or creative people. No lounge lizards around the Kelly house.

Betsy has one housekeeper, a wonderful woman named Mrs. Bertha Tatum, who fits in as a jack-of-all-trades; and between her and Betsy, they see that Gene and Kerry are kept happy.

Betsy says, “It’s relatively easy to keep Gene happy when he’s working. All I have to do is stuff him with meat and potatoes. He doesn’t like vegetables. When he’s working, he goes to the studio early in the morning. He comes home at 7.30. Then he sits down to eat. On his current picture, On The Town, he’s directing with Stanley Donen, so Stanley comes over to eat too. Both of them then discuss the next day’s shooting...

“Ordinarily we hate to go to bed and we stay up really late, maybe until two or three in the morning. And then we love to sleep until noon or one the next afternoon. Of course, I can’t. I have to get up with Kerry. But Gene just sleeps on and on.”

…For a long while there was nothing in the Kelly house but a rug, a piano, and a few beds. But gradually, Betsy got around to buying things and today it’s completely furnished.

 

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

As I drove up to Gene Kelly’s home in Beverley Hills a companion, looking over the place, remarked, “Strangers would never guess that a couple of movie stars live here. It’s so unpretentious.”

Despite his success his many talents have brought him, Gene remains one of the plainest citizens of our town. He’s strictly a family man.

The living room contained enough seats for 50 people. The walls were hung with original paintings, notable for mood and brilliant colorings. The bookshelves were lined with classics and many volumes dealing with sociological subjects…When he noticed I was examining the room he explained, “Betsy and I don’t go out much. We like to have our friends here.”

Photoplay.  1950

A gem called Bertha looks after the Kelly household that is a sociable rather than a social one. Friends like Montgomery Clift, the Richard Contes, young writers and directors, drop in for good conversation or the feeling of aliveness that stems from Gene and his Betsy.

 

Hollywood Album 1950. Gene:

It is fortunate for me that my wife is a professional too, and we share likes and dislikes. We do not like formal parties, seldom go to nightclubs unless a very good friend is appearing or some talented performer we admire particularly is headlined. We are stay-at-homes otherwise. We have fun at home. Sometimes as many as thirty friends drop in on a Sunday.

My only complaint against my wife is that she insists that I eat vegetables, but she accepts my eccentricity of eating a chocolate bar every morning after breakfast, because it gives me energy.

 

Lois Mcclelland. The Neighbours Are Talking. Magazine article 1950

With Gene, the party is never off. It’s always open house…people are constantly dropping in at odd hours, and the carnival spirit literally seeps in through the walls. That’s the way Gene likes it. He enjoys nothing more than staying up all night talking with good friends, playing games, laughing.

...Sundays the Kellys entertain in earnest, for that’s volleyball day and it takes a crowd to play that game. The first group to arrive gets into the first round, then they go upstairs to shower while the next thirty people take the second shift. And so on, all through the day. Dinner is buffet style with plenty for all, and everybody helps with the cooking. The Kellys have only one servant, a cook, and on Sundays she flees the house.

..A couple of Sundays ago the volleyball gangs started to crowd the house early, but instead of toting out the athletic equipment, Gene announced that everyone was going to help him re-paint the upstairs bathroom. So, bit by bit, all the fixtures were disassembled and arranged neatly in the yard, while some of the biggest names in show-business went busily to work scraping off old paint. The neighbours are still talking about it…

 

Toledo Blade. March 5th 1950. Hedda Hopper

As I drove up to the Gene Kelly home in Beverley Hills, a companion, looking over the place, remarked, “Strangers would never guess that a couple of movie stars live here. It’s so unpretentious.”

The adjective might also be applied to its owner, for despite the fabulous success that his many talents have brought him, Gene remains one of the plainest citizens in our town; and he’s strictly a family man.

I was a bit early for our appointment; but Gene came in right on the dot. His walk was characteristic of dancers. As he moved about the place, he seemed to have springs on his feet. He was wearing a baseball style cap and a jacket with re-enforcement patches at the elbows.

“This is my first day off from work in months,” says he, “and I’ve been trying to get a lot of little things done, like having this pair of pants altered to fit…If you’ll excuse me a minute, I want to check on my daughter, Kerry. She has the empatago. I think she’s had about everything a child can get…

Just then Betsy Blair came in, turned her back to Gene, and, like wives everywhere, said, “Button me up.” Gene did, but he expressed doubts as to whether the buttons would stay fastened

 

Everybody in Hollywood had read The Naked and the Dead, and everybody wanted to meet its author. Mailer played tennis (badly) with Charlie Chaplin and had dinner at Gene Kelly’s house with John Huston, Humphrey Bogart, and Shelley Winters.

 

Newsweek March 1950

He still remains a modest citizen of Beverley Hills where he is known chiefly for his unquenchable energy. The provincial farmhouse-type home where he lives with his actress wife Betsy Blair and seven-year-old daughter Kerry, is equipped with an extensive library as well as a fifteen-foot bar upon which he sometimes likes to dance.

 

Modern Screen. April 1950 

One afternoon several weeks ago, a veteran character actress, well-pickled in the vinegar of her own disillusionment, was sitting in the MGM commissary….when Gene Kelly and his wife Betsy Blair, strolled into the place.

The actress turned to her lunch companion….”Now, there’s a strange couple,” she remarked.

“Strange?” said her friend. “What do you mean?”

“Why,” said the actress, “everyone knows that the Kellys are the plainest, simplest, most unaffected couple in Hollywood. They don’t even own a swimming pool!”

“Oh!” exclaimed the friend. “I didn’t know that. And they look so normal!”…

Friends of the Kellys insist that they get along so beautifully because they live in Beverley Hills as if they were living in Pittsburgh. They are middle-class people who lead middle-class lives. Most young couples who come to Hollywood and make a great success immediately establish a new way of life…It’s natural and its expected.

When you find a couple in Hollywood whose basic sense of values has not been changed by success, you are finding a rarity. Gene and Betsy Kelly qualify as such a rarity….

Gene currently earns $2000 a week. Betsy…makes $750 a week…Now, when you’re making that much in Hollywood, you are…supposed to do certain things...

The Kellys own a five-year-old Ford…Kerry Kelly attends the public grade school in Beverley Hills…The Gene Kellys have no business manager and no business investments…

What’s the secret of their happy marriage? When you ask Gene, he stops and thinks as if he is trying to condense his entire marriage into a paragraph that would explain everything.

“All I know,” says Gene, “is that Betsy and I try to live our life as we think best. We don’t live for show; we don’t throw great parties; we live simply and plainly according to our own tastes. We get on together because we see eye to eye on the fundamental things that count.”

Those fundamentals, according to Betsy, are “love, family, and work.”

“To Gene,” Betsy explains, “and also to myself, the most important thing in life is our home. Naturally, love and family go with that. We want Kerry to grow up believing in the dignity and respect which all human beings, regardless of their wealth or environment, are entitled to.”

Gene believes in the fundamental dignity of honest labor, of doing as much work as will satisfy a person’s sense of pride and achievement….

 “And when he’s working,” his wife says, “he’s the easiest man in the world to keep happy. All I have to do is to stuff him with meat and potatoes, never any vegetables. He hates vegetables, almost as much as getting up early. We both like to stay up late and sleep the next day until noon. But I can’t. I have to get up for Kerry, and Gene has to get up for MGM.

 

Family Album 1950

Gene stands for genius. Want proof? Well, Mr Kelly (even though he's a top-drawer actor-dancer-director-writer combination) lives quietly, comfortably in an unpretentious Beverley Hills suburb with his wife, actress Betsy Blair, and daughter Kerry, 8, in a small clapboard house which does not boast a swimming pool. After 9 years of the simplest, satisfyingest married life in moviedom, Gene and Betsy Kelly are as firmly un-Hollywood as ever, send little Kerry to a neighborhood public school, shun publicity, keep their house overflowing with friends and neighbors who don't bother about knocking, wander casually in for a fast hand of volley ball with the energetic star...

Gene, generally attired in dungarees, polo shirt and a tired baseball cap, goes for sports and conversaton in a big way, collects books, paintings and housefuls of guests with the same gusto that wows movie audiences during a Kelly dance specialty. Betsy drives a '41 Ford to do her marketing in, does her own interior decorating (with Gene acting as consultant), goes about in sports clothes, flat-heeled shoes and no make-up, believes the most important thing in life is their home, with love and family as an essential part.

Gene agrees emphatically, explains their idyllic marriage is the result of living their lives as they think best, simply, unaffectedly, and, that rarest of all Hollywood items, normally.

 

Chicago Tribune May 24th 1950

Gene Kelly is home alone, while wife Betsy Blair and daughter Kerry remain in New York, where mama will do some TV shows.

 

Saturday Evening Post July 1950

On days when  he doesn’t have to report at the studio for work, the Kelly home seems part theatrical boardinghouse, part baseball spring-training camp. Friends, relatives, even the friends of friends drop in unannounced. It’s easy to tell when strangers call. They are the only ones who bother to ring the doorbell. A Kelly party may start with ten people and end with thirty. Serious discussions, fights, impromptu dance tryouts, and the rendering of Gershwin or Rodgers and Hart songs go on simultaneously. The activity reaches its boiling point on weekends. Volleyball or kickball games start at two on Saturday afternoons and last until seven…When the backyard athletics are over, Gene is likely to suggest a strenuous version of the parlor charade known as The Game. He is indefatigable at this kind of mental exercise too. His team once acted out a sentence written by Freud in one of his more puckish moments: “Dementia praecox is very unfortunate hanging on the family tree.” Gene got it in just forty seconds...

 

Modern Screen October 1950

From the outside, the Kelly’s two-storey house is like that of many middle-class American families, living in good residential districts….There are two things though, which distinguish this house from the others on the block. First there are usually six to twelve cars parked in front of it. These cars belong to the friends who drop in regularly for talk and movies, and on Saturday nights, for charades…No one ever rings the bell or knocks on the Kelly door.. People just walk right in….The second distinguishing factor is the telephone. It never stops ringing. Actors phone Gene for advice about little theatre groups. The Veteran’s hospital asks Betsy to work an extra day. Little Kerry’s friends invite her over for dinner. The Kellys always answer the phone themselves.

Superficially, Gene and Betsy appear to be an average young couple. Actually, they’re too talented to be average. Yet they prefer a simple house in an unpretentious street.

 

Screenland January 1953

Gene’s wife, Betsy Blair, came in while we were sitting there at lunch. “Honey,” he said to her, encircling her tiny waist with a warm embrace. They looked into each others eyes as if they were honeymooners – they looked at each other the same way just about nine years ago when I first met them…They’d been in Hollywood just a short time, and they were rather shy. They were sitting in a corner at a big Hollywood party, surrounded by famous stars, and they looked kind of lonely. Gene and Betsy are not bold people. They make and keep lasting friendships, but they don’t go out looking for them.

They don’t go to nightclubs or public places very much, but their door is always open to those they get to know and like. It’s literally open. Friends just walk in, knowing it’s all right. If someone rings the doorbell, Gene says to Betsy, “Honey, there’s a stranger at the door.”

 

In early 1952, Gene, Betsy and Kerry rented out the house on Rodeo Drive and travelled to Europe in order to use some of MGM's surplus assets by making several films, including Gene's long-desired Invitaion To The Dance. The government was also giving tax breaks to anyone willing to work outside of the U.S. for 18 months. For more details on this time see the page: An American Lives Here.

 

New York Times August 8th 1953

Gene Kelly arrived in Hollywood this morning by plane after more than a year of making pictures abroad for Metro. He went directly from the airport to the studio.

 

Chicago Tribune. August13th 1953

Gene Kelly has rented Gene Tierney’s house until he can get back into his own, which Carmen Pantages has rented during the Kellys’ absence.

 

St. Petersburg Times. August 17th 1953

Gene Kelly slipped away from Britain very quietly on a BOAC plane by booking the seat in the name of Mrs. F. Kelly.

Screen Album 1954. On their return from Europe

The house, with its open-door policy, is itself again, reflecting the warmth of those who live there. Bells are for strangers. Friends turn the knob and walk in, sure of their welcome. That’s how the Kellys like it. That’s why Hollywood’s a nicer place with them in it.

 

Movieland 1954. Busy, Busy, Busy.

The Kellys do a good bit of entertaining – that springs from living, not planning. It’s an informal way of living that makes for everyone’s having a good time. Sometimes even formality leads to informality. Recently, writers Adolph Green and Betty Comden gave a dinner party at the Kellys’. Both Betty and Adolph have only temporary apartments in California, and since they wanted to pay back some social obligations, they just borrowed the Kelly home for a dinner party for 30. During the evening, Oscar Levant and Andre Previn played the piano and Humphrey Bogart contributed some impersonations to mention a few of the high-salaried impromptu entertainers present. Did everybody have a good time? Obviously for the same crowd came back the next afternoon for volley ball and raiding the ice box as well.

Sunday afternoon volley ball games at the Kellys are an established ritual. The refrigerator is stocked, for a help-yourself basis. After everyone has had plenty of good exercise and good food, Gene sets up the projector and home screen – and everyone sinks blissfully into a chair to watch a movie…It’s typical of the Kelly place that the volley ball court originally started out as a badminton court. But the Pacific breezes over Beverley Hills, explains Gene, blew the shuttlecock back and forth – making it a pretty uneven game…

Gene describes the Rodeo Drive house which they’ve lived in since 1946, as, “the charm of the old, with the convenience of the new. It’s the first farmhouse in Beverley Hills! We bought it after I got out of the Navy because we thought it was high time we had a home of our own. We’re still working on it. We’ve just enlarged the kitchen – made it wider and bigger. It sounds corny, maybe, but I always wanted a kitchen I could roller skate in!

“It’ll never win a Pulitzer Prize in the Architectural Digest but we like it.

“We re-did the house, piece by piece” – and Gene did much of it himself.

“First,” he said, “I scraped the beams – mostly on free Sundays. Then I rubbed a little white paint into them. First you get them new – then you make them look old again!” He made tables, built-in cabinets, “because we liked it a certain way.

“The stuff I didn’t dare tackle, I turned over to a contractor.” The living room was pretty small, so they knocked out the back wall and they now have a step-down playroom.

The dining room is small, 15x15 feet. The den is still smaller; 12x15 – and that’s where Gene Kelly sits and dances!

 

Dance. Pauline Swanson. 1954

Gene’s social life is almost entirely centred around his home. Gene loves parties but hates going out, and so the parties are at home – lots of them.

...Christmas is Kerry’s big-time. For years the family has made a ceremony of a carol-singing party for all their friends and children on Christmas Eve, with a sit-on-the-floor supper under the big tree afterwards, and presents for everybody. Kerry makes most of the gifts herself and always does the cards and decorations. They’re a generous family. Gene likes nothing better than to buy Christmas presents.

 

Silver Screen June 1954.

Now that Gene is in Hollywood again he’s gone back to his informal type of life. He and his family live in a wonderful old home in Beverley Hills, one of the oldest in town. He has recently added a guest room and is modernising the kitchen. There’s nothing pretentious about the place – it simply reflects his own informal attitudes.

Not too long ago Gene had an extra chore thrown at him. It was Dad’s Night at an annual PTA meeting at the Hawthorne  elementary school. The fathers were to entertain. Among the papas set to do their all for their children were Van Johnson, Robert Young, Wendell Corey, Robert Cummings, and Cornel Wilde. But the show was a bit of a mess so Gene came in and spent his evenings directing his star-studded cast and came forth with some exceptional entertainment.

 

Toledo Blade November 12th 1960

The other night Paddy Chayefsky, who wrote Marty, revealed how Miss Blair happened to be selected for the role. When Chayefsky, then an unknown, made his first trip to Hollywood, someone invited him to dinner at Gene Kelly’s home…Paddy spoke derisively about Hollywood’s artistic achievements and said, “You couldn’t name me one really important movie made here in the last 10 years.” Kelly named more than 100,and Chayefsky was astonished to find himself agreeing with his host and conceding error.

The next day…Paddy received a phone call from Kelly. “My wife tells me I was somewhat rude last night. How about coming to dinner tonight?” The young writer accepted…He again argued and the following day Kelly phoned him once more; “My wife tells me I was rude…” For 4 successive nights Chayefsky dined at the Gene Kelly’s…Years later…he noticed Betsy Blair’s name on the list and remembering those dinners, chose her in preference to named stars.

 

Gene, on the set of Hello! Dolly. Talking about his home on Rodeo Drive

By Beverley Hills standards a small house, by the standards I was brought up in it’s a well to do house.

The backyard is the gym – I get a big workout with the kids all the time.

 

Source unknown, possibly Photoplay late 1973.

Article by Barbra Paskin. Living The Life Of Kelly

The strains of an old George Gershwin number drift out to the porch of one of the oldest converted farmhouses in California. For thirty years it has been the home of one of the greatest stars in the history of cinema. Gene Kelly.

The door opens and there is Gene Kelly, smiling, looking as if he’d just stepped out of An American In Paris

 

Clive Hirschorn. Gene Kelly. 1974

After Gene's marriage to Jeannie, their lifestyle changed dramatically...by 1960, the Kelly residence was no longer the open house it used to be.. Once a year there would be a large gathering the day after Christmas, when the Kellys would invite their friends and their friends' children. An early dinner for the children was prepared, after which they would be taken home. Their parents returned and the party would then continue into the morning...

...Night clubs and formal parties, said Gene, were never his style. ‘Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been awkward at them. They bring the worst out in me... I’m sure a lot of people considered me anti-social, which I wasn’t. It’s just that my social life took place in my home.’

 

 

 

People magazine 1974

The license plate on Kelly’s Chrysler sedan reads “DADDY” and the plate on the station wagon says “MOMMY”. But  Kelly’s second wife Jeanne died a year ago of leukaemia. He now shares his unpretentious Beverley Hills home with his son Timothy, 12, his daughter Bridget, 10, and a housekeeper. His daughter Kerry…will present Kelly with his second grandchild this fall.

 

Magazine clipping 1976. Source unknown

My Kids Talked Me Into the Knievel Movie.

Gene Kelly opened the door of his house, one of the oldest in Beverley Hills, and closed it quickly after I entered. He jerked a thumb towards the street. “One of the tourist buses is stopped out there,” he said, grinning. “If the people see me, they come right up to the door and want to come in for a visit.”

Kelly wasn’t wearing his toupee and a stubble of beard was visible around his chin. He was dressed in a sports shirt, slacks and slippers. It wasn’t the elegant Gene Kelly that one is accustomed to seeing at Hollywood parties.

He led the way into the bar to pour himself an evening cocktail. It was time to relax from work and the increasing demands Hollywood is making on him these days.

 

Pets of The Stars. Magazine article. June 1979

When I directed Hello Dolly! I saw this little Sheltie over in a corner. It was Bambi. She was such a cute dog I fell in love with her on sight. We sort of fell in love with each other actually...

Through the years Gene has owned a variety of dogs, usually collies. There was one husky named Spike whose weight and exuberance was too much for Bridget to handle. They once bought a dog from Yellowstone Park thinking it was a mongrel – they had actually been sold a coyote! It would attack dogs and people and run after cars. They gave it to a farmer...

“Ginger is a Cockapoo, brought to us by our housekeeper, Mrs Spencer, whose granddaughter raises show dogs. It is a cross between a cocker spaniel and a poodle. She is not very friendly...The sheer constant affection dogs give is really such a joy.”

 

New York Times  1979

Mr Kelly…sat in the living room of his Beverley Hills home. The house where he has lived for the past 33 years was an epicentre of activity, what with two teen-aged children returning from school, a refinisher delivering a table, a housekeeper and secretary coming and going and, later still, dinner guests arriving for cocktails. He was wearing sunglasses necessitated by sunlight slanting through the west windows and braced with a strong screwdriver cocktail and an even stronger Irish charm.

 

Saturday Evening Post. July 1980

Kelly is speaking from a comfortable chair in his modestly, though admirable appointed home in Beverley Hills. The house, like him, is a Hollywood original – one of the oldest in the area. The furniture is distinctly traditional, hardly ostentatious, and yet has a personality all its own. Gene has long resisted temptation to knock down a wall or two to provide the interior with a more modern California look. It will stay the way it is, because, with few exceptions, that’s the way it’s always been.

 

Jack Wintz. St. Anthony Messenger. Catholic magazine. August 1980

Kelly’s home is a minor marvel because of its relative simplicity…It’s basically a white-framed with red shutters and a charming bay window, not very unlike one you would find on an ordinary street in a typical American town…He’s one of the few stars who has kept the same address throughout much of his career…

Kelly came to the front door…Though his hair was greyer than expected, the brown-eyed entertainer looked younger than his 67 years and his familiar voice was cordial and alive with Irish charm.

He wore a casual gold sweater, dark slacks and house slippers, as he had just gotten out of the shower. It was his time to relax a little from an extremely busy schedule before having dinner with Timothy, 18, and Bridget, 16, and maybe overseeing their homework.

 

The Free-Lance Star. December 22nd 1983

Pajama-clad entertainer Gene Kelly was saved by smoke alarms and his son from a Christmas tree fire that destroyed their home early today, and he described the blaze as ‘disastrous.’.

Firefighters said Kelly’s son Tim, 21, braved a flame-filled stairwell to awaken Kelly, 71, and guide him down rear stairs to safety. His 19-year-old daughter Bridget also escaped unharmed..

“He did one heck of a job,” Fire Capt. Mike Smollen said of Tim Kelly, who suffered minor facial burns and singed hair. He was treated at the scene. The elder Kelly was uninjured….

Smollen said Bridget saved the family’s dogs from the back yard. When firefighters arrived, the family was standing…watching the flames.

“I think they were more shocked than frightened,” Smollen said. “They said, ‘Everyone’s out. Don’t worry about us.’”

He said flames were leaping over the front stairway to Kelly’s room when Tim went up to awaken his father. By the time they started down, the stairwell was fully engulfed in flames, so they retreated to a back staircase.

 

St Petersburg Times. August 4th 1984

In the Beverley Hills home that Gene Kelly lost to a devastating fire last winter, there had been a newel post on the staircase near his front door. On it could usually be found Kelly’s collection of odd caps and hats, the casual symbol of the man who brought athletic informality to dancing…

The newel post went up in smoke last December 22nd, as did all of Kelly’s personal mementos from a 45-year show business career…

Now, Kelly is occupying a rented house…originally built for Greta Garbo. There is no convenient newel post, but there is a pair of what Kelly calls “2,000-year-old kosher twin Etruscan statues in the expensive foyer.

Sure enough, the statues are festooned with a well-worn Irish tweed hat, a few golf caps, a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball cap…some things about Gene Kelly just do not change.

Such as the grace and nimbleness with which he bounds forward meet a visitor. Dressed in a blue sport shirt, tan slacks, his trademark white socks and dirty sneakers, Kelly seems as light on his feet as he did skipping through puddles 32 years ago. The toupee is grey, but the body remains trim and fit-looking.

 

Los Angeles Times. August 30th 1985

Gene Kelly, sitting on a folding chair and applauding loudly, was the perfect picture of the doting father. His daughter, Bridget, was “in the back,” co-ordinating Pierre Le Prince’s men’s and women’s fashion. (She represents the men’s and women’s European couture collection in the U.S.) The models sashayed past Kelly, who was in his living room where two rows of chairs were set up (the house is almost reconstructed, but still unfurnished) and into the den where more guests were ready to applaud their entrances. At show’s end Bridget, hair short and slicked back, took her bow and thanked everyone for showing up. Dad beamed.

Those who signed in Tuesday afternoon included Sandi Bennett, who sat next to Kelly pere, Bridget’s brother Tim…

 

Los Angeles Times. October 26th 1986

Thalians President Club glimpses the couture and prêt-a-porter collection of Spring 1987 fashions of Parisian designer Pierre Le Prince…in the Grand Ballroom of the Beverley Wilshire. It marks Le Prince’s second visit here, his first a private one at the residence of Gene Kelly and his daughter Bridget, an art and fashion student at the American School in Paris.

 

LA Times 2003. Interview with Betsy Blair: What's her memory, for example, of a not-yet-iconic Marilyn Monroe? A breathy starlet who arrived at their house on the arm of director Nicholas Ray and made a beeline for the living room couch. "They were necking the whole evening," Blair says, tossing her head back and laughing. "I can't say I saw a great spark. I just thought she was a sweet, pleasant, jazzy girl that Nick was dating at the time. Now, the prettiest one that ever came over was Elizabeth Taylor -- she was just ravishing."