The 'Life And Times' page is getting so big it is becoming a little unwieldy, so I have made this new page, to which I will transfer most of Gene's own words. He had a lot to say! So it could be 'quite a while, quite a while,' before it is complete... if ever...
Daily Express (British newspaper) 13th October 1976
...The public don't know me at all. My life is a quest for privacy but I know I can never have it except in the quiet and seclusion of this home.
A very kind friend sent the following two 'letters' to me. They give a fascinating insight into Gene's philosophy and life-long principles.
Silver Screen March 1943. A letter to my daughter Kerry
I can hardly wait for you to be old enough so I can talk to you, Kerry, and you to me. There are a lot of things I want to say to you and I want to be sure you understand me.
But perhaps I shouldn’t say I want you to grow up. You’re so pretty now, you worry me already. Just think how I’ll worry when you’re seventeen…
Kerry, when you grow up I hope you’ll be an actress. If you are not an actress, I hope you’ll be a singer or a dancer…because I think it is the nicest profession in the world, with the nicest people.
I hope, especially, that when you grow up Kerry, you’ll be able to work at whatever you want to be, and raise your children in less troublesome times than we know now.
And if you do grow up and become an actress, I know you’ll work hard and try to be a good one. Because, believe me, it’s only by trying to do something very well, even if you don’t succeed, that you get any fulfilment and pleasure out of your work.
I’m still trying to make myself an actor, Kerry – and some of the things I’ve learned along the way are these: you’re no good if you’re not honest. Honesty in everything you do, in your studies, in your performance, in your attitude.
If you keep that honesty and sincerity in your work, and have some native talent, you’re bound to learn something, and be someone.
…But I must impress upon you this thing about being sincere. Even if I have to put the word at the bottom of your cereal bowl.
Let’s skip all your youthful years, Kerry – I know they’re going to be a lot of fun for you and your mother and myself. Because after the war we’re going to take trips to little places your mother and I have been before and would like to see again. Queer, little places that hardly any one knows, or goes to.
Maybe by that time we’ll be able to take a quick week-end to China or somewhere, in an aeroplane, and you can see all the places your old man always wanted to see, but never quite managed to make.
And Kerry, please, for Heaven’s sakes, have a sense of humor. It’s one of the blessings and the virtues they never teach you in Sunday School. But it is as God-given and as wonderful as faith, hope and charity…
Always be ready to smile at everything and to make people smile with you.
And no matter how old-fashioned it sounds, don’t forget “hard work.” Because no matter how bright and beautiful you grow up to be, you’ll never accomplish anything without it.
Be kind to people, Kerry. Try not to hurt their feelings. Now, don’t misunderstand. I don’t want you NOT to be a fighter, not to stick up for your rights. But be kind. The nicest thing in the world is to walk down the street and have everyone say “Hulloa, glad to see you,” – and mean it.
Let me tell you why I wanted to be an actor: I know that, if you are an actor, and a good one, you have to be an artist and you have to look at the world that way. And if you are an artist, and a good one, you do a lot of good.
Your old man knows. Because he’d like to be one for that reason. Let’s hope that some day he can really say he is.
Don’t let people scare you by telling you that an actress’ life is a hard one, Kerry. Or a singer’s, or a dancer’s. Or anyone else in the theatrical profession. Because it is.
But all those hard knocks and struggles – and believe me, you’ll get plenty of them if you go into the theatre or any one of its allied branches – are good for you. And if you keep that sense of humor I told you about, you’ll have a lot of fun. Even when things are most dismal.
Besides, being in show business is always a thrill. Every new picture or play or musical composition or dance, is a new adventure and the beginning of a whole, new world. And Kerry, that’s something. Because it keeps you interested in humanity. You have to be interested….
I hate to brag about the woman I married – who, incidentally, happens to be a close relation to you, Kerry, by blood – but one of the things I like about show business is that it enabled me to meet your mother, and my wife.
As you get a little older you will read the story of “Cinderella” and other fairy tales of beautiful girls to whom wonderful things happened. But let me tell you a real, true-to-life fairy story that will never cease to be a source of wonderment and amazement to me.
I was directing a show for Billy Rose in New York City when a young, red-haired girl, wearing stars in her eyes, walked in for a job as a dancer in the chorus. She was a very good dancer. She got the job.
A few weeks later, I began taking her to lunch, then to dinner, then meeting her after the show at night to take her home.
One night, after the show, we met a friend of mine named William Saroyan who, after speaking to her for five minutes, offered her the starring part in a new play of his, “The Beautiful People.” She had never acted a part on the stage before. But he was so impressed with her sincerity and honesty and simple beauty that he knew, the first moment he saw her, she could fill this fine dramatic part in this important production, a big New York play.
This sounds just like one of those plots in the movies that every one thinks isn’t real – but it happened to this girl. Yes, that girl was your mother, Kerry, as I suppose you’ve guessed by now. And the play was a hit, and so was she. And another of those miracles in which the theatre abounds had happened again.
I hope when you grow up that wonderful things like that will happen to you…Yes, it’s a wonderful world, Kerry, this world of ours, this theatre…
I remember, now, my mother and father telling me what they went through as children, what mistakes they made and the things they’d like to have the chance to do over – all of which went right out of my head, into the air….
And here I am, a father now, trying to tell my child some of the things that, undoubtedly, my parents told me.
Let’s hope you’ll be smarter than your daddy and keep hold of a few.
When I went to school in Pittsburgh, as a young boy, I was always afraid to do anything “different.” Everything had to be done the way all the other lads did things. Even though I felt it wasn’t right. If there was a boy to be teased, and every one seemed to be doing it, it seemed to be the thing to do because the crowd did it.
Try to have enough courage, Kerry, not to do things because the crowd does them.
I remember when my mother sent me to dancing school. I was one of the gang, so to speak, and they all thought dancing was a sissy business, that real boys didn’t do that sort of thing. I often fought my way from the house to dancing school, and back again, giving and suffering black eyes in frequent encounters with the kids who teased me.
Now, I like to dance. But because the crowd thought it was a sissy thing to do, I raised the roof with my parents until they finally let me stop. And oh, what blessed patience they had with me!
Of course, Kerry, being a little girl, you won’t have the identical problems I had as a little boy. But you will have similar ones of your own. And when you have to face them, try to have the courage to really make up your own mind, even if you do have to be different.
For you see how such things can work out. I am in the theatre now. I am a dancer. So, Kerry, if you want to do something badly enough, don’t be afraid to do it, no matter how many people kid you. Believe that because you want to do it so much, it must be right.
The same thing applies to your education, Kerry. Try to find the thing you want to do very much. Personally, I hope you’ll go to college. But if you don’t that’s all right too. Because you only get out of college as much as you put into it. A great deal of the years I spent there was wasted time – but it was nobody’s fault but my own.
Whatever you put into a thing is what you get out of it. No one ever acquires learning by having it thrown at them – although some of it is bound to stick.
I’m already worrying about the kind of books I’ll buy you when you’re old enough to read. I’m anxious for you to discover those great worlds of adventure and excitement and knowledge that other people have experienced and that you can experience yourself, even as a child, through books.
I just hope that you’ll like to read enough so that you won’t spend all your spare time listening to the serial programs that they throw at the kiddies nowadays on the air. I hope you will use your own imagination, Kerry, not borrow it through synthetic mediums.
But please, Kerry, don’t grow up too fast because I’m crazy about you. I want to have you around for a long while.
But when you do grow up, get married and have a kid just like yourself. You won’t know it for a long time, but it’s the greatest thing in the world.
All my love,
Movie Show. June 1946
Gene Kelly Writes A Letter. Dictated to Gladys Hall
Ran into an old friend, writer Gladys Hall the other day. Took her to lunch at Louis Bergen’s in West 45th Street, where – because I did my courting there and because I prefer places like Bergen’s and Chock Full o’Nuts and hamburger joints on 8th Avenue to “21” and such – I usually eat when I am in New York…Gladys asked if I would write a letter to a lot of our mutual fan friends and tell ‘em where I came from, and how I got to Hollywood, and what I’m doing, etcetera…It was a good idea.
… When I write letters (which I never do, even to my wife. Always telephone.). I feel all Winnie, the Pooh and flimsy-whimsy, but anything for an old pal. So here goes. I’ll give it to you straight.
…Pop was an executive with the Columbia Gramophone Company. Mom was an artist. Brother James…is an accountant in Canton, Ohio. Brother Frederic an actor and dancer. Sister Joan teaches High school. Sister Louise is a dance instructress.
I grew up (What’s unusual about that? Even movie actors grow up. Or don’t they?)…I led an average life.
…I entered Penn state College, majoring in Law, stayed there a year, then to the University of Pittsburgh from which, in 1933, and with a B.S. degree, I graduated.
It was while I was attending college that I really found my way into show business and knew that it, and none other, was for me...
I’d tried all the usual teen-age means of making money…I dug ditches. Puddled concrete. Laid bricks. Jerked sodas. Worked in gas stations, etcetera…
As a kid, mind you, if anyone had told me I’d grow up to be a dancer, I’d have socked him in the jaw. Sissy stuff, I called dancing. And why not? When, in grade school, my mother sent me to a dancing school, I had to fight my way from the house to the school and back again, getting and giving razzberries and shiners.
Bu time changes a lot of things, including dreams…My brother Fred and I teamed up as an act and were soon fairly well known in Western Pennsylvania as an energetic, if not too well-polished team of hoofers.
Later we drifted into teaching and opened a dancing school...More and more we became interested in dancing. Soon it became, not a hobby…but a craft, a profession, an obsession.
It also kept us out of mischief. We had no time and – after keeping young Pittsburgh literally on its toes for many hours of every afternoon and evening – very little energy for dates, girls, AND etcetera.
In the summer time we’d study in Chicago, or New York…wherever we were, we watched with avid interest…the cream of every dancing act on the boards…
If you watch and study fine artists, analyze them, find out what makes them fine, you are getting something you cannot get out of theory books or schools….
Watching such an artist as Fred Astaire, I mean, who has influenced every dancer that ever danced…
As I began to teach and found that I had a natural ability for transmitting to others what I knew myself, the urge to know more and more, the urge towards perfection, beset me….In 1937…I went to New York, with the idea of becoming a stage director in mind. But no one knew me in New York so, to become acquainted, I shopped around for an acting job and finally got one – a small dancing part in the musical Leave It To Me. This of course after I was turned down for several other jobs and had got the idea that the road to New York success is steep, stiff and rocky.
So, where was I? Why did I start this thing? I can’t write letters. Most confusing thing in the world, writing letters. You lose your way…
Well, after that it was like opening a bottle of olives – get the first one out and the rest come easier….
Having been seen in Pal Joey…the Pied Pipers of Hollywood piped me and the inevitable march, the toilsome trek to the movie Mecca began. But it wasn’t a lonesome trek, for while directing Diamond Horseshoe, I met my spouse….
She came in for a job (She got the job!). Not because I fell for her, or had any idea she was to be my wife, but because she was very pretty, red hair, stars in her eyes, wings on her feet and was the best dancer in the group..
Nor did she, by any stretch, fall for me. She took me in fact, for one of the busboys or something….She was so young and so cute, so to be treated carefully and kept away from the Broadway wolves, rather than to be dated and courted.
It developed gradually, our romance…over after-theater suppers at Bergen’s…and we found out we liked the same things – the theater of course, and dancing of course, and parlor games and being yourself and saddle shoes and babies and chocolate doughnuts and fairy stories – and each other.
A year and a half after we met, we were married. I am glad we waited a year and a half. I do not believe in hasty marriages. Nothing so vital, so important, so for-all-your-life, should be a quickie….
In Hollywood, Kerry, our baby daughter was born. Kerry, who is now three. Kerry who will, I hope, be an actress, or a dancer, or something in show business. It is a good business. I love it. …They are good people. Their hearts are warm. Their minds and their purses open….
I am very happy…that my contract with MGM reads “producer-director”, as well as actor because, first to direct, and then to produce is what, when I begin to creak, I want to do. Happy for the time, however, to act and, most of all – to dance. Would like to do fantasy. Would like to do a child classic – Heidi, for example, with Margaret O’Brien. Would like to dance again with animated cartoons.
In the Navy for the past two years…I’ve been writing and directing films, some documentary, some bond trailers – one, film on combat fatigue and psycho-neurosis. In order to get authentic material for this one I lived, for some weeks, in Swarthmore Convalescent Hospital, near Philadelphia, where many of the combat fatigue cases are treated. Imagine my poor wife’s consternation when she heard the rumor that I was at Swarthmore suffering from psycho-neurotic trouble, due to too many shells in my ears!
After my tenure in the Navy is over – although when that will be I have, at this writing, and low in points, as I am – no idea. I’ll be glad to go back to Hollywood…I don’t know where the heck we’ll live when we do get together. But it won’t matter too much. We have gypsy in us, Betsy and Kerry and I, and roof, or open sky over my head, I’ll be very glad to get back to the land of dreams and sun and orange-juice and make-believe again.
Yours, with kind regards, and all my thanks to everyone of you who has helped make my dreams come true.
New York Times. 2nd March 1941
...I was good enough at athletics…On the high school football team I was a substitute halfback and got into enough games to win my letter. I was one of the best school hockey players you could find. Yeah, I can brag about myself at hockey. When I was 14 I was playing center on an amateur team made up of grown men. My father was a Canadian. He’d flood our back yard in Winter, keep the ice clean, and he had me on skates when I was 5…
[My mother’s father] ran the Sterling mines, which means something in Northern Pennsylvania. I guess there is no doubt but that mother is a frustrated actress. She always managed to find artistic talent of some kind in all of the kids…
At high school I messed with dramatics and put on a couple of dance numbers in plays. To make sure that I’d be outstanding I went to a dancing school and learned tap. I had a talent for it. Whenever I’d see a dance in a movie or in vaudeville I could steal it with no trouble at all.
[In the University of Pennsylvania ] I joined a fraternity and spent so much money that I wish my father had kicked me. I jerked soda and did other odd jobs in the Summer but never earned enough to help, though my father had two of us in college and two more on the way. You’d think nobody could be such a dope as not to help, in circumstances like that, wouldn’t you? Then my father ran into hard times – it is amazing that he is still a Republican. He sent for us to come on home and go to Pitt or Carnegie Tech.
When I went to the University of Pennsylvania I had intended to be a writer. I found that writing was beyond me, believe me. Going to Pitt I decided I had better find another way than writing to earn a living...
I don’t want to mention names, but I have been bored in shows. Please believe me, I have. When you get lyrics that are just June, moon, Miss Calhoun, above, love – why, however good a showman you try to be, the time comes when it is very hard to give.
Modern Screen. June 1943
Women wear silly clothes for effect. Men’s clothes are silly without trying. The coats are too long; the pockets bulge because what are pockets for if not to put things in? Neckties make you look as if you were ready to hang.
Things I wish I Knew 10 Years Ago. Magazine article 1945, as told to Alice Canfield.
It is not often that those on top are willing to talk, to give a verbal helping hand to newcomers. Such is not the case with Gene Kelly, who has great generosity of mind and heart.
“If there’s anything I know that can help others,” says Gene, “I’m only too glad to pass it on.
…”If I could step back ten years, I would have tried to read and study more. Oh, sure, I went to college, but I mean I would try to get more general knowledge. People can’t give you education. You can’t get knowledge or learning by having it stuffed down your throat. You have to want to know things. …You should be alive to the world around you. You should know what is going on. Study people. Read books. Absorb things. Keep up with the world…
All natural talent should be developed while you are young. In dancing you should begin early to bring out natural rhythm. Dancing is really an athletic exercise, so athletics are a good way to begin training to dance….
In singing, it’s good to study first a musical instrument, like the violin…It helps you to learn melody, to recognise when notes are sharp or flat, and essential for a singer…
The best way to learn how to act is to act! Watch good actors, successful ones…But the most important thing of all in acting is to be honest with yourself, and sincere and honest with your audience…
DO learn how to move well…
DO keep as healthy as you can…
DO remember that the finest actors and actresses are very normal and natural off-stage and off-screen. Don’t ‘act’ off-stage…No one ever becomes a great actor or actress by going around being artificial in everyday life…
DON’T ape someone in a part just because you like the way he acts….
DON’T make faces or too exaggerated bodily gestures. Flamboyant acting is only good on rare occasions…Make it come from your insides. Feel it down in the pit of your stomach, not in your biceps.
DON’T attempt a part that is utterly unsuited to you…
DON’T try to charm your audience by being overly winsome and coy…
DON’T wear too much make-up on the stage…
DON’T think that pull can make you a star….If you can’t do a role believably… you won’t last long on stage, screen or radio.
But the biggest DON’T of all this is: DON’T forget that the basis of all good acting is honesty and sincerity. These shining qualities can’t be replaced by anything else.. They show in people whether they are movie stars or not…”
As for those qualities, Gene should know, since they shine through his every performance with undimmed brilliancy…
Photoplay January 1946
Gene (describing a 'typical' movie fan): They see you and they think, “My gosh, a movie actor!” That means, as far as they’re concerned, that you got a million bucks and make love to Rita Hayworth every night. Wonderful, isn’t it?
Silver Screen. April 1947
I worked on the New York stage, and loved it. Any performer likes the reaction of a live audience, but movies offer a great challenge too. If the people in this town who criticize movies used as much time being imaginative, our product could be an art medium.
SPG News. May 1947
Movies should give honest appraisal of current-day world. So says Gene Kelly, SPGuester.
You've asked me for a couple of paragraphs about our industry from the actor's viewpoint. So here are a few ideas shared with me by a lot of actors. I hope they're interesting enough to print. Here goes:
Sometimes it's very enlightening to see the same thing from two different perspectives. For several years I saw the picture business from the point of view of a guy who worked at MGM, lived in Beverley Hills and went to the movies for recreation...Then we went to war and I went to the Navy, where along with a cross-section of America, I dragged a sore back through boot training. This was when I realized something I must have known all along without ever having expressed it to myself...The people of America are sociologically formed by the pictures they see even more than by what they learn in school.
Characters in a film don't speak as the people do; the people speak like the characters. Movie sets aren't like apartments. It becomes the ambition of most married couples to have an apartment like a movie set. The girls you pass in the street who mold their features into the Hollywood conception of beauty, wear dresses they have admired on a star...Even the tough guys I knew in the Navy were tough like Cagney, Raft or Bogart.
There isn't anything unnatural about this. Why shouldn't every boy want to marry Betty Grable and dance through life...people are going to leave their drab apartments, if they're lucky enough to have them, and spend a couple of vicarious hours in a glass-floored penthouse among girls in well-supported, strapless evening gowns. For the price of two admissions virtue never goes unrewarded; crime never pays...not only is it cheap, but can you remember any teacher you ever had who could make American history that stimulating?
Now some of these things are as they should be. Virtue, which is much too often its own reward in real life, should, for the most part, pay off in pictures; and crime, which I'm told often pays quite well, certainly shouldn't be profitable when kids are looking. But within the limitations of good taste there are quite a few things pictures could say which they too seldom attempt.
I like slick, well made comedies; love musicals, and why shouldn't I? But I think much too large a proportion of the pictures made today are meaningless in the face of a world which needs truth and guidance. If audiences are going to model their lives after what they see in pictures, I think a respectable percentage of the films they see should give them an honest appraisal of the world we live in. The picture business is a public trust for the same reason the newspaper business is. They both provide sustenance for the minds of their patrons. I would like to see more plots that depend upon genuine characters motivated by authentic events rather than upon a device or gimmick. I would like to see the picture industry with its tremendous influence provide more solid food for American thought.
It's a fine feeling to be proud of the industry you work in. I was proud of mine during the war for the excellent work it did in the vital field of training films. Now I'd like to be proud of it in peacetime for the use of its persuasive power for the good of all people.
Gene. On being mobbed, 1947
"See, the bobby-soxers go for me. Please believe me, they don't know what they're doing. I'm a grown man!"
Screen Guide July 1947
I’m 34 years old. My full name is Eugene Curran Kelly. I’m a Catholic and one of five children. I was born in Pittsburgh on August 23rd, 1912. My father was a Canadian named James Patrick Kelly. He used to represent The Columbia Gramophone company in Pennsylvania….When I was a kid, my mother insisted on sending me to dancing school. The kids in the neighbourhood were sure I’d grow up to be a sissy. Anyway, I went to St. Raphael’s grammar school and Peabody High School and I played football, basketball and hockey. I also found out I could be a pretty big shot with the girls around school if I got in on the school plays. My family, at that time, was what you would call middle-class. My old man was making a pretty good salary and could afford to send me to Penn State…[He had to leave Penn State when the 1929 depression struck]…I went back home and got a job teaching gymnastics at Camp Porter, a Y.M.C.A. camp near Pittsburgh. I realised that if I was going to get a college education, I’d not only have to get it myself, but I’d have to help out the family as well. I worked as a ditch-digger, a concrete mixer and a carpenter’s helper on the new civic center. Then I enrolled in the University of Pittsburgh, going to school at night and working at a filling station in the daytime….
[Gene joined brother Fred in a dance act]…We made up a couple of jokes, and stole a lot more…[The Kelly cellar was turned into a dance school]…We started another school in Johnstown and we did pretty well. That brings us up to 1938. That year I left for New York to take a crack at the big time…
Movieland 1948. Alyce Canfield. That Old Black Magic
...Every actor owes something to his public. If we feel we don't, we soon find out that we do...The biggest thing in my life is my family and my home - that, and my work. I'd like to go home to my wife and my little girl at six and leave the public behind. But you can't...I don't think it's possible completely to divorce your private life from your public life in such a glamorized business - and eventually that takes its toll.
I guess if I am different now than when I first came to Hollywood it's that I am more of a recluse. I notice that I sometimes dodge public eating places..it's difficult to be stared at while you're eating your soup. I go shopping at the grocery store to buy a loaf of bread or a can of sardines, and I'm recognised. My life is out of my hands.
The moment you step out of the house you are made aware of the fact that you’re a celebrity…you're public property, but once you’re at home there’s no change...we're pretty average. I go home from work. I read my little girl a story. Betsy and I put her to bed. We eat dinner. Maybe we read. I learn lines. We talk about the day.....no different than any American family anywhere...I don’t care too much for nightclubs. They're too dark so you can't read a newspaper and too crowded to dance...On Sundays we go to church. We play ball. My little girl and I tend the garden and pick the flowers. Monday morning I go back to work...I don't beat my wife, and neither does the average American male. I know all this doesn't make a dramatic story, but it's the truth. you go around gardening – with your shirt tail out.. I was a mature grown man before ever I came out here...I've been around...A swimming pool can't turn my head. Neither can a blonde, you see, I've seen swimming pools and blondes before
Gene was asked to write an article on Typecasting for this book.
The Story Of Our Time. Encyclopaedia Yearbook 1950. Original manuscript in the Gotlieb Archives, Boston.
...Is it not mannerisms, peculiarities and the skill of an actor in putting over a general conception of a certain character, rather than physical traits which rate importance? An actor will readily say “Yes.”...
A role which is out of the ordinary for an actor is a challenge to his ability and talent. It is the role which appeals to his image and spirit and his love of the theatrical art which made him, in the first place, choose acting as a career....
Actors also like a change of pace...the stars get much more of an opportunity to swing from light comedy to heavy drama and romance...
It is the ...star's individuality and magnetic personality which made them a favorite at the box office. It is their individuality which “types” them, not the roles in which they are cast...
The actor will agree that type casting in the sense that makes for authenticity in atmosphere and background is necessary. But often he knows it means that a tall, lanky, slow-drawling guy with a sheepish grin is the only actor which can portray a cowboy. Or a sweet-faced blond with blue eyes, the innocent young heroine. That the villains all must be dark and evil-looking, and the God-fearing gentlemen all blond and bland...
On daughter Kerry, 1951 interview
She's smart...when it's bedtime I call out to her to get to bed, that's when she comes up to me and asks if I would like her to dance for me. She thinks she's outsmarting the old man. What she doesn't know is that I like a gal who uses her head. I'll trade a few minutes of her bedtime for that. And what's more, that way I get her to dance for me.
Photoplay Peter Hammond, October 1953
I learned long ago that there is no short cut to success. You have to work hard for what you get. And it must be planned work, based on a firm foundation of some natural talent or desire. That’s where I’m lucky. I was born with nimble feet and a hankering to dance.
Screen Album November 1954
Show business is all I know. Take it away from me and you’ve taken everything. I can put gas in a car, unless I’ve forgotten how, but somehow I don’t feel like going back to it. My legs still feel great, so I guess I’ll be dancing for a while, then there’s dance direction, and over-all direction – and acting.
Motion Picture 1954
Sometimes when I wake up in the morning, the first thing I eat is a candy bar. To give me energy. I need lots of sleep - nine or ten hours. They say I'm a restless sleeper. They also say I don't move my feet. They aren't dancing while I'm asleep!
Motion Picture 1955
Hard work is the only thing I understand. So I work every day and every night and sometimes all day Sunday. Think of all the fun I have talking about it on Saturday nights!
Edward Murrow TV interview 1958
On being asked how he was with business:
"Well, can I use the word lousy? I'm pretty much bored with business dealings.
Newspaper article. Date unknow, probably 1960s
Every night before going to sleep I eat a huge bologna and cheese sandwich on French bread - with quantities of wine or beer. When this gets monotonous I substitute a potato and onion sandwich, Italian salami or a couple of hot dogs.
TV Radio Mirror. November 1962
I can’t imagine an adult man not wanting marriage. Freedom is lonely…it’s sheer boredom…’getting to know you’ is the loveliest thing in life….A little variety can’t possibly compensate for the joys of solidity, of having someone close by your side, of having children.
For the joy of having a child, I’d eliminate a lot of freedom. And for a wife. A woman clips your wings a bit, but she’s worth it.
I belonged to the sweatshirt generation...the fact that I was born in Pittsburgh was like being born in Manchester or Birmingham or Liverpool in England.. the background moulds the expression.
I feel the contribution I can make the best is joy, but when I fall short and don’t turn in a good performance... I’m distressed.
It’s easy to loaf in California. But I guess I’m a lousy loafer. The trouble is, it becomes more difficult to get excited as you get older.
Seventeen magazine. Date unknown. Article written by Gene.
The title of this article is not suggested by John Milton's famous line “Come and trip it as you go, on the light, fantastic toe”, but by my big toe which is really quite fantastic. It is always purple, or blue, or the nail is cracked, or something is out of whack. It is always in a state of disrepair...
…As a boy I was very adept at playing baseball, had an excellent knack for street fighting, and an almost uncanny ability to break windows...I could handle any window with any kind of weapon or missile...
I didn't want to be a lawyer or a businessman or head the Chamber of Commerce or be president. I just wanted to dance and create dances...
People magazine 1974
I’ve never had a plan in my whole life.
I wish I could tell the public what they mean to me. They’ve kept me in business for a very long time. Every time I do a guest shot I get letters saying, “It’s good to see you again. Do more.” I must admit I’m always tempted.
Every actor owes something to his public.
I’ve always tried to reach for perfection, knowing that I could never achieve it.
On acting: It's much simpler to cry and moan and roll around than to smile and say it's been a nice day.
Quoted in TonyThomas. The Films Of Gene Kelly 1974
I was on my way to Japan when The Bomb dropped and I didn’t have to go. I was sweating that one out. You don’t know how scared you can get when you ask for active service and they finally give it to you.
LA Times. Letter from Gene, joining in a 'favourite words' discussion.
“My favorite word is 'palindrome'. When a word or sentence reads the same forward and back. For example Madam, I'm Adam; A Toyota; Dennis sinned.”...
I’d rather be happy than rich. I’ve turned down more movies than ever before in my life. I just want to be home with my wife and kids. [A poignant statement, this was during the time of Jeanne's illness.]
Toledo Blade. February 17th 1973
I am a very happily married man who loves family life with my wife and two children. Before anything else in my life my family comes first. Even so, I’m not exactly geared to be an idle man around the house.
If I ever give up show business, or vice-versa, I would go into some other kind of business as Cary Grant has done. He may be retired from the spotlight but he is not retired. And that’s what I want for my future – when the time comes.
TV & Movie Screen. August 1975
Speaking of the time following the passing of Jeanne:
I was determined to take care of our children…They were too young to be left by themselves or with a housekeeper. Raising the kids was much more important to me than making a movie, and I knew it would be a full-time job…
I really didn’t want to do a thing. My kids were the only ones who mattered to me. I certainly had enough money to send them to college and to live in luxury so I didn’t have to work…
Oh, sure, I could have played tennis and slept all day, but it would have had a bad effect on me. Actually, I become jittery just by doing absolutely nothing.
Pittsburgh Post Gazette. December 12th 1975
As to my other activities, they’re limited. As you know, I’m a widower, and I have a responsibility to my children who are 11 and 13. I try to arrange most of my out of town work to be in the summer, when they can go with me.
TV & Movie Screen. August 1975
On movies on TV: They butcher the pictures. My first experience with seeing a movie of mine on TV was Cover Girl. They cut all the early flashbacks out of the film. Nobody could figure out what was going on if they had just happened on the picture for the first time….
[On one occasion] Jeannie said to Timothy and Bridget, ‘Look, I want you to find out what your father does for a living. Up to now, you’ve probably thought he was a bank executive or an accountant.’ Well, we all sat in front of the set, and I was shocked to see that Debbie Reynolds had been almost completely snipped from the picture. It made no sense at all.
My big dancing days are over. But I’m always pleased to know that when I do make an appearance on television I get a fantastic response. Today, it’s either got to be small dancing, you know, like tap dancing or discotheque dancing which is easy to do – or it’s got to be straight acting or straight directing or choreography. Or a combination of those things.
I’ve even lost my theatrical bug and I think a lot of it might be due to old age, a lot of it to laziness! The terrible thing is that after you are out of the theatre for some while, you face a hit show – which can last a year or two – with some reservations. Life is so short and I want to do many things, especially when I have young kids. I want to take them out on vacation and grow up with them as they are growing up. The thing is that if we packed our bags now and went to New York and I got into a hit play, we’d be tearing up all the roots we’ve ever made.
But there’s something gone from the theatre that doesn’t make me long to work in it any more. The smell of the greasepaint and the lure of the crowd is for somebody else. I don’t think it’s so great.
Newspaper article by Joe Leydon, around 1979
As you get older…everything happens. They even look at some pictures you did that weren’t so good and say, ‘Oh, weren’t they nice?’…Actually I don’t watch my films too much, because when I do, I do a lot of wincing. And you find most actors as they mature have the same reaction. They look at themselves 20 years ago, and say, ‘Did I look like that?’…
When I see myself often in a big close-up, I do one of those big winces. The reason is I never paid enough attention to acting on the screen. When there was a Clark Gable or Robert Taylor reject, I often stepped in and said, ‘Okay, I’ll do it’ if I wasn’t doing anything. I did honestly want to learn about screen acting.
Quoted in: Pat York. Going Strong . Book featuring interviews with over-75s.
My daily life has a pleasant pattern. When I get up, I read the paper, go over the mail, and then I sit and think about some of my current projects. For the past couple of years I have been going on the lecture circuit, and find it very satisfying. America is full of young movie buffs, in colleges and movie societies, and it is rewarding to see this sustained enthusiasm. Giving lectures has evolved into a real profession for me. Besides, you’re paid for it, so it’s good all round.
I don’t like amateurs. When people come into work and are not really professional, I become very angry…I have often accepted do certain pictures just for the sake of working with professionals such as Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, Spencer Tracy and Freddie March. These colleagues…have worked at their particular craft to become the professionals they are.
Jack Wintz. St. Anthony Messenger. Catholic magazine. August 1980
“I don’t think the Church can tell me that because of the circumstances of my divorce that I’m not going to be saved through the Catholic Church. In my own conscience I am at peace with God without needing an intermediary in this case. I’m certainly not going to annul a previous marriage to take an easy way out. You have to follow your conscience even if it is in theological disagreement with the Church.”
Films Illustrated 1980
When I first went out to Hollywood from New York I was an effete Eastern snob. I only went into films to make money. Then, when I got there, I found I liked it...
I am currently trying to get some unknown young people together to do a musical…Whether I can raise the money remains questionable in our present era of the deal….
I have never kept a health regime. The dancing provided enough exercise for me. Now, I am going downhill physically – gradually – and I don’t care.
I think it’s important to share your life. But, of course, what is more important, and indeed more difficult, is to find the right person. The one thing in my life that made me extremely happy was having my three children. Each birth was the biggest thrill of my life.
Everything for me has been happenstance. The good parts have been the luck of the Irish and the bad parts I generally worked out for myself.
Disney Magazine. Spring 1989.
Most of the thrill of being in show business is to do well, to get satisfaction, to share love. That’s our common goal. In that regard I’ve been the luckiest Mick in the world.
New York Times. April 17th 1994. Hal Rubenstein
Softness has never been an easy thing to sell. But tight clothes don’t do much for adults. And neither do grungy ones. Softness allows for comfort and simplicity. It’s never déclassé….on grown men, baseball caps worn backward is so stupid…A black suit…used to be the only thing I packed when I travelled. Along with three white shirts, a black knit tie, a black bow tie and underwear.
Reflections TV interview 1994
Every time I saw a movie it was about rich people. I grew up in the Depression and I hated the rich.
Michael Singer. A Cut Above. 50 film directors talk about their craft. Published 1998…I get more letters now than I did when I was a movie star, and they talk about my old films as if they were just discovered. Little girls write me mash notes!
In this section Gene talks about dancing and the movies.
Films Illustrated 1980
What I always tried to do during my film career was to bring joy and make people happy.
There is enough drama in life to fill the other spectrum.
Gene's words, from a short autobiography he wrote for the World Film Directors book.
I guess I should state my own reason d'etre as it appertains to the film business: Whatever dancing I contrived and did, with a few exceptions, was to bring joy to an audience. For the dramaturgists, this may seem simplistic. For the dancer-choreographer it represents a helluva lot of hard work...
Milwaukee Journal. May 7th 1944
Dancing is a good deal like marrying. You vow you don’t want to be married, and then along comes someone who makes you realise that life won’t be any good at all if you don’t marry her…In just the same way, you vow you won’t be a professional dancer, and fight against it. And then it gets too strong for you, and you find you can’t live without it, and there it is and there you are.
The Hoist. A newspaper written by and for men of the Navy. San Diego. December 8th 1944
“If you like the kind of work you've picked out for yourself, if you work hard at it and if you get a few breaks, chances are you'll hit the jackpot. As a kid, I liked to dance and I liked theatricals. I worked pretty hard at 'em for a good many years then, about five years ago, I began getting the breaks and that's all there is to it.”
Theatre Arts 1945
The whole world is crying for fantasy. Build them a pleasant little ivory tower and they’ll all be clamouring to get in...
Anyone who says to me, “Aren’t you lucky to be able to work in front of a camera – with all the possibilities for panning and cutting and angle shots” – is just plain crazy. The camera is always making it impossible to do what you want. A dance should be made the way the dancer feels it, and every time he must stop to move the camera around or to play a trick with the lens he is just not being honest. The best dance for the screen would be one that could be photographed head on by a stationary camera.
Movies In Review. May 1946
Me And The Mouse.
I danced with Judy Garland. I danced with Rita Hayworth. I danced with Kathryn Grayson. Then I danced with a mouse. That did it! Don't ever let anyone tell you that sex is necessary for box-office. With the others all people ask me are things like “Is she nice?” or “Is her hair really red?”...but with the mouse it's murder. People have been so curious and so persistent in their inquiries concerning him that now I spend most of my day answering questions about my most successful partner. They want to know: “How old is the mouse?” “Is he a member of the Screen Actor's Guild?” “Is he a dormouse, a church mouse, a field mouse?” “Can he sing too?” But the question I am most frequently asked is: “Was it very hard to teach the mouse how to dance?”
Now to tell the truth, I didn't teach the mouse how to dance. He taught me. The whole routine was his invention. Furthermore it was all I could do to learn those steps....
One afternoon I was in the rehearsal hall struggling desperately to get an idea. I had been at it for days and weeks and had just about come to the conclusion that as far as creative ability goes I had run dry. I was tired, irritable and ready to give up. “Nope,” I said aloud to myself, “I can't do it. I just can't dance.”
“What do you mean you can't?” I heard a voice say. “You can if you try! And if you'd be a little more cheerful about it.”
I looked around. Yes, you guessed it, there he was – the mouse. Now a lot of people would have been startled by having a mouse speak to them, but I was used to it for I spent a season in a show called Pal Joey that had a lot to do with mice.
“No, honestly, I just can't.” I repeated. “Tsk, tsk, tsk,” he tsked. “No wonder you can't! You're so cranky and gloomy and grumpy about it! If only you'd be happy and cheerful and gay, then you could really try; and you'd really dance.”
“Would you help me if I tried?”
“Certainly,” he answered. “I'll help you.” And we started to dance.
The last I heard, my friend the mouse had received offers from the ballet theatre to work the next season at the Metropolitan, and can't make up his mind between that and producing a play which he has just written with a rabbit named Harvey.
Motion Picture. February 1947
To Dance or Not to Dance…and Gene Kelly wants YOU to give him the answer.
…If you don’t mind a little imposition on my part, I’d like to ask your help in solving a question that’s been with me ever since I’ve returned to pictures….Should I resume my career as a dancer in films, or should I strike out to build a solid reputation as a dramatic actor?…
I’ve thought about it a good deal, weighed the arguments of both sides, and then when I think I’ve made a decision, I awake the next morning to discover I feel the exact opposite…
You may say there’s no reason why I can’t have both. In a way, I disagree, because it’s my contention that perhaps I ought to stick to either one or the other… Don’t ask me why – that’s just the way I feel about it…
Lets look over the main points for each side, as they’ve come to me from time to time. First of all, I’ve been dancing for quite a while now, which should make you think it would be the favourite in my own mind. But, oddly enough, my dancing is tied up with a certain dramatic skill. I don’t follow the usual pattern for working out a dance routine, as you may know. When I dance, I try to tell a complete story. You might call it a form of dancing dramatics.
As a matter of fact, I can’t dance any other way. If a dance director were to tell me to do a routine merely by referring to standard dance steps, I doubt if I could do it. There must be a story, some message I want to convey, and it must have a complete meaning…I think dancers are creators, not the imitators that actors must be. An original dancer creates his own routines out of his thoughts and experiences, and he gets a big wallop out of building something that is entirely new…
Naturally, actors must depend upon others to write their lines for them, so that phase of their work must be unoriginal…it’s the skill they show in depicting these pre-arranged situations that makes them artists.
On the other hand, being one who’s not too keen on hard labor, I can think of a superb argument for being a dramatic actor. Dancers must work hard to keep in good physical shape…It takes a lot more time to prepare a dance sequence for filming than for a dramatic scene of the same length….
When I weigh this point against the pleasure I’ve had in doing a good dance number, as in Anchors Aweigh, I get the feeling that it’s been worth all the effort. There’s an exhilaration to dancing that’s lacking in a dramatic scene, but there’s also a deep satisfaction in doing a moving dramatic portrayal…
Dancing, to be done well, must be done every day. But I don’t dance every day. I’m getting older, and as the years creep along, I find my mental comprehension and desire for dancing betterment is losing pace with my physical deterioration. This is a brash statement coming from a picture player, but it’s the obvious truth, so let’s face it. From a straight business point of view, musical films make the most money for the box office, so the demand for dancing is constant. However, the turnover of talent in the field is terrific, and you can’t blame a dancer with a choice if he looks forward a bit into the future.
Fred Astaire quit while he was still great, and for this I admire him tremendously. I know I won’t dance after I can’t dance well, because I think there’s nothing sadder than to see an artist who keeps capitalizing on his former reputation…
I remember what a genuine satisfaction I derived out of acting in The Cross Of Lorraine, a very dramatic picture in which I took a straight role. It wasn’t very successful according to box office standards, but it stays with me as one of the best things I’ve done in motion pictures. The lack of public reception for the movie might be an indication that people don’t want to see me in a non-dancing role, and yet there were others in the cast who have their own particular following.
Then again, would I tire of playing continuously in one type
of picture? In the past I’ve alternated a musical with a dramatic picture, so that I’ve had an interesting variety.. I have a yen to work in a dramatic film of Academy Award calibre – as does every actor – but when I contemplate not dancing again, I undergo an acute sense of loss.
Both sides of the argument are so convincing that I wonder why we can’t have a musical which combines dramatic acting with dramatic dancing? …Perhaps we’ll get to it eventually. This might easily be a solution to my dilemma.
I dislike the thought of giving up dancing for a strong personal reason. I’m a champion for a cause. Too many people think of men in the terpsichorean profession as lacking in masculinity, and have a strong antagonism toward male dancers... Dancing is essentially a graceful form of art which must be expressed in rhythmic motion, and too often people regard men who use this media as short on ruggedness. That’s a foolish conception of long standing which is completely nonsensical, and against which I’ve been fighting ever since I became a professional dancer.
I like dancing because I enjoy doing my own choreography and stylising. To me there’s quite a thrill in dreaming something out of thin air and seeing it come to life. You know it’s all yours… I get as much satisfaction out of this as a writer or painter gets out of his own finished product….
I started working in To Kiss and To Keep [it later became Living In A big Way] with the idea that I’d do no dancing in the picture, but because of numerous requests, some routines were inserted. I was out of practice after having been in the service, so I had to double up on rehearsals to get back into shape. Then when I had a touch of the flu, I often reminded myself it would be wonderful to be a dramatic actor and not have to go through a difficult dance number with a high temperature…
You see where all this gets me? I’ve given you my conclusions on both sides of the question, and I still don’t have an answer. At this writing I have a definite slant towards the dramatic, but by next week I’ll probably be leaning the other way. Will it be Gene Kelly, dancer, or will it be Gene Kelly, dramatic actor? Or can we bridge the two and strike a happy medium?
I don’t know. I’m still up in the air about the whole business. If you were I, what would YOU do?
(Ed. Note: Send your answer to Gene Kelly, c/o Motion Picture Magazine…His decision will be announced in a future issue.)
Gene's reply, May 1947
To the fans from Gene Kelly
It was amazing to me that so many people would take the time to write me in response to my recent article in Motion Picture entitled To Dance Or Not To Dance. The postman still must be grumbling about the loads of letters he’s had to carry….
For some unforeseen reason a lot of you got the impression that I was at an urgent crossroads, that I felt impelled to make a decision immediately about dancing as opposed to acting. But I was talking about the future, about a dim date ahead when – if I thought it necessary – I’d have to make up my mind about what road I’d take.
Here are the answers. Dancing is my first love, and always has been. I don’t suppose I’d ever feel happy if I couldn’t keep up the originating and performing of my dance routines. I’ll dance as often as I can, in pictures that seem worthwhile to me.
Yet if a straight part should come up that appears to me to be such a gem that I’d be foolish not to tackle it, naturally I’ll agree. At the moment however, I have a feeling that I’ll be dancing a good deal from now on. After The Pirate, my current picture with Judy Garland, I’ll be doing more routines with Judy in Easter Parade.
There was considerable gratification to me in the large numbers of letters I received because they proved that plenty of people are thinking seriously about dancing as a beneficial activity. They don’t speak of it in terms of professional aspirations, but rather measure it by its personal values to those who take parting it. And I think that’s good!
Among my plans for the future – if I can possibly find the time – is a return to the New York stage in something similar to Pal Joey, the musical comedy that brought me to Hollywood. I like the stage, and I don’t suppose I’ll ever completely forget it.
I’d like to do some directing when I can get the right opportunity. Every one of us has a pet idea he’d like to see worked out, and I’m no exception. When I do direct, I want to see if I can put on film a story in which the plot, music and the dancing are so completely integrated that it’s one complete, harmonious whole.
If I can find the necessary hours, I’d like to write the story myself, because for a long time I’ve been mentally kicking around the kind of plot which I believe will adequately embrace these theories I have in mind.
Naturally I shall lean toward storytelling through the medium of a new form of dance, for dancing is much more than mere exhibition. It’s a complete art in itself, both visually and emotionally, and with its execution goes a sense of achievement. I think you’ll agree when you see our dance routines in my newest picture. It’s my first costume picture in Technicolor, and the plot is aided by a series of dances which reveal the inner thoughts of the players. As a result of the novelty of the dances, Judy and I already have dreamed up some routines we’ll use in Easter Parade.
Once again, I’d like to thank the many letter-writers for their sincere suggestions and helpful ideas about my dancing and acting. I’m sorry I couldn’t possibly answer them personally, and I hope this letter will show my appreciation.
Most of the letters urged that I keep on dancing – which I intend to do – and the next largest group was in favor of a combination of dancing and acting, which I do in The Pirate.
The third group thought that I should devote all my time to straight acting. Well, perhaps some day a script will come my way that calls for no dancing and I’ll be able to play it straight. But as for giving up dancing entirely – not until my legs holler quits!
Pittsburgh Post Gazette. August 6th 1948
Gene Kelly with his leg in a cast, propped on a coffee table in a room at the Elysee Hotel, New York: “Motion pictures aren’t for dancers, because they’re two-dimensional. Dancing is three-dimensional – it should be physical, kinetic. The movies never capture the excitement that dancing has when the audience can see the dancer in the flesh. Fred Astaire is most successful at mastering the medium. He’s got it licked because he has that nice intimate style. My dancing is bravura, I can never take it easy. If I ever tried that relaxed, nonchalant Astaire style it’d be a joke. You know, like the fellow who walks into a room with a tweedy suit, and he’s like a page out of Esquire – but if I wore the same suit it’d look like something my brother handed down.”
The Owooso Argus Press. 18th August 1948
Kelly Heralds Return of Waltz as No. 1 Dance
“It seems the dance cycle is just about complete: everything in the way of dance steps has now been done. Women’s fashions and dancing are pretty well allied. Girls can’t jitterbug in new-look gowns. So they have to slow down to a waltz."
Hollywood Album 1950.
If you’ve been used to dancing in the theatre you suffer from a form of claustrophobia when you dance before a movie camera because you must keep within certain limits….Like everything else, once the technique is mastered you feel at ease. Now I get a terrific wallop out of films.
Magazine article. 1951. Making a Cineballet For An American In Paris. Ballet is unique and a gratification of the aesthetic senses, because it is a combination of so many arts – music, drama, painting, design and dance. I believe that no-one can now close his eyes to the fact that the camera can and does make a contribution to dance as a communicative art. It is presently the most perfect form of total recording and preservation of the dance.
I love dancing. It’s an art form that gets pushed around. I want to change that. That’s why I stick with movies... the whole world responds to the movement and meaning of dancing.
Travelling Man. Magazine article 1952
I would like to be twins or quadruplets. Then I could produce and direct films and at the same time could develop film choreography and dancing the way I dreamed of doing when in Pittsburgh. I could scour the world to discover new talents like Leslie Caron. I could be working in Munich and Rome and Paris and London and Hollywood, absorbing all the various techniques. Movie making is a true form of creative art, not just a money making device.
Screenland January 1953
The three basic needs of people are food, shelter and sex. But our emotions need and respond to many things. Music is one of them. Wherever there’s music, dance follows. Dancing is an important part of living – as well as loving. It’s part of romance, it’s a way that children learn how to coordinate mind and body, it’s a way to develop grace and rhythm – and endurance.
A desire to dance and a response to music are what count. Anyone who feels music and has something to say with his feet can dance.
People keep asking me how I can keep on thinking up new routines. Why I could manufacture a thousand steps a day, but it’s not the steps that count. What’s important is the impression they convey of the meaning behind them.
Magazine article 1953. Inspiration For Dancing, by Helen Gould
Inspiration can come from any direction. Sometimes from silly little things, sometimes from just sitting on the floor and thinking. Doing it from music is the easiest, but I usually do it the hard way. A dance must start with an idea – then have a beginning, a middle and an end. Just like a story.
Do you realize what a break the chance to take a girl dancing gives a romance-minded guy? Suppose you're dating a fellow for the first time, and he immediately tries to hold hands-you might think he was a pretty fresh guy.
Yet on the dance floor, he closely encircles you with one arm, you hold hands-and you may even place your cheek against his. Let him try the same thing on the living-room couch and he gets his face slapped!
Do you realize that dancing in America is an accepted form of courtship? Dancing is a tribal custom-it's a way to woo that the etiquette books okay. True, not every man who takes a girl to a nightclub or a dance really cares about keeping time to music.......
Kids talk to me and say they want to do musicals again because they’ve studied the tapes of old films. We didn’t have that. We thought once we had made it, even on film, it was gone except for the archives. Now, when O look at TV, I see a lot of my old steps being used and I’m delighted.
Picturegoer August 1953
When will I retire from dancing? They'll have to carry me feet first off the dance floor. They tell me I'm as strong as a horse. But I want it all ways: I want to act and dance – and to direct too.
Photoplay Peter Hammond, October 1953
The only time I’ll give up dancing is when my legs say I will. The day is bound to come when they start to moan at high kicks and creak a bit round the joints. But until that day I shall continue to dance.
Los Angeles Times. July 25th 1954. Hedda Hopper.
I’m a teacher at heart. If you were the Almighty and told me to make up my mind – either act or direct – I’d choose the latter. I worked my way through college teaching dancing, and gave up studying law because I had some promising kids – some I considered young Pavlovas.
Teaching alone though, is heartbreaking. You pour your heart and soul into guiding these girls for years, and then find yourself with nothing. At 16, some may become gauche, or decide to study journalism or get married. A dancer must be dedicated, yet that very dedication could make a young girl neurotic. Some haven’t the stamina to stay with it, and others have the dedication without the ability….
The ratio of girls to men studying dancing is 100-2. Few boys take up dancing as a career. There’s stigma attached….Every time we put on our Buster Brown collars and white gloves, we were considered sissies, so we had to fight every kid in the neighborhood. I might add the Kellys came pout with flying fists and colors...
The trouble with movies is that no matter how talented a person is, he will flop unless the public accepts his personality. He may have ability and looks, but often the public turns him down for inferior talent. But I think the public is always right.
Take male actors. The top ones are seldom glamour boys. Me? I’m a John Wayne fan. Wayne’s convincing because he’s not phony. You can tell by the way he moves he could whip the villain. I like Gary Cooper for the same reason. My favorite actress is Garbo….
As a director I wish all actors had the discipline of dancers and all dancers had the emotional know-how of actors. You never have trouble working with a dancer. If the call is for dawn the dancer’s there at dawn…An actress, on the other hand, may wander in an hour late and say, “ I overslept.” Or they tire easily. I’m not saying they do it generally, but it has happened.
Motion Picture magazine 1955
…if it’s a tap dance, that’s pretty simple. Joy and sorrow, you just sweat it out. But when you get into modern dance…then you’re tackling love, hate, despair, fear…that’s when you put the tools – the human body – to the test. You hope for the delicate shadings, the nuances…
Source unknown. Possibly 1956
As a dancer on the screen in the Hollywood studios, I began to realise that the dancer was the rara avis of the film business and the explanation for this soon becomes really apparent. For a dancer to appear in films he had not just to dance, he had to play a part, sing, most importantly he had to be acceptable to the vast array of bobby-soxers who control the box office. As a result, many of the finest dancers in the world are never seen by the vast multitudes who go to the movies. A dancer spends years and years perfecting his technique and working on the command of his body. He cannot take time to work on his voice, his diction and the emotional responses that go with acting.
From an article written by Gene for Sports Illustrated magazine. Year unknown as yet. Complete original typed pages in Gotlieb Archives, Boston.
...If you throw or bounce a ball within 100 yards of me I'm right after it and in the game. I find even sandlot ball irresistible. I can't help stopping to watch it, and if i watch it awhile I've got to get into it, as some of the Small Fry in my neighborhood can testify...While I love dancing I happen to feel the limbering-up exercises at the bar a boring drudgery. On the other hand I like tennis, swimming, diving, skiing and other games. So guess how I keep in condition...
TV guide 1959
"I consciously tried to find a style. I started as a ballet dancer but found there were many things I couldn’t say adequately. So I just went ahead and said them in my own way.
Film Show Annual 1959
I have to watch to see that I don’t let a dance go to sleep.
TV Radio Mirror. November 1962
I’d seen Pavlova when I was very young, and had fallen asleep. But now I saw Les Sylphides. At one point, a manly figure literally soared onto the stage and I was overwhelmed. But I knew I couldn’t stay with straight classical ballet. I had to create something of my own… What I have to say can’t be done in 5th position. I had to express manliness and strength and Cokes and hot dogs and football and basketball and jazz. You can’t do it with a port de bras. I quit school, gave up the law dream and went to work.
From Gene to Bosley Crowther, 1962:
When a large family cuts down on costs at the table, the desserts go first, and musicals are pretty much considered the dessert, the costlier taste thrills of the production table. The bread, meat and potatoes are the westerns, mysteries and dramas etc.
Los Angeles Times. September 8th 1963
I’m the Mickey Mantle of dancers. I’m always having accidents – but never while dancing. I was in traction for six weeks recently because of an old injury – ruptured disc – and my back isn’t completely better yet.
Los Angeles Times. September 13th 1964
I’m a Jack-of-all-trades in this business. I’m acting one week, directing another. I’m a guy without a trade. But speaking generally, I have a great feeling about show business. I’m nuts about it…
I feel we’re in a golden age. I can’t say this for Broadway. They’re in the throes of localities. But the regional theatre leaves me optimistic…It’s true that there is a cultural boom. It could well rival the Renaissance in Italy…
People of talent can be discovered quickly. For the young people I say this is the golden era, take advantage of it.
As far as making money, if you specialize it’s probably better. But that concerns money. If you talk about a career then it’s better to be more than a song and dance man…
Is the public acknowledgement more satisfying than inner satisfaction? I say no. But you can have both. That’s the best…
I thought two years ago, I guess I’m retired. You firmly say to yourself, like a fighter – there’s not that much to do. People think you get up in the morning and say ‘Where’s that dance floor? I’ve got to get out on that floor and dance.’
Don’t kid yourself…The only job is performing or creating. You think batting practice is fun for the ballplayers? The fun is the game. When you’re performing you’re interpreting someone else’s creation. To me, always, ever since I’ve been a young man, the creation has been the most satisfying. Also, the act of creating is more fun than the act of performing…
Just the other day Leland Hayward called me from new York to do a show or suggest a young dancer. But there is no young Gene Kelly, there is no young Fred Astaire. Who do we get? I’ve always said, in every generation, the rare bird is the song and dance man who in Hollywood can also get the girl. I can think of a few who could sing and dance but not get the girl.
Los Angeles Times. August 30th 1966
Before I die…I would like to have a clip of the whole thing – everything I’ve ever done and watch it all. I envy the fellows who write and paint. You go through blood, sweat and tears and so much of what you do is not seen...
There’s a difference when you’re working with creative people. Even when I knew I didn’t know good from bad – that was back in 1940 with Pal Joey on Broadway – I knew that Rodgers and Hart and John O’Hara were great talents just from their certain air of authority.
It’s hard to speak about creative people. I know at MGM the golden girls all had a certain aura you couldn’t explain. And it’s not just style. Oscar Hammerstein was very quiet. He’s shuffle in the theatre and say, “I don’t think that will work,” and he’d be right.
Andre Previn, Comden and Green went from my house one evening and had two new songs by the next morning. I can’t believe it. But it’s not a question of speed. Hammerstein was slower than anyone, yet you can’t say he was any less inventive for that.
Larry Hart was so quick. We used to bum around Sardi’s – the 44th street area, and I was with him when he wrote Zip for Pal Joey on a brown paper bag. He worked out all his lyrics with four-letter words in metered syllables first. It may be sacrilegious to say so, but he couldn’t carry a tune...
There is a strange sort of reasoning in Hollywood that musicals are less worthy of Academy consideration than dramas. It's a form of snobbism, the same sort that perpetuates the idea that drama is more deserving of awards than comedy.
Los Angeles Times. December 7th 1969. Joyce Haber
Listen it’s become a problem. Everyone who goes out becomes a soloist. The dance craze is atavistic. They’ve gone back to tribal dancing. There’s no discipline. You don’t even have to stay with a partner.
The amateur has become better than the professional. You go to a disco and the girl from Glendale is the best one on the floor.
I think it was rather nice to put your arm around a girl and dance with her. When I grew up, I was very conscious that when I was introduced to a girl – Miss Smith, this is Mr. Kelly – I couldn’t put my arm around her or she’d slap me. But I could dance with her and put my arm around her and press her body close, and it was the opening salvo in courtship.
Now you just get up and do your own thing. I don’t like going out to places any more. That’s my own generation gap.
Entertainment World. March 6th 1970
Harry Clein. Is There a Future for the Hollywood Musical?
“There’s always a resuscitation of the poor creature that seems desiccated and dying, but the musical has always had it pretty tough, except in wartime, or in an immediately post-war-time when everybody sort of wants and escape…
“In the late 50s, everyone would come home at night, turn on the tube and watch singers and dancers. So why go out to a movie?
“The main reason for making a musical…is to make people come out of the theatre and feel good…
“You talk about why do we make period pictures like Hello Dolly! You say we should make musicals for a new generation with the new music…I look around all the time. Id like to get on the phone and call someone. Who do I call? Do I call Simon and Garfunkel and they write an Elizabethan strain? Does that make a musical?
“As for this new type of social dancing, when you put it into organized structural form, it isn’t as interesting as the writhing bodies on the Dick Clark Show. The movements are taken from African forms mainly…with a little bit of the Charleston and the Varsity Drag thrown in. It is the broken line and not the long balletic symmetrical line. Expert choreographers have distilled it, structured it, but at a loss of its spontaneity which is such an important part of this kind of dancing…
“Singers sell songs, and dancers don’t. However, I do believe that if a young man, who could dance, came walking over the hill and had a screen presence, he’d be dancing all over the place…a song and dance man. I personally have more respect for a song and dance man than I do for perhaps anybody in the business. Very few come along. Dailey, O’Connor, Bolger, Astaire…the toughest thing is to be the song and dance man…
“Easy Rider is a musical. Just because they weren’t doing numbers didn’t make it less a musical, because the hip songs really turned on the younger generation. Although I can’t like two bums who bring cocaine into the U.S. to ruin lives, I thought Easy Rider added up…
“When you give a song, a dance importance, it has to be welded into a story. I think this is what stops the young guys. I’ve never heard of Simon and Garfunkel or Bob Dylan coming up with a script. If they do, I’ll be glad to read it.”
Gene Kelly Day. London 1970
I don’t really know why I clicked. I didn’t want to be a dancer. I just did it to work my way through college...
Los Angeles TV Weekly 1970.
A choreographer takes an idea out of his head and transposes it on people’s anatomy. He always starts new and fresh. What you can accomplish with an idea is dependent on the talent of your dancers. Occasionally, an idea has to be left less than fully developed because you don’t have the person to do it.
Nova Magazine. July 1972
I freely admit to stealing the whole of my technique for using a camera from Busby Berkeley. It was Buzz who first showed what could be done with a movie camera and a dance routine.
His whole interest was in the camera, so while you were doing your thing there were always a million girls playing fiddles at the same time or a thousand marines marching past. The numbers he did weren’t dance numbers, they were cinematic numbers and the credit for adding that dimension was his...
Getting a good idea can be hard. I sometimes have to pace the floor like a writer with a bad case of writer’s block to pin one of those down but once the idea is blocked out you can fill it in with movement and that’s not nearly as tough. Movement, if you are a trained dancer and especially if you have trained in more than one dance milieu, is the easiest thing of all. You certainly can’t put a dance together just by standing up and starting to shimmy and shake like you do at the Daisy Club. That’s for amateurs, that’s for laughs. Professionals do that in the evening after work. When they’re busy they’re more likely to be sitting in a chair with a kind of dazed look on their faces...
I may have been the first to look like a slob. I rolled up my sleeves and danced in blue jeans and sweat shirts and moccasins, when those things weren’t just so fashionable. That came about because early in my career I was very interested in ballet but as I got a little older I couldn’t see myself at 40 dancing Swan Lake every night. I began to wonder why we couldn’t dance to Cole Porter, Gershwin and Irving Berlin, just as today there should be a young guy around dancing to the Beatles and the Stones.
I made up my mind to find what you could call an American style because the only person around who was doing anything like that was Fred Astaire and his style was so very unique and special to him. It was an aristocratic style…I never felt like dancing that way. For one thing I looked lousy in those kind of clothes. When I got into the blue jeans and the sweatshirts and the white socks I began to try to adapt the dance to that image and it kind of grew into something…let’s call it a plebeian style. It certainly wasn’t high class…
I never danced at all until I was in my teens. My ambition was to be a great athlete. I was a gymnast and I played ice-hockey well enough to think that if I stayed with it I could be a professional one day. I didn’t ever imagine I would make a life out of dancing and I certainly never got up in the mornings and hurried down to practise, like the boy Mozart at the piano. As a matter of fact, at the time, I thought only a sissy would do things like that. I guess I began to dance because I found my brother was making a little money at it, hoofing around the clubs, and he seemed to be acquiring rather a lot of new girlfriends. When I learned a few steps myself I discovered that I liked to dance and that I was pretty good at it. It seemed to have a lot in common with the acrobatics I’d been doing.
After that I just had to get over the idea that dancing was something only girls did, but I accomplished the process quite rapidly and I’ve never believed it since. In America we still tend to think of grace and beauty as being something exclusive to women but I don’t go along with that. You can find both in guys you wouldn’t say were exactly effeminate – a great soccer player like Pele or a great boxer like Muhammed Ali…
Most dancers…spend a lot of their lives perfecting one thing and you have to feel sorry for them. A dancer starts losing out after 21 because all the while he’s learning his art form his anatomy’s going downhill. He doesn’t really have time to learn something else, like how to carry a role. Just once or twice in a decade you have a hoofer who can manage to croak a few lines as well but they’re the lucky ones.
Fellows like Fred Astaire and myself who started out in night clubs and on Broadway, where we had to say lines, got along okay, but there were many really great dancers thrown out because they had trouble even saying ‘Hello’…
Nowadays, if a photographer ever comes to see me there’s just one shot he wants and that’s me leaping 10 feet in the air and coming down in the splits. Well, I have to be in a pretty good mood to agree to lift one foot above the other. I have a son of nine and a daughter of six so I find myself playing a little touch-football in the yard from time to time. I play a lot of tennis to keep in some kind of shape and there are many things I still want to do in this show-business game. Dancing, I guess, will not be one of them…
Hell, there’s just too much competition, y’see. Every kid who gets up on the floor of a discotheque now is an accomplished soloist!
Radio Times. October 1972
I love show business very much, I can’t do anything else…I love every aspect of it, and I’d hate to go through life and not have done as much of it as I can…
A good part or a good challenge has always been my chief motivation. If you don’t have fun in this business it can be terribly, terribly cruel. So often I’ve seen performers reach stardom only to become very unhappy people.
Part of that fun is working with people who are lovely, adorable and talented. I would do anything for people with talent. They can be difficult, they often are, but if they’re talented they can get away with murder.
UK Magazine. 1973. Article by Barbra Paskin. Living The Life Of Kelly
“The young people would rather go and perform for themselves in a discotheque rather than watch someone else dance. Which is fine, whatever the fad of the day happens to be. But it’s very sad that dancing for the screen, which was my biggest love, has not blossomed in the last decade. It hasn’t interested enough people to warrant spending money on making that kind of film anymore. It’s a great shame, I think it’ll change eventually and that we’ll make some more, but on a much smaller basis, spending less money on them. It’s very sad though to see something you’ve lived and worked with so long almost totally disappear.”...
Musicals are much harder to do than drama because an actor is only as good as his script. If the writer hasn’t given you good lines to say then you won’t be good. In musicals, generally, the lines are very frilly and light, like ‘hi, honey’ or ‘what you doing today kid?’ It’s a question of making them as charming and workable as you can. But they’re never as exciting as A Streetcar Named Desire or something like that. There are a few exceptions; one is My Fair Lady but that happened to be written by George Bernard Shaw; another is West Side Story but that was written by William Shakespeare. Those are rare exceptions though. Usually a musical is very lightly touched. I find it the hardest form of all to work in. I think that straight drama is cheesecake next to it. It’s not hard. If I do a dance number, I’m doing all the work. I’m writing it, making it up, even helping compose the music. But if I do a drama that’s written by a fine writer he’s done most of the work already. I heave a sigh of relief when I play a dramatic role because I feel I’m doing half my usual work, which is true, but that’s because in my particular style of dancing I’ve always had to make it up myself – it’s my own work. It’s all come out of thin air. It’s true to say that musical comedy people can play many other roles. I wouldn’t stretch that far enough to say that we could compete with Brando or Olivier doing Shakespeare because we’re not equipped to do it, we’re not practising in it. But we can do much more than people have seen us do.”…
Excerpt from letters to Tony Thomas from Gene, regarding the Thomas book The Films of Gene Kelly. With very kind permission from the purchaser of the letters. Thank you Carol.
March 15, 1973
…I enjoy show business as a whole, and not just one facet of it, and will continue to participate whenever and however fortune dictates. Maybe I should say ---- whatever seems the most fun at the time. Because I still think it’s fun to direct, fun to act, fun to dance, fun to do all the things one does either in front or in back of the camera. Actually the only thing I don’t get a kick out of in show business is ‘business’.
Dallas Times Herald. June 1974
My style didn’t come down to me from Mount Sinai. It came after years of teaching dancers in Pittsburgh. I didn’t even go to New York until I was 27. But it had occurred to me that there was no American dance. There were certain factors involved in my growing up that played a part in my interest. I wouldn’t have done classical dance in Pittsburgh on a bet. They would have broken both my legs. My mother taught me tap dancing and in college at Penn State I got more serious about my dancing.
I became interested in the classic dance because as a gymnast I was grounded in the same long line of movement. Nureyev and Youskevitch were gymnasts before getting into dancing. I didn’t want to do Swan Lake. I wanted to dance to Cole Porter, Kern, Gershwin. Fred Astaire was a star then, but I never thought of him in terms of what I was aiming at. He was doing a rich man’s dance. There were no poor men dancing. That’s what I was after…
I got excited about dancing in the movies…which is why I never have worked with any American dance company. Sol Hurok, who is a friend of mine, offered me the chance to create what he felt would have been the American equivalent of the Moiseyev Ballet. But I turned it down to concentrate on my work in films…If an American wanted to dance at that time he had to take a Russian name and join a company in Europe…The Ballet Russe asked me to join their company. I just didn’t want to do that kind of dancing…I’ve never regretted the decision
The Ledger. June 25th 1974
From my earliest days I wanted to be a director and a choreographer, not a performer. Sure, I had formed my own style of dancing, but I never thought it would be accepted by motion pictures. I was as shocked as – well, I was amazed.
I was pushed into it then and I’m still being pushed into it. The other night, at the Hollywood premiere of That’s Entertainment, no one was interested in any contribution I may have made as a choreographer and director, which I felt in my immodest Irish way, was perhaps a major one as far as the musical went, But no, all they wanted was, ’Get up there and sing a song, Gene’ or Fred, or Donald, or ‘Get up and do a little dance.’ As if we were all 21 again.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch. July 1st 1974
Looking back, I wish a lot of things I wanted to do could have been done with less temper, without so much fighting the Establishment. But every great picture has had some degree of writhing and groaning and sweating, and that goes for all those great musicals we did that look so easy now. People don’t realise that making picture is a very tough, crude business.
Quoted in TonyThomas The Films Of Gene Kelly 1974
As a boy I loved to run and jump – to move through the air and against the ground. You can’t dance without that love...
There are better dancers than Fred Astaire or myself, and certainly better actors and singers, but the public won’t have them…no matter how talented a person is he will flop unless the public takes to his personality.
Magazine interview 1974
Dancing is naturally a joyous thing. I saw the chance on the screen of making it something sad as well.
BBC interview 1974 with Gavin Millar
You should make all dance numbers look effortless. If the audience is aware you are working hard then you are not dancing well. You have to look like they can all go out and do it themselves. That’s the best way to have it look...
you make a musical the main idea is to make people happy. If you want to do a really deep dramatic treatise you should go into Grand Opera or forget the musical.
TV &Movie Screen. August 1975
If you look through our history, there have been only a handful of men, starting with George M. Cohan, who have been successful. Dancing is tough, and a dancer must have a bit of masochism in him to be a standout. You must exercise every single day and learn to live with the punishment of your body..
Then, too, every dancer knows that his career is severely limited. As you grow older, your physical abilities deteriorate. It’s no surprise to me that so many youngsters prefer singing to dancing. Pop singers have the easiest task of all. They just sing songs written by other people. Dancers have to create routines out of thin air. That’s why there are so many singers around these days, and not a single top dancer…
There’s no doubt in my mind that the finest dancing in the world is being done in ballet groups. It is so much better than in the past. It’s like the four-minute-mile in track. All things athletic are being done better today, and that includes dancing of course...
The trouble with musicals is that they are so expensive to put on. Most producers won’t gamble with a new musical. They wait until they see one that is successful on Broadway before they’ll invest a dime…
Dancing has always followed musical trends, and when music changed to rock and roll, then kids reverted to spontaneous dancing, which is really more gymnastic than sexual. I remember in my high school days when dancing close to a girl was a form of courtship. You couldn’t just go out in your car and kiss a girl. There had to be preliminaries, such as dancing cheek to cheek….
The fellow asks the girl to dance, and the next second he is over there and she is over here. Both are sweating. I’d sooner play a game of basketball or touch football. Rock and roll is spontaneous and healthy, but I don’t think it is going to be around much longer. Dancing is like everything else – it moves in cycles, and pretty soon this cycle will pass…
I was very shy as a kid, and it took a lot of courage for me to ask girls from the upper grades to dance because I was so much shorter than they were. They preferred dancing with the big fellows. Today of course, it doesn’t matter how small you are. Since you’re not dancing together, no one really notices if the girl towers over the boy or not...
Pittsburgh Post Gazette. December 12th 1975
Producers say that musicals cost too much nowadays. But I don’t see why they can’t make intimate musicals. Noel Coward wrote shows for two or three people and they were hits…Fred Astaire and I feel the same way, the best numbers we did in pictures were those we danced with one other person or by ourselves. When you get involved with big choruses, you’re not using the screen as well as you should...
Each time I dance it gets harder and harder to get in shape. Producers say, just do a couple of minutes. Well, it’s as hard to train for dancing a couple of minutes as it is for ten minutes…At my age they still expect me to jump over tables and hang from wires. Dancing is for kids…In some ways it’s a cruel life. Dancers have to start learning the trade at an early age. Then, as soon as they master it, they become obsolete. But we all go into it with our eyes open.
Dance Magazine. July 1976
“One thing I always had in mind, was that the only reason I was in Los Angeles was to do in motion pictures what couldn’t be done on the stage…That was behind all my thinking. I think, possibly, my…” He hesitates, trips over his words as he has never done with his feet. ”Well, as much of a contribution as I made, was the use of the camera for dance in big, very broad movements outdoors, down the street, that couldn’t be done on stage.” His eyes narrow into a smile as he chants, “When there was snow, hail, rain, sleet, nothing would stop these dancers on their appointed rounds! The only other axiom I can give you is that I always danced to bring joy. Once in a while, you could do a number that had somewhat of a serious bent to it…But it’s a rare exception to be able to do a serious number in motion pictures, because a movie musical is bright. To dance sorrow in films doesn’t seem to work.
"…I know that some wonderful actors on the stage are just second-rate on film. I know that happened to me. On the stage, I think I was a very good actor, but in film I was a big cut below. Of course, a lot of my time here was spent probing dance and musicals – and they’re not exactly written by Tennessee Williams.
"…The great thing that pleases me is that, now, the classicists have begun to see how much popular dance has to offer, and American Ballet Theatre and the Joffrey are doing numbers by Twyla Tharp and Alvin Ailey. But for years I used to yell at them, I used to have to beat their ears. It was in 1960 that I did a ballet for the Paris Opéra, which I couldn’t do here. There wasn’t that much interest. Yet, when the Russians would come here, they’d say to me, 'Could you come and show us some of these things?' They evinced much more interest in my work than the American classical groups did. It was two poles apart. But now, you can see Baryshnikov doing Tharp!
"For a long time, the trouble with ballet all over the world was that the men were just neglected. Erik Bruhn came from Denmark to America and, ask anybody on the street – they never even heard of him. And he was the best!…It took a big defection by Nureyev…to stir the interest of the American public. But I’m delighted, because it has helped the male dancer."
The greatest contribution Gene Kelly made to American dance, is that he’s finally shown the male dancer how to dress! "You can’t play a part and come out in ballet slippers, and you can’t come out in regular shoes, so I sort of invented the wearing of moccasins (which bend like ballet shoes) and white socks, and made sure that the pants were very tight and rolled up a bit, and wore a shirt or a sweatshirt or something that would show the figure. Like I said, a sailor suit was ideal because you outline the body, practically like a pair of tights, except for the flare at the bottom; so you could get by and still be real – because the camera’s so real. If I never made any other contribution, I’ll live and die with what I accomplished with costumes, because I felt very pleased with it.
"‘Course, when we went into ballet, then I wore a tight black outfit and a little white collar, which has become pretty standard for a lot of popular and serious ballets – when they want to say, 'This is not Swan Lake or Gizelle.' Why some guy with a bow and arrow would want to go out and kill swans, I never figured out. It’s just one of those things we’ve always accepted, the way we accept opera: two people in their forties playing twenty-year-olds saying, 'Now we’re alone, I’ll whisper in your ear,' and you can hear him a block away and he has a sixty-piece orchestra right behind him!"
1976 interview, Woman's Weekly
You have to have an unexplained masochism to be a dancer.
Performing bores me. I haven't got the heart of a real performer. The big thrill for me is creating something. There's a great magic in that...out of thin air you make a moment dance
Hollywood Studio Magazine. 1978
Gene, on being asked if he preferred acting or directing:
“I like it all – in front and behind the camera…I especially like the people who don’t want my soul but want my body.”
New York Times 1979
Gene, when asked if there is any hope for the film musical:
“Yes, but it can’t continue on the fact that Grease and Saturday Night Fever made these millions of dollars in record sales…I believe that all these kids going to places like the New York High School of performing arts are going to make this happen on the screen. The main problem, it always seems, is finding a good song-and-dance man. Historically, you usually find perhaps one in a generation that the public will accept. The fellow who can sing, dance, and act plus win public acceptance is the rara avis of show business.”
American Film. 1979.
I have a lot of George Cohan in me. It’s an Irish quality, a jaw-jutting, up on the toes cockiness
New York Times 1979
The kids are seeing films now on TV that they never knew existed, so they write me hundreds of letters. I would judge that 50% think I just made these pictures a few years ago. People say it’s nostalgia, but it’s only nostalgia if you’ve seen them years ago. They’re discovering a new genre, a new type of film for them – and they’re liking it. So, if you ask if these kind of films would work now, I can only tell you that I’m sending out more fan-mail photos in my sixties than I did in my thirties.
Los Angeles Times. December 21st 1979
The analogy I always make is with an athlete. By the time you’re 40, you’re definitely finished…A writer can go on forever. Matisse painted in his 80s…Once you’ve swum a strong river, you’re not very interested in walking through a puddle…The die-hard fans keep writing me and asking me to dance. Due to television, you know, I get far more fan mail than I did when I was selling movie tickets like hotcakes. My postage bill is enormous, and I have to order the memorabilia in gross lots. My pictures go on TV so often that today even 5-year-olds have seen me more than adults saw me 25 years ago…
The facts of dancing life mean that you have to work very hard just to keep at the level you’re already at. When I came back after 2 years in the service, I had to work months and months to get back to where I’d been before.
If it weren’t fun, nobody would be a dancer. If you don’t enjoy it, dancing is pure masochism…You’re always trying to jump higher and spin harder than yesterday. If you get hurt, you dance hurt. If you miss that one day’s dancing, you know you’ll never regain it…
I’m enjoying getting older now. It feels better to work at an easier pace. I made my choice years ago. I decided where my responsibilities lie, with my family, not films.
…Tim and Bridget keep me in shape. I try to arrange things so I’m home when they are…so my work doesn’t affect their lives at all.
Saturday Evening Post 1980
My dancing was based on what I thought was the spirit of the common man – the American proletariat if you will. I wanted to dance sailors, fighters, steel workers and truck drivers
Films Illustrated 1980
A lot of people watching my old films seem to think the dance numbers just flowed out…These films were blood, sweat and tears. You know the old saying – 90% perspiration, and dancers don’t perspire; they sweat!
Saturday Evening Post, July 1980
On the set of Xanadu
When I started to dance for a living, I thought I’d have a short career. I never dreamed it would last as long as it has. I’m lucky in that respect, because a dancer, when he embarks on a career, has to do so like an athlete…a dancer has only his body. And mine is past its prime.
Quoted in Pat York: Going Strong, a book of interviews with over-75s.
“The inspiration for my choreography often comes to me spontaneously, while I am working. I can’t tell you exactly where I get my creative energy and life force….Much of the dancing will evolve out of the script, or be inspired by a song, but a lot of it just comes spontaneously. And then follows the sweat, blood, and tears...
"I’ve always preferred choreographing to the actual performing. I am not an outright performer [ here I would have to disagree, Gene!]…But that aspect has to be done, and I always did dance…But, from the professional dancing point of view, I was a late bloomer…I don’t think anyone ever really learns about himself if he’s in a creative business because, as a performer, you need to be constantly aware of other people; you are putting out for them. When I dance with a girl, for example, I believe it’s my duty and also the way the film should be that you direct everything toward the girl, make her look good. If she looks good, the pas de deux looks good…
"I can be very mercurial, but also patient with slow learners. When I am directing, I try to keep the cast happy. If I am doing dances, if they have a tough time learning the steps, I can be very encouraging. It is only when they are dogging it that I can become mean."
Dallas Times Herald. June 1980
Dance is in a state of transition. I like the young dancing. It is frenetic. It is joyous. Sometimes it gets a bit vulgar, but I think every art form can do that. I hear this, about dance being vulgar, from middle-aged people, but never from the young.
Saturday Evening Post 1980
Today’s dancing isn’t nearly as disciplined as it used to be. But it’s good and it’s satisfying and it’s what the youth want. They’re having fun doing it, which is the most important thing. …I’ve had a rule since I was a young man that I don’t believe I’ve ever discussed with anyone before. I don’t think steps in a dance routine should be the same for both boys and girls…There’s something missing from a dance when it’s moves are interchangeable.
The first Guardian Lecture. British Film Institute, London May 20th 1980.
From Talking Film, Ed. Andrew Britton. A Guardian book. 1991.
Gene, on dubbing taps:
We have to dub the taps in later. It’s the most difficult thing in pictures and it galls all of us because you have to watch yourself do this and that, and then copy yourself…If you pre-dub and then you get an inspiration on set, you’re stuck, and if you’re dancing alone you often start improvising…a strong urge to go further and add something...
A dance starts the same way a writer starts writing a script, a poem, a novel. It starts in his head and he sits down usually in a chair. He doesn’t get up and shake his hips and the dance flows out, any more than a writer sits down and starts to move his pencil and the words come out and lo and behold it’s A Doll’s House or Taming Of The Shrew. He has to sit and think out a plot.
Magazine article 1980. Gene. Talking to Iain McAsh
On the stage I was considered very good – like a 35-year-old Mickey Rooney – but the most difficult part for stage actors was doing the close-ups in films. We had been taught to project our personalities, to be larger than life. Films are more intimate, and that was terrifying for us. I never did master how to do close-ups.
From an article by Viola Heggi. Dance Magazine, August 1980
Dance was my first love and it’s still my number one love. In the '30s I was struggling to invent a style of my own. At times I thought nobody would buy it, but I kept developing my own particular style anyhow.
Every dancer doesn’t necessarily have it within him to become a choreographer. That’s a very specialised talent, is something that can’t be taught. No, you pull dance out of thin air, right out of thin air.
The Ledger. December 16th 1983
The dances in today’s movies feature lots of nearly nude, sexy bodies, male and female. These films reek of raw sex and youthful energy,…
The John Travolta pictures sell sweaty masculine muscle, and he moves like a leopard. Today’s audiences like to see sexy bodies. Fred Astaire, on the other hand, could dance with an overcoat on, and you’d still watch him….
You couldn’t produce films today with the kind of music, for instance, that was in An American In Paris. As a result, a lot of lovely art forms have practically disappeared. Look at Broadway today, and what do you see? Mostly revivals.
AFI Booklet 1985
"I always wanted to be a director. I always wanted to be a choreographer. My joy and my fun is creating. I would just as soon sit in a room and pull things out of thin air, and put them down on paper or onto the screen. Making it up, that's what's important to me. That is the fun of life."
Allegheny Times. 4th November 1990.
On his early days performing in the ‘gin joints’: It’s bad enough when people look away, but when they shout out names at you, that’s something else. You can do two things: shout back at them, which is undignified, and not particularly satisfying; or you can belt them, which isn’t very dignified either, but very satisfying...
Sometimes I belted them. On night a guy called me a fag, and I jumped off the stage and hit him. But I had to make a run for it, because the owner of the place and his brother took after me with a couple of baseball bats…
When I studied dance in Chicago in 1932, I had this big dream or pursuing classical ballet…The problem was that there was nowhere to go after that – there were no big classic companies in the country. You have to remember, we’re talking ancient history here. It was right after the Chicago World’s Fair, where I danced in 1933.
But, at that time, George Balanchine (founder of the New York City Ballet) had just arrived in the United States, and he didn’t get his company really going until after World War II.
Ruth Page had a company in Chicago, but she was already filled up with whatever talent she needed, and there was just no place for me to work.
So I turned my little feet to Broadway…
Irish America magazine. December 1990
I took a couple of years of dancing when I was six or seven but then I had to fight the kids on the block too much about it, so my mother let my brother, Jim, and me quit. And then when I was in high school, I began dancing again because I discovered girls. I reneged on the priesthood I guess. In high school, girls always like the best dancers so it's a good ploy, you know....
My father was out of work, so for purely economic reasons, my whole family started to give little dance lessons. My mother started a dancing school with us and it grew and grew. And finally I learned more and more from teachers, mainly in Chicago where I went to study every summer, I found that I was really interested in doing dancing as my living. So I stayed with it. And it wasn't until I left college that I made my final decision, because up until then, dancing was just a way to put myself through university...
I didn't have a role model. We just did every kind of dancing at the school: ballet, tap, social dancing, ballroom, acrobatic. We could do it all, we five Kelly kids. We didn't have role models then because there weren't any, except the ones we saw in vaudeville which was then dying...
I retired from dancing quite a few years ago. You can't dance well enough when you're old and when I danced I wanted to dance well enough, good enough. So I just said, “That's it. Quit.”
I don't miss it. When I went into dancing, I was well aware that it had to be a short career. Your instrument is your anatomy and your anatomy doesn't hold up. A musician has his piano or his Stradivarius but a dancer only has his body – so you face a short career. And when dancers get old, they should retire...
I choreographed dance numbers for the performers according to their abilities. And one big advantage that I had was that earlier in my life I had been a dance teacher and had my own dance school. It paid off well for me. It was like a treasure-trove to re-discover that teaching ability because it helped me teach the routines more easily when I worked with so many non-dancers in Hollywood...
The Irish really dominated the popular dance in twentieth century America, no doubt about it. I think it came from the fact that the dancing in Ireland for centuries has been clog dancing and reels and these dances certainly influenced the American people in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries so that it actually became part of American tap dancing. And then Americans who were Irish had this big advantage. They blended the tap dancing of the Irish – as I call it – with the syncopation of the music of the Blacks and created a whole new form of tap dancing. But, originally, American tap dancing came through that Irish source, from Ireland.
Gene: Interview Magazine 1994
It wasn’t until I started working my way through college and teaching children that I began to feel that I loved dance. And then when I was twenty or twenty-one, I saw a ballet for the first time, the Monte Carlo Ballet Russe, and I said, “This is an amazing life.” That’s why I decided to study ballet. But I never wanted to dance in a ‘polished’ film, and I didn’t. I put on a top-hat, white tie and tails with Astaire once as a gag in That’s Entertainment, Part 2 and did it briefly in a stage number in Summer Stock…All the other dancers before me danced in suits or shirts, which hid the body line. But I wanted you to see the line. The sailor suits I wore in Anchors Aweigh and On The Town – bell-bottoms, tight waists, skimpy tops – were the greatest dance outfits ever conceived...
A dancer with any intelligence has to start at sixteen and think, I’m going to have the shortest career in the world. But most of them don’t. Most great dancers go on creaking and outliving their time. I was ready to throw it in when my time came – the same as a boxer, or an athlete who can’t run that extra hundred yards. So that’s what I did: I quit dancing. But it had been a living.
Reflections on The Silver Screen. Interview with Professor Richard Brown 1994
The first few movies I did after working with Judy, I had no dance partners so perforce I had to dance with a mouse, do a couple of fantasy numbers…I even had to dance with Frank Sinatra!...I never preferred acting. I’m not crazy about performing, even as a dancer. I like to create the stuff, I like to direct and choreograph, and performing, I never worked at it. I had to work at the dancing because you couldn’t fly through the air and come down and hit a mark unless you trained yourself very hard…I tried to...make dance belong to the common people...I was lucky in being cast that way too. They never cast me as an aristocrat. I was never in that kind of trouble. Critics would compare me with Cagney and I was very proud of that.
I knew I couldn’t do Swan Lake all my life because I was bored with the classics. …I wanted reality and sophistication…I wanted vitality and style.
I realised that there was no character - whether a sailor or a truck driver or a gangster - that couldn’t be interpreted through dancing, if one found the correct choreographic language.
Any man who looks sissy while dancing is just a lousy dancer.
The camera is always making it impossible to do what you want. A dance should be made the way the dancer feels it, and every time he must stop to move the camera or to play a trick with the lens he is just not being honest.
I wish I had done more dances. I had more ideas in me. But that’s alright. I’m satisfied with what I did.
What is always overlooked...is why people overlook all the good acting that's done while you're dancing and singing...That's a very special kind of acting, and I think the hardest to do. You have to stay in character while you are singing a song or dancing a dance.
Kids talk to me and say they want to do musicals again because they've studied the tapes of the old films. We didn't have that. We thought once we had made it, even on film, it was gone except for the archives.