Gene Kelly, Creative Genius

A personal celebration of his life and work

Another new page, featuring items written about Gene by people who knew him personally. I have transfered some from other pages and will of course add to it as time and material allow.

Family

 

Photoplay June 1944 It’s like this – to be Mrs Gene Kelly

The week after Billy Rose engaged me, I was one of the chorus girls who had a crush on Gene. There always is a group of girls who think the dance instructor is ‘cute’. I wasn’t sure however, that Gene reciprocated my feelings. I had very little self-confidence in those days. I was only sixteen….

It was not until Geney signed a contract and was about to depart for California that I really knew he loved me; that the interest and enthusiasm he had for other girls was different from the feeling he had for me. I should have known of course, that Gene always will admire pretty girls very much and intelligent women even more. For that’s the way he is. He has a gift for people.

He told me he couldn’t go to California without me. So we were married in Philadelphia…

Gene didn’t want me to have a baby right away. He thought I was so young I should have a little fun first. However, when we knew Kerry was on the way we were delighted…

When Gene and I arrived in Hollywood I had no wish for a career. But now that Kerry is one and a half I think I would like to go to work again. Gene thinks I should. He likes women to do whatever they are able to do, to have babies and a career also, to enjoy the fullest life possible…

In the years Gene and I have been married we never have been really angry with each other. We both think it is silly and stupid to lose control of ourselves and say things we don’t mean. There is I think only one thing about me that bothers Gene – the fact that I never learned to keep things neat…fortunately he has been patient.

 

Photoplay February 1949

My Kids The Kellys, by Frederica Boger

I am that seemingly unique individual, a doting mother-in-law. Very doting – and why not? If every son-in-law was like Gene Kelly, it would put an end to those horrible mother-in-law jokes.

Gene never calls me “mother-in-law”. In conversation he always uses my nickname, “Fritz.” But on the cards he encloses with gifts and flowers and in telegrams (Gene never writes letters), he addresses me as “La Belle Mere,” the more endearing name used by the French.

Just as Gene makes of the relationship between us something friendly and fine (fun too!) so he does with every relationship he shares. All you need do is be with Betsy and Kerry when Gene comes home from work to know how he rates as a husband and father. You'd think they were expecting royalty! Stationed at a front window – the two of them all brushed up and shining – the instant Gene is sighted in his car, they fly to the door. They're both in his arms before he can call out “Betso!” and “Where's my Kerry?”

Gene has that quality about him that is so sincere, so honest, so straightforward. When he talks to you, he looks you in the eye. He doesn't say one word he doesn't mean. He never talks idly. He never makes a promise he can't keep. You don't often find that much sincerity with that much charm.

I shall never forget the first time I met Gene. I'd had, I must confess, a few qualms about him. Betsy was only sixteen when she got her job at Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe in New York. Gene, who gave her the job, was dance director.

The day she met Gene she came home starry-eyed. She did nothing but tell me how wonderful Mr Kelly was. Thereafter, each and every day it was “Mr. Kelly, Mr. Kelly, Mr Kelly.”

“Mr. Kelly came into the drugstore to-day while I was having lunch. When he took the stool next to mine at the counter I could hardly eat, I was so excited.”

Betsy, young for the young age of sixteen had never, I was certain, been in love. I didn't suppose she was really in love then. Just a crush, I thought, on a man whom I visualized, rather uneasily, as being an “older man” - a man of the theatre, of Broadway.

When “Mr. Kelly” finally invited Betsy to have dinner with him, he made his first appearance on our doorstep. He was wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt. He had been playing ball and looked as unlike as possible the smooth “Mr. Kelly” of my imagining. Nor did the blue jeans and T-shirt, strange apparel though they were for a dinner date, matter in the least. You never looked past his face.

My first impression was “How young he is!”. My second, “I can see what has carried Betsy away!”

One of the first things he asked me that day was how I felt about Betsy being on the stage. I said I thought it an interesting filler-in for the summer but that Betsy was going to college – she was entered at Sarah Lawrence – that Fall and was planning to become a schoolteacher. Gene, who loves an argument, argued then: “Why send anyone so pretty to college? She should be an actress.”...

Occasionally people ask me whether Gene approves of his wife having a career. I am sure Betsy wouldn't put her name to a picture contract without Gene's approval. And I remember, too, how pleased Gene was when Mr. Saroyan chose Betsy for the lead in “The Beautiful People,” and how proud he was of her success.

The night the play opened, Betsy's dressing room was filled with flowers. Among the huge ornate boxes was one small modest box. In the small modest box was one white orchid. The card read, simply, “You're my girl.” In contrast to all the other extravagant messages, this little card seemed just too wonderful...

When they were first married and were preparing to leave for Hollywood, I asked Betsy how she thought she would feel when she saw Gene making love on the screen to the Hollywood glamor girls. Betsy laughed. “Before we were married Gene explained all that to me. 'When you love somebody,' he told me, 'you love somebody.' Sounds cryptic, but,” my daughter told me with the kind of smile I liked to see, “I know what he means.”

...Though most mothers hope for a good provider for their daughter, Gene is more than that. He is generous to a fault. Nothing is too good for Betsy. At Christmas for instance. Almost any man or woman grown cynical enough to disbelieve in Santa Claus would, after Christmas at the Kelly's, reaffirm their faith in the abundant old gentleman. The living room overflows with Gene's gifts to Betsy, Kerry, his parents and myself.

Nor does Gene's generosity lapse with familiarity. When I was visiting them at Christmas last year Gene gave me, among other gifts, gorgeous accommodations on the Super Chief. But, fearful that I might take such a gift to be a hint, he did not tell me about it until long after Christmas – when I was beginning to worry aloud about my reservations.

Just as you usually do not expect such sincerity coupled with such charm, neither do you expect sound business ability with such an array of talent. With Gene, not even a broken ankle could keep him from continuing his career. Although he was not able to dance for several months, Gene was at the studio every day. He spent his time writing and planning ahead to the day when he'll be a director. He has already sold one story to M.G.M. He is busy on another.

And with all of this Gene is great fun, too. He and Kerry sing together all the time. At five, Kerry knows the words of at least a dozen songs she's learned from Gene. And sings them like Gene. And looks just like him, Gene's eyes, his mouth, his mannerisms, and light as spindrift on her feet. I think Kerry is one of the luckiest little girls in the world. Not only because of the material good fortune and the love that Gene and Betsy give her, but because of the careful thought underlying the way they explain things to her. They never say “Do this” or “Don't do that” without explaining why…

Kerry Kelly. Enchanting, isn't it. A singing name to say. Gene named her. One night, a few weeks after she was born and her name still  not decided upon, Betsy and I were in the living room watching Gene do a  practise step to the tune of “Oh, the days of the Kerry dancers!” Suddenly he stopped in the middle of his routine. Poised on one toe he exclaimed “Kerry! Kerry Kelly – how about it?” “Yes!” Betsy and I chorused in unison, “Oh yes!”

...Although he's a man of deep feelings and emotions, I have never seen Gene in a temper. Nor ever so slightly out of control – except, perhaps, in the hospital, waiting for Kerry to be born. Seldom if ever have I seen Gene smoke, but in those hours he smoked one cigarette after another. He paced the corridors. He mopped his damp brow. He waylaid doctors and nurses. He did all the things every frantic young father does.

Gene always eats late at night, too. Loves to eat at night. Favorite midnight snack being hot dogs and tea. He'll drink pots of tea. And he's mad for ice-cream, especially chocolate. The freezing unit in their icebox (quite the largest icebox I've ever seen!) always contains a full supply of Schwab's Drugstore ice-cream. Gene also loves candy. There is a steady supply of Gene's favorite chocolate peppermints from his favorite candy store in Pittsburgh in a little cupboard in the breakfast room. The cupboard is just behind his place at the table so that he can always reach it easily. Quite often what Gene gets when he reaches for the candy is a handful of Kerry, crouching surreptitiously by the cupboard!

Besides hot dogs, ice cream and candy, Gene's favorite food is steak and potatoes. He only eats vegetables “To set a good example for Kerry,” he says.

Last year I gave Gene, who is handy about making things as well as designing them, a tool chest for Christmas. “Do you really like it?” I asked him. “It's a smash!” he said, using his favorite expression to express enthusiasm.

So, literally, is my son-in-law.

 

I Married A Dynamo. Magazine article 1950. By Betsy Blair

…Gene is not lucky – at least, not in the accepted sense of discovering an oil well in his backyard or of marrying the boss’s daughter…During his whole life, he has worked for every dime he’s ever got…Gene, in fact, has worked so hard and so long that it’s now reached a point where working is a regular habit with him. He simply couldn’t do without it.

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

For example, when Gene is working on the choreography for a new picture, he sits absolutely quiet – sometimes for hours at a time – with that handsome Irish forehead of his furrowed in lines of thought. He is a man capable of losing himself in complete concentration.

Some people like to think while driving a car or watering the lawn – but not Gene. His thinking is a separate, unrelated action… When it’s a dance step he’s working on, he thinks out the routine.

Once the routine is mentally formulated, he puts it into action. Up he gets from his chair, dashes into the car, and speedily races off to Metro. There in the rehearsal room he dances, revises and practises for six or eight hours at a stretch – or as long as perfection requires…When the actual shooting begins, he’s on set from 7A.M. to 7 P.M. …

Constitutionally he is incapable of inactivity; artistically, variety and versatility are his two strong points. I think he is writer, director, actor, and choreographer – all rolled into one dynamic personality.

In addition to this restlessness which drives him into action, another of Gene’s characteristics is neatness. Whenever he leaves a room, it’s infinitely more orderly than when he entered…

Gene’s wardrobe is a masterpiece of organization; similarly his desk looks as if it’s never been disturbed. Offhand, there’s a tendency to credit the Navy for Gene’s tidiness, but I knew him before the Navy did, and he’s always been a spick and span gentleman.

He also happens to be a great tease. He loves to get me started on a highly debatable topic, something like whether Kerry should or should not read comic books. Just as I’m getting steam up and firing arguments left and right, he starts to mimic me. I try to ignore his nonsense, but it’s as if I were grimacing in front of a mirror. I start to feel ridiculous and end up in a burst of helpless laughter.

Then Gene does a complete about-face and agrees with me. In the case of the comic books, we decided to ration Kerry to one a month. Gene and I both feel this sort of set-up will give her more time for the traditional literature all young ones should enjoy…

Gene seems to remember every book he has ever read. When we were first married, his memory seemed to me positively amazing; but now I take it more or less for granted. Gene’s known a lot of people in his thirty-seven years – folks from Pittsburgh, New York, Broadway, the Navy. He’s always bumping into old friends, and never, even for a moment, does he stumble over a name or fail to recognise a face.

The only thing he ever stumbles over is finances. In contrast to many Hollywood actors who are financial wizards, Gene is not. He believes in putting whatever surplus funds we manage to save, in banks or government bonds…he never spends any of his spare time studying the stock market or investing in oil wells or signing up as the West Coast agent for some television company. He is not interested in amassing a fortune.

“Our one concern,” Gene frequently explains, “is for basic security.” By that Gene means he always wants enough to provide his family with food, clothing, and education and shelter.

The day we bought an ordinary-looking clapboard house in Beverley Hills was a step in the direction of security. That day was one of the biggest in our lives.

In spite of Gene’s apparent sophistication and his long experience in New York  show business, my husband has a very simple philosophy of living. He believes in what he calls “the eternal verities.” These truths deal with love, honor, and the protection of one’s family. Now, this is the sort of guide for basic living, the primary sort of philosophy that saves a man from ulcers, anxiety and doctors.

Whenever divorce rumors start, as they inevitably do in this town, Gene doesn’t even bother to deny them. Divorce just doesn’t enter our ken, because it’s contrary to the “eternal verities.”

Gene’s calm evaluation of what is important and what is not, his fundamental sense of values have always been my rock of Gibraltar. Shortly after Kerry started school…I grew impatient. I longed to do something like returning to the stage; and yet, I didn’t think it would be fair to the family…I went to Gene and talked the matter over with him. He always puts first things first. “If it will make you happy Betsy, go ahead and act.”

He pointed out that growth and activity are essential to all human beings. He also convinced me that Kerry wouldn’t be neglected if I worked at a studio during the day. “Only,” he advised, “do something about your feelings. Just don’t stew in your own juice.”…Gene…encouraged every venture.

As a result there are two distinct careers in our family today, and they never clash. We manage to keep Gene’s “eternal verities” in working order.

Gene and I were married in Philadelphia in September of 1941. Our marriage surprised many of our friends, largely because there’s a 12 year difference in our ages. More outstanding at the beginning was the difference in experience….When I first met him I was a 16-year-old chorus girl. It was he who gave me a job in Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe.

I idolized him from that moment on. After I got the job, Gene used to let me tag along with his crowd of friends and listen to their dreams, theatre talk and discussion of world events at large…Our courtship (if you can call anything as casual as our dating a courtship) was enmeshed in all the glamour and excitement of the New York entertainment world…Gene became a great hit in Pal Joey. It was then that David Selznick offered Gene a Hollywood contract, and Gene, in turn, offered me a marriage contract.

Both of us accepted. That was the marital beginning. A month later, Kerry was conceived, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and Gene enlisted in the Navy. I went back to Washington with Gene, and while I was there, a girl I happened to meet, noticing that I wore no makeup and pretty plain clothes…said…”How come Gene Kelly married you, anyway?”

I smiled and shrugged my shoulder and said nothing, but in my heart I knew the reason. It still holds today and it has to do with the eternal verities – the one called, love.

 

Screen Album. Fall 1951

Kerry Kelly, aged 9

This may not be my really favourite picture of my father because I have several that I like just as much. I picked this one because since it was going in a magazine I thought he looked the handsomest in this one. Mommy and I have a picture of Daddy when he was a little boy. It’s also one of my favourites because I love the stories Daddy tells me about when he was a boy in school. And what he did. Last summer Daddy and I went to Yosemite and we took snapshots of each other. They all came out very fuzzy and not nearly as good as the ones they make at the studio. I like to go to places with my folks. For a special treat I sometimes get to see a preview of one of Daddy’s movies. One of my favourite things was in The Three Musketeers, when Daddy cut the man’s suspenders and his pants fell down. On Sunday afternoons when Daddy doesn’t have to work, we have lots of fun just watching my kittens…I named them after materials – Calico, Velvet, Silky, Satin and Picque. When the kittens are asleep in my playhouse where they live, Daddy and I wander around the backyard to check on the peach tree, the apricot tree and the cherry tree. We like them because they have pretty blossoms and then fruit. We have a fine time – and sometimes we take snapshots in the backyard. Mommy’s favourite picture of Daddy is one where he’s very stern looking and serious. I don’t agree with her selection because I like him best when he’s laughing and joking and that’s how I want him to look in pictures.

 

Kerry, from an article on famous parents

I wouldn't call my father anti-analysis, but at one point he was about the only grown-up I knew who hadn't been analysed. One measure of our relationship is that when I told him I was going into this and needed a financial hand, he wanted to understand what I was doing, so he read books about analysis and modified his opinion.

One of the things people don't absorb about my father is that he is an intellectual and what interests him most is American History...Their values had so little to do with the 'fan magazine' Hollywood. I had it drummed into me that life is hard work.

 

 

Friends and colleagues

Screen Stars. February 1946

Isobel Lennart brilliantly word-paints the real Gene Kelly.

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

My first feeling about Gene Kelly was that he was one of the darndest nuisances I’d ever run into in my life. I had just started writing a picture called “Anchors Aweigh.” It was going to start shooting in about three weeks, which was just dandy except for one thing – there were only 20 pages of it written and I hadn’t the faintest idea where it was going.

Gene read the first 20 pages and liked them. He had a thousand ideas, a thousand suggestions – and, worst of all – a thousand questions….

My answer to all of the questions was “I don’t know – and please – I’m busy now – “

He’d nod and go away. But next day, there he’d be again, tapping at the office door. There was a song he’d heard the night before – it might be good. He’d gotten an idea for a dance – it might be good.

It reached the point where my secretary would scurry in…And we’d hastily tack a “Do not disturb” sign on the door, and lock it.

We never stopped Kelly. He just rapped until we un-locked it.

Looking back now – these days when I consider Gene to be one of the most talented, intelligent, gifted, creative and dynamic persons I’ve ever known – I realise I was really acting like an imbecile. I have a couple of excuses though.

In the first place, I’d never seen Gene in a picture. And Gene, around the studio, was scarcely a glamorous sight. He was usually sprouting the beginnings of a black-as-night beard. He was usually clad in a pair of tired slacks with the bottoms rolled up, sneakers and a quite dirty sweat shirt.

He looked like a man who might have some brilliant ideas about baseball – but hardly about a script…

My other excuse was an old prejudice, shared, I think, by many writers, that an actor's interest in any script starts and stops with his own part, and is usually concerned with the size and relative importance of that part – and not much else.

I don’t know exactly when I began to realise that this Kelly was a horse of a very different color.

Perhaps it was when I started noticing that he was just as interested in Sinatra’s part as in his own. That a number of his suggestions actually cut his own part to build others. That when he talked about the story, and where it was going, it was the story he was talking about and not Joe Brady, the part he was going to play…

But most of all, perhaps it was when I realised how much Gene cared about the picture. How much he wanted every detail of it to be good, really good.

Since then, I’ve often watched Gene do something we call “schmeikling.”

“Schmeikling” is handling people – tactfully, flatteringly, diplomatically, kiddingly – any way – so long as you get what you want.

Gene is a past master of the art of schmeikling. What takes the curse off his practice of this fine art is that what he wants is always good for the work, good for the picture, and not merely what’s good for him personally.

All of these things, added up, made my attitude change. And then, to top it off, I went to see “Cover Girl.” The guy who played the lead in that picture seemed to have little to do with the disreputable-looking character who wandered in and out of my office – but I knew he was the same guy.

And he was terrific. He was the greatest dancer I’d ever seen on the screen, one of the best actors, one of the – oh, heck, he was terrific…I found myself thinking “Hey. This wonderful guy – only yesterday he was dancing on top of the desk in your office! And you were wishing he’d blow – you dope!”

And so everything changed. In a very short time it was I who was calling Gene – begging him to drop in…

And that’s the way it has stayed. I had moments when I resented this reversal of roles – but let’s face it. Facts are facts.

I’ve had a chance to see a good deal of Gene since we started “Anchors Aweigh” – and, for what it’s worth, this is what I feel about him.

In a community like Hollywood, where everyone has one talent and plays it like little David with his harp, Gene is the furthest removed from being a Johnny-one-note that I’ve ever seen.

Gene’s interested in everything. In every phase of picture making, of people, of the arts, of politics, of – of everything. And – and this quality can be irritating in a friend, as you probably know – he’s good at everything.

He’s even good at being lazy, sarcastic and bad-tempered. It’s those last which keep him out of the ranks of men you just admire and – to me – lifts him to being the sort of guy you can get mad at, and love.

There’s no doubt that when Gene gets out of the Navy – yes, he’s good there, too – he’ll be one of the top box-office draws and one of the top actors in the country.

But no one who knows Gene can feel anything but that he is just beginning his career. That he will direct, that he will produce, eventually, is a foregone conclusion. But also, if anyone predicted to me that one day Gene would be a scientist or a writer or a senator – and you can even take it from there – I would say, with no present basis for knowing why – “Sure! – wouldn’t surprise me a bit.”

There was a line in “Anchors Aweigh” which Gene had to use in connection with a girl. I’d like to use it about him. “Whatever anyone else has – Gene’s got more of it! And better!”

 

Modern Screen. October 1946

…Bob Alton stood alone on the echoing stage of the 42nd Street Theater…the stage door attendant walked up to him.

“There’s a young fellow and his mother outside, says his name’s Kelly and you’ll remember him. Wants to see you. Okay?”

“Don’t know him from Adam,” said Mr. Alton wearily, “but let ‘em in.”

…”You remember me, don’t you?” the boy said. “Gene Kelly, of Pittsburgh.”

…Something clicked in his mind. “But you were only thirteen…”

“…and how I’ve grown!” Gene finished.

“You were pretty good in the chorus, I remember. What are you doing now?”

It took Gene half an hour to tell him…

“Why don’t you dance for me?” Alton said.

“I haven’t the right shoes, but – okay.”

Then, without music, on the empty, bare stage, Young Gene Kelly of Pittsburgh danced a little Spanish tap number with such style and imagination as Alton had not seen since Astaire. As he watched, his head cleared and he forgot about dinner. He said, “What on earth are you doing in a dancing school? Close it up at once and come here to New York. I’ll hire you myself, right now, for this show.”

Gene cocked a wary eye. “How much?”…”Seventy-five a week…”

“Wait a minute.” Gene took his mother’s arm and they withdrew into a huddle. “It’s not enough,” Gene said later.

“It’s the best I can do.”

“Then - drop in, the next time you’re in Pittsburgh.”

…He was extremely annoyed. But he did not really enjoy his capon that night; he kept seeing the grace of movement, the subtle technique, the dreaming intelligence of that little dance Kelly had improvised for him….

You saw that dance in your neighbourhood theatre when Anchors Aweigh played there last year. You saw it because Alton could not get it out of his mind, and finally one afternoon picked up his phone, and said, “All right, all right. Eighty-five, and I’ll let you try a bit part...”

“I’ll take it.”

…What so astonished Alton was that besides being able to dance the boy could act, as well. Thus when the matter of casting One For The Money came up, Alton thought of Gene….

Alton decided to send him to his own agent, Johnny Darrow… It was Darrow who wangled Gene the part of the corny hoofer in Saroyan’s Time Of Your Life, which ran for 22 weeks and established the name of Gene Kelly on Broadway. Then Alton was sent the script of a play called Pal Joey and asked if he thought it could be made into a musical. He came to the conclusion that it could, but there was again the difficult matter of casting it.

He sat one night with Darrow…the agent looked up suddenly and said, “You don’t suppose Gene Kelly..?”

Alton banged his hands together…”I must be out of my mind,” he told Darrow. “Of course! He is Pal Joey.

And he was, and that was the real beginning for Gene because, humble at this fantastic break and imbued with a fierce resolve to justify Alton’s faith in him, he slaved night and day on the part. He danced better than he knew how. And after the opening there was no longer any doubt: Broadway had a great new star.

 

 

After Hollywood had taken Gene, as it had taken so many of [Robert] Alton’s former dancers…he lost track of the Kellys for a while. He saw Gene’s pictures…and noticed Gene’s inimitable talent grow and mature….

Alton had already come to Hollywood under contract to Gene’s own studio, MGM. A reunion was in order.

It happened, typically, at a party in Gene’s English provincial house; typically, because both Gene and Betsy loved parties.

Gene, Alton discovered, had grown up and was about as thoroughly happy in his marriage and his work as any man Alton had ever met.

Before he left that evening, Alton found himself seated alone with Betsy on a small sofa so that, while the party swirled about them, they could chat... He said, “You know, I believe Gene can do almost anything he wants to, and do it better than anyone else. He could be a great ballet dancer, a fine dramatic actor, a comedian, or you name it.”

“It’s that ambition of his,” said Betsy.

“It’s that brain of his. I have the feeling, whenever I see him, that I’m with someone who’s smarter than I am, more hep. I say to myself, be careful, He’ll outwit me and in a moment he’ll counter a crack of mine with one so devastating, so superbly unanswerable that I’ll have to creep out of the room on my knees.”

Betsy smiled at him, her eyes untroubled. She knew her man. She said, confidently, “But he never has.”

Alton rose to go. “No, God bless him, he never has –“

 

 

Stanley Donen, interviewed by Charlie Rose on the day of Gene’s death, 2nd February 1996. (condensed).

Asked how he first met Gene: “I was a very young man, as he was. I came to New York to get into showbusiness and I auditioned for Pal Joey. Gene was Pal Joey and I was a dancer. He was a big success in the show. George Abbott asked Gene to be choreographer of Best Foot Forward and I was in that show. Gene came in and said would I be his assistant. I was 16 or 17 at the time. So from that moment on, the relationship grew slightly. We worked together quite well.”

The interviewer went on to say how Stanley met Gene in Hollywood and they worked together on Cover Girl, Anchors Aweigh, Living In A Big Way, Deep In My Heart, Take Me Out To The Ball Game, (Also jointly writing the story and getting $25000 for it), On The Town, Singin’ In The Rain, and It’s Always Fair Weather.

Asked what was Gene’s genius, what was his talent: “The big part of it was what he called himself, a song and dance man, and there was only one other, Fred Astaire. Gene had his own manner and charm, and he was good at singing and dancing and he had this wonderful Irish-American brash quality which was so winning and so full of energy that it was an irresistible charm. He had a desire to change what musical films had done, to explore other avenues.”

Asked what was the nature of their relationship: “It started when he was a star and I was a dancer. By the time we did Singin’ In The Rain we were co-directors. He was an actor and I was a director really. He was in front of the camera and I was behind so it did complement each other.

But we had our differences of course. No collaboration would be worth its salt without differences of opinion. The clashes have to be done in private because if done in front of others they’re very disturbing, but new things came because of it.”

The ‘rain dance’ was shown, and Donen was asked if it brought back memories: “Indeed it does, it’s a great loss, not to have him around any more.”

Did Gene appreciate his talent? “I think so, he was aware that he had a very special gift and that he wanted to show it in the best possible way. He drove himself very hard. He was very nervous about his singing voice though, and would get hoarse from nerves when he had to record.”

How do you remember Gene Kelly? “Like in that moment in Singin’ In The Rain. When one is down and wants to be cheered up, watch Gene Kelly.”

 

Saul Chaplin

Gene Kelly: Dancing Athlete. The Entertainers, after 1976

In 1943…I was assigned to write a comedy routine for Gene Kelly and Phil Silvers. They were rehearsing Cover Girl. So I walked over to the set, and there were Kelly, Silvers and Rita Hayworth dancing and laughing uproariously…I later learned that it was their general demeanor when the three of them rehearsed together…Phil…introduced me to Gene…They each had many notions about the routine I was to write, Gene in particular. He discussed everything that he thought might affect the routine: the set, the other characters, the method of shooting, the plot of the film, and many other elements that I would have thought were irrelevant. As he spoke, I kept feeling more and more that he was going to be impossible to please. His parting words, however, allayed my fears and surprised me: “Make Phil as funny as you can, and don’t worry about me – I’ll take care of myself.” I was to have a long association with Gene, and he would always maintain this attitude. And he would always be able to take care of himself.

It is difficult to imagine Gene Kelly not having become a big star…First and foremost, he is enormously talented. Physically, he’s handsome, not in an “eight-by-ten glossy” way, but more like the best-looking guy in the neighborhood. He is a naturally gifted athlete…His singing voice is pleasant, with a nice easy style. Audiences identify with its simplicity; that’s how they sound in their showers, they think. His dances, usually more complex and intellectual than they seem, appear to be improvised and are great fun to watch. His ideas are always fresh and original, and his intent is always crystal clear. His costumes are usually plain, everyday clothes…When you add to this his ingratiating Irish smile, an irresistible screen personality, superior intelligence, and a keen sense of showmanship – how could he miss?

Today Gene Kelly, as a dancer and a choreographer, is credited with having reshaped the motion picture musical…many of his numbers advanced the techniques by which dance is interpreted on film. As a former amateur violinist, with a useful knowledge of music, Kelly has always exerted more than the usual influence on the sound and style of the music for his numbers. He always approaches musical numbers from a dramatic standpoint, and since he’s such an accomplished actor and dancer, the results are often quite extraordinary…In fact, if a song doesn’t lend itself to dramatic treatment, Kelly isn’t interested.

Because Kelly is such a marvellous song-and-dance man, his skill as an actor is often overlooked. He has played straight dramatic roles with excellent critical results in more than a dozen films. He was once asked what acting method he used. His reply was simply, “I pretend to be as much like the character called for in the script as I can.”

Another of Gene’s unsung talents is his ability to work with children.  He can get them to do anything. He teaches them at their own level without ever being condescending. He has infinite patience…He genuinely loves children. In the I Got Rhythm number in An American In Paris, the children were all represented as being French. Actually most of them were American, but under Gene’s tutelage they all became French. He taught the French children English, and the American children English with a French accent. They all loved both the game and their teacher.

One more thing: Gene has a positive genius for making non-dancers look like they’ve been dancing all their lives…Frank Sinatra…Phil Silvers…Jules Munchin…Kay Kendall…

His status as a long-standing superstar is unquestioned. In point of fact he is adding to his fans among the younger generation who are discovering Kelly for the first time through the That’s Entertainment films and the revivals of his films. On TV, attired in a dinner jacket, he sometimes appears to be a show business elder statesman, but when he starts to sing or dance the years fall away.