Gene moved from Pittsburgh to New York on August 5th 1938.
Photoplay May 1943
“For no good reason I suddenly began to feel hemmed in,” he explained. “I wanted new horizons. So I left the family to run the schools (they’re still doing it!) and gambled on getting a job in New York.”
Pittsburgh Post Gazette. September 4th 1940
He turned in one of the finest performances of Manhattan last season as the philosophical hoofer in The Time Of Your Life. Now he’s awaiting the rehearsal call for the title role in…Your Pal Joey…brother Fred will take over Gene’s role in Time Of Your Life…Gene merely suggested Fred to Guild officials for the part…
Ever since Time Of Your Life, Gene Kelly and William Saroyan have been bosom pals. When Gene speaks of him, there’s idolatry in his voice. “That guy’s writing gets you down here,” Kelly says, and points to his heart.
Last week, Gene stopped off at Cape May, NJ on his way home, to see the tryout of Saroyan’s Sweeney In The Trees, argued with Saroyan over the direction until both of them were blue in the face, and they wound up together at a nearby beer parlor with Saroyan asking Gene to appear in one of the three new plays he has written and to stage the dances for a revue he’s already finished…Kelly may do either or both if Your Pal Joey…is further postponed because of script revisions.
Gene thinks Sweeney In The Trees is a better piece of entertainment than Time Of Your Life…”That Saroyan is out of the world,” he says. “He’s a big bruiser, as regular as they come, and looks like a contented iceman. You’d never expect such beautiful prose from such a guy.”
Curiously enough, with every producer in New York dangling scripts in his face, Gene Kelly would rather be a top-flight dance director that a top-flight star. But that can come later, he’s smart enough to realise. The dark, good-looking Irish lad put on the numbers this year for Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe show and also staged the ensembles for Two Weeks With Pay…it’s now being reworked for Broadway and he’ll do the dances for the new version too.
New York Times. 2nd March 1941
Kelly is a handsome young Irishman from Pittsburgh who became a dancer because, he says, “of vanity.” However, his vanity is not likely to show. When he talks of playwrights he uses the thoroughly unactorish expression of, for example, “I think Saroyan likes me,” or “O’Hara seemed to like us all right; we had good times together.”…
“Kelly is omnipotent,” said Variety. An unknown two years ago, Kelly is now invited to parties where he gazes on such masters of the musical comedy crafts as Victor Moore and George M. Cohan and thinks how wonderful it would be to stay on top all your life.
“I know I’m lucky now – but what if my next show is lousy and I am shown up as being not too good? You don’t get a book and songs like [Pal Joey] every year, you know.”
Pittsburgh Post Gazette. July 23rd 1941
Kelly has had a phenomenal rise in the theatre since his first Broadway appearance less than three years ago…he went to New York direct from the Pittsburgh Playhouse…After his first movie, Kelly plans to produce and star in William Saroyan’s Sweeney In The Trees with his brother Fred.
NewYork Times. July 29th 1941
The 6th annual convention of the Dance Educators of America began yesterday at the Hotel Park Central, an extended program of instruction and demonstration in the newest developments in all phases of the dance.
Gene Kelly, star of Pal Joey…taught tap-dancing and the tango yesterday in the air-conditioned Florentine Grill.
Modern Screen. June 1943
He misses the stimulation of New York. On a visit last February, he and Betsy, his wife, stopped at the hotel only long enough to drop their bags before diving happily through slush and 8-below temperature for a cup of coffee at the automat. How keenly he misses the theatre he didn’t realise till This Is The Army opened in Los Angeles. His brother Fred’s a member of the cast. As the house darkened and the overture started, his spine went cold and his eyes wet.
Picture Show. September 25th 1943
…He really learned to act in New York in an inexpensive back room which he shared with four other boys. They were all enthusiastic to get a chance on Broadway, and every night they would rehearse Shakespeare…
When one of the other young men wrote a play, he and Gene took it to summer stock – with little success, Gene admits, but it was experience. He was glad that he had had this little insight into the dramatic world when his friend, William Saroyan, offered him a dramatic role in a play entitled Time Of Your Life.
Pittsburgh Post Gazette. March 4th 1944. Dorothy Kilgallan
Gene Kelly, the Astaire with hair, wins sighs from the chorines backstage at Early To Bed.
Colliers magazine. May 1945
The winter sessions at his schools in Pittsburgh and Johnstown were doing a raging business, and everything was fine until he took another decision: he was giving it all up to try his luck in New York. Solemn friends pointed out to him what a mistake he was making. He had a prosperous and growing business; he was a big frog in a little puddle; competition was tough in New York and he might find himself up against it.
“I had been looking at that competition for years,” says Gene. “It didn’t look so hot. Anyhow, it was time to move. You reach that spot and you either move or you stay where you are and end up wearing a flowing black tie and being called ‘Professor’.”
He wasn’t a Broadway riot from the start, but he picked up jobs right away…After that came…a spell of living with three other fellows in a rather crummy apartment where Gene learned Shakespeare by listening to the others spout it….what really fixed him up was meeting with William Saroyan, a sort of bargain-basement Shakespeare…He heaved Gene into Time Of Your Life, where he staged his own numbers and worked up quite a little reputation for himself in the Pulitzer Prize winner.
Modern Screen October 1946.
In the living room of [Gene’s] little apartment, Gene set the record changer, poured beer into oversized steins, and uncovered the sandwiches. Then he began to talk. [Robert] Alton, sunk in a deep chair, his feet up on an enormous puff, was in a mood for listening…
It hadn’t occurred to Alton that Gene was a little lonely, that the theatre and success and the disenchanted, hard-bitten, sophisticated society of Broadway were not enough to fill his life…
Sipping his beer and listening, Alton caught the need in his young friend for all the things that are genuine and secure and lasting – the warmth of knowing someone else is in the house, of hearing voices in the next room, of children’s laughter, of a fire already burning in the fireplace, of companionship and affection...
“What you need is a girl.”
“I’ve got a girl.”
“I meant a wife.”
“All,” said Gene, “in good time.” And the subject was changed.
Alton did not remember that evening again until he was deep in rehearsals for Panama Hattie. Among the cast was a lovely little girl named Betsy Blair, whom Alton had noticed particularly for the indefinable quality of innocence which she seemed to wear like a garment. She was also a competent actress, which set her up in Alton’s books; and after he had talked with her…and watched her out of the corner of his eye…he went around to the cast with what…was an astonishing request.
…”Will you please watch your language when Betsy Blair’s around?"…Strangely none of the other girls took offence. They knew what he meant. They also knew something about Betsy that he did not. He found it out one afternoon, though, when, emerging from the stage entrance, he ran into Gene.
“This,” said Alton, “is at least the tenth time I’ve caught you hanging around here. You’ve got a perfectly good job of your own. What’s up?”
Gene did not answer. Alton discovered he was looking past him, smiling with his brown Irish eyes; turning, the director saw Betsy coming through the door.
“I don’t believe it,” he said.
“Start believing it now then,” Gene said. “Remember what you told me that night at my apartment? All right, I’ve followed your advice before and I can’t say I regret it.”
Movie Stars Parade. July 1947
Gene took the train to New York and started the rutted path from one producer to another. No starving on the sidewalks for Kelly. No matter how pressing the demand for color, he won’t deviate from the truth when it comes to telling the Kelly saga. He didn’t crash to success right away, neither did he starve romantically in some obscure garret while waiting for a crack at the footlights. There was always bricklaying, truck driving and soda jerking, and there was always the family. The Kellys were a close-knit, affectionate group, and Gene in New York was the whole family in New York. He kept on looking, and the family was behind him.
“A very discouraging business, this trying for a role,” Kelly says frankly. “You stalk out on the stage, and hand a sheet of music to some joker at a piano,, and you start moving. Down front are a bunch of guys who look at you like you were in a sack of lemons. They pick ‘em up, they squeeze them, and some they kick into the corner. One they grab and nibble on. That was Kelly when I got the job in Leave It To Me.”…The Kellys of Pittsburgh kept the Pennsylvania Railroad in dividends running over to New York to catch the youngest son in his act.
Pittsburgh Post Gazette. September 10th 1947. Dorothy Kilgallen
Wasn’t that Gene Kelly at the Drake Hotel, hiding behind the name of McCann and a beard thick enough to fool most of his admirers.
Pittsburgh Post Gazette. December 20th 1947. Dorothy Kilgallen
This Monday night at the Carnival was a Manhattan night…it was nearing midnight when they started to come…Bob Hope…Joe DiMaggio…Phil Silvers…and heads turned and oohs and ahs rose to a din as Gene Kelly slipped through the aisles to their table, surrounded by six oddly assorted males, none of whom, I am sure, will ever make Who’s Who…all present for the same reason – to listen to a little man that Broadway loves…George Jessel.
Movie Show. October 1947. Van Johnson
My initial feeling of knowing what made Kelly, the great entertainer, tick, was on the first day of merged rehearsals. [Pal Joey]. Previously the chorus rehearsed in one theatre, the principals in another. I remember so well how all of us chorus kids sat around waiting for the stars to arrive. Some of them were dressed to the teeth, which didn’t impress us too much. Then in came Kelly, with that characteristic jaunty walk: he was dressed strictly for rehearsal – old slacks, T-shirt and tap shoes. No swank, no pretense, ready to go to work, but he inspired the ladies and gentlemen of the ensemble to prod each other in the ribs and say, “There’s Kelly,” with more than a little awe in their voices.
Milwaukee Journal 11th July 1948
Gene Kelly, the most thwarted stage actor in Hollywood, is off to Broadway after Take Me Out To The Ball Game. “But I only get three months off,” he tells me in the Metro café. “Not enough time to do a play, so I’ll do the next best thing, I’ll direct a Broadway musical.”
Pittsburgh Press. 16th December 1948
Gene: Like everyone else on Broadway, I had always admired Rodgers and Hart, and no one was more excited than I to appear in one of their shows. Those were wonderful days.
Van Johnson was in the same show and the kids would line up knee-deep outside the Ethel Barrymore Theater where we were playing. The first night I thought those kids were for me, supposedly the star of the show. I learned differently. It was that red-haired chorus boy they were after.
…Every big name in show business took part in the memorial given for Larry Hart at the Fulton Theater in 1942. [Note: It must have been 1943 as Hart died November 1943] Kelly was among the performers.
“When Jimmy Walker delivered the eulogy for Larry, he echoed the sentiments that were in our hearts,” avers Kelly. “I wished then that I could have said the words.” Now, in Words and Music, Kelly gets his wish. He was chosen by director Norman Taurog to deliver the screen eulogy for Hart.
Saturday Evening Post. July 1950
In the summer of 1937 he felt that he was ready to seek work in New York as a choreographer, if New York was ready for something new and fresh in rhythmic patterns. But the Gotham producers betrayed a perverse lack of interest in hiring a young Pittsburgh dancing master to show them the errors of their ways, and since the two Gene Kelly Studios of the Dance were earning around $8000 a year – more than anyone in New York offered him – he came home. The following year Broadway made a place for him as a dancer instead of a choreographer.
Movie Spotlight. August 1954
Pal Joey was the Broadway vehicle which carried him to Hollywood. It allowed him to show off his wonderful dancing and to run the gamut of emotional display which stamped him as something much more than a hoofer. He has been forever grateful to Broadway, is in the forefront of volunteers for any benefit performances which will aid the theatre and its citizens.
Gene. Theatre Arts December 1958
Musical Comedy Is A Serious Business
It is one of the strange and wonderful qualities of the theatre that once you have been part of it, once you have known it intimately, it always stays the same. You can be away from it for sixteen years, as I have been, and then one day you walk through a stage door and roll up your sleeves and start working and you find that you feel very much at home…coming back to the theatre is coming back to reality, to human contacts. These are the lasting, familiar facts of theatre. These are the things that instantly make the prodigal feel at home when he returns.
Philadelphia Inquirer. 1974
Does Gene want to do a new musical on Broadway? “No, I don’t. My performing days are over. Once in a while I stick my toe in, but I don’t want to commit myself for the length of time you must when you do a show in New York. There are too many other things I like doing. I enjoy a variety of jobs, such as directing, choreographing, movies and TV.
“Everybody has been very nice about offering me shows, but I’ve turned them all down. My home is here in California. I have my two kids who need me – and I need them. I had them with me this summer in Take Me Along, but now they’re back leading the normal life they’re used to living.”
Dallas Times Herald. June 1974
Kelly, still part elf and part Wallace Beery, is the performer of impact on stage as he was onscreen, moving, strutting and dancing like no other performer around, that remarkable blend of delicacy, toughness and show biz.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch. July 1st 1974
Gene: Keeping it fresh every night is mostly a question of energy. I don’t think I’m too low on that yet. When I’m 95, then I’ll worry. The minute I hear that orchestra tuning up, I get that old feeling in the tummy.
BBC interview 1974. Gene: Nobody wanted a choreographer from Pittsburgh so I got a job as a dancer just to keep going.
Photoplay Film Monthly. August 1976
Ken Ferguson. Why Fred and I rarely starred together.
“The reason I don’t play the theatre anymore,” he told me, “is because I’m a widower and my children are young and they must have me with them. My boy is 14. My daughter is 11.”
Gene 1981: You can get away with more in theatre than you can in motion pictures. Dim a light in theatre and you get an effect. Do it in a movie, and someone will think there’s something wrong with the projector. A movie is two-dimensional; the theatre is three-dimensional. One is like a painting. The other is like a sculpture. When I first came to Broadway in the 1930s, the myth was ‘Ho, ho, lets do a musical’. It was supposed to be easy. Now everyone knows it’s the hardest of all things. Dancing on Broadway has changed, too. It’s less eclectic. There’s less ballet. Loosely, Broadway dancing sticks more to jazz and modern. The American gypsy is the best trained in the world, but he ignores acrobatic and tap. The more variety in a show, the better it is as a dancing show.
LEAVE IT TO ME. Imperial Theatre. 9th November 1938-15th July 1939. (Pre-Broadway try-out, New Haven, CT, October 13-15th 1938, and Boston, MA, 3 weeks starting 17th October 1938, Schubert theatre.)
Lyrics and Music by Cole Porter. Choreography by Robert Alton.
Gene's first Broadway appearance. He played the role of secretary to Mr Goodhue and was involved in at least two songs: I'm Taking The Steps To Russia, and Most Gentlemen Don't Like Love.
Mary Martin also made her stage debut in this show, to great acclaim. Sophie Tucker was in the cast.
Mary Martin, 'Leave It To Me' Broadway 1938
I liked him from the very first day. He was so talented, had so much drive. I've never know anyone who worked so hard perfecting his art...I knew he was going to be somebody very great.
You can see Gene in the above pictures, as an eskimo supporting Mary Martin, as the first of the 5 young men with white hats, and as the cute-looking guy in short pants - I'd recognise those legs anywhere!!
You can see Gene in the above pictures, as an eskimo supporting Mary Martin, as the first of the 5 young men with white hats, and as the cute-looking guy in short pants - I'd recognise those legs anywhere!!
ONE FOR THE MONEY. Booth Theatre. 4th February -27th May 1939. Summer run, Harris theatre, Chicago. June 5th-July 15th 1939.
Directed by John Murray Anderson. Musical staging; Robert Alton. Presented by Gertrude Macy and Stanley Gilkey, in association with Guthrie McClintic and Katherine Cornell.
Gene had six roles in this revue, which was right-wing in emphasis: Friend, Ensemble, Mr Gordon, The Best Man, Reporter, Singer, and Western Union Boy. He wore white tie and tails for part of the show. Also in the cast were Keenan Wynn and Alfred Drake.
Gene: "I learned more about staging a show from Murray than anyone else in the business. During rehearsals for One For The Money I never took my eyes off him....no-one has had as great an influence on my work as John Murray Anderson. The biggest compliment I ever had, certainly up to then, was his approval of my work on One For The Money."
Gene: "I've never had a good speaking voice...but in 1939 my flat Pittsburgh accent must have sounded really terrible...this teacher would ask me to say 'water' and I'd say 'wadder'...just like the Jean Hagen character in Singin' In The Rain...after a few months of hard work, I felt I was ready to play Shakespeare."
Pittsburgh Press. 13th January 1939
Up to Saturday night Gene Kelly, who now plays a minor dancing role in Leave It To Me, will remain on Vinton Freedley’s pay roll. Next Monday he moves over to Guthrie McClintic’s revue, One For The Money, as one of the featured players. It’s a long jump upward for him.
The Pittsburgh Press. March 30th 1939. Sidney Whipple
Charge of right wing propaganda flung at Nancy Hamilton’s One For The Money.
Regardless, the play rates as first-class comedy, critic declares.
…Those who damned it with faint praise did so less because of its content than because it was presented by smart young women who wear smart gowns than by smart young women who make smart gowns.
In an endeavor to detect the right-wing propaganda that was suspected to exist in this revue, I have seen it a second time.
It is true…that much of its wit is directed at Washington and that some of the sketches wear the white cockade of royalism. But there are, in equal number, sketches that lampoon the pseudo-culture of the brainless rich.
So, it seems to me, the proper way to see One For The Money…is to forget…that Nancy Hamilton and her colleagues constructed this revue for any other purpose than fun.
…For breathtaking beauty in its settings and for the general competence of its dance numbers, it is just about the height of theatrical effectiveness….In the still-life picture created by Raoul Pene du Bois, it is a tremendously impressive and eye-filling spectacle.
Three of the sketches are supremely funny…The first is a gentle lampoon…upon the superhuman activities of our First Lady. It is called My Day, and it is done with such wholesome zest and freshness…that there is no sting to it.
The second sketch which has its uproarious moments…a confused female opera fan trying to exclaim Wagner to an innocent lady who merely wants to read the libretto.
The third sketch is remarkable not only for Alfred Drake’s splendid impersonation of Orson Welles, but for the brightness of the lyrics. It is called The Five Kings…modern fun with Wilhelm, Alfonso and the ex-Edward.
Pittsburgh Post Gazette. April 8th 1939
Gene Kelly, who features in the new Broadway hit, One For The Money, made a flying trip home to spend Easter Sunday with his folks.
Pittsburgh Post Gazette. June 29th 1939
…Another Chicago ‘must’ these days in One For The Money, the bright revue Miss Nancy Hamilton of Sewickley wrote and in which she also appears. It is a glittering rib of café society, which is two-thirds first-rate and just a third dull. Chicago has taken the show to its collective heart, business is developing along smash lines and a June run is practically in the bag…
Pittsburgh has another representative in One For The Money and another good one too. He is Mr. Gene Kelly, of the Cap & Gown and dance school Kellys, and his hoofing comes under the general heading of distinguished. Some of the Chicago reviews have even caught in him a combination of Fred Astaire and Georgie Tapps, and they aren’t far wrong, either.
Modern Screen October 1946
During the first tryout, and later in rehearsals, Alton began to recognise in his new find a shrewd natural showman. There was no labor connected with their onstage relationship. He could give Gene the barest idea of what he wanted so far as characterisation was concerned, and without more ado Gene filled in the blank spaces and perfected the part on his own. But when it came to dancing it was a different story. –
“Now at this point,” Alton explained one afternoon., “you do a gliding soft-shoe number here in this clear space.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Why do I do the dance?”
“Because the action’s slow, the dialogue’s too wordy but can’t be cut, and I want to brighten things up. Get a little pathetic humor in it if you can. Go ahead, see what you can work up.”
…He found Gene pacing the floor, all but wringing his hands. “I can’t do it,” Gene said. “Nothing comes. There’s no reason for the dance, no motive. A dance is supposed to say something, and here there’s nothing to say.”
Alton thought fast. “But there is,” he said. “Plenty. You’re lonely, d’y see? And the girl over at that table with the man she doesn’t love, is lonely too – right here in the midst of this big noisy crowd. You want her to know that you have a kinship of spirit, that you understand how she feels, that you think she is beautiful.”
The trouble went out of Gene’s eyes. “Oh, why didn’t you say that before?” In ten minutes he had created a dance that said all those things, and more.
The show took to the road during the summer, to Chicago, and Gene took over much of the choreography, working out simpler routines for replacement cast.
Hirschorn 1974: McClintic, who with his wife did much to improve the standard of Broadway production and acting, was tremendously impressed with Gene and his capacity for hard work.... Katherine Cornell was also taken with Gene and his engaging personality, but so appalled by his diction, that...she packed him off to an elderly elocution teacher of immense experience.
Gene, quoted in Hirschorn 1974: "I suppose I was the juvenile lead...except that there weren't any leads. It was an ensemble revue of six performers without stars as such, and where everybody was equally important."
WESTPORT SUMMER STOCK 1939 AND 1940
During the summer months there was usually a ‘lull’ on Broadway, with shows going ‘out of town’ or closing. In 1939 and 1940 Gene took a job as choreographer and performer at the Westport Country Playhouse, a prestigious venue.
In the summer of 1939 he was Master of Ceremonies in a revue called The Magazine Page. It was here that he first worked with Betty Comden and Adolph Green, an association and a friendship which was to culminate in Singin’ In The Rain.
Gene did ‘send-ups’ of various dancing types attempting to do a tap routine, and ended with a highly original mix of dance and acrobatics.
The following year he was asked to choreograph some country dances for Green Grow The Lilacs, by Lynn Riggs. Gene’s musical additions to what was a ‘straight’ play, were very successful, and eventually it became Oklahoma.
That summer he also appeared in The Emperor Jones, a Eugene O’Neill play, with an all-black cast, for which he created dances which enhanced the production enormously.
His summer experience was excellent experience for him and did his growing reputation no harm at all.
Richard Somerset Ward. An American Theatre. The Story of Westport Country Playhouse, 1931-2005. 2005
For a boy from the streets of Pittsburgh (and aggressively proud of it too) it was ironic that his first real break in show business happened in the “toniest” of summer theatres. It was August 1939. The show was a musical review called Magazine Page, and Kelly was part of a group called The Revuers. There was a lot of talent on stage that week…But Gene Kelly stole the show…he made a lot of friends at the Playhouse in a short time…It never hurts to steal a show when the owner of the theatre happens to be the head of the Theatre Guild…
Newspaper clipping, source unknown
Magazine Page. Westport.
Gene Kelly, a personable juvenile, taps his way into the hearts of the audience with several difficult routines.
The Bridgeport Post, 1939
Gene Kelly…was probably the individual hit of the show.
Newspaper article. 1946. Source unknown. By Kay Kenney
The first time I ever saw him dance was at the summer theatre in Westport, Connecticut. Which was not just another Straw Hat but one with a feather in its old school-tie band, because it was managed by the Langners of the Theatre Guild, and hence was a 'must' with the Broadway producers who mull over the hot weather tryouts... Gene was christening his newly created dance routines, displaying as nice a bit of tongue-in-cheek terpsichore as I've ever seen. But while there was technique in those taps, the real kick came from Kelly himself. And still does. Even when he's sitting down!
New York Times. June 11th 1976
“I remember I told Gene Kelly he had talent,” Miss Marshall recalled (of her time at Westport). “I said to him, ‘just work at it and you’ll go someplace.’”
Adolph Green on seeing Gene for the first time, in Westport summer stock 1939
He was a hoofer with something extra hidden away....I was knocked out immediately....what struck you most was his charm and his clean cut good looks...he was full of grace and vitality, and what I remember most was the effect he had on an audience. They just loved him. He could do no wrong. He exuded 'star quality'... He had the ability to make the most complicated things look ridiculously simple...
Everything that Gene was, or was later to become, was already there in a nugget in that act. His qualities were immediately apparent.
Betty Comden: Gene came into the show at the last minute, and I remember thinking how attractive and how full of vitality he was.
Richard Somerset Ward. An American Theatre. The Story of Westport Country Playhouse, 1931-2005. 2005
…Kelly was not slow to drop everything and dash up to Westport again when they put out an emergency call for him the following summer. It was 1940 and the Playhouse was doing Lynn Riggs’s Green Grow The Lilacs…some choreography was needed in a hurry…Gene appeared in Emperor Jones afterwards.
Nolan. The Story Of Rodgers & Hammerstein 2002
The idea of making a musical from Riggs’ play [Green Grow The Lilacs] had originated in the fertile brain of Theresa Helburn. A revival of the play ten years later at the Westpoint County Playhouse lightened the piece by adding folk songs and a square dance choreographed by Gene Kelly…Noting how the audience warmed to the music, she began to wonder how the play might go with a complete musical score…Richard Rodgers came up to take a look.
Westport News. September 6th 1991.
The Westport Country Playhouse has received a request from Gene Kelly. The noted actor/dancer is trying to find copies of two programs from the Westport productions of Green Grow The Lilacs and Emperor Jones, in which Kelly appeared…
Archives…do not include these two programs. If anyone has a copy of either, please contact the business office…
MAGAZINE RACK. October 1939.
I thought this revue was part of Gene's summer stock performances but the October date of the newspaper report has me confused. Which is not difficult! Gene recalls having to wear green make-up for the live performance.
New York Times October 8th 1939
Telecast for the week.
Magazine Rack – a revue with Virginia Verrill, soprano, Michael Loving, baritone, the Cabin Kids, Gene Kelly, and Franzelli’s orchestra.
THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE. Booth Theatre. 25th October 1939-6th April 1940. Return engagement 23rd September 1940-19th October 1940
Produced by the Theater Guild, written by William Saroyan. Staged by Eddie Dowling and William Saroyan.
Also in the cast: William Bendix, Julie Haydon and Celeste Holm. It won the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and the Drama Critics Award.
Gene played the role of Harry, described as a 'dumb young fellow' whose simple philosophy is that the world is full of sorrow and needs laughter.
Gene was initially thought to be 'too posh' for the role, but came to the second audition, for Saroyan himself, dressed for the part.
William Saroyan: I was considering casting...Ray Middleton...if he had been able to shout. But he couldn't...suddenly, from the deep shadows of the Guild Theater on 52nd Street, a voice boomed out; 'I can shout!'
Saroyan: "Gene Kelly helped me get the play in its true dimensions of theatre....Gene was inventive and full of useful ideas which I instantly was sensible enough to seize upon and put in the play: and his ballet leaps near the end of Act Two were especially effective...Gene Kelly helped both the playwright and the other players by doing his part magnificently...Gene Kelly is a great man of the theatre."
New York Times. November 12th 1939
Gene Kelly, who was found by Mr Langner and Miss Helburn at the Guild’s farm, the Westport County Playhouse, routined all his own dances.
New York Times. February 18th 1940
Gene Kelly is the desperate tap dancer whose acting and footwork have been much admired.
Pittsburgh Post Gazette. February 19th 1940
Mr. Eddie Dowling, star of the play, was encountered…at Sardi’s and stopped by long enough to say that it’s all he can do to keep Mr. Gene Kelly, the Pittsburgh dancing lad, from stealing the show from him. Mr. Kelly, according to all reports, is the most promising acting newcomer to hit Broadway this season.. Incidentally, a year ago Mr. Kelly headed a hit in Nancy Hamilton’s One For The Money and she wanted him again for her sequel to the show, but the local boy preferred to remain in Time Of Your Life.
Toledo Blade. 13th January 1941
Kelly’s real break came when the Theater Guild decided to produce William Saroyan’s The Time Of Your Life. One of the parts was that of a dancer who aspired to be a comedian, and the producers soon discovered that while there were dancers who could dance and actors who could act, there was no one, apparently, who could do both.
At this opportune moment, Gene tried out for the part, and to everyone’s surprise, including his own, he was hired on the spot. His brother, Fred, incidentally, is now touring the country in the same role…
Saturday Evening Post. July 1950
The plot called for Gene to “improvise a dance”. He made it so convincing that, although he had worked the dance out down to the last clean tap and never varied it, seasoned playgoers who saw the show not once but several times marvelled at his ability to “create a new dance for every performance”
Dance and Dancers November 1952
…He did his own choreography for the good-natured, unsuccessful tap dancer who haunts Nick’s Pacific Street Saloon, Restaurant and Entertainment Palace. He also devised the movements for the other characters in that amiable dive – such as Willie, who spends the time of his life in front of a pin-table. “I liked that play,” says Kelly.
Hirschorn 1974: Any doubts...about Gene's ability to breathe life into Harry the Hoofer disappeared on the opening night on Broadway, when his performance stopped the show. "I knew", said Gene, "If I didn't make it that night I might as well pack up and go home. But by some miracle, it all worked."
The Spokesman Review. 1983
…he landed a job in …The Time of your Life in 1939. “That was my first big break,” he said. “The show took place in a saloon, and I came in off the street and had to do a dance that I was supposed to make look like I couldn’t dance. That’s where I began to work on this idea of dancing through a characterization – making the character formulate the look of your body.. The show won a Pulitzer Prize, and my dance was a huge success. As a result, Rodgers and Hart and George Abbott chose me for the lead in Pal Joey.
If you want to get some idea of the role which Gene played, there is a film starring James Cagney available from the usual sources. But you have to use your imagination!
BILLY ROSE'S DIAMOND HORSESHOE REVIEW. 1940
It was here of course that Gene and Betsy met, when he fought for her to get a job as one of Rose's 'long-stemmed beauties.'
Playbill, Billy Rose Diamond Horseshoe Review.
Of all the chorus routines presented in Nights Of Gladness the hardest to create, the most tangle-footed to direct, and the most rhythm-wrecking to score was the Irish number, according to Gene Kelly, the Diamond Horseshoe choreographer.
Here’s the problem that Kelly posed for himself, and that with endless patience, he solved: take the strictly Celtic measures of the jig, the clog, and the reel; convert their basically 6/8 tempo to 4/4 swing and still retain the distinctive ‘nationality’: keep the melodies true and sentimental, and develop the tap sequences in up-to-the-minute fashion but be careful to keep the tone of it all truly Irish…the job…was to give the tap back to its ancestors yet make the finished product as modern as – well as modern as old-fashioned sentiment…
His title, in this company, is Dance Director, which means far more than it seems. Every movement on stage and floor is his direct responsibility. The gestures, walk, posture, and stance of every member of the cast was planned, rehearsed, corrected, timed, scored, wept and conferred over by him, and was discussed tirelessly with Mr Anderson and frequently with Billy Rose…
Dance and Dancers November 1952
At the same time as the Saroyan antics were packing them into the theatre, Kelly was also directing the dances from Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe. “This was not just a cabaret as most people seem to think. In those days it was a show. It ran for the same length of time as a show in a theatre and each show ran for about two years.”
Radio Times. October 1972
The toughest man I ever knew was Billy Rose, who gave me my first job as a choreographer in New York.
I remember arriving at the theatre and his attitude was, “This young punk, what can he do?” So I swore at him. “Don’t you talk to me that way,” he said. “I wouldn’t work for you anyway!” I said. He laughed. “Come down from the stage, I’d at least like to give you a mental audition.”
He asked me what I would do if he gave me the job and I explained. “You’re hired,” he said, “$115 a week.” “I won’t work for that,” I said, and he laughed again. “Okay, $135.”
TWO WEEKS WITH PAY. JUNE 1940
New York Times. June 25th 1940
Two Weeks With Pay, at White Plains theatre. Dances were staged by Gene Kelly. The twenty writers and composers who contributed to the revue included Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Ira Gershwin, Johnny Green and Johnny Mercer.
Pittsburgh Post Gazette. September 4th 1940
The dark, good-looking Irish lad put on the numbers this year for Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe show and also staged the ensembles for Two Weeks With Pay…it’s now being reworked for Broadway and he’ll do the dances for the new version too.
Richard Somerset Ward. An American Theatre: The story of Westport Country Playhouse, 1931-2005
The assistant manager…was Elaine Anderson Scott, a Texan who was then married to Zachary Scott and later to John Steinbeck. Fifty years later she recalled the production vividly: “Johnny Haggott had found Gene Kelly, who was working around the neighbourhood doing a summer musical called Two Weeks With Pay down at the Ridgeway Theatre in White Plains, to come up and stage some square dances for us…”
THE ROYAL ROOST. JULY 1940
This play was written by Dick Dwenger, Gene's best friend in New York. There is a section on the 'During the War' page dedicated to Dwenger, who was killed before he could achieve his true potential as an artist.
New York Times. July 27th 1940
The Royal Roost, by Richard Dwenger, with Gene Kelly in the cast, will play at the Stamford Connecticut Community Playhouse.
Pittsburgh Post Gazette. September 4th 1940
In between, Gene found time last month to star in something called The Royal Roost at Stamford. The play has a good idea he thinks, but is better movie than play material.
Ethel Barrymore Theatre. 25th December 1940-16th August 1941
Producer George Abbott, Choreographer Robert Alton. Cast also included Vivienne Segal, Stanley Donen, June Havoc and Van Johnson.
Nolan. The Story of Rodgers & Hammerstein 2002
They needed someone special to play the lead, a dancer rather than a singer, someone who could make the audience like the hero even though they knew they ought to despise him. They found him, playing a small part in a show called The Time Of Your Life. His name was Gene Kelly.
Theatre Arts 1946
Kelly was the man for the role…a dancer’s body, a good enough voice…and a combination of economy
and sincerity that reached right across the footlights.
As for his dancing, its inventive patterns, its lusty vitality schooled with precision
were like an electric charge through the fabric of the show.
Movieland. April 1943
…He sought out the top spot in Pal Joey and set theatrical fire to the theatre, to 44th Street and Broadway,
and to all of New York before the first week was out.
Big hit or nothing. That’s the only way Kelly plays.
Matthew Joseph Bruccoli. Biography of John O’Hara. 1975
Pal Joey went into rehearsal at the Biltmore and Longacre theatre in New York on 11th November 1940, and the play opened in Philadelphia on 11th December to encouraging but rather shocked reviews…it has been called the first realistic American musical. The circumstance that Joey is a hell – or anti-hero, in critical language – and the sexual innuendo, seemed powerful stuff in 1940. The newspaper PM previewed it as “The dirtiest show you ever hope to see.”
Brooks Atkinson NewYorkTimes. 1940
Whether Joey is a punk or a heel is something worth more careful thinking than time permits. Perhaps he is only a rat infested with termites. A night club dancer and singer, promoted to master of ceremonies in a Chicago dive, he lies himself into an affair with a rich married woman and opens a gilt-edged club of his own with her money. Mr. O'Hara has drawn a pitiless portrait of his small-time braggart and also of the company he keeps; and Gene Kelly, who distinguished himself as the melancholy hoofer of The Time of Your Life, plays the part with remarkable accuracy. His cheap and flamboyant unction, his nervous cunning, his trickiness are qualities that Mr. Kelly catches without forgetting the fright and gaudiness of a petty fakir. Mr. Kelly is also a brilliant tap dancer-"makes with the feet," as it goes in his vernacular-and his performance on both scores is triumphant. If Joey must be acted, Mr. Kelly can do it.
Herald Tribune Richard Watts 1940
This young man is genuinely life-saving to Pal Joey for, if the chief part were not properly cast, the new musical show might have been too merciless for comfort.
Mr Kelly…combines a certain amount of straightforward personal charm with the realism of his portrait so that
Joey actually achieves the feat of being at once a heel and a hero.
The Theatre. New Plays. 1941
Somehow the show performs the feat of making Joey an almost sympathetic character. As Joey, lean, dark Gene Kelly has a treacherous Irish charm, a sweet Irish tenor, a catlike dancing grace that makes vice almost as appealing as virtue.
Stanley Donen on Gene Kelly
In terms of a Broadway man, Gene Kelly was playing a tricky role: a very brash, cocky, sure person, who was very randy with the girls, but who was needy and not well educated, which made him funny. He was an energetic, fresh, aggressive Irish-American presence, which had a great charm. There are those moments on Broadway when these people suddenly come forth – it’s a big moment – and Gene was one of them.
After some scenes I could feel the waves of hate coming from the audience. Then I’d smile at them and dance and it would relax them. It was interesting to use the character to manipulate the audience.
John Martin, New York Times
A tap dancer who can characterise his routines and turn them into an integral element of an imaginative theatrical whole, would seem to be pretty close, indeed, to unique….He is not only glib-footed, but he has a feeling for comment and content that both gives his dancing personal distinction and raises it several notches as a theatre art.
Jun 23, 1940 - GENE KELLY, the dancer in "The Time of Your Life," whose rise of late has assumed meteoric proportions, will probably have the title role in the musical which John O'Hara, Richard Rodgers and are fashioning from Mr. O'Hara's series on "Pal Joey."
Pittsburgh Post Gazette. September 4th 1940
MGM has already offered him along term contract, but Gene is holding out for a one-picture deal and thinks he has a good chance of landing one if Your Pal Joey turns out to be a hit…
“This Joey is funny all right,” Gene says, “but what a heel. Nobody can touch him for downright orneriness. When my mother comes to New York to see the show, and sees the kind of a no-good skunk I’m playing, she’ll probably yank me off the stage and drag me home by the ear.”
There was a tryout in Philadelphia on December 4th 1940, with the opening deferred from December 9th to December 11th.
Playbill 'Pal Joey' 1941
Gene Kelly tapped his way into the theatrical limelight last season by his brilliant performance as the hoofer..in Saroyan’s prize winning play The Time Of Your Life. He is a Pittsburgh lad who earned his way through university by conducting a dancing studio…
Pitt Panther Magazine. 1941
Pal Joey review:
...He is on stage practically every minute...at the close he does a long impressionistic ballet routine which is truly classic...Gene says the role is so tiring he needs to get nine or ten hours of sleep most nights....
New Yorker January 1941
Musicals took a long stride towards maturity last week when George Abbott’s production of Pal Joey opened at the Ethel Barrymore…Gene Kelly, as Joey, has one of the most taxing parts I can remember (6 songs, about as many dances, and about twice as much dialogue as anybody else) and he does beautifully with it.
Newsweek. January 6th 1941. John Lardner.
Pal Joey looked to me like the best musical comedy of a season of good musical comedies – the best in two or three seasons, for that matter…It is cool and sardonic and a little nasty…But the show has pace and point, most of the funny lines are funny, the cast is good, the dancing is expert, the music is fine…
A beautiful job of performing by Gene Kelly, who looks the role, acts the role, sings the role, and throws in a load of dancing for extra measure. There is hardly a moment of the evening when Mr. Kelly is not making with the throat and the feet.
The Pittsburgh Press. 6th January 1941
…No wonder when Pal Joey began to take shape, they grabbed hold of him, this time for STARDOM (never mind what’s on the marquee, it’s stardom for Gene all right)… The kid comes through with a performance that makes him not only the best swing dancer on Broadway, but a juvenile actor as legitimate as they come: for THIS part is a dramatic part of the most exacting dimensions.
AND how he plays it! He makes Pal Joey take on a variety that even John O’Hara didn’t give him. He’s as credible and tragic and young and at-the-mercy-of-his-talent as was ever ‘Young Man With A Horn’. And the play’s smash hit can be laid to this kid from Squirrel Hill as much as to its authors and composers and producers and directors.
Frederic Majer. Gene Kelly – Broadway Dance Star. Magazine article. 1941. Source unknown
The Kellys of Pittsburgh can be mighty proud of son Gene. Unknown two years ago, he has sddenly vaulted to top rank among musical comedy dancers. Currently starring in George Abbott’s smash success, Pal Joey, Gene Kelly has been rated the smoothest dance performer to hit Broadway in a brace of seasons.
Gene carries the title role, and the fact that he must act the part of a heel fails to worry him. If he is a heel onstage, he at least plays an attractive one.
Toledo Blade. 13th January 1941
A Pittsburgh boy who originally planned to be a lawyer is Broadway’s new musical comedy sensation…Today, after being showered with the sort of rare reviews that Broadway on its top favorites, Gene is singing, dancing and wisecracking his way through the title role of Pal Joey…
“I had the breaks,” he says simply. “It might have taken me years to get a part like Joey. I guess I was born with a shamrock in my nose.”
Such modesty, however, is misleading. To crash into Manhattan’s bigtime you need plenty of talent and endless perseverance. Kelly has more than his share of both…
George Abbott offered him the role and Gene, marvelling at his good luck, prepared for an audition. It was then that he suddenly remembered that he would have to sing.
“Richard Rodgers passed on my voice,” he says, “so I guess it’s all right. Nobody’s said anything yet, but I still wonder how it sounds out front.”
As far as dancing is concerned, Gene finds it only necessary to limber up for 8 or 10 minutes before going on for a performance. In spite of his taxing role, nerves are no great problem, although he confesses to a certain unmistakeable feeling in the pit of his stomach just before the curtain goes up. After that he forgets all about it..
The fact that Joey himself is a double-dealing punk with the manners of a rat and the morals of a tomcat doesn’t bother Kelly particularly.
“We’ve softened him up so that he isn’t too offensive,” he explains, “and during the musical numbers I forget about Joey and just play Gene Kelly.”
Judging from the reviews, that combination seems to satisfy everybody.
Personal note to Fred Astaire: Better come back to Broadway, Fred. The competition’s getting pretty stiff.
New York Times 21st January 1941
Vivienne Segal and Gene Kelly returned last night to the Pal Joey company after being ill with grippe.
Pittsburgh Post Gazette. February 12th 1941
Best of all, Pal Joey is the show that makes a star of Gene Kelly of the Pittsburgh Kellys. He’s simply immense in the title role. Joey could have been a pretty unbearable guy; Mr. Kelly makes him a lovable scoundrel.
Two years ago, Gene was a chorus boy in Leave It To Me. Today, he’s the new Fred Astaire.
The Day. 17th February 1941
Scratch a heel and you find Gene Kelly, who isn’t a heel at all.
As Joey Evans in the new musical comedy Pal Joey, Gene is about the heeliest heel that ever stepped on a neck, but off-stage he’s a friendly Irish lad who started a dancing school to help pay his way through Pittsburgh University, barnstormed night clubs from New York to Dallas and made himself known to Broadway as the hoofer in William Saroyan’s Time of Your Life…
By the standards of all respectable citizens, Joey is thoroughly nasty – a braggart, a cheat, a wastrel who takes things as they come and is always on the lookout for ‘mice’…
“Yes,” said Gene Kelly as he finished a midday breakfast, “Joey isn’t bad – he just doesn’t know the difference. He’s an ignorant, low class bum with nothing but good looks and a good line; by all his standards, and the standards of the people he’s been brought up with, it’s perfectly all right – in fact it’s an accomplishment – to land a rich society dame and work her for all he can.”
New York Times. 2nd March 1941
“What I like about Pal Joey is not only that I have the name part but that the whole show is gutsy.”
The stage manager rapped on Kelly’s dressing room door and invited him to come on stage and help clear up a snag that had developed in the “I Could Write A Book” number. The difficulty involved a quick embrace with Leila Ernst: the actors and the music weren’t quite together by a split second. Kelly went at the work with great good cheer. On the way back to his dressing room he confessed that the number bothered him a little because it was “Too good for my voice.” “A real singer could do a lot more with it than I do. My feet are all right but they tell me that when I sing all I need do is make sure that the audience can understand the lyrics. There is no use my trying to let my voice out because there is not enough to it to show.”…
His personality is such that he has, in effect, bowdlerized the name part in Pal Joey. As Kelly plays Joey, Joey is a heel all right, but a quite naïve heel. Everyone cusses him out, and he in general makes a fool of himself, but somehow the viciousness that marked Joey in the stories has disappeared.
Kelly has given a lot of thought to this. “There are those who say that this is a dirty show. It isn’t dirty to me. My favourite critic said that maybe Joey was a rat infested with termites. I don’t see it that way. We opened Christmas Eve, if you remember, and sometimes I have wondered if maybe my favourite critic had spent the day at Walden Pond singing Christmas carols and that is why he was shocked.”
And again: “Before I took the part, a lot of my friends said, ‘Don’t do it.’ They said that I would get myself marked as a lousy heel and that whenever managers thought of me or whenever the public thought of me they would say to themselves, ‘that lousy heel who was the punk in Pal Joey.’
“Well, if that is to be, let it.”…
The part in Pal Joey is sufficiently strenuous to take up most of his energies. During the try-out period his weight dropped from 163 pounds to 147, and he went to see a doctor. “The doctor gave me some Vitamin B-1 pills and my weight is climbing a little – not much.” He has “practically gone on the wagon” for th erun of the show. “One thing that got me during the try-outs was that after the shows we would go to a ‘cloop’ with O’Hara and Hart and sit until 4 in the morning or so, then up early for rehearsals.”
Now he has a steak and one glass of beer after the show, gets to bed by 1:30most nights.
“So far I haven’t saved a cent. What I like to do, when I have any money, is to go to Maine for six weeks. I know an island there where I can do anything I want to. It’s a swell place to be. But I don’t expect to get to Maine for some time. The show is going well and they keep us snapped up on our parts – it should keep going. I don’t see why not. There is one spot though, where I can’t seem to keep myself on my best form. There is one scene where the ingénue, Leila Ernst, comes on, and she wears a blue dress that is not as blue as her eyes. It is a bright blue, but not as bright. You know, that fascinates me. Every night I look at her eyes instead of putting myself over as I should be putting myself over all the time.”
Theatre World April 1941. On 'Pal Joey'
Gene Kelly plays the hard boiled Joey with a 21/2 minute charm that keeps the appeal soft and at all times ingratiating. He is always in character but never makes Joey obnoxious from an audience standpoint.
Motion Picture. January 1943
“In Pal Joey, I think I covered all the aspects of a low-down rotter. There wasn’t a single redeeming feature about Joey. Yet, I had to make the audience like me. I guess they did because I never was hissed nor had rotten tomatoes thrown at me!”
The reason Gene made Joey at least presentable was because he played him with a twinkle in his eyes – and with his irrepressible smile. That did the trick, even though he probably wasn’t aware of it.
Picture Show. September 25th 1943
On the opening night of Pal Joey a crowd of girls stormed the stage entrance after the performance. Gene, who was the star, was all ready to sign autograph books.
“They wanted to see an actor, all right,” he admits, “but it wasn’t me.”
They wanted to see a member of the chorus – red-haired Van Johnson, who, like Gene, has now made a name for himself on the screen.
Current Biography. December 1945
…According to Newsweek, he “progresses from heel to hero with a persuasiveness that scores a scoop for MGM’s talent scouts.” But Bosley Crowther in the New York Times declared that Kelly had been “pressed a bit too far in his first film role.”
Seventeen magazine. September 1946
His role as Joey, the perfect heel, will long be remembered by those lucky enough to have seen it. Critics raved about his ability to carry acting talent over into his singing and dancing, started referring to the show as “Pal Kelly.”
Saturday Evening Post July 1950
His Diamond Horseshoe job followed, and after that came his big break. Producer George Abbott and Song Writers Rodgers and Hart were preparing a production to be called Pal Joey, after a character in a series of New Yorker short stories written by John O'Hara, who was also doing the dramatization. These four had seen Kelly in The Time of Your Life and had liked him in it, but before entrusting the Pal Joey title role to him they wanted to find out if he could sing.
"I didn't try to let my voice out for them," Gene says. "There wasn't a lot of it to show if I had, but what they got of it they got on the level. I picked one of Rodgers’ songs to warble. The average singer thinks it's smart apple-polishing to choose a songwriter's own composition for an audition, but it seems to me that this psychology is all wet. If you sing a man's own song badly or in a way he doesn't think it ought to be sung, you're worse off than if you'd kicked around one by another composer. I selected a Rodgers song for a different reason. If I had a worst foot, I wanted it to stick out right in their faces so I'd be nixed then, instead of rehearsing and being canned later, leaving me holding a hatful of busted hopes."
Kelly's worst foot must have been all right, for he got the job. On the morning after its opening Gene found himself holding a hatful of glowing critical notices instead of shattered hopes.
O’Hara had written Joey as a despicable heel, but without watering down what he called “the gutsiness of the part,” Gene worked out his own conception of the role. “I tried to get over the thought that with his background and bringing up, Joey just didn’t know any better,” Kelly says. “He might lie to the girls in the cast to mooch something he wanted from them, but the next minute I’d have him looking like a bad Irish boy on his way to confession, and the audience would think ’This jerk isn’t such a jerk after all. The jerk!’”
St. Petersburg Times. August 29th 1951
Gene Kelly, who was the original Pal Joey, will return to Broadway for a few days, where the revival of the musical is in rehearsal, to help coach the one selected to play the role.
Dance and Dancers November 1952
The run was interrupted for a few weeks in the summer because the weather was hot and the theatre had no proper cooling system.
The re-opening brough about one of the most embarrassing moments of Kelly’s career.
“I was just messing about on the stage before the opening and the orchestra was casually strolling into the pit when somebody took up the curtain. I was taken aback but decided to go into my number at all costs. The orchestra was equally dumbfounded , but gradually the pieces got together and we started off. At this moment the man who sent up the curtain realised that he had made a mistake and promptly brought the curtain down. The rest of the performance went on much the same way.”
Movie Fan. July 1954
I Knew Him When. By Van Johnson
I went into the chorus of Pal Joey, and Gene was the star. During the nine-month run of the musical, in which we all shared a wonderful camaraderie, Gene was just one of us. No pretenses, no special attention. Just another one of us, trying to get along and loving his work, every minute of it…Gene was always very serious, very tense, very bright, about his work, and he had the good fortune to be a happy-go-lucky Irishman away from his work.
I watched him rehearsing, and it seemed to me there was no possible room for improvement. Yet he wasn’t satisfied..it was midnight..I could see a single lamp burning on the stage..under it a figure was dancing..he was Gene Kelly.
http://www.broadwaymusicalhome.com/movie/palvideo.htm 2 performances from the Ed Sullivan show, of Vivienne Segal singing Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered, and Harold Lang instead of Gene, sorry, doing Happy Hunting Horn. Use your imagination and put Gene in Harold's place!!
Gene: Theatre Arts. December 1958 I was lucky enough to have been on Broadway when the trend toward the new musical comedy was beginning. To some slight degree I even became a part of it by playing the title role in Pal Joey, an assignment that, you may recall, was considered pretty radical for musical comedy in those days. It was Pal Joey that sent me to Hollywood…people tell me I must have been one of the first song-and-dance men to be lifted out of a musical comedy for a Hollywood acting assignment.
Gene: Theatre Arts. December 1958
I was lucky enough to have been on Broadway when the trend toward the new musical comedy was beginning. To some slight degree I even became a part of it by playing the title role in Pal Joey, an assignment that, you may recall, was considered pretty radical for musical comedy in those days. It was Pal Joey that sent me to Hollywood…people tell me I must have been one of the first song-and-dance men to be lifted out of a musical comedy for a Hollywood acting assignment.
Cleveland Amory, magazine clipping ?1964 Kelly as the heel – and toe – hero, was sensational in what is still regarded as possibly the most physically difficult role ever performed – he had 80 ‘sides’ and no fewer than 11 acrobatic numbers.
Cleveland Amory, magazine clipping ?1964
Kelly as the heel – and toe – hero, was sensational in what is still regarded as possibly the most physically difficult role ever performed – he had 80 ‘sides’ and no fewer than 11 acrobatic numbers.
Flying High, magazine article 1975
He won…the most coveted role of the year – that of a charming heel who could turn women into jellyfish.
Pal Joey opened on Christmas night 1940. As the next day dawned, Broadway had a star of major magnitude.
Allegheny Times. 4th November 1990.
Allegheny Times. 4th November 1990.
“I can’t say I was intimidated by it,” said Kelly today of what remains one of the most demanding song-and-dance roles in musical theatre.
“When you’re young, these things don’t intimidate you. You’re grateful just to be getting a chance. But once I started playing it, I found it was a very demanding role, and I certainly couldn’t play as much as I wanted to outside the theatre. There were so many songs and dances in that show that I had to keep in training like a boxer."
Irish America magazine. December 1990
...He landed the part of Harry The hoofer in William Saroyan's whimsical hit The Time Of Your Life where composer Richard Rodgers spotted him and asked him to audition for Pal Joey. Gene sang a slow ballad at the audition but Rodgers wanted to hear an 'up' number. Caught off guard for the moment, Kelly quickly recalled a lively ditty he used to sing called “It's The Irish In Me.” He sang it with all the gusto he had and when it was finished, a voice piped up from the darkness in back of the theater saying: “That's it, take him!” The voice belonged to the man who had written the book for the play – John O'Hara. Kelly's success in Pal Joey was total and unqualified and it made him a star.
Side By Side. Irish Jews in American Theater. By Robert Moss. January 2008.
Novelist and short-story writer John O’Hara, who had just published “Pal Joey,” a collection of 14 short stories about a smalltime nightclub master of ceremonies and singer, wrote to Richard Rodgers suggesting that Rodgers and his partner, Lorenz Hart, might want to work with him on a musical version of the collection. Rodgers and Hart immediately recognized the possibility of a show that would be, as Rodgers put it, “totally different from anything we had ever done before… different from anything anyone else had ever tried.” The collaborators took an additional gamble when they cast the then-unknown Gene Kelly as Joey.
Of course, everyone was vindicated. The show that opened on Christmas Eve, 1940, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre was a landmark in the history of American musical theater, the first musical comedy whose male lead was decidedly un-heroic and irreducibly three-dimensional. Joey Evans is a self-centered lowlife who sees women as “mice,” to be seduced and exploited. Eventually, his sleazy scheme to acquire his own nightclub collapses, and even his long-suffering girlfriend deserts him; yet, having lost everything, he has learned nothing and merely sets off in pursuit of a new “mouse.”
For Kelly, the show was a personal triumph. He broadened Joey’s performance skills to include dancing, and invested his seedy character with enough charm and élan to make him believable as a lady-killer — and to make an audience want to put up with him for an evening. Like Cagney, Kelly was totally comfortable with Jewish colleagues, having staged numerous shows at a local synagogue in his hometown, Pittsburgh.
Nolan. The Story of Rodgers & Hammerstein 2002
Gene: The flower-hatted matinee audiences stayed away in their thousands.
BEST FOOT FORWARD 1st October1941-7th April 1942
Produced by George Abbott, music and lyrics by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane.
Cast included June Allyson, Danny Daniels, Stanley Donen. Gene was choreographer.
A light-hearted show, set in a High School, about a famous film star who attends a school prom.
During the summer 'lay-off' of Pal Joey, Gene was asked by Abbott to take over the dance direction of this show.
It gave Gene his first Broadway credit as a choreographer.
Hartford Courant. August 31st 1941
Actor Gene Kelly to direct comedy at Schubert September 11th
Although Gene Kelly considers himself too intelligent to be superstitious, he still touches wood when he talks about the good fortune that has come to him through meeting George Abbott, producer of Best Foot Forward, the new musical comedy.
Hirshorn 1974: Gene kept the show bouncing amiably along, and as the accent was on youth, it gave him an opportunity to use several of the more talented dancers from Johnstown, which did the [Kelly] dance school no harm at all.
Baltimore Sun. May 7th 2010-05-08
Wilbur Morton Baron, who danced professionally with his identical twin brother and later ran a theatrical curtain business, died of pneumonia April 30 at Northwest Hospital Center. The Pikesville resident was 87.
Part of an act known as the Baron Twins, he and his brother began dancing to help earn money for the family during the Depression of the 1930s. A talent scout recruited them for a Broadway show and they were choreographed by a young Gene Kelly.
They studied with Ella Banks in Baltimore and later in New York with Henry LeTang, whose students included the Nicholas Brothers.
The Barons got their Broadway break in 1941, when director George Abbott cast them in "Best Foot Forward," a musical whose choreographer was Gene Kelly. Its stars were Rosemary Lane, June Allyson and Nancy Walker.
Kelly, who had appeared in "Pal Joey," had not gone to Hollywood. "He treated us wonderfully. We stayed with the show until we got drafted," Mr. Baron said in 2007.
Hartford Courant September 12th 1941
Gene Kelly has got the crowd stepping off to his excellent and perspiring dance routines.
New York Times October 2nd 1941
Gene Kelly, who made with his feet in The Time Of Your Life and Pal Joey, has understood the point and directed some droll and whirling dances.
Pittsburgh Post Gazette. 4th September 1941
…I stopped in at the Schubert Theater to see Gene Kelly, who had re-opened there that afternoon in Pal Joey, and found his brother, Fred Kelly, on hand, too. Between performances, Gene is directing the dances for Best Foot Forward and is being assisted by Fred…
Gene will stay in Pal Joey only until September 14th, devoting the next two weeks to Best Foot Forward. After that show is launched on Broadway, he will come here to visit his folks for a few days and then drive to Hollywood, where he is due on November 1 to begin a picture, his first, for David O. Selznick under Alfred Hitchcock’s direction. Fred said he had no plans beyond helping Gene on the Abbott show, the chorus of which, by the way, has seven youngsters from the Kelly Studio of Dance here.
Family Circle. September 1st 1944
The writer met him three years ago when Gene was starring in the Broadway hit, Pal Joey. Later he allowed me to sit in while he was directing the dances for Best Foot Forward. This was the show that brought Kenneth Bowers, June Allyson, Tommy Dix, Nancy Walker, and Gil Stratton Jr. to the screen. Ask any of these kids, and they’ll tell you that it was Gene Kelly who worked out the singing and dancing routines that did so much to put them over in the Broadway show and bring them to the attention of screen scouts.
A film was made in Hollywood in 1943, Charles Walters was the dance director.
In an off Broadway production in 1963, Liza Minnelli made her stage debut.
FLOWER DRUM SONG 1958
This show heralded Gene's return to the Broadway stage, but as director, not performer. It was a Rodgers & Hammerstein production, and starred Miyoshi Umeki, Larry Blyden and Pat Suzuki. Choreography was by Carol Haney, and the costumes were designed by Irene Sharaff. It ran at the St. James Theatre from 1st December 1958 to 7th May 1960, 600 performances. It was nominated for a Tony award for Best Musical. Larry Blyden and Miyoshi Umeki were nominated also, as were Irene Sharaff for costume design and Carol Haney for choreography. Salvatore Dell'Isola won the award for musical direction. Pat Suzuki won a Theatreworld award.
Songs from the show include: You Are Beautiful, 100 Million Miracles, I Enjoy Being A Girl, Chop Suey, and Love Look Away
Telegrams to Gene at Montcevin Hotel, Zermatt 9th April 1958 Originals in the Gotlieb Archives, Boston.
Love to have you direct Flower Drum Song if you are interested. I will discuss with Rodgers & Hammerstein. Joe Fields.
We all want you to do the play. Whom shall we talk to at this end about a contract? Dick, Oscar, Joe.
Flower Drum Song required the surefire touch of an experienced professional to spark it all off, and in Gene Kelly we got a man who was not only experienced and professional to the very marrow of his bones, but also hard-working and inspired. Without him, who knows how it all would have turned out.
Tryouts in Boston October 27th 1958. Newspaper clipping, source unknown.
"Gene Kelly achieves prestigious success with his legitimate directorial debut."
New York World Telegram 2nd December 1958
Much of the success is traced to the direction of Gene Kelly...He has done extremely well, injecting vitality into the massive arrangements...here is a walloping hit.
Theatre Arts. December 1958
The stage door I walked through when we began auditions for Flower Drum Song at the Schubert Theatre was the very same stage door by which I had left Broadway for Hollywood in 1941.
From the Playbill: Set in San Fransico's Chinatown, it tells a love story against a background of family tradition and the age-old differences in viewpoint of the elder and younger generations...practically everyone lives happily ever after.
Of Gene: Gene Kelly is a many-faceted artist. Long celebrated as a dancer, choreographer, actor and singer, he has more recently acquitted himself with equal distinction as a producer and director of motion pictures. To this list of admirable accomplishments, he has now added that of directing the Broadway musical production, "Flower Drum Song."
http://www.broadwaymusicalhome.com/movie/flowerdrumvideo.htm This is a link to a performance by the original cast on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Clive Hirschorn. Gene Kelly, 1974.
Gene: [Oscar Hammerstein] asked me whether I would be interested in directing it for Broadway...As I'd never directed a full-scale Broadway musical before, the challenge appealed and I agreed. After seventeen years in the picture business, it would make a nice change......
It had a warmth about it and a sweet sentimentality...I knew that as long as I crammed the show brim-full of every joke and gimmick in the book, I could get it to work
Yudkoff A Life Of Dance And Dreams.1999
Gene needed Asians who could sing and act in understandable English. It was a task that required far more than theatrical know-how and had much to do with why, surprisingly, Gene had been chosen over directors with many more credits listed in Broadway playbills…Gene’s relaxed attitude about people of color and his ‘couldn’t-care-less’ feelings about ethnicity were well known to Rodgers and Hammerstein. He was one of the very few who could direct a story about the clash of a gentle, ancient Asian culture against the bruisingly modern American way, without patronising or insulting….He and Jeannie worked hard at casting interviews and auditions…they were guided by Gene to successful Broadway debuts…The ticket lines were long and gratifying to Rodgers and Hammerstein.
The casting was left to Gene who, with Carol Haney and Jeannie Coyne, spent quite a bit of time in San Fransisco and Hawaii scouting around for Orientals who could sing and dance. ...On August 29th, Gene, Jeannie and Lois ...moved into Milton Berle's apartment in Park Avenue.
...As Gene predicted, audiences adored it and before the show even opened, the advance bookings had reached a staggering one and a half million dollars...it ran for 600 performances...he had done the best job he could...and his direction hit the right note exactly.
Los Angeles Times. November 5th 1958
Flower Drum Song …has drawn mixed comment but predictions of success from Boston drama critics at its formal world premiere.
November 10th 1958
The note of elation carried over the telephone wires clear from Boston. Gene Kelly, directing his first Broadway – or pre-Broadway – show, has a hit in Flower Drum Song.
The Musical Theatre. Alan Jay Lerner 1986
Flower Drum Song was a definite success....the reviews were restrained but uniformly good.......Gene Kelly returned from Hollywood to direct.
Everything is done with ease, taste and pride in the theatre
Gene. Edward Murrow TV interview December 1958
"It’s been a wonderful experience mainly because I worked with wonderful people, and I guess mainly because we have a hit show. Working with Oscar Hammerstein, Richard Rodgers, Carol Haney and all that gang was a lot of fun and they’re great people. And coming back to Broadway after fifteen or sixteen years well, it wasn’t a chore, and that’s an understatement."
Theatre Arts. December 1958.
Gene: As a director, I can do Flower Drum Song and then move on to other things. If I were to come back as an actor and then, after a few months, leave to go on to some other project – oh, the cries of ‘treason’ that would go up! There is no little irony that those who raise the biggest ruckus, when actors leave Broadway to fulfil commitments in Hollywood or elsewhere, are usually people who have steady jobs… does it ever occur to the newspaper critic who complains because an actor does not remain with a play throughout a long Broadway run that the actor, unlike the critic, has to consider where his next pay check is coming from,, that…he may go back to Hollywood and find that he has been gone too long?…The only sensible attitude one can take toward the New York theater is a thoroughly commercial one…to survive, it needs hits, big hits, and when it gets one there inevitably is a lot of unattractive scrambling and chiseling…What makes the New York theatre so wonderful…is the handful of people – writers, composers, choreographers and others – who create for it. They are the people who can bring one back to Broadway. And here I am.
GENE KELLY'S WONDERFUL WORLD OF GIRLS. Las Vegas, February-April 1970
This was a live stage show directed by Greg Garrison, adapted from the TV show which Gene did in January 1970
Letter from Greg Garrison. April 6th 1970.
I'm a fan, I'll never get over it. I've watched you from the balcony. Stage right. From the first row, from the middle row, from the left side of the house. You're a fantastic performer. You're a delightful and charismatic man. You are a legend in your own lifetime. I'm so glad that I was able to be around. You had one of the best shows that's ever been in that town. One of the big kicks of my life was that I was associated with you...
There are some papers pertaining to this show, in the Gotlieb Archives in Boston, including several opening-night telegrams:
Wire from Frank Sinatra. 24th February 1970
Dear Shanty. If you'd rather work with pretty girls instead of me, you go ahead. You will be great. Love and kisses. Francis.
Dear Francis, your opening night wire meant a million bucks to me – I love you. Shanty.
Dear Boss. With all that talent and all that charm you won't need the luck I'm wishing you tonight. Love Lois
From the children:
Dear Daddy. We love you. Sock it to them. Bridget and Tim
Reporter. March 2nd 1970
Easily one of the most thoroughly entertaining, wholesome, comfortable, delightful musical comedy presentations since Gene Kelly's last dozen MGM musicals...Gene Kelly makes everything click with the audience because of his own special brand of charisma...so familiar, likeable and friendly it is easy to forget you are watching one of the most durable superstars at work...he dominates with disarming charm and ease.
LA Herald Examiner. 4th March 1970
If there is something to be found wrong with Gene Kelly's Wonderful World Of Girls it's only that there wasn't enough of Kelly himself.
Gene fell during a dinner show in Las Vegas on 19th March 1970 while performing Every Day Is Ladies Day. In the Gotlieb Archives are several witness statements taken from the audience.
This was to be a mobile family show somewhat similar to Disney On Parade. Gene was asked if he would like to be involved as performer and choreographer early in 1971
St Petersburg Times. July 30th 1971
William Court Cohen, producer: …”We invited Gene Kelly because of the genius he has displayed in every area of entertainment.”
Hollywood Reporter May 18th 1972
Dennis Allen, star of the show:
It is a worthwhile and excellent show and overall it has been a very good experience, especially working with Gene Kelly.
Clive Hirschorn. Gene Kelly. 1974
"The piece de resistance was to be a giant 'clown machine' designed by Sean Kenny, the British set designer and architect, in, on, and around which the entire entertainment was to take place. To Gene the idea was utterly irresistible: not only did he approve of family entertainment of this sort, but the show had a circus feeling to it which he relished...it appealed to his sense of fantasy and wonderment..."
In the Gotlieb Archives in Boston are notes concerning Clownaround, including the following:
Items and props in the show include:
Opening with folk dance
Clowns go into audience and get kids
Sketch by 'gladys Ormphby and Dexter Flapsaddle
Clown runs around with axe in his head
Chimps, balloons, skaters, 3-ring circus, birds, unicycles, highwire, Keystone cops with strobes
A bag, 4x80'x50'high
24 rubber ducks
Sounds like fun!
The music was by Moose (Morris) Charlap, lyrics by Alvin Cooperman, choreography by Howard Jeffrey. Ruth Buzzi and Dennis Allen were to star alongside Gene. The massive set could be transformed as necessary into a jungle, a fairground, a ship and other things as needed.
It opened in Oakland near San Fransisco, but closed after a few weeks when the producers ran out of money. Two performers had also been seriously injured after falling from the structure.
A 12 song cast album was produced, and sold at the venues, but all remaining copies were destroyed when the show closed. It has now become one of the rarest of all cast albums, usually with a price tag of more than $200 when one becomes available.
The show was featured in an Ed Sullivan special in 1972
The Bulletin. April 29th 1972
A circus high-wire performer lost his footing and plunged 45 feet during a performance of Gene Kelly’s new production Clownaround…Daniel Acosta was unconscious when he was taken from the stage to a hospital. He lost both blood and teeth in the fall at the Oakland Coliseum. He was in fair condition about an hour later…a gasp went up from the audience of 6000…when Acosta leap-frogged over his partner, hit the wire and dropped to the stage…
Jeanine Basinger. Pyramid Illustrated History Of The Movies. Gene Kelly. 1976
Kelly began work on the extravaganza with enthusiasm and a sense of joy. It was an unparalleled opportunity for his creative urges to be satisfied... But during rehearsals Jeanne Coyne Kelly discovered she had leukemia... Kelly curbed his activities in order to spend as much time with her and the family as possible, and his happiness over the project naturally waned.
If you follow this link you can see the contents of the playbill and some interesting background information
TAKE ME ALONG. 1974
Based on the play Ah, Wilderness! by Eugene O'neill.
Grateful thanks to my friend Vicki who provided much of the original source material for this section. She also got to see Gene perform in the show. I am very envious!
From the Merriam Webster Encyclopaedia of literature:
Ah,Wilderness! A comedy in four acts by Eugene O'neill, published and first performed in 1933. Perhaps the most atypical of the author's works, the play presents a sentimental tale of youthful indiscretion in a turn-of-the-century New England town. Richard, adolescent son of the local newspaper publisher, Nat Miller, exhibits the wayward tendencies of his maternal uncle, Sid Davis. Forbidden to court the neighbor girl, Muriel, by her father, Richard goes on a bender and falls under the influence of Belle, whom he tries to impress but whose worldly ways frighten him. It is the dissolute Sid who handles the situation upon the prodigal's drunken return, and with the aid of warmhearted Nat and the forgiving Muriel everything is put to right.
Gene played the role of Sid, Richard's 'charming, nip-taking uncle'. A spinster, Lily, waits patiently for Sid's reformation and his proposal of marriage, but in the end Lily decides that if Sid is to be taken at all, he must be taken as he is...and she does. (From the playbill).
It was a production in Ohio by the Kenley Players. John Kenley the producer was famed for his superb entertainments featuring leading stage, movie and television stars. It also toured in a few towns including St. Louis and Dallas.
It was Gene's first stage performance in a musical for more than thirty years.
http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0329/p18s02-hfes.html Follow this link to read a heartwarming story about Gene while he was appearing in this show.
http://disc.server.com/discussion.cgi?disc=22702;article=8188;title=Gene%20Kelly Another great little tale from the show.
Philadelphia Inquirer. 1974
He broke all house records for seven weeks this summer when he toured in the musical Take Me Along.
This book is worth getting, for the chapter on the author’s time spent with Gene during the run of Take Me Along.
Patricia Wilson. Yesterday’s Mashed Potatoes.
…”Patricia, this is Gene Kelly….May I come down to say hello?”
…He appeared at my door in a white polo shirt and chinos, a can of beer in each hand…
“I want to show you a few dancer’s steps on –ahem – on how you can appear shorter on stage!”
So that was the problem. Gene Kelly was of average height, and feared my five-foot-six-and-a-half stature might make him appear less-than-tall…
Taking a big breath, and a very big chance, I said in a firm, respectful tone, “Does my height concern you, Mr. Kelly? I’m quite a good method actress. How tall do you want me to be?”
Gene Kelly’s eyes widened, then disappeared into the crinkly half-moons of his familiar Irish grin. He laughed out loud, stood, and clicked his beer can against mine.
“We’ll get along fine, Pat. You’ll look great onstage, and that’ll make me look good. Call me Gene. They’ve got a terrific pool here – wanna go swimming?”
That’s what we did.
…Gene Kelly put everyone at ease. He was outgoing and energetic, endearing himself to the cast and imbuing the role of Sid with Irish charm…Gene added choreography to the production…
…The dance Gene choreographed for us was technically easy, for my sake, and sweetly romantic, for the middle-aged lovers. It enhanced the love story, and again, our audiences were enthralled. They loved Gene Kelly. He could do no wrong for them, and I was along for the dance.
Gene Kelly and I both carried personal sadness that summer. Abandoning ourselves to the frisky fun of I Get Embarrassed had a healing effect on each of us…
“My children, Bridget and Tim, arrive tomorrow. They’ll be touring with us, doing little parts. I didn’t want to leave them for the summer. Their mother died last year.”
…They were lovely, well-behaved children, unlike the spoiled, monster-progeny of many Hollywood stars.
…The reviews in the morning papers were raves for Gene Kelly…for Gene, it had been a thirty-three-year hiatus. He’d confessed to me that he doubted his decision to do even a limited tour at his age. But watching him from the wings on opening night, he was magical. He charmed our audiences wherever we went.
…Gene Kelly knew every instrument in every dance orchestration, and carefully rehearsed the musicians personally…My big brother…David [a musician] couldn’t get over his musical skill.
“The guy is brilliant!” he said.
…”Let’s show ‘em in your old hometown tonight, Pat!” Gene said at rehearsal…Gene didn’t fake our embrace in the finale. Our kiss was long, lingering, and full on the lips. “That was for Columbus,” he whispered in my ear…The squeals of delight from my now middle-aged college girlfriends in the audience told me wa had, indeed, shown ‘em in the old hometown.
…When a stewardess came to pre-board Gene…he said, “I’d like this girl boarded with me.”…Penelope had fallen asleep…Gene gathered her onto a pillow in his lap. One more time I wondered why he was considered difficult. Gene Kelly was a kind man.
…Gene Kelly and I were never more than friends, each of us like a wounded pup kicked into life’s corner. The empathy that accompanied that dynamic and our ability to laugh was the basis of our friendship. We were both insomniacs. We’d talk on the phone for hours in the middle of the night…
Dallas Times Herald. May 1st1974
…Kelly has become so interested in the revival that he has been on the phone two or three times a week discussing changes with producer Tom Hughes….He is planning on coming to Dallas two weeks ahead of his June 18th opening for an almost unprecedented amount of rehearsal time for a Dallas musicals production….Since Kelly had directed onstage as well as onscreen…he knows exactly what he wants in a director here. One who would have respect for O’Neill, he said…
And then Tom had his own requests – such as asking Kelly if he wouldn’t mind dancing more in the show…
Kelly mentioned to Tom that he had already bought his new specially built dancing shoes for the role and was breaking them in at home. Well, Tom, feeling more and more that something large was growing around him, went out to look at the scenery of that 1961 Dallas production of the show and with one large sigh over his checkbook decided it wouldn’t do. So Peter Wolf is designing all new scenery…
A major coup on John Kenley’s schedule is Gene Kelly’s return to the stage in the leading role of Take Me Along.
The Dallas Morning News. June 1974
…He has produced and directed television spectaculars and has proven his versatility in so many ways that one wonders, for instance, what Michael Maurer, the director for Take Me Along, must feel when he has to direct Kelly in some complicated piece of business. Not that Kelly, a regular fellow, would play the prima donna.
Kelly plays the Jackie Gleason role of Uncle Sid in Take Me Along. .Kelly has added three dance numbers to enhance the role. The show will play Municipal Opera in St Louis and could even become a television special.
People magazine 1974
At 61, Kelly has kicked off a summer revival of the stage musical Take Me Along, which will take him to a half-dozen cities in seven weeks. The show, which opened to standing ovations in Dallas, marks the first time Kelly has appeared as a song-and-dance man in a legitimate show since producer David O. Selznick shanghaied him to Hollywood after his 1940-41 Broadway smash, Pal Joey.
Why is Kelly returning? “I am working for pleasure, not for financial reasons,” he says. “Every week or so I have a chance to do something for more money than I am making from this show. But to put it succinctly, this came up at a good time, and in a weak moment I said I would do it.”
Dallas Times Herald. June 1974
His direction of Cheyenne Social Club was brought up by Kelly on the first day of rehearsals in Dallas for Take Me Along. Any director and choreographer would feel intimidated, obviously, in working with Kelly as a performer and Kelly is extremely aware of this reaction. Especially, in this case since director Michael Maurer and choreographer John Sharpe are talented but young men. Kelly called the staff together and told of a story that took place on his first day of shooting Cheyenne Social Club.
He said he had called Fonda and Stewart into a huddle and explained his predicament in having to direct two great and legendary actors and hoped they wouldn’t play around him and give each other pulling on the ear signals. Both told him flatly that as far as they were concerned he was the director and whatever he wanted was good enough for them. And, he said, it was the same story in Dallas. He had conferred with producer Tom Hughes as to who would choreograph and direct and once he had agreed to the choices that was it. He was the actor and they were choreographer and director.
Dallas Times Herald. June 1974
Gene Kelly…returns to the stage, testing his dancing feet, his endurance and his public. Will all three be there? They were and are. Gene Kelly, moving as softly as a shadow, arrived onstage to an audience that would still be applauding if he hadn’t cut it off…
Kelly’s entrance where he is joined by Alex Romero and Roy Palmer is an engaging mixture of tap, soft-shoe and Kelly’s traditional athleticism…allowing him the kind of steps that suit him well. The second Kelly number is with Smith, but Kelly steps out on his own here like it was 1952 and he was in Singin’ In The Rain. He does kicks, clicks his heels and soars with a kind of nonchalance that is almost physical, a collage of dance styles, with Kelly assembling it all together, making order out of chaos. It is a deliberate exuberance rather than a young dancer’s soaring abandon, but they are the most amusing, sly and dazzling dance moments you may see for a long time.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch. July 1st 1974
The hottest star in Hollywood these days has a familiar name…He looks as fit as that man in the skin-tight T-shirts and bell-bottom pants who single-handedly proved that masculinity needn’t be negated by a tapping toe…Ans he moves as easily and melodically through the sunshine of the ‘70s as he did through the rain of the ‘40s…
Kelly has come to St. Louis with unabashed enthusiasm, but why now?
“I just wanted to go back to work. It was a combination of being anxious to get moving again and finding a show I loved.”
Kelly is a warm, unpretentious man whose eyes carry a non-stop smile…
A few years over the 60 mark, but looking a full decade less, Kelly is singing and dancing again…his inimitable style is still couched in class and pure pleasure to watch.
St. Louis Globe-Democrat July 2nd 1974
Take Me Along, the Municipal Opera’s opener, takes on a special luster thanks to the luminous and legendary Gene Kelly. His terpsichorean talents, wide grin, and good-humored approach to the show, keep it lively and likeable.
St. Louis Post Dispatch. July 2nd 1974
There’s no pro like an old pro, which Gene Kelly demonstrates early and often on the Municipal Opera stage, giving about as much life as possible to a rather static musical comedy…Kelly brought brightness to a large number of people who grew up learning life through MGM musicals.
Los Angeles Times. July 2nd 1974
Dallas: While the New Hollywood was having a heat wave…Dallas was having its own. Gene Kelly…rang up the best reviews for his starring role in…Take Me Along, of anyone in the Music Hall’s history.
Gene danced and sang and acted and packed the refurbished theatre for each performance…
The headlines – and the headliner – was Kelly, who got a standing ovation after every curtain…All one had to do, as yours truly did, was fly the 1,403 miles from Hollywood to be seated, unexpectedly, next to newlyweds Mr. And Mrs. Richard Harris…
Kelly’s magic works even more in person than it’s working for millions onscreen in MGM’s sellout film of musicals, That’s Entertainment. The security men at the stage door were holding back crowds, mostly youngsters who weren’t even born when Gene created the charismatic, cynical, Pal Joey…
Someone should take it along to TV as a special and a special treat for Kelly fans in the other 46 states. There’s already heavy talk of that among several networks.
Dayton Daily News. 5th July 1974
Now this is what theatre is supposed to be all about. It’s about Gene Kelly carrying off a superb performance, laughing all the way at the scoffers who doubted the perennial star’s expertise…Gene Kelly was just what was needed to take the crowd back to simpler times, when ‘corruption’ was defined in terms of shot glasses and garters.
Tribune Chronicle, Warren Ohio. July 17th 1974
It was thunder and lightning, firecrackers and sparklers, bells and whistles when Gene Kelly, the dancingest man in show business, appeared on the W.D. Packard Music Hall stage last night…And approximately 3000 of his fans turned out en masse last night to see their favorite who has been Hollywood’s most successful musical comedy star for more than 30 years. So great was audience response when he first appeared on stage that one wondered if his enthusiastic devotees and ardent admirers would stop cheering long enough to let him perform. And, for the first time in 17 years of Kenley Players productions here, the fans gave him a tumultuous standing ovation when the curtain came down on the evening’s festivities…
His rendition of Uncle Sid…is done with such swagger and presence one may well believe that he cut a wide swath among the girls in his younger days…
Gene Kelly for the most part clowns his way through the two acts but he is not without serious moments as he displays sentimentality in several scenes. He is the epitome of everything that good entertainment stands for and if the proof is in the pudding, Take Me Along is a gourmet dish.
Citizen Journal, Columbus Ohio. July 31st 1974.
I confess to having shed a nostalgic tear or two Tuesday evening. They were tears of joy. You see, a few tender memories got in my eye.
Take Me Along should attract audiences that do not ordinarily patronise Kenley Players. The reason is obvious. As Sid Travis, a loser with winning ways, Gene Kelly is conjuring up the same sort of magic that enchanted so many of us in the glorious MGM musicals of yesteryear.
He is absolutely unique in the annals of show business – a superb song and dance man with heart, one whose style has often been imitated but never duplicated.. Holding up a good deal better than most of his contemporaries, Kelly remains a performer of distinction in the grand manner.. And his familiar charm and grace and charisma are working overtime at Veteran’s Memorial this week. He should be paid time-and-a-half.
A good part of Kenley opening night capacity audience, it is safe to say, was already in Kelly’s pocket by virtue of his past reputation.
All that remained was a confirmation of the kind of promanship we’ve come to expect of him. Kelly did not let us down. His dancing is as smooth and skilful as ever. His voice, never terribly strong, has lost none of its appeal. And he acts the role with admirable authority.
As you probably know, Take Me Along is based on Eugene O’Neill’s perennially popular comedy of young love, Ah! Wilderness. The musical’s book by Joseph Stein and Robert Russell is faithful to the original in spirit. That’s the most that may be said for it, and it’s no surprise nor any great loss to the musical itself that certain compromises have been made to accommodate Kelly. But it all works to smashing effect…
If you see only one Kenley show this summer, make it this one. It’s pure entertainment all the way, and Gene Kelly is up to his old singing and dancing tricks again. He’s in top form.
Columbus Dispatch. July 31st 1974
Would all those cynical jokers who said Gene Kelly couldn’t dance so well any more, please step up and be counted out?
Gene Kelly isn’t too old to do anything and he proved it Tuesday night in a scintillating version of Take Me Along…
Class is the only word for him. Kelly dances up a storm, sings softly, sweetly, and right on key and is some what more than a fair-to middlin’ actor. Supported by an extremely strong cast, Kelly, one of the all-time greats of show business, promises to make this week a smashing success for Kenley Players.
GENE KELLY'S SALUTE TO BROADWAY. NOVEMBER 1975
Evening Independent. November 8th 1975
Gene Kelly’s Salute to Broadway, from a new book by Alan Jay Lerner and starring Howard Keel, Ken Berry and Mimi Hines, opens at the Bayfront Center today…the producers have put together a rare combination of singing, comedic and dramatic talents.
Lerner’s original book traces 50 years of Broadway musicals via a parade of music, comedy, dance and drama. It ranges from George M. Cohan’s Yankee Doodle Dandy to Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar.
COQUELICO.1979 22 Steps Theatre (Formerly the Cotton Club). 22nd February 1979-1st April 1979
The Enchanted Circus.
Produced by Olivier Coquelin in association with Michael Butler, Gene Kelly and Alan Jay Lerner.
I don't have any details of exactly how Gene was involved in this production, except that he was an associate producer, but it sounds like the type of thing he loved to be part of. New innovative technology, fantasy with clowns, mime and dance, and a life-affirming story. I assume they ran out of money, as so often happened, and it lasted for only 21 previews and 45 performances.
International Herald Tribune. August 1977
The Enchanted Circus is described as “a fairy tale for grown-ups on the frontier between dream and reality.” It combines the latest techniques to form the clever amalgam of cinema and live theatre which made the Magic Lantern famous.…Imagine a multi-scope screen where actors and dancers are seen in spectacular settings and in a variety of situations and at the same time appear live on stage. In Coquelico, a loose plot provides the kind of comic, dramatic or adventurous material which best lends itself to Coquelico’s special effects.
Kurier Polski May 1978
…The idea of intertwining the two forms of theatre and film is very simple. The result without doubt is very attractive and original. And the whole thing is performed by means of expression, not the spoken play, but ballet and music, gestures and mime. The production is understandable to everybody…
Use of all these various forms of design gives birth to a very suggestive, variable, colored and even original picture. It is really well worth seeing.
RESORTS INTERNATIONAL HOTEL CASINO. Atlantic City. August 21-27, 1978
Variety magazine review:
It’s a genial Gene Kelly here for his first appearance in an eastern supper night club and his initial one since he appeared in Las Vegas some 10 years ago. Kelly hinted that it may be the last time he will appear in a like capacity anywhere.
His entrance is spectacular. Six Rudas showgirls, attired in raingear and carrying miniature umbrellas…Kelly appears in their midst, to join in the dance and to sing along with the girls.
Kelly does what he likes to do best – dance. He breaks up the routine with a rundown on his films and the women leads…Hoofers Danny Daniels and Alex Romero do a ‘challenge dance’. It gets a standing ovation…
For most it was a delightful trip down memory lane…
Philadelphia Bulletin review:
…The Broadway and Hollywood musical comedy star, who turns 66 tomorrow, confessed that he was 10 pounds overweight and spent little time in preparing his act, which he decided to do here primarily as a focal point for a family reunion with East Coast relatives.
“We put it together in a few days. I feel a bit strange and, lets confess it, a bit nervous.”…
Much of Kelly’s own material was taken from his TV special broadcast earlier this year..
The best of them was a precision tap executed in fine style with dancing partners Danny Daniels and Alex Romero….
The performer also sang in his distinctive whiskey-baritone voice songs associated with his stage and film hits, including “I Could Write A Book”…and “Almost Like Being In Love”…Only in the last named song did he seem to let out the stops. In just about everything else he did on stage Kelly seemed to be deliberately holding back a bit..
One was left with the feeling that he had decided to display his talent in a pleasant if unsensational production, rather than run the risk of doing something poorly by overextending himself in trying for something much more dynamic.
Kelly, the director, put it best at a press party immediately following the opening when he was asked what he thought of Kelly the performer, that night.
“There’s nothing revolutionary about the act,” he said frankly, “It didn’t break any new ground.”
Cue, September 1978 review:
In a rare appearance…the incomparable Kelly presented his first night club act in fifteen years….Kelly’s sparkling stint meshed perfectly with the Superstar Theatre’s above-average revue…He delivered nicely-timed quips and reminisced with warmth and charm that reflected his love affair with movie and nightclub audiences…
Newspaper preview: One of the last of the great song-and-dance men, the invincible Gene Kelly, will be packing in his adoring fans all this week…
The show that producer Tibor Rudas has built around Gene Kelly is his most inventive..
Courier Times review:
…At 66, Kelly has trouble holding a note, seems uncomfortable with one-liners, and dances rather sparingly…but he retains that one lasting gift that money can’t buy: Charisma.
The audience recognizes it as soon as he struts on stage…Kelly seems nervously uncomfortable in his opening moments.
His jokes, which he credits mostly to Bob Newhart, revolve around legalized gambling (“I think it gives all of us a chance to show the government that we can waste money just as well as they can”) and religion (“Catholics have their own form of gambling: it’s called the rhythm method.”)…
Sometimes his voice cracks, but the audience forgives the flaws and warmly applauds every number….
After warning the crowd that “The legs go first,” Kelly announces that he and two other dancers will demonstrate “Picture dancing, which is now called precision tap.” The audience goes wild and a hush falls over the room as the trio moves in perfect unison. It’s pure magic, Gene Kelly style.
Then he and his two backup men perform a “challenge dance,” in which each does his favourite step. More thunderous applause and broad smiles from Kelly. He’s comfortable now, doing what he does best.
The Pittsburgh born dancer, who celebrated his 66th birthday this week, still has the athletic body that thrilled audiences in the early 1940s and ‘50s.
GENE KELLY SPECTACULAR. IRISH FESTIVAL WEEK.
RESORTS INTERNATIONAL CASINO.
ATLANTIC CITY NEW JERSEY MARCH 1979
Magazine interview with Margy Rochlin, Interview Magazine 1985.
I had been asked to open a nightclub in Atlantic City. They offered me a ridiculous amount of money. They literally overpaid me. So I did one show a night. Then they asked me back by popular demand. So I went back. Then I said “To hell with this.” I was only doing it for the money, and I was doing easy routines.
This is from a personal diary entry by a friend of mine who was lucky enough to be present at Gene’s St Patrick’s Day appearance at Atlantic City in 1979.
She has kindly given permission for me to share it here. Thanks Vicki. Thanks also for the newspaper reviews of the 1978 show.
A terrific show, basically the same show as last August, but vastly improved, better paced and Gene sang even better than ever, and danced wonderfully. Opens to soundtrack of Singin’ In The Rain, dances a little with girls in see-through raincoats.
- Tells many Irish-Catholic jokes
- Irish medley (super) “It is a great day for the Irish” and with the girls, “It’s The Hat Me Dear Old Father Wore” – danced a jig
- Famous partners, talked about Judy, Cyd, Leslie, Rita, Frank, Donald, Dan Dailey, Jerry the mouse – showed slides and posters – sang “’S Wonderful” – (new lyrics, “You should dance with me”) “I Could Write A Book,” “Almost Like Being In Love,” “Long Ago And Far Away,” “New York, New York,” “Our Love Is Here To Stay,” and “For Me And My Gal.” – very good, sang very well, hit all the notes.
- Danced with Danny Daniels and Alex Romero. (Reminded me of the “Woggle Birds” in Jack & The Beanstalk) – first a synchronised dance to “Poor Butterfly” then a terrific challenge dance, each doing their own steps, then together. (SUPER, the audience loved it.)
- These segments were interspersed with dances by the Resorts acrobatic dancers. Lasted about one-and a-quarter hours.