BETSY BLAIR, JEANNE COYNE, CAROL HANEY, LOIS McCLELLAND
I have included these four women in one section as they were inextricably linked together, all playing large and varied roles in Gene’s life and work. They were essential to him and in turn he helped, inspired and encouraged them all in many ways.
BETSY BLAIR (With permission).
Picture Show. September 25th 1943
Gene’s only rule for a successful marriage is to be in love with your wife.
Sadly, Betsy passed away in March 2009. I met her once, very briefly, and we corresponded a couple of times. I found her to be helpful, sympathetic, gracious, bright and feisty, with a great capacity for enjoyment of life. She will be greatly missed by her loving family and many friends.
The quotes, unless otherwise stated, are taken from Betsy Blair's autobiography,The Memory Of All That. Love and politics in New York, Hollywood, and Paris.2003. It gives an excellent insight into Gene's early years in New York and Hollywood, especially of that time in the forties and early fifties when so much wonderfully creative work was done by so many hugely talented individuals. It also reveals the heartache and destruction caused by the desire to 'root out' all known or imagined communists from Hollywood.
Betsy Blair was a sixteen-year-old aspiring dancer when she first met Gene. The story of how they met is well known, and has various versions. Betsy turned up on the wrong day for an audition at Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe club. Gene was re-arranging chairs and she thought he was a ‘busboy’. He told her she had the day wrong and asked if she was a good dancer. She replied “Very.” The next day she was embarrassed to learn he was the choreographer of the show for which she was auditioning.
Gene’s first instance of helping Betsy was by fighting for her to get a job as dancer in the show. He must have seen something special in her even then.
New York Newspaper article 1941. Robert Francis
The cast of one of the nicest twosomes along Broadway these days is composed of little Betsy Blair and Gene Kelly...In main stem parlance, they are “that way” about each other...
“Do you call for him every night?” we asked Betsy, while Gene goes at his sirloin in a big way. Betsy blushes over her glass of milk. She can still blush at 18.
“Well, we break at the Lyceum a little after half past 10, and Gene doesn't get through until after 11, so..”
“So you skip right around to the Barrymore to help him tie his tie?”...
“Not a bit of it!” laughs Gene, with his mouth full. “She comes over to do me out of my food. She always orders a glass of milk, and then gets away with half my steak and potatoes. I tell her that when yo're dancing you can eat anything, but when you go dramatic you have to watch your hips. But she won't listen.”...
The Kelly-Blair romance started when she applied for a chance in the Diamond Horseshoe show...Gene had been hired to stage the dances...
“She was cute,” says Gene, spearing a bit of home-fried.
“He looked so young,” adds Betsy...
“I took her to dinner,” grins Gene. "The other girls used to call her 'teacher's pet.' She brought me apples for a gag. I've been taking her to dinner ever since. It's expensive, but I think I've made the best of the deal.”
“And now you're a fully-fledged actress, Betsy...How does it feel?”
“It feels great, but all of it is due to Gene.”
“Nonsense!” interrupts Gene, mopping up the gravy. “She's got the highest I.Q. In the State of New Jersey. She's a prodigy.”...
“And now you're engaged?” we suggest, hopefully.
“Don't you dare to say that!” replies Betsy, sneaking a bit of Gene's steak. “Everybody goes around saying we are, but it isn't so. Why can't two people like to be together, go dancing or talk, without everyone settling their futures for them? I don't think it's fair!”
“Sure,” adds Gene, grinning, “I couldn't marry her now anyway. Aint I the No. 1, 47th St., 1941 'heel'? Ive got to wait until she's a big star and can support me in the luxury to which I am accustomed!”
He watches Betsy fondly as she polishes off the last of the home fries. Betsy doesn't say anything, but we get the idea that 'Pal Joey' will never be a heel as far as she is concerned. They're a nice twosome.
Family Circle September 1st 1944
Betsy is a shy, winsome little creature who makes no effort to impress people. She wears almost no make-up. Her clothes are anything but spectacular. Then you happen to see her mind in action. And it’s a shock.
Liberty magazine September 1948
“She thought I was a busboy,” says Gene. “I was young in those days, had my sleeves rolled up, and was as badly dressed as I am now. It was just like the script of a B picture. She asked to see the dance director, and I asked her what she wanted. She told me all about herself. I loved every word of it, and I told her that if she’d come in the next day I’d fix it so that the dance director, a hard man, would see her. Next day, when she saw me sitting behind the big desk, she could have murdered me.
“Our life,” says Gene, “isn’t like a movie script any more. We’re just a completely normal, happy couple. Dull, isn’t it?”
Betsy, quoted in Hirschhorn: "John Murray Anderson was just about to eliminate me because I was too skinny and had a flat chest....I was desperately disappointed, and must have looked as though I was about to burst into tears, because Gene suddenly turned to John and said 'I hear she's a very good dancer, and I need some talent in this show.' So they kept me, and after that I developed such a crush on Gene that John used to call me 'teacher's pet.'...I wanted Gene to like me, to like my work."
She instantly became besotted with him, and eventually was invited to ‘tag along’ with Gene and his best friend Dick Dwenger. They took her in hand when they realised her ignorance of the world.
“These two ‘big brothers’ were wildly exciting to me. Gene was twenty-eight, Dick, twenty-nine – they seemed to know everything. They were interested in politics, and painting, and literature. They teased me about how little I’d seen or done, but they were never mean. …They promised they’d give me New York, the Metropolitan, the Museum of Modern Art, Merce Cunningham, Harlem, the Village, Little Italy, the docks, the theatre, the whole kit and caboodle…I was invited to tag along to supper at their hangout, Louis Bergen’s, on West Forty-seventh street. I met their friends and they met my father, who came to drive me home at midnight.
"My promised education began in earnest. The Museum of Modern Art, Greek sculpture and Rembrandt, and Botticelli. And we’d go to Central Park and The Cloisters, the Battery, the Fulton Fish market, Chinatown – they were giving me New York. And much, much more…we’d go back to Gene’s room…He’d make a pot of tea and some toast in the kitchenette. They had discovered another enormous gap in my knowledge – classical music…And so they bombarded me with music…They never gave up. I was their project. Oh, lucky girl that I was!…
“Another element was added. Lloyd Gough, the most politically committed of Gene’s friends, asked me to join the Marxist study group…of course I said yes. I was flattered to be invited by one of Gene’s friends, to be treated as a grown-up…”
Betsy. I Married A Dynamo, magazine article, 1949: "It was he who gave me a job in Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe. I idolized him from that moment on. After I got the job, Gene used to let me tag along with his crowd of friends and listen to their dreams, theatre talk and discussion of world events at large. I never said much on these occasions, but at 16, I was a great listener...our courtship was enmeshed in all the glamour and excitement of the New York entertainment world"
Saturday Evening Post. July 1950
Gene: "I was younger and prettier then than I am now, and I guess you can say that she developed a crush on her dance teacher. For a while I stepped out with some of the other girls in the show, but gradually I began to take Betsy out to dinner. I told myself I was doing it so I could give her big brother talks, and I sent her improving books and took her to museums. Looking back now, I can see that I was a guy hell-bent on getting himself married."
Betsy moved into a hotel, sharing a room with June Allyson and two other dancers. Her daytime ‘education’ continued, but now the nights became important. Gene took her to theatres and clubs, movies, poetry readings, exhibitions and much more. He introduced her to Comden and Green and Judy Holliday, and took her dancing at the Polish Hall where they ate pickles and sausages and drank tea from a glass.
Her ‘education’ in the art of lovemaking would have to wait however! She said:
“Gene was an honorable young man.”
He sometimes let her spend the night but said she was too young for anything else.
He coached her when she was offered a role in William Saroyan’s play The Beautiful People, and stood by her at the audition. She was a success.
Meanwhile Gene had become hot property, owing to his stunning portrayal of Pal Joey, and he was offered a Hollywood contract. He asked Betsy to marry him. They were married in Philadelphia in September 1941, and set out on their honeymoon, to drive across America to Hollywood. Their daughter Kerry was born on 16th October 1942.
Photoplay May 1943
On the birth of Kerry: “Did I ham up that occasion!” Gene admitted. “I was guilty of every cliché in the book, from pacing hospital floors, pestering doctors, driving nurses crazy with questions and finally collapsing in tears when they told me I was a father and everything was fine. It was corn right off the cob!”
Betsy: “California sunshine and flowers, a great daughter, a happy house overflowing with love and fun and friends, and no worry about money – all this stemmed from Gene’s work….Now was the time for having a baby, for loving Gene, for learning. If I’d been at a university or trekking the ancient Silk Route from China, I don’t think I could have learned more…With Gene to guide me, I was ready to absorb everything…I would joke about going to ‘Kelly university’, but it wasn’t a joke, it was the truth. The other undergraduate was Stanley Donen. We were both eager, naïve kids when he met us. It was Gene who showed us the way. He gave both of us more, much more than a college education”
Modern Screen January 1944
Gene’s friends note that he’s never so deep in talk that he doesn’t know just where Betsy is. He’ll wander over, drop a kiss on her hand or hair and go right on with the argument.
You’d be hard put to it to find a taste they didn’t share. Both hate golf and love baseball. They like the same books, the same games, the same newspapers. They’ve studied Spanish together, and now they’re trying to get up a class to study Russian.
Ask them what made their first year the hardest, and they’ll eye you blankly. Gene recovers first. “If I’d married anyone else, there’d be a million things. Not with Betsy. She’s so serene. Nothing bothers her.”
“What’s there to bother me?”…
Pittsburgh Press. October 30th 1944. Maxine Garrison
…Another thing he wanted settled was a snide remark in print to the effect that it was about time Mrs. Kelly started using makeup and dressing smartly to keep from hurting her husband’s reputation..
“Of course my wife doesn’t use makeup,” said Gene. “She doesn’t need to. Why, to see her out here, just the way she is, is like seeing a fresh and lovely field flower in the midst of a lot of faded hothouse roses.”
Screen Album. Fall 1945
What do they see in each other? Oh, little things. He sees tenderness and humor in his redhead. She sees his quiet strength, his courage that let him leave a comfortable berth as a Pittsburgh dancing teacher to try for big things on Broadway…The doting papa and lamb of a husband is fortunately not all sweetness and light. He won’t write letters. Would love to live on meat, potatoes and thick slabs of white bread. He demands candy for breakfast and a heavy meal at bedtime. He stays awake all night and sleeps till noon. “He’s impossible,” Betsy tells you. But for her dough, he can boss her into endless sweaters and skirts, bawl her out for making the car gears grind and forbid her wearing any make-up but just a little lipstick – at least until the real thing comes along!
Evening Bulletin. October 14 1945
Betsy: “Gene taught me to cook...he's marvellous with roasts, particularly roast chicken. Gene taught me one dish at a time...we'd eat chicken every night until I could cook it well...his favourite food is baked ham and beans.
Photoplay magazine, 1945
Gene is very proud of Betsy’s talent and he wants Betsy definitely to go on with her career now that he is in service.
Movieland. Summer 1946
His modesty comes to a halt on the subject of Betsy, of whom he is extremely proud. “She’s a wonderful actress,” he tells you, “and I want her to continue her career, as long as she can manage her family along with it.”
Modern Screen. October 1946
As Gene Kelly stepped out of a theatre in New York, fans rushed to mob him. A few minutes later, a policeman came over and tried to extricate Gene from the throng of boys and girls. One young miss, who looked like a typical bobbysoxer, persisted in hanging onto Gene’s arm. “Now see here miss,” yelled the policeman, “get along now and leave Mr Kelly alone.” “You leave her alone!” cried Gene indignantly, “that’s my wife!”
That Old Black Magic
…While he’s not at all cagey about answering questions, you have a feeling of intrusion when you speak of his wife and family. You can tell that his private life is very precious to him, and you sense he is trying to keep it away from the spotlight the better to safeguard it.
Betsy talks of the Saturday nights in Rodeo Drive, after the fierce competition of the ‘Game’. People would settle around the piano and be
entertained by the cream of Hollywood talent. Of these evenings Betsy says: “…I put Gene in place as the dominant figure, as he was the dominant figure in our lives. But as I picture him now, he is slightly removed – not aloof, exactly, but not entirely there…Of course he was older than a few of us, but as I look back he seems older than everyone. He was the patriarch.”
Movieland November 1948. Jeanne Coyne
Gene was very proud of Betsy’s success on the stage on the West Coast when she played a leading role in “Deep Are The Roots”. Opening night, after the show, Gene invited all their friends to the house. He beamed happily and put his arm around Betsy’s waist. “That’s my little girl,” he told everyone proudly. He has no objections to Betsy’s career as an actress, yet she is the one who has decided that her career will not be too important in her life. If she chose, she could be a very prominent actress with that luminous quality of hers and her fine talent, but she prefers being the wife of Gene Kelly and taking personal care of Kerry.
Knowing them as I do, from my vantage point as “guest in the house,” I don’t blame her a bit. For it is the sort of marriage and the sort of life that girls all over the world dream of, with a happiness that transcends any type of success a career can bring.
The Southeast Missourian. 21st January 1949
A huge DC6 American Airlines plane carrying George Jessel and Mrs. Gene Kelly as passengers made a precautionary landing today without incident. The plane scheduled to fly non-stop from Chicago to Los Angeles, set down here after warnings flashed a false alarm of fire in the tail heater. The plane would continue on with its 23 passengers later.
Movieland. July 1949
Stories to the effect that the Kellys have quarrelled about her having a screen career are completely false. “More than anything else in the world,” Gene says, “I want Betsy to do whatever brings her the most happiness.”
“Isn’t that funny?” Betsy says. “That’s exactly the way I feel about him.” A nifty couple, those Kellys. None nicer.
I Married A Dynamo: "Shortly after Kerry started to school...I grew impatient. I longed to do something like returning to the stage...and I went to Gene and talked the matter over with him. 'If it will make you happy Betsy', he said, 'go ahead and act.'. He pointed out that growth and activity are essential to all human beings. 'Do something about your feelings. Just don't stew in your own juice.' So I did."
Gene Kelly came to La Jolla to baby-sit his daughter Kerry while her mother, Betsy Blair, did Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie.
The Spokesman Review. January 9th 1950
Gene Kelly’s wife, Betsy Blair, is in hospital for an appendicectomy.
Modern Screen. April 1950
One afternoon several weeks ago, a veteran character actress, well-pickled in the vinegar of her own disillusionment, was sitting in the MGM commissary…when Gene Kelly and his wife strolled into the place.
The actress turned to her lunch companion, a visiting non-professional. “Now, there’s a strange couple,” she remarked.
“Strange?” said her friend. “What do you mean?”
“Why,” said the actress, “everyone knows that the Kellys are the plainest, simplest, most unaffected couple in Hollywood. They don’t even own a swimming pool!”
“Oh!” exclaimed the friend. “I didn’t know that. And they look so normal!”
A few days later in Romanoff’s, a gossip columnist suddenly observed to an Eastern dress designer, “You know, I can’t understand that Gene Kelly. The way he lets his wife run around.!”
The designer’s eyes shone with neon-light eagerness. “You mean – with other men?”
“No,” snapped the columnist. “I mean the way she dresses. She wears sweaters and skirts and flat-heeled shoes and never any make-up. It’s really a disgrace! She’s not only an actress herself but she’s the wife of a movie star. She owes it to the public to dress like one.”
The reason Betsy and Gene Kelly are the combined target for such verbal darts is a simple one: They are the happiest married couple in Hollywood today…
Lois McClelland, Motion Picture magazine 1950
With Betsy, his pretty wife, Gene is ever the devoted husband. There’s probably not another man in the world so thoroughly in love with his wife as Gene is with Betsy. He thinks she’s the most beautiful, the most talented, the most agreeable girl on earth, and he believes the world should share in his good fortune. Which is why he’s always encouraged her to resume her acting career, and why he takes such deep pride in her accomplishments….Betsy is given free rein to pursue her career…
In 1952 Gene and Betsy uprooted and went to live in Europe for 18 months, ostensibly for tax purposes and so that MGM could use money ‘frozen’ in Europe, also so that Gene could work on his dream project, Invitation To The Dance. But it may be that another reason was for Gene to ‘rescue’ and safeguard Betsy, and, to some extent, himself, from the effects of the
Hollywood anti-communist witchhunt.
In 1954 Betsy was offered a lead role in an important new film, Marty. The offer was then withdrawn unless she wrote a letter to the House Unamerican Activities Committee, the only way to clear herself of the ‘taint’ of communist or sympathiser, and she had to ‘name names’. She could not do that, and was entirely miserable at the thought of losing the role in such a way. She said: “Gene rode to my rescue.” He stormed in to Dore Schary’s office at MGM and threatened to stop work unless she was given the part. Gene waited while Schary called the American Legion in Washington and vouched for Betsy. She got the part. It was a great success, won a Golden Palm at Cannes and she was nominated for an Oscar. I think it quite significant that at this time, Betsy was no longer faithful to Gene, and he knew it, but still went to bat for her.
Betsy. Modern Screen magazine 1953.
Kerry and I – we’re part of Gene’s work. Gene isn’t the kind of husband who divides his life into two segments: on the job at the studio and off the job at home…our house is filled with all kinds of studio workers. Dancing, directing and choreographing are not something that Gene reserves for himself. All of us in the family are an integral part of his work. And he wants us to be…Gene always includes us.
Motion Picture. September 1953
The story of the Gene Kellys is a strangely perplexing one. They came to Hollywood as man and wife some years ago and the chances for both hitting the highest rung seemed extremely cheery…Betsy was the wondrously youthful star of…The Beautiful People…her astonishing grace, her captivating youth lit up the stage with its clean wholesomeness. That was what Gene saw in her and tried to ram down the throats of every producer in town. “She’s beautiful, she’s gorgeous – just look!” and he’d haul out five or six hundred pictures he just happened to be carrying around.. Funny part of it was, Betsy was simply not a movie type. Her whole personality, her dynamic physical attributes belong in the theatre, not on the screen. Everybody could see that but Gene and Betsy. And while Gene soared onward and upward, Betsy plugged along in her own way…trying to fulfil her own ambition as best she could without sacrificing her marriage.
Well, it’s been twelve years now since the Kellys hit Hollywood, and although they’re still together, Betsy always looks dreamy, far-a-way, dazed, a little lonely…
Movieland 1954. Busy, Busy, Busy.
As Gene ordered his favourite food (steak), we wondered how Gene’s wife, Betsy Blair, felt about his time-consuming schedule. Gene said, “No wife is too pleased when you’re so busy. When you finally do get home, she’s all ready to go to a night club and you’re ready to collapse. But fortunately, my wife doesn’t care about night-clubbing as such – although I imagine she might have had an urge, some nights, to take in a neighbourhood movie.
“But really,” Gene smiled, “it isn’t as bad as it sounds. We make it up on weekends. There’s always ways of adjusting. And there are lots of people we like, who like us. It’s no problem, really.”
From time to time, as with almost every Hollywood couple, there have been those usual ‘rumors’ about the Gene Kellys. Just before their 10th anniversary, Gene’s answers to these rumors was, “We’ve been married ten years – and there’ll be a lot more than ten more!”
Now he says easily, “There have been no storms in our 12 – no, wait, almost 13 – years of marriage. So I guess it’s alright.” There may be an indication of the way Gene feels in that he underestimated the length of time they’d been married instead of the other way round, which is more often the case...
Gene himself admits to two weaknesses; his girls. And he insists that both of them are with him, when work takes him away from home. He says, “No doubt I’ll be making a picture abroad again – probably in the next year. How can you escape it, today? But we’ll be together – and that makes it normal!”
Movie Pix. February 1954
…the talk that he and his wife, Betsy, had separated and were planning to divorce because of his so-called extra-curricular ramblings, makes Gene laugh – and then get angry… If people knew how hard dancers worked, they’d realise that someone like Gene hasn’t got the strength or inclination to fool around after a hard day at the studio. And no matter where he is on the map, Gene is as dedicated to Betsy as he is to his wonderful, creative work.
Dance. Pauline Swanson. 1954
Gene is always urging her to work because “She’s great and because I can’t imagine that anyone can be happy not working. While we were in Europe, Betsy taught French to the English actors, and English to the Frenchmen in the movie. She had a ball.”
Pittsburgh Post Gazette. October 22nd 1954
Gene Kelly, with two years of vacation time coming to him, is reading Broadway scripts. But he’d like to find one with a good part for his wife, Betsy Blair.
Modern Screen November 1955
Marty was awarded the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival…
“I just can’t find words to tell you what it meant to me. There was that afternoon when Gene gave a press conference. I thought I’d cry. That’s how happy I was. You know how he started it off? ‘I am the husband of Betsy Blair,’ he announced. Everyone smiled and the tears came to my eyes and I thought I’d just pass out with happiness…
Betsy Kelly has never ‘gone Hollywood.’…She has always liked simple blouses and full skirts and ballet-type slippers. She lets her chestnut-colored hair hang loose, keeps her face clean and scrubbed and devoid of make-up.
Because of all this, she has been severely criticized for years…
Betsy believes in dressing for herself, not for other people, with the exception, of course, of husband Gene. Only Gene himself wears a baseball cap, a polo shirt, slacks, white socks and moccasins. On Sunday he dresses in a blue suit to take Kerry to church. But otherwise when he’s out with Betsy they both look like a pair of kids fresh from a college campus.
Basically, the Kellys are interested in their work and not in the trappings of success…
Stories to the effect that Gene Kelly felt his wife belonged at home…are not true. “Betsy is a fine actress,” Kelly’s always maintained. “I just wish she’d get one good break.”
Gene gave Betsy – in fact has always given her – every moral support. And in all fairness to Betsy, it must be said that she never neglected any of her domestic duties…
The one thing Gene Kelly would not do was to cast Betsy in any of his own pictures. Betsy is a crack dancer, and Gene might have succumbed to the temptation of nepotism…but he felt it would not be fair…
Once Marty became a money-maker and an award-winner, Betsy found, after ten years of trying, that quite suddenly she was in demand.
Success, however, didn’t go to her head. From husband Gene she learned that success must be accepted with graciousness and balance.
Spokane Daily Chronicle January 9th 1956
Film actress Betsy Blair is home from film work in Europe and she says that from now on she wants to be voluptuous and mean in pictures. Miss Blair arrived at International Airport last night from Paris and was met by her husband, dancer Gene Kelly, and their daughter Kerrie. “American producers want me to continue playing a wallflower,” Miss Blair said.
Chicago Tribune. August 12th 1956
After fifteen years of marriage, Gene Kelly and Betsy Blair have decided on a trial separation, MGM announced yesterday.
St.Petersburg Times. September 26th 1956
The hopes of their good friends that the meeting this week between Gene Kelly and Betsy Blair in Switzerland preparatory to entering their daughter Kerry in school there may lead to a reconciliation.
Daytona Beach Morning Journal November 7th 1956
Gene Kelly is reported very upset over Betsy Blair ‘s forthcoming marriage to a much younger man, but there is every indication she plans to go through with it.
Los Angeles Times. February 19th 1957
Betsy Blair, wife of Gene Kelly, is in Las Vegas to seek a divorce, MGM said. No reason was given.
Betsy: What I experienced was a man – the one I loved – who was flourishing and fulfilled. His excitement, his commitment to his work, and his pride in ‘my two girls’, as he called us, were irresistible.
…I thank him now, for setting my ‘pilgrim soul’ on it’s voyage, even though I’ve made most of that voyage without him. He gave me – and the world – an unforgettable legacy of joy.”
When she was twelve years old she was taught by Gene in his dance school. As a teenager she worked on Broadway with Jack Cole and Robert Alton, then decided to try her luck in Hollywood. She arrived at around the same time as did Stanley Donen. Her skills and personality soon meant that she was the head of every chorus line she performed in. Gene renewed his acquaintance with her and thought that her talents and her ‘wisdom and taste’ were wasted in the chorus. He arranged for her to be given the job of dance assistant on his team at MGM, and she and Carol Haney were trained by Gene and Stanley.
According to Betsy Blair, Jeannie created a unique position for herself, among the female stars at MGM, helping to rehearse them and attend costume fittings etc, becoming a PA for many of them. She was universally liked.
She appeared with Gene, along with Carol Haney, as a member of Joe’s troupe, in Summer Stock.
Along with Carol and Lois, she was a valued member of Gene’s entourage, one of the family, a second mother to Kerry, and a close friend to Betsy. In 1949 she was briefly and unhappily married to Stanley Donen, until his affair with Elizabeth Taylor.
Later of course, in 1960, she was to marry Gene, and gave up her career in order to be a wife and mother. Tragically she died from leukaemia on 10th May 1973, nine years to the day after Carol Haney's death.
Movieland November 1948. Jeanne Coyne.
I knew Gene Kelly when. But I know him now, too. And there lies a tale. For the story of how Gene and his wife Betsy, took me under their wing and into their home is such a heart-warming one that I’d like to tell you about it.
Gene was my dancing teacher in Pittsburgh and I was a timid 12-year-old when I first met him. Some ten years passed, during which I saw Gene now and then, and I decided to come to Hollywood. When I arrived in the film capital I called Gene, trembling a little in my shoes, for he was a big star and I was someone who’d known him years ago. From what I’d heard from I-knew-him-when friends of other celebrities, I expected a polite stall; one of those “nice-to-hear-from-you-I’ll-call-you-some-day” routines.
Well, you would have thought I was the President’s daughter the way Gene boomed, “I’m so glad you’re here. You must have lunch at the studio with me. I’ll leave a pass for you.”
I saw Gene and Betsy that day and when they learned that I was in town alone, they both said, “It’s not good for a young girl to live by herself. Come and stay with us.”
That was over a year ago. I’ve been with the Kellys ever since. And living with the Kelly’s in their white farmhouse style home in Beverly Hills, with 4-year-old Kerry and an army of friends who pile in nearly every night, is living, my friends!
Now that I’ve come to know Gene and Betsy so intimately, it seems like the most natural thing in the world for them to have said, “Come stay with us.” That’s the way they are. They love to have people around them, and they can’t bear to see anyone alone—as I was at that time. Their friendliness is all-encompassing. They have no idea that they are “celebrities” and “picture people.” They could no more behave like big shots than they could fly.
When I see Gene dancing in the living room while the records spin a lilting tune to his rhythmic tappings, I remember the first time I saw him.
I was taken to his dancing school in Pittsburgh by my mother. All the kids in the neighborhood who studied dancing went to the Gene Kelly Studio of the Dance. He had the reputation of giving even the most awkward child graceful feet.
I remember how awed I was by the large ballroom where he had his school. And then Gene himself walked in. My heart, which had been thumping at the prospect of meeting the maestro himself, slid back into normal as the young man with the broad smile approached us.
“You have good legs for a dancer,” he said. “You’ll have a lot of fun here.”
It was fun, too, for Gene had a way with youngsters.
After a few years, Gene figured it was time to leave his school and make a try at New York. His idea was to become a dancing director for Broadway shows. His brother, Fred, and sister, Louise, remained in charge of the school.
Such a close bond had been established by Gene with his pupils that when he was gone I felt that I wanted him to know what was going on.
Through the next few years I wrote to him—and almost always, a gay letter filled with hope and encouragement was my answer. More than anything else, those letters made me keep up with my dancing.
Gene was climbing fast. After several small dancing and dramatic roles, he became dance director for Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe revues. Finally came the lead in “Pal Joey” and Gene became a sensation on Broadway.
All the while he was becoming an important Broadway star himself, he still didn’t forget the ambitious hopefuls who had once studied under him. One day he wrote and told me that auditions were being held for dancers in “Best Foot Forward” and that he would arrange for me and some of the other kids to be in those auditions.
Gene met us at the station, which made us all feel easier. He must have known that we were a little scared and lonely in the big city, for he smiled and said, “To-night, you’re going to see “Pal Joey”, and later we’ll all have supper and talk over old times. And,” he added, “you’ll all meet Betsy.”
We could tell by the way he mentioned Betsy’s name that she was something special in his life.
It was an event to see our former dancing teacher on the stage in all the glory of his success in a hit show. But the greatest thrill was to come when we all crowded around the table of a small New York restaurant, full of talk and enthusiasm.
Gene arrived with a tall, lovely girl whom he introduced proudly. “Kids, this is Betsy Blair.” You had to be blind not to notice that Gene and Betsy were in love. She had a bright and shining look about her, with a fresh complexion bare of all make-up and long, light brown hair pulled back severely. On her it looked good.
I made the dancing chorus of “Pal Joey”, and thus, the important leap into a Broadway show. Without his help I don’t know how long it would have taken to get a job in a show. But Gene didn’t feel that his responsibilities were over.
He had Betsy arrange to get me a room in the hotel for women where she was staying, and he and Betsy kept a watchful eye on me.
Our paths separated after Gene and Betsy married. Gene was signed to a contract by MGM and he and Betsy left for California…
I worked in the dancing chorus of several other shows and wrote to Gene and Betsy now and then, telling them what I was doing and giving them news about their friends in New York….
Whenever Gene and Betsy were in New York they always came to see me in whatever shows I was in. It used to make my heart soar when I’d look down in the audience and find them sitting there, winking encouragingly at me.
I was beginning to get the Hollywood bug myself, so one day I took the big step and took the train for the West Coast. I felt a little frightened at what I had done for I wasn’t a famous dancer by any means, and aside from Gene and Betsy, I knew no one in Hollywood. Even at that, I couldn’t really claim that I was a close friend of the Kellys, in spite of their warm friendliness to me…
What a thrill then, to hear his hearty voice ask me to lunch that day. At the MGM commissary he greeted me like a long-lost relative. Frank Sinatra stopped at our table and Gene introduced me. “This is one of my little girls,” he said. “She was once a pupil of mine.”
It was a wonderful afternoon. He brought me to the set where he was working in “Living In A Big Way” – he arranged an audition for me with the studio dance director. He even told me how to join the Guild so that I could get started on picture work. And the, to climax it all, he and Betsy clucked over me like a pair of concerned parents and announced, “You must come and live with us…"
I didn’t want to impose on them, although the thought of living with the Kellys seemed like heaven…
What is it like to be a part of the Kelly household?
Well, it’s like having all the fun of living in a gay sorority house and being under the protective wing of people who care. Everything about the house reflects Gene and Betsy’s personality….
During the week, friends pile in almost every night, but if Gene is working in a picture, curfew is declared at 10 o’clock. I’ve never seen people leave as reluctantly as they do the Kelly household.
…They’re like mother and father to me in their solicitous attitude. They meet my beaux who call for me in the house and approve or disapprove of them; I can tell my little problems to them…
Lois McClelland, Photoplay magazine 1950
"…A former dancing student of Gene’s from Pittsburgh, Jeannie Coyne, hit town looking for a job, a place to live and friends... Gene, ever the great guy, found her a job at Metro and moved her in with me. Not long after that Gene introduced her to a friend of his at the studio, and Jeannie was soon making plans to get married. But that wasn’t all. Jeannie announced her wedding plans to Gene at 10am the day she planned to marry, and since Gene decided that he was the closest thing to a father away from home, he said he was the one to give the bride away. “Loie,” he said to me, ever so father-like, “we’ve got to give Jeannie a real spread. Flowers, champagne, fancy food – the works.” I went right to work on it, and by two o’clock that afternoon, Gene was earnestly turning Jeannie over to the man of her choice – and the party was on. "
Los Angeles Times. May 18th 1951
Stanley Donen, 27-year-old film director who has been escorting Elizabeth Taylor recently, was divorced yesterday b y Jeanne Coyne, 28, stage and screen dancer and actress.
…Miss Coyne testified that she had wanted a home and children, but that they only had dinner alone at home about three times during their three-year marriage. His excuse that they were not financially able to have children she discounted with the statement that he earned $500 a week at the time.
They were ‘always’ going out, she said, and in public places he’s ignore her.
Questioned by her attorney…she said she became very unhappy and lost 15 pounds.
“At Christmas time in 1949, he asked for a separation,” she told the court. “I thought maybe if we’d still try, it would work out. It didn’t get any better. It got worse.
“It was like I was following him around.”
Miss Coyne asked and was given the right to resume her maiden name, Jeanne Coyne. She waived alimony. She and Donen were wed in Santa Monica, April 12, 1948, and separated April 21, 1950, she said.
St. Petersburg Times. April 29th 1959
Gene Kelly’s apparent affection for his young dance assistant Jean Coyne, suggests the similar attachment of Fred Astaire for pretty Barrie Chase. Gene seems to be dating Jean almost exclusively.
Flying High. Magazine article.
Following Jeanne’s divorce from Stanley Donen: Gene and Betsy did their best to console Jeanne emotionally. Gene did something even more practical than that. He hired her as his dance assistant, together with Carol Haney. Jeanne was to retain that position throughout the shooting of Summer Stock, An American In Paris, Singin’ In The Rain, Invitation To The Dance, Brigadoon, and also Flower Drum Song, and Dancing, A Man’s Game…
The fondness that had existed for more than twenty years matured and ripened into a strong bond…on 8th August Louella Parsons was a bit taken aback when she reported :
"One more Hollywood bachelor is out of circulation now that Gene Kelly has married his pretty dance assistant Jeanne Coyne, in a surprise ceremony at 2am in Tonopah Nevada…their close friends suspected they were in love – but even so the marriage came as a bit of a surprise.”
Jane Ardmore. TV Radio Mirror. November 1962
When I saw him two years ago…something was missing… I’ve known Gene for years and, to me, he seemed more electric than ever but less serene. What was he missing? Well, see him now, stopping to roll son Timothy’s baby carriage to a sunnier spot, and you know what was missing…. Jeanne has made this difference in Gene’s life. She has brought it into focus – a happy blend of creative fantasy and equally creative reality.
Whatever he does, Jeanne is involved... “Did you know she went to my dancing school in Pittsburgh? I taught her her first steps. And out here she worked with me, first as a dancer, then as an assistant. Jeanne’s absolutely invaluable. No-one I’ve ever known has such a combination of talents.”
It all adds up to a girl who understood his precision, his need for perfection. A girl who worked with him all over the world, adapted her life to his, her moods to his, so simply and so ingenuously, that she became his living answer.
In Jeanne, luckily, he has found someone whose sense of perfectionism matches his…who understands the dancer’s need for discipline…and the man’s need for love. Like him she came from Pittsburgh. Like him, she’s from a big Irish family. She loves to keep house and she keeps it well…Like Gene, she has one foot in fantasy, and a perennial child’s ability to imagine.
LA Times May 1973
Jeannie Coyne, a truly lovely lady, died at the City of Hope hospital late last week...Hollywood's heart goes out to Gene.
Woman Magazine. December 15th 1973
A Man and his Loving Memories
Gene...dropped into a well-worn armchair. The dancing genius...was having a spot of eye trouble and was wearing dark glasses. It was the only Hollywood touch about him...Nor was there anything of the Hollywood grand manner in the house itself. It was just a comfortable, roomy, well-lived-in home...”It's always been a happy home,” he said. “I bought it just after the war. These walls have seen some great times.”
His wife, Jeanne, entered light-footedly with tea and biscuits on a silver tray. “Help yourselves,” she smiled. “I don't want to interrupt your talk but don't let it get cold.” another smile for my special benefit. “When Gene gets caught up in conversation he's apt to forget such mundane matters as pouring tea.”
When she left, Gene stared thoughtfully at the closed door.
“You were kind enough just now to comment on the fact that I still have a youthful look about me,” he said with a touch of self-mockery.
“Well, if this is so...it's entirely due to my wife being younger than I am. Jeanne keeps me alive and alert to what's going on in the younger world. She and the children. Yes, I'm a lucky and a happy man.”
His thoughts returned to the home that meant so much to him...
“When my first wife Betsy and I were divorced, I thought for a while of going into bachelor digs. But I just couldn't work up the will to put the house on the market.
“Then when Jeannie and I decided to marry...I asked her what she thought of the house. She said she loved it and wouldn't dream of making me sell.
“Later when Jeannie got pregnant with Timothy, I again raided the subject. We intended to have five children and over-populate the earth, so I thought that this might be a good time to move into a bigger place. But we decided to build on a couple of rooms instead, which left us plenty of room for our next child, Bridget, born in 1964.”
Gene produced another of those distinctive, wistful smiles. “Well, we never had those five children, after all. We lost the third child and the doctors told us Jeannie couldn't have any more...”
Gene even made drastic changes in his professional life to preserve the happiness of house and home. He told me; “You'd be surprised at the number of parts I turned down because they would have meant going abroad or going away for weeks at a time all over America. Not only film parts, but work in the theatre – New York, London, Paris, all over.
“But I swore to Jeannie that until the children were grown up and no longer needed their Dad about the house, I would just stick to jobs that didn't involve travel. And even if the parts didn't come in fast enough – well, I could afford to wait and just potter around the house.
“This is where it's at for me!”
Jeanne joined him to wish me goodbye and then, as the shadows lengthened across the lawn, I heard her call the children in from tennis to tea and cookies.
It was the last time I would hear her cheerful voice. Three weeks later, with a sense of acute personal shock, I heard that she had died, suddenly and unexpectedly.
I thought then of the man who had told me; “This is where it's at, for me”...
How will he survive, I thought? I knew later that he would survive, for he is a tough and resilient man who brought a touch of steel to style in the art of dancing...
During the summer he took his children to Ireland, seeking out his ancestral roots and, perhaps, sustenance from them...
Back in the house that Jeanne made home he stays close to his children. Maybe the picture seems lonesome – the widower sitting by himself in the small hours watching television, drinking a few beers (“my only sleeping pill”), while the children are asleep upstairs. But this is only half the picture.
For Gene has found a measure of comfort in the traditional solace of work...And he knows that friends all over the world are rooting for him. They know he has the strength to remember the many happy days he shared with Jeanne – days like the one I witnessed – and that he will go on giving happiness to his admirers for many years to come.
TV & Movie Screen. August 1975
Only close associates know how much the loss of his second wife Jeannie Coyne has meant to the dancer-actor. After her death, Gene devoted himself to the full-time job of rearing teen-aged Timothy and Bridget…Jeannie died on May 10, 1973, and Kelly has never really been the same since. It has taken great effort on the part of his friends to persuade him to do small bits in That’s Entertainment…plus a few TV things with Frank Sinatra. “I really didn’t want to do a thing,” says Kelly.
Film Buff. February 1976. Barbara Wolf. The Art Of Gene Kelly.
With his marriage in 1960 to his long-time assistant Jeanne Coyne, he settled into semi-retirement in Los Angeles and began a second family…According to his biographers, he was not only personally happy but also thought himself the better for having had his temperament and perfectionism cut down to size.
Magazine clipping 1976. Source unknown
My Kids Talked Me Into the Knievel Movie.
...His professional inactivity during most of these Seventies was voluntary. His only major movie was Forty Carats, with Liv Ullman in 1973. Kelly’s offer to star in that film came while his wife, Jeanne, was dying of leukaemia. “I refused it,” he said. “But when I told Jeannie about it, she insisted I go ahead and do the picture. She said it would be good for me to get out and be occupied. She was right.”
After her death, Kelly went into deeper professional seclusion. He devoted himself to providing all the love and security possible for their two children, Bridget, now 12, and Tim, 14.
He chose to sacrifice his career rather than leave his children and make movies away from home. He was financially secure. If he never worked again, there would be absolutely no effect on his lifestyle.
Gene, 1976 interview. Woman's Weekly
Speaking of his children: “They’re my whole life right now. They gave me the will to carry on when I didn’t know what to do with my life. I did get very depressed for a long time after my wife died, but my children gradually pulled me out of myself…Most of the sorrow was over before she died, but still it came as a terrible shock to us. I never thought I would get through without her. I don’t think people ever get over things like that. For me now it’s just a question of having to go on living… I don’t suppose I’ll be as happy again as I was when Jeannie was alive."
The Spokesman Review. July 17th 1976
Q. How come someone as attractive, talented, and wealthy as dancer Gene Kelly is not married? – Helene Martinson, Salt Lake City, Utah.
A. Dancer Gene Kelly is 63. Three years ago, his second wife…died of cancer. Kelly has yet to recover from the tragedy. “It’s not easy to forget,” he says. “Jeannie was such a wonderful girl. I live simply, with a housekeeper who’s an excellent cook. I’m not too bad at cooking myself. My life these days is built more or less around my two children, Tim, 11, And Bridget 14 [ages the wrong way round]. There have been a lot of rumors linking me with one young woman and then another, but at the moment I have no plans to remarry.”
Saturday Evening Post 1980
“It was a tremendous sense of loss, of emptiness. But I think having the children really helped me. We got through it together because we knew that as bad as things were, they would get better.”
In those years Kelly’s sole criterion for accepting a part was that he had to be home by six p.m. – in time to eat dinner with his kids.
Times Daily March 15th 1986
His second wife died in 1973. I asked Gene if they ever went out dancing, just like civilians. Oh, sure, he said, but it was tough: “People expected me to be throwing her around and dancing on tables. All we wanted to do was the foxtrot."
Star. February 20th 1996
It took Gene Kelly’s second wife more than 20 years to catch him, but once he fell for her, she became the love of his life…
The Kellys’ marriage fizzled out in 1957, when the couple decided it was impossible for two busy actors to have any kind of stable family life. It was only then that Jeanne began to display openly her love for Kelly – and he began to reciprocate…”I never guessed she was in love with Gene because she never flirted with him while our marriage was still working,” said Betsy Blair…Kelly once recalled, “Until then, she’d been around so long I took her for granted.
“Besides, before the divorce there was no reason for me to fall in love with her. I was still very happy with Betsy.”
Jeanne Coyne’s 20 year wish finally came true when the couple tied the knot in Nevada in 1960.
From that moment she renounced her own career…Her sole concern was Kelly’s happiness, and later the upbringing of their two children, Timothy and Bridget…
The next decade was the happiest of Kelly’s life. While his house had once been a 24 hour party, he now reveled in spending time with his wife and kids.
In 1972 Jeanne noticed some bruises…Tests confirmed that she had leukaemia – and only months to live. She kept her illness a secret until the end approached. She died in May 1973.
A desolate Kelly termed the next two years of his life “a siege. I didn’t feel much like working or doing anything,” he said. What kept him going was the love of his children, whom he raised single-handedly.
Chicago Tribune. December 16th 1956
Gene Kelly describes Carol Haney as a clown with curves.
Carol was a gifted dancer (she ran her own dancing school at age fifteen) who worked for Jack Cole, but it was said that she did not photograph well, by which I suppose they thought she did not have movie-star potential. Gene asked her to join him and Stanley Donen as a full-time dance assistant. From then on she was one of Gene’s ‘family’, working and travelling with him until she spread her wings in her own performances. Gene said that when she left him to star in Pajama Game, that it was like "losing my right arm".
She lived in Europe in the early fifties with Gene, Betsy, Kerry, Jeannie and Lois, assisting Gene with the production of Invitation To The Dance. Footage of her dancing with Gene as a ‘prototype’ for his cartoon partner in the Sinbad section, is still extant. She took the role of Scherezade. She was also invaluable to Andre Previn when he had to compose music to dances which had already been filmed.
She was given the lead role in the Broadway production of Pajama Game, in 1954, and got rave reviews, but disaster struck after a short time, when she was injured, and replaced by Shirley Maclaine. Nevertheless she won a Tony award for her performance.
She was responsible, with Jeannie Coyne, for training many of Gene’s leading ladies (and men), including Cyd Charisse and Debbie Reynolds in Singin’ In The Rain, (also, with Jeannie, helping Donald O'Connor with the creation of Make 'em Laugh), and Leslie Caron and Georges Guetary in An American In Paris.
She appeared as a featured dancer in the On The Town ballet, and as part of Joe Ross’s troupe in Summer Stock.
She was supposed to play the part of the gangster’s moll in Singin’ In The Rain, but the role went to Cyd Charisse instead. Carol unselfishly coached Cyd in spite of her own disappointment.
She appeared in the filmed version of Pajama Game in 1957.
Gene asked her to choreograph Flower Drum Song, which he directed in 1958. At the time she was going through a troubled marriage and her husband, Larry Blyden, was in the show. But Gene said that: “She braved it out magnificently, and there were no problems.” She was nominated for a Tony award for her work on the show.
She died from pneumonia on 10th May 1964, shortly after choreographing Funny Girl.
New York Times. September 14th 1952
Stephen Watts. London. Gene Kelly supervises Invitation To The Dance at England's Boreham Wood
When he wants to be at the camera end or to see how a scene, in which he will be the central figure, looks as a whole, his place is taken by Carol Haney, a 27-year-old dancer from New Bedford, Mass. Miss Haney, a slight figure in blue jeans and a sweater, looking oddly pale among the made-up company, not only dances all the routines, but acts as Kelly's assistant dance director. He picked her when she was dancing in one of the ballets from On The Town, and she has been with him ever since.
Miss Haney has in turn an assistant, even younger, even slighter and more girlish, Jeanne Coyne (like Kelly, a Pittsburgher), who also has a telepathic-seeming knowledge of what Kelly wants.
Milwaukee Sentinel. May 21st 1954
Carol Haney, ex-dance teacher in New Bedford Mass., later Gene Kelly’s assistant, was indescribably brilliant in The Pajama Game. First-nighter Phil Silvers said, “She used to appear principally in Hollywood people’s living rooms. It just proves you should act every time somebody asks you to.”
Chicago Tribune. March 17th 1955
Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen are arranging a welcome home party for Carol Haney of Pajama Game. She’ll be here within the month.
Ocala Star-Banner. December 14th 1956
Her biggest achievements in the past were in dance sequences for Brigadoon and Invitation To The Dance. Both ended on the cutting room floor….she set Broadway afire in The Pajama Game and now reprises her role in the film version…MGM is charging $30,000 for her services…she receives $275 a week for ten weeks on the picture.
New York Times. May 14th 1964
700 pay tribute to Carol Haney. Show people mainly dominated the Winter Gardens service.
Lois McClelland was a WAVE, who, in 1946, was assigned to the Naval Photographic Science Laboratory as a secretary. It was here she met Gene: (quoted in Yudkoff: A Life Of Dance And Dreams)
When Gene left the Navy he rang Lois and offered her a permanent job as his secretary. Yudkoff says that the brief call Gene made, offering her the job, “was memorable to the young and attractive Lois. She was to consider it a turning point in her own life.”
“We were thrilled when we heard that Gene Kelly was coming to join our outfit…the next day he reported in, looking just great in that officer uniform with that smile of his. He went out of his way to come by where we were…there were so many letters from his fans that he couldn’t fit into his office…He tried to answer each one with something personal, cheery and upbeat. I offered to help him and he hired me as a secretary to work for him off duty.”
Lois. The Neighbours Are Talking. Motion Picture magazine, 1950
Being secretary to Gene Kelly is really being a little bit of everything: bookkeeper, cook, chauffeur, governess, hostess, house-painter, dressmaker, shopper, nurse-maid and volleyball umpire. That’s life with Kelly, and a fuller, gayer, more stimulating existence would be hard to imagine. It goes on twenty-four hours a day, with little time off for Sundays or holidays.
Officially I was hired to keep Gene’s business activities in order, but anyone who knows Gene, his wife Betsy, and their small daughter, Kerry, knows how impossible it is to share one facet of their lives without getting into every other part of the act.
Lois. Motion Picture magazine 1950
I first met Gene when he was in the Navy and I was in the Waves….Even at first meeting it was hard for me to realise that he was a great movie star, one of the finest dancers of our time, a real artist in his own right. It’s hard to explain, but what impressed me most was the fact that he was so human, so natural, so absolutely lacking in affectation…whatever I had in mind, he made me forget completely. And in the four years since then that we have been closely associated he hasn’t changed a bit. Or if he has it’s only to become more warm and down-to-earth. Really, quite a guy.
When the war ended, Gene made plans to return to Hollywood. I’d had experience as a Navy yeoman handling his secretarial chores and he thought it would be a good idea for me to come to Hollywood and keep right on working for him. Would I come? Would I? I not only grabbed the next train heading west, but I moved right into the Kelly house as soon as I arrived. It was a temporary measure, we all agreed, to tide me over until I found an apartment. But the ‘temporary measure' stretched into a two-and-a-half-year stay, which ended only recently when I found my own apartment.
Motion Picture magazine 1954
For Lois it was a case of 'Join the Kellys and see the world'...she's seen most of the US and Europe with them. A bright girl it didn't take Lois long to adjust herself to Gene's rugged working schedule or to find herself an integral part of the humming happy life around the household.
She was part of Gene’s life from then on, making his well-being her lifelong commitment, until a short time before he died, when she was forced by circumstances to retire, and to remove herself from his immediate orbit. She had helped to make his first house habitable; ensured that his professional life ran smoothly; travelled the world with the family; was familiar with all the extraordinary people who came to Rodeo Drive every weekend; helped to rear his children; was there for him when Betsy divorced him, when Jeannie passed away and when his house burned down; and through every joy and tragedy in his life. Gene in turn made sure she wanted for nothing, and his family continued to care for her until her passing.
It is very clear that Gene had an eye for talent, but he also seemed almost always to attract the loveliest people to himself. Gene may have helped Jeanne, Carol and Lois early in their careers but he was amply repaid, in love, devotion and a lifelong dedication to his wellbeing and happiness.