This page will feature some of the books written about Gene, and some which include substantial information about him. Whatever opinion I express about these books is entirely my own. You, and the authors, might not agree with my 'reviews'. I hope the page will be helpful for anyone seeking to know more of Gene and his work. All of the books written about him have one thing in common - none is entirely accurate. Some 'myths' are copied one to another, until they come to be believed as gospel truth. But most of them are entertaining to read and do give perhaps a few fresh insights into the life of this complex and facinating man. No one really 'knew' Gene, even those closest to him, we can only attempt to construct a persona from observations of his work and his words, and create a general picture, which even Jerry Mulligan would not be able to paint satisfactorily!
This is another page which is 'under construction', and may take 'quite a while, quite a while', to complete.
Disney Channel Magazine. March-April 1988
…Kelly has embarked on a project that is sure to delight anyone interested in the history of motion pictures. He’s at work on his autobiography. “There have been several books written about me,” Kelly explains. “There were a few details I’ve wanted to clear up – dates and so forth, some facts. And there are people who haven’t received the credit that is due them. I thought the time had come to do a book, to set things down for the record.”
GENE KELLY - VERSATILITY PERSONIFIED (With permission from the author.)
By Michael Burrows. First published 1972 by Primestyle Ltd., 'Formative Films' series publication. Cornwall, England.
The author is a British film historian, author, and speaker on Hollywood stars such as Judy Garland, and a Fellow of the Royal Society Of Arts. He is still active in bringing the magic of the movies to a new generation.
This is a small volume, 40 pages in total, looking as if it was taken directly from typewriter to binder.
“It was Tuesday, 6th October 1970, and at Cinema City, London, Gene Kelly was making a personal appearance, prior to the screening of a number of his musical successes. The audience rose from their seats – and gave him a standing ovation.
250 miles away, I was obligated to lecture, and though sorely tempted, I couldn’t…absent myself. So I wrote to him, although having read somewhere that ‘like all men of talent he was positively and absolutely opposed to talking about himself’, I was rather doubtful of the outcome. But fortunately for me, his innate courtesy prevailed…’I hope I’ve answered your questions sufficiently. It’s hard for me to elaborate, but I know you’ll understand that it IS difficult for someone to talk about himself and his work. Gene Kelly.’”
The book is divided into sections, each focusing on a different aspect of Gene and his work, rather like this site, though it is impossible to ‘compartmentalise’ Gene. Also in the manner of this site, the book includes quotes from many articles and magazines. As an integral part of the pages, the ‘question and answer’ type interview which Gene gave to Burrows is included piecemeal.
‘Kelly Minor’ deals with his early life and career.
“Mr Kelly – what particular facet of the law was it that appealed to you in your original career plans?”
“The idea of being an attorney, arguing a case in a courtroom, which is drama in itself.”
“Of your stage plays, which is your favourite?”
“Pal Joey by John O’Hara, although there has always been a battle for my affections between this and William Saroyan’s The Time Of Your Life.”
‘Dancer/Choreographer’ obviously deals with Gene’s musicals.
“Of your films, which is your favourite?”
"I guess it would have to be Singin’ In The Rain, but here again I hold sentimental thoughts for quite a few others.”
‘Actor’ focuses on Gene’s ‘straight’ acting roles.
“Mr Kelly, of your non-musical films…which is your favourite?”
“The Three Musketeers.”
“I admired Inherit The Wind very much indeed, and I think it succeeded in projecting truth.”
“I enjoyed doing it because it had something to say, but in all truth the real reason I accepted the part was because I wanted the great experience of acting with Fredric March and Spencer Tracy at the same time; two of the giants of the American motion picture.”
“In October 1970 I asked Mr Kelly for information as to his current plans, and there was more than a hint of frustration in his brief – and honest – reply:”
“In a state of limbo, looking for something interesting and provocative.”
“In the following year, the ’mobile’ Gene Kelly told me:”
“I have been hosting a new weekly variety show called The Funny Side…and preparing to direct a lot of fresh young people in a show called Clownaround which will tour the large arenas of the country.”
‘Kelly The Man’. Focuses briefly on Gene’s personal life and political ideology.
“Have you a favourite author/composer?”
“There have been so many authors whose works I’ve done…that I feel this question to be too tough for a specific answer….I usually find that the author or composer with whom I am working at a given time is my ‘favourite’.”
“Persons (living or dead) whom you particularly admire?”
“I assume this means persons with whom I’ve worked. …Lorenz Hart, George Abbott, Comden and Green, Arthur Freed, Ira Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Roger Edens, Saul Chaplin, Andre Previn…oh, the list is too long to continue. When I answer a question like this, I become aware how lucky I am to have associated with so many people of so many talents.”
“Is there a particular subject/role/production you would like to do?”
“Yes, I would like to direct a Shakespeare drama (not comedy) for the screen. I don’t want to reveal which one.”
And 12 months later…
“Anything further that you wish to tell me on the Shakespearian drama, or is it still ‘sub-judice’?”
“We’re still trying to develop it…”
There is a further page of questions and answers.
The book ends with a glowing tribute to Gene, and a poem!
“Confident but not conceited, quite wealthy but disdaining ostentation: possessing such natural courtesy and charm that he turns critics into fans…his overriding characteristics are accuracy in self-assessment and tenacity of purpose…His many international honours attest to the unparalleled range of his achievements…And so, today – athlete/dancer/actor/choreographer/writer/director/producer too:
Rare agility identified
Both now beyond recall
With space to spare in Honours Hall
Should he then be deified –
THE GREATEST OF THEM ALL?…"
THE FILMS OF GENE KELLY. Song And Dance Man. By Tony Thomas. 1974.
Published by Citadel Press, Secaucus, N.J.
This huge book is a must for any serious Gene Kelly admirers. It lists and describes all of the films Gene was involved in, as far as Forty Carats. (There is also a later edition available).
The author, who died in 1997, was born in England, and was one of Hollywood’s pre-eminent film historians, a producer of film music albums, and of TV documentaries. He was the announcer on the televised Kennedy Center Honors and the AFI salutes.
The book begins with an introduction by Fred Astaire, then a biographical section with details of Gene’s impact on the movie musicals. The author writes about Gene’s career up until 1973, in a sympathetic and positive manner, not belittling Gene’s achievements in later years, as some authors have done. There are many quotes by Gene himself.
There is a separate chapter for each film, with lists of credits and production crew etc, and a description of the movie with comments. Not all of the movie stories are accurately described, and I would not say I agree with a few of his assessments, but these are minor points, it is a goldmine of general information on Gene’s work. The book contains an impressive number of black and white film stills and candid shots, some of which came from Gene’s private collection.
In my opinion it is a great source of general reference for anyone interested in Gene's movie career. And a wonderful picture book too!
The book is dedicated to the memory of Jeanne Coyne Kelly.
Fred Astaire: "Gene was not tough with me. He was very respectful - maybe because of my seniority in years. Besides, I was doing my utmost not to be objectionable because I was aware of the fact that he was a very strong and gymnastic young man. I had seen him pick up Ed Sullivan once and carry him off stage like a suitcase.....
Kelly is a man of multiple talents - completely engrossed when at his work. His many successes speak for themselves. Gene is also a devoted family man. My respect for him as a person and an artist is unbounded."
Excerpts from letters to Tony Thomas from Gene, regarding the Thomas book The Films of Gene Kelly.
With very very kind permission from the purchaser of the letters. Thank you Carol.
March 15, 1973
I think it would be a good idea to check the facts and the quotes in the biographical section and look at the script so that neither of us will be embarrassed by any errata…I honestly had a great time going over my own ancient history with you, and after the business is finished, I hope we’ll be able to meet and just chat about everything in general and about movies in particular. I think we’d both enjoy a couple of drinks doing this, and not being confined to the works of Gene Kelly…
March 28, 1973
Have just read ‘The loneliness of the Long Distance Dancer’ and found it excellent. You’ve done one helluva good job! I made a few notes which I trust you will agree with…
…It does have a good flow, and a sense of me talking.
P.S. If there are any other questions that give you a time problem, please hurl them at ma. I’m not doing much except staring at the walls for the next week or so. However, my eye is getting along nicely, so it shouldn’t be long.
April 12, 1973
I’ve read the book…I like it very much and hope you’ll agree with my few amendments…The quotes on Forty Carats were quite essentially what I said and I think they’re fine…
I haven’t heard from Fred Astaire – has he finished the introduction? He told me he wanted me to see it, but I felt somewhat abashed in asking him to look at it even though he was kind enough to offer.
Footnote from Lois: (Gene’s long-serving secretary and friend)
(Dear Tony: Never dreamed I’d have a credit, but in case, my name is McLelland, not McCelland – just for the sake of my relatives --- You did a marvellous job!)
August 14, 1973
…Just returned from Ireland with the children and found your nice letter…I do think the dedication of the book to Jeannie would be very nice without any elaboration.
GENE KELLY. A Biography.
Clive Hirschorn. first published 1974, by WH Allen. London. Foreward by Frank Sinatra.
From the inside cover:
“Gene Kelly – dancer, singer, choreographer, actor, producer, director – has contributed more to the Hollywood film musical than any man before him. A self-styled conglomerate of talent, he is unique among performers and, with Fred Astaire, the only male dancer to have become an international star….
Clive Hirschorn, who spent a great deal of time with Gene Kelly in Hollywood, as well as personally interviewing most of the major personalities who, in one way or another, have played a part in this compelling story, has written about Gene’s triumphs as well as his struggles, with insight and a complete understanding of the glamorous milieu in which the story takes place.“
I suppose this book is the most comprehensive biography we have of Gene. But it does not start out well! He gets Gene’s date of birth wrong! It is stated as 3rd August when in fact it is 23rd. This gaffe does not instil confidence in the reader from the beginning.
The Foreward is a wonderful tribute from Gene’s friend Frank Sinatra
“…Time…can never tarnish the brilliance of Gene’s achievements in the Hollywood film musical…what an imagination – always at fever pitch. Believe me, you could heat New York City with the flame of his creative candle!
More important to me is the creative warmth which Gene generates in the biggest business of all – daily life. If Gene was endowed with total talent, so, too, was he endowed with total integrity…”
In spite of its shortcomings, the book gives an excellent overview of Gene’s life, especially his childhood and early life in show business. I assume that Hirschorn obtained these details from Gene himself.
For me, the most annoying part of the book is the section dealing with the years following Singin’ In The Rain. He more or less implies that Gene’s career was over in 1952, that making musicals was the only way in which Gene could successfully express his creative abilities, which is nonsense. Gene adapted to circumstances and, as you can see from other pages on this site, never stopped working and being an innovator. The variety of the work he did is staggering.
All in all, this book is a ‘must’ for new Gene Kelly fans, if only for the chronological details of his life and work until 1974. I will write more when I have reread it through.
GENE KELLY. A Pyramid Illustrated History Of The Movies
By Jeanine Basinger. First published 1976 by Pyramid Communications, Inc. New York
The author is Professor of Film Studies at Wesleyan University. She is also a trustee of the American Film Institute.
She can be seen on Anatomy Of A Dancer. She is the interviewee who says: “You give your heart to Fred Astaire but save your body for Gene Kelly.”
I enjoy reading this book, I often take it as 'light' reading for long journeys. I like Basinger’s style. It is chock-full of memorable quotes about Gene, some of which you will find scattered throughout this site. There are excellent black and white pictures on almost every page. A real warmth for Gene comes across in her writing, although I do not always agree entirely with her take on some of his work, and she puts the scar on the wrong side of his face!
The words on the back cover sum up what the book is about.
“Whether dancing merrily down a rain-soaked street, courting Judy Garland or Leslie Caron with a blithe song and infectious grin, or just leaping nimbly into space, Gene Kelly epitomises joy unconfined for every movie-goer. Jeanine Basinger’s profusely illustrated book covers the career of this irresistible song-and-dance man and brings back the treasured moments he has given us for more than thirty years.”
She concentrates mainly on his career, giving brief biographical details at the beginning. There is a filmography at the end of the book.
Here are a few of my favourite quotes, in which she seems to show some real insight into what made Gene ‘tick’.
“Describing a man with the creative range of Gene Kelly as a ‘song-and-dance man’ is like calling Enrico Caruso an Italian street singer or Muhammad Ali a guy with a lucky punch.”
“When he danced, women thought about him, not the music.”
“Kelly had a natural gift for caricature. At one moment he would be clowning around and making his character more charming, more sympathetic. But in the next, he would go a little too far with it, turning the audience against himself at a key moment as the plot required.”
“Kelly never thought he could sing at all. He was always worrying whether his vocal numbers would get by. Considering how many people loved his voice, it’s a bit like Betty Grable apologising for her legs!”
“Being loved was never Gene Kelly’s goal…Gene Kelly hid himself inside the dance and offered audiences only his art. Let them think he was a hero or a heel…it never mattered to him.”
“Despite a lifetime in the Hollywood fishbowl, his own adult world carried on the sensible family traditions he had known as a child.”
“In this early stage of his career (1943), Kelly is like a musical Clark Gable – a lowdown proletariat lover who could thaw out inexperienced women.”
“Every star who has had a long career has a few embarrassments and at least one disaster. It is to Gene Kelly’s credit that, after three decades of film-making, his work is as free from blemishes as it is. Presumably, this is because he insisted on having so much control over his movies.”
“Gene Kelly was a top movie star before he made either An American In Paris or Singin’ In The Rain. But with these two highly successful musicals he broke the mold. He became one of the few actors – much less dancers – to push beyond his image and establish himself as a creative force in American film history.”
“His goals were always artistic rather than merely commercial, and his motivation was always toward work and achievement rather than money and fame. Thus it was that when the old Hollywood ceased to be, he was not left alone on an empty sound stage wondering what had happened. For Gene Kelly, life could go on, whether the band played or not. The old Irish luck – which might also be called talent – was always with him.”
“Because he could never settle for anything but the best – from himself or from anyone else – Gene Kelly achieved the impossible. He became not only a dream-image movie star, but also a major artistic force in the development of the musical genre into a genuine art form.”
“He is not a has-been, and he never had to make a comeback. He was always there, and probably always will be…Any list of the happiest, most entertaining moments from movie musicals would have to include his work. And any list of moments for serious film study or an outline of the genre’s historical development would have to include him too, not just as a performer, but also as a choreographer and director. Kelly has been unique. His work stands as both entertainment and art.”
SINGIN' IN THE RAIN
By Peter Wollen. First published in 1992 by The British Film Institute. London.
The author is an English Oxford graduate, a director, producer and presenter, lecturing on film at UCLA. He is said to have ‘helped to transform the discipline of film studies by incorporating the methodologies of structuralism and semiotics.’ That explains everything then!!!!!
It seems to me that this book is more a philosophical thesis than a mere description of the movie, but it does have some interesting angles. My problem with it is that it attempts to ascribe meanings and interpretations of parts of the movie, which may not have any basis in fact.
Singin’ In The Rain is fascinating to me, though not my favourite film, because nothing is as it seems on the surface, but in my opinion Wollen reads too much into certain scenes and over-interprets and theorises the intentions of Comden and Green in their screenplay. But, as I say, that is my take on the book, others may disagree. It does however give insight into the political situation at the time the movie was made, and is generally an interesting and thought-provoking read. And who am I to argue when his theories lead him to strongly emphasize just how important Gene Kelly was to the world of cinema and dance?
Forty Years after it first appeared, Singin' in the Rain remains one of the best loved films ever made. Yet despite dazzling success with the public, it never received its fair share of praise from the critics. Gene Kelly's genius as a performer is there for all to see. What is less acknowledged is his innovatory contribution as director. Peter Wollen has finally done justice to this landmark film. In a brilliant shot-by-shot analysis of the famous title number, illustrated by specially produced frame stills, he shows how skillfully Kelly binds the dance and musical elements into the narrative, and how he successfully combines two distinctive traditions within American Dance, tap and ballet.
Scriptwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and indeed Kelly himself, were all under threat from the McCarthyism which menaced Hollywood at this time. The Popular Front ethos in which the film was conceived could not long survive in the era of blacklisting. Wollen argues convincingly that Singin' in the Rain was the high point in the careers of those who worked on it.
Here are a few interesting quotes.
“The single most memorable dance number on film is Gene Kelly’s solo dance ‘Singin’ In The Rain’…”
“Kelly further dramatised the dance in the rain by giving his movements a childish exuberance and glee, combined with his usual athleticism.”
“It is tempting to try to interpret Singin’ In The Rain in terms of the political climate in which it was made: to note, for example, that the story hinges on the thwarting of a plot to blacklist Kathy Selden, launched by an informer and enforced by using the media to pressure a weak-willed studio, which ultimately puts profit before principle, until finally the situation is resolved and virtue triumphs in a wishful happy ending. Or perhaps the Singin’ In The Rain dance sequence represents Kelly’s determination to be optimistic in a miserable political climate, insisting that he may have behaved in an unorthodox, uninhibited way, but that basically he is joyous and generous and American whatever the law may think as it holds him in its disapproving gaze. Perhaps.”
“Singin’ In The Rain deals with a particularly crucial moment in film history, the coming of sound. As well as a surface of retro pastiche and affectionate parody, it also has a thematic core which raises questions about the relation of sound and image, authenticity and unauthenticity, and so on, however lavishly coated with songs, jokes and bravura wit.”
“…Kelly succeeded in recapturing for the cinema an aesthetic which had been almost lost since the silent days…The films of the early years were less realistic and therefore expressed the various dramatic types by motions of graphic simplicity. There was musical purity in the graceful leaps of Douglas Fairbanks… There was, in those dance-like pantomimes, a dance-like quality, which was most filmic and should not remain lost forever.
This was the quality which Kelly recaptured, in the ‘graceful leaps’ and ‘heavy stomping’ of Singin’ In The Rain, pushing it beyond dance-like pantomime into dance itself. And, at the same time, by pushing the art of dance onto the terrain of film, he also took the art of cinema with him to new heights.”
GENE KELLY. A CELEBRATION
By Sheridan Morley and Ruth Leon. Foreward by Leslie Caron. First published 1996 by Pavilion Book Ltd. London
This book is worth having if only for the pictures! It is lavishly illustrated in colour and black and white throughout. It is what you would call a ‘coffee table’ book, attractively laid out and easy to read.
There is a delightful Foreward by Leslie Caron, which speaks mainly of their work together on An American In Paris.
“He was democratic and during rehearsals wore beige cotton pants, a crocodile sweatshirt hanging out, white socks and loafers and what was then called a beany, to cover his baldness.”
“Gene was very intelligent and quick to assess the qualities and defects of his partners…he would make the best of his partner’s qualities.”
“He was a leader. Wherever he was, he automatically took command.”
“Every time I see the film I marvel at his fabulous use of space, his knowledge of the camera and his step inventions.”
“We remained friends ever since. My bond of friendship tightened with the years…I came to be increasingly grateful…”
The first chapter gives a warm and sympathetic overview of Gene’s life and career, but things go slightly downhill after that.
The book draws heavily on Hirschorn, a fact that the authors acknowledge. It comes across as a simplified version of Hirschorn’s biography, unfortunately repeating some of the mistakes of the original, such as his date of birth!!
Some pictures are wrongly captioned, two of Gene in his Anchors Aweigh Spanish costume being labelled as from Pal Joey. Also a picture of Gene and Betsy in his Broadway dressing room is said to be a photograph taken in their home.
I also take exception to one or two lines of text. “Not noted for his generosity to his colleagues…” Did I miss something here???
They also say that Donald O’Connor was a better dancer than Gene. Well, everyone is entitled to their opinion I suppose.
They take the extreme view that Singin’ In The Rain was “An obituary for him as well as silent Hollywood.” Thus following the ‘standard’ line that Gene’s career was over by 1952. A viewpoint with which you probably realise by now that I do not agree!
The authors slip up on facts several times, as when they seek to partly blame the split between Donen and Gene in 1955, on the fact that Jeannie was in love with Gene, when in fact Jeannie and Donen had been divorced for almost five years already, the break up of the marriage caused by Donen’s immaturity and his infidelity with Elizabeth Taylor. They say that Gene was “..never the most sensitive of husbands or lovers…” Says who? Betsy would emphatically disagree with that.
Ok, griping over. Despite its shortcomings it is pleasant to have and to browse through, although bringing nothing new to the overall picture of Gene’s life. And it is worth paying good money for it, just for the picture on page 89, which is a familiar one, but nevertheless hits you right between the eyes in its size and clarity (and in the perfection of the subject!). Though I recently realised that it is a mirror image!
This is how it should look!
A LIFE OF DANCE AND DREAMS. GENE KELLY.
By Alvin Yudkoff. First published 1999 by Back Stage Books. New York.
I must stress that what follows is entirely my own opinion, but I dislike this book intensely. It is heralded as the first complete biography of Gene’s life, being published in 1999. It has many things going for it, but is spoiled from the first page for me, by it’s presumption in putting on paper what was purportedly going through Gene Kelly’s mind during the AFI tribute in 1985. The book, if a TV programme, would be what is called a ‘docu-drama’, or ‘docu-soap’. The author frequently puts words into peoples’ mouths and minds, which in reality he could not possibly know.
The only things one can rely on as his genuine research are the magazine articles and books from which he quotes. Everything else is his, shall we say imaginative, version of events. This of course would be fine if he were writing a novel, but in a book which claims to be a biography it is, to me, not acceptable.
The book probably has many relevant details of Gene’s life and work, but the discerning reader has great difficulty sorting the facts from the fiction, thus being unable to trust much of what he writes. I get the idea that he does not like Gene very much, there is little warmth in the pages. He is very negative in his assessment of Gene's later career. I hate the ‘interludes’ as we are taken, at various points in the book, through the AFI evening, supposedly reading what was in Gene’s mind.
The one redeeming point is that Lois McClelland, Gene’s faithful secretary for more than 50 years, contributed to the book, allowing parts of her precious diaries to be used, though I heard that she later regretted it.
I admit that I have only read the book a couple of times because it annoys me so much. In fact I want to throw it out the window each time I attempt to browse it!!
THE MEMORY OF ALL THAT. Love and politics in New York, Hollywood and Paris.
By Betsy Blair. First published 2003 by Alfred Knopf. New York.
THE MAGIC FACTORY. How MGM Made An American In Paris.
By Donald Knox. First published 1973 by Praeger Publishers. New York. Washington. London
CHARLOTTE SADLER. TIME FOR ONE MORE DANCE. 2010. Published by Author House and available from Amazon.
For anyone who has ever fantasised about spending real quality time with Gene Kelly, this book is a must-read.
If you have ever, in addition, pondered time travel and its possible effects on the space-time continuum, this book will inspire you to ponder more.
As you are reading this on a Gene Kelly website, I can assume that you are at least vaguely interested in the man and his work. The book will not advance your knowledge of his work, but maybe will help you capture a little of the essence of Gene's personality as imagined by those of us who have studied his life in any serious way.
Gene once said that no one really knew him, and that is true. Those among us who never had the privilege of meeting him physically when he was on earth, can glean - through a mirror, darkly - only from his image on screen, his own spoken and written words, and the words of those who shared his life, what manner of man he was then.
Okay, as this has to be an honest and balanced personal view of the book, let's get the negatives out of the way.
I am not sure about the relevance of the 'cowboy' traveller or why Aubrey/Charlotte chose that particular time and place and person for her first trip, but maybe that is because I am an English girl, not familiar with American history. The hurricane scenario is clever, and I love the way Aubrey does not save the world, or even a good guy, but plays a part in saving some lives, which alters history nevertheless.
I have always been fascinated by the 'what if' premise of the random bullet, especially in a battle situation. That if a man had been a few inches right, left, up or down, he would have survived. How many hundreds of Gene Kellys, (okay, we know there is only one GK, so shall we say dancers), composers, artists, humanitarians, scientists, has the world lost – not only because of those seemingly random deaths, but through their descendants who were never born?
I like the way Charlotte uses some of the known qualities of Gene in order to further the story: his bull-headedness, his physical strength, his courage, his leadership qualities, his protectiveness toward women, his courtesy and innate kindness.
She also manages to include many names associated in some way with Gene: Ira, Rusty, Clarence etc. Though she tells me this was coincidental.
Sorry, we were supposed to be talking negatives here. In all truth, there is not much to complain about.
Apart from a few typos which escaped the eye of the copy-editor, and a couple of continuation mistakes, such as Aubrey dressing in a skirt and a few minutes later rolling up her pant legs to show Gene her knees. Intrigued as to why she was showing him her knees? You will have to read the book to find out!
My only other gripe would be the description of Gene's home as a luxurious beach mansion. Yes, I know it's a novel, and if I can swallow the time travel, surely a fantasy house is easy to chew. But everything else about Gene rings true except the inclusion of Miles – though I can see why he was necessary to the plot – and the description of the house.
For me, and, I suspect, for other Gene fans, the meeting at Louis Bergen's and also the 1957 parts of the story are the real joy. My own time travel fantasy has long been a front row seat on the opening night of Pal Joey, with an opportunity to hug Gene and say “Break a leg.” So I can readily identify with her choice of time and place.
Each time I have read the latter part of the book I confess to the occasional tear filling my eye. It is so beautifully written that Aubrey and Gene spring to life from the page. I forget that I am reading a fantasy.
I am also relieved that they say goodnight at the bedroom door: a refreshing innovation in a 21st century novel.
Charlotte obviously loves Gene a lot, but, remarkably, did not seem to be aware when she wrote the book, that there were others like her – rather in the manner of Aubrey discovering other 'travellers'. She has made the feet of her fellow travellers along the 'Happy Road', skip a little more joyfully, knowing they are not alone on the exciting and strange journey into the Wonderland that is Gene Kelly.
Towards the end of the book, she has Gene say these words to Aubrey:
“You came to me at a time when I thought love and romance and magic had died – at least for me. What a wonderful gift you are.”
If I could go back in time, and be face to face with the physical Gene, those are the words I would say to him.
Thank you, Charlotte, for sharing both your heart, and Gene, with us.
“Don’t ask me to explain the mystery of genius.”
So said Serafin, when asked how he always managed to slide out of doing any work.
In this book, the authors have gone as far as possible in explaining the mysteries, and the effort, which went into creating the work of genius - The Pirate.
The book takes us back to the original port of departure, to the original stage play written by Ludwig Fulda in 1911. The journey continues with the performances of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, in association with writer S.N. Behrmann, on the American stage in 1942.
Our next docking point is the purchase of The Pirate by MGM in 1943. This is where the voyage hits stormy waters, as it would be five years before the film launched itself on an unsuspecting public.
Okay, enough maritime references.
In their concluding thoughts, the authors write “It is time that The Pirate received its long-awaited due; we hope this unique film will continue to garner more attention and accolades with each passing generation.”
They have certainly played a huge part in making sure that it happens. The book is an amazing anthology of all things ‘Pirate’. I enjoyed it immensely, from the Preface, in which the authors set out their intentions, to the comprehensive bibliography and index. In-between, there are sections on the various screenplays; the major and minor players, including biographies; the filming challenges; postproduction including reviews and critical analyses; the legacy of the film some 66 years later, and a long list of chapter notes. As with their previous book, Singin’ In The Rain. An American Masterpiece, I enjoyed the notes almost as much as the main content of the book.
The authors manage to dispel some of the myths which have grown up around the film, and been passed on as fact from one writer to another.
For example, in the section of this website dedicated to The Pirate, in ‘By Golly These Are Good’ I have listed excerpts from extensive primary sources, mainly reviews contemporary with the release of the film. Most of them are very positive, and it has long annoyed me that the film is perceived to have been a miserable failure, both critically and at the box office. Hess and Dabholkar set the record straight, through their intensive research. At the end of a final preview in New York, in spite of a few negative comments concerning specific scenes, 92 percent of the audience said they would recommend the movie to friends. I know that Gene Kelly, in some interviews, said that no one ‘got’ the premise of the film, and that about two-and-a-half people saw it, but that was typical of Gene, who was often self-deprecating in a humorous way. He later acknowledged that The Pirate had achieved cult status and had became more popular in later years.
They also explain why the film did not recoup its costs initially – not entirely because of Judy Garland’s frequent absences, as has been stated many times, but also because of the somewhat excessive spend on costumes, sets, and the enormous length of film which was shot and then discarded.
There is a wealth of detail in the book, far too much for any meaningful discussion here. I like the fact that every member of cast and crew is named and featured. I also like the fairness and impartiality of their approach, and the reasoning they employ in putting forth their own ideas.
There is only one well-known story - well-known among Pirate fans anyway - which I am not sure about. The Voodoo dance has been commonly thought to be the one which Louis B. Mayer objected to on the grounds that it was too erotic. The authors assert that it was actually Love Of My Life, at the end of the film, which had to be changed because of its overt sexuality. They acknowledge that there is much confusion in the naming of various scenes in the movie by those involved, but in a 2003 book on Judy Garland by her daughter Lorna Luft and film historian John Fricke, there is a comment by a dancer who was present – Dorothy Tuttle – that it was the Voodoo dance which put Mayer in a hot sweat. Gene also refers to that scene as the one in which they did some ‘over-groping.’ The authors note that preview audiences thought the revised version of Voodoo was ‘boring’ and so it was cut from the final release print. Listening to the audio outtake on the Pirate DVD, I am not surprised, it is a dreadful song and an erotic dance featuring Gene and Judy would be the only way in which it would hold interest for an audience!
The fact that the content of the book sparks discussion of this kind, and encourages further research, makes it even more interesting and relevant.
It is very readable, both for casual browsers and for more intense research students. It holds interest for movie fans in general, and for devotees of the main players; Minnelli, Gene and Judy, all of whom receive positive but nevertheless balanced treatment throughout.
All in all, a great triumph for the authors, whose similarly structured book on Singin’ In The Rain I would also recommend. Now, Earl and Pratibha, what about An American In Paris???
EARL J. HESS AND PRATIBHA DABHOLKAR.
SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN.
THE MAKING OF AN AMERICAN MASTERPIECE
2009. University Press of Kansas
The authors worked from the premise that “No-one has written a full-scale history of the movie” which “delves deep into memoirs…recorded interviews…explores archival material…marketing aspects…and how it evolved into a classic…”
They made “extensive use” of letters, memos, production records, magazine and newspaper stories, interviews, histories, websites, books and articles.
Everything you could ever wish to know about Singin’ In The Rain can be found between the pages of this book. The authors go into miniscule detail concerning every aspect of the film. It is also placed in its wider context, charting the beginnings and development of MGM, and the film's connections and influences right up to the present day.
There are short biographies of all the major players, including Freed and Brown, Comden and Green, Debbie Reynolds, Cyd Charisse, Donald O’Connor, Jean Hagen, Stanley Donen, and, of course, Gene. It is nice to read an unbiased, but generally positive description of Gene’s life and work: “He was a multi-talented superstar in a class only with Fred Astaire when it came to dancing, and in a class all by himself when it came to dabbling successfully in a variety of roles as a movie maker.”
Though I would not have used the word ‘dabbling’ to describe Gene’s deep involvement in all of the areas listed. The section on Donen is also well balanced and insightful.
Among the aspects discussed are: censorship; technical issues; budgets; schedules; dates; songs and dances; camera work, especially in the title number; stunts; dubbing; post-production; editing; costs; promotion; reviews; box office; awards; legacy, and even goofs and gaffes.
I have no criticism to make, it is a great book, but a few times I found myself reading the same information over. Not really a big problem, I think it happens because of the layout of the book, where various facts and issues necessarily overlap between headings, and so are included more than once.
Probably the last twenty-five percent of the book is taken up by an Appendix, Chapter Notes, Bibliography and Index.
The Appendix makes fascinating reading, listing the entire cast and crew, all 237 of them, complete with mini-biographies where information has been discovered.
The Chapter Notes and Bibliography provide a wealth of extra information, especially for further study and digging around for geeks like myself.
Finally there is a comprehensive Index.
This is the kind of book I love; readable, not over-scholarly for the sake of it, but with enough ‘meat’ to hold the interest of those of us who already know a little about Gene and his work. It is exceedingly well researched and presented.
I am looking forward to their next book, on The Pirate, which will hopefully be released later this year.
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