Nationality: American. Born: Eugene Curran Kelly in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 23 August 1912. Education: Attended Sacred Heart School and Peabody High School; Pennsylvania State University; University of Pittsburgh, A.B., 1933. Military Service: Served in U.S. Navy, 1944–47. Family: Married 1) the actress Betsy Blair, 1941 (divorced 1957), child: Kerry; 2) Jeanne Coyne, 1960 (died 1973), son: Timothy, daughter: Bridget; 3) Patricia Ward, 1990. Career: While still in college, had song-and-dance act with his brother Fred; assisted his mother in her dance school, and opened the Gene Kelly School of Dance, 1934; 1938—small parts in Broadway shows Leave It to Me and One for the Money ; 1939—dance director for Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe club; 1940—lead role in stage musical Pal Joey ; 1942—film debut in For Me and My Gal for Selznick; then contract with MGM; 1950—directed first film (with Stanley Donen), On the Town ; later directed pure dance film, Invitation to the Dance , 1956; 1957—left MGM, and became freelance actor and director; 1958—directed Flower Drum Song on Broadway;
For Me and My Gal (Berkeley) (as Harry Palmer)
Pilot Number Five (Sidney) (as Alessandro); DuBarry Was a Lady (Del Ruth) (as Alec Howe/Black Arrow); Thousands Cheer (Sidney) (as Eddy Marsh); The Cross of Lorraine (Garnett) (as Victor)
Cover Girl (Charles Vidor) (as Danny McGuire); Christmas Holiday (Siodmak) (as Robert Manette)
Anchors Aweigh (Sidney) (as Joseph Brady)
Ziegfeld Follies (Minnelli)
Living in a Big Way (La Cava) (as Leo Gogarty)
The Pirate (Minnelli) (as Sarafin); The Three Musketeers (Sidney) (as Dartagnan); Words and Music (Taurog)
Take Me Out to the Ball Game (Berkeley) (as Eddie O'Brien)
The Black Hand (Thorpe) (as Johnny Columbo); Summer Stock (Walters) (as Joe Ross)
An American in Paris (Minnelli) (as Jerry Mulligan)
It's a Big Country (Thorpe and others) (as Icarus Xenophon); The Devil Makes Three (Marton) (as Capt. Jeff Eliot)
Crest of the Wave ( Seagulls over Sorrento ) (John and Roy Boulting) (as Lt. Bradville); Brigadoon (Minnelli) (as Tommy Albright)
Deep in My Heart (Donen) (cameo role)
Les Girls (Cukor) (as Barry Nicols)
Marjorie Morningstar (Rapper) (as Noel Airman)
Inherit the Wind (Kramer) (as E. K. Hornbeck); Let's Make Love (Cukor) (as guest)
What a Way to Go! (Thompson) (as Jerry Benson)
The Young Girls of Rochefort (Demy) (as Andy Miller)
Forty Carats (Katselas) (as Billy Boyland)
That's Entertainment! (Haley, Jr.) (as host)
Viva Knievel! (Douglas)
Xanadu (Greenwald) (as Danny McGuire)
That's Dancing! (Haley Jr.)
That's Entertainment! III (Friedgen and Sheridan)
On the Town (co-d with Donen, + ro as Gaby)
Singin' in the Rain (co-d with Donen, + ro as Don Lockwood)
Invitation to the Dance (+ ro)
It's Always Fair Weather (co-d with Donen, + ro as Ted Riley)
The Tunnel of Love
A Guide for the Married Man
The Cheyenne Social Club
That's Entertainment, Part Two (co-d with Astaire, + ro as host)
Interview by C. L. Hanson, in Cinema (Beverly Hills), December 1966.
Interviews, in American Film (Washington, D.C.), February 1979.
Interview with R. Haver, in Film Comment (New York), November/December 1984.
Interview with J. Basinger, R. Haver, and Saul Chaplin, in American Film (Washington, D.C.), March 1985.
"And Now, the Real Kicker. . . ," interview by Graham Fuller, Interview , May 1994.
"Toeing the Lion: Gene Kelly of That's Entertainment! III ," interview in Entertainment Weekly , 13 May 1994.
Griffith, Richard, The Cinema of Gene Kelly , New York, 1962.
Springer, John, All Talking, All Singing, All Dancing , New York, 1966.
Kobal, John, Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance , New York, 1970.
Burrows, Michael, Gene Kelly , Cornwall, England, 1971.
Thomas, Lawrence B., The MGM Years , New Rochelle, New York, 1972.
Knox, Donald, The Magic Factory , New York, 1973.
Hirschhorn, Clive, Gene Kelly: A Biography , London, 1974; rev. ed., 1984.
Thomas, Tony, The Films of Gene Kelly, Song and Dance Man , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1974; rev. ed., 1991.
Delameter, Jerome, Dance in the Hollywood Musical , Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1981.
Thomas, Tony, That's Dancing , New York, 1985.
Altman, Rick, The American Film Musical , Bloomington, Indiana, 1989.
Morely, Sheridan, Gene Kelly: A Celebration , London, 1998.
Yudkoff, Alvin, Gene Kelly: A Life of Dance & Dreams , New York, 2000.
Isaacs, H. R., "Gene Kelly," in Theatre Arts (New York), March 1946.
Behlmer, Rudy, "Gene Kelly," in Films in Review (New York), January 1964.
Cutts, John, "Kelly, Dancer, Actor, Director," in Films and Filming (London), August and September 1964.
Corliss, Richard, "Gene Kelly" in The Movie Star , edited by Elisabeth Weis, New York, 1981.
Film Criticism (Edinboro, Pennsylvania), Spring 1984.
Basinger, Jeanine, "Gene Kelly: Who Could Ask for Anything More?," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), March 1985.
McCullough, John, "Imagining Mr. Average," in CineAction! (Toronto), no. 17, 1989.
Ringgenberg, P., "Gene Kelly—The Dancing Cavalier," in Hollywood: Then and Now , vol. 24, no. 8, 1991.
Frank, Michael, "Gene Kelly: Star of An American in Paris on Alta Drive," in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), April 1992.
Parkinson, D., "Dancing in the Streets," in Sight & Sound , January 1993.
Updike, John, "Gotta Dance," in New Yorker , 21 March 1994.
Obituary, in New York Times , 3 February 1996.
Obituary, in Variety (New York), 5 February 1996.
Wollen, P., "Cine-dancer," in Sight & Sound (London), March 1996.
Obituary, in Classic Images (Muscatine), March 1996.
Barnes, C., "Gene Kelly & Co.," in Dance Magazine , April 1996.
Avallone, M., "Gene Kelly: The Man Who Came to Dinner ," in Classic Images (Muscatine), November 1996.
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Gene Kelly established his reputation as an actor and dancer, but his contribution to the Hollywood musical embraced choreography and direction as well. His experiments with dance and with ways of filming it include combining dance and animation ( Anchors Aweigh and Invitation to the Dance ), and special effects (The "Alter Ego" number in Cover Girl and the split-screen dance of It's Always Fair Weather ). His first attempts at film choreography relied on the established formulas of the film musical, but subsequently, particularly in the three films he co-directed with Stanley Donen, he developed a flexible system of choreography for the camera that took into account camera setups and movement, and editing.
Kelly consciously integrated dance and filmic elements with his on-screen characterizations, thereby developing a persona (and also a recognizable popular culture figure) that is manifested in the films' plots, songs, and especially dances. Like his dance style, this complex persona draws on a variety of sources. The song-and-dance man of For Me and My Gal is a vaudeville hoofer, and his principal dances are tap routines. The introspective Pierrot of Invitation to the Dance , and the Pierrot-sailor of the "A Day in New York" sequence from On the Town , are derived from commedia dell'arte, and their dances are more balletic. The swashbuckler of the dream dances in Anchors Aweigh and The Pirate is an athletic performer, combining the tours de force of ballet with acrobatic stunts.
Without disparaging his towering achievements as triple threat, it is clear that Kelly's happy-go-lucky Yankee Doodle dancin' boy image seems less resonant in today's pop culture vacuum. Despite superb supporting turns in What a Way to Go! and Forty Carats , it is obvious that Kelly's grinning goodwill ambassador fell out of step with the sixties antiestablishment antiheroes. But Kelly's image does not need a rehabilitation so much as a reshifting "perception-wise," to paraphrase a tune from It's Always Fair Weather . Mesmerized by Gene's athleticized self-approval and tireless cherchez la femme -ing, critics and audiences have overlooked the contradictions in his cocky all-American huckster persona. Debuting as a draft dodger in For Me and My Gal , Kelly used his charisma's sinister edge to limn a mother-fixated killer in Christmas Holiday , camouflaged his rendition of a gigolo in An American in Paris , deftly enacted a womanizing summer schlocker in Marjorie Morningstar , and capped off his musical comedy career as a small-time fight promoter toying with a fix in It's Always Fair Weather .
Even in lighter fare ( On the Town , Summer Stock ), he often portrayed fellas bent on impressing people to get what they wanted. Reconsidering the Kelly persona from a distance of several decades, one can enjoy his eventual triumphs over shortcomings (including his own robust ego) in Singin' in the Rain , etc. It is a tribute to his unflappable charisma that unsavory character flaws all registered as temporary slippage, indiscretions cured by true love and transformed by joyfully aggressive dance. In his most seductive choreography ( The Pirate , Cover Girl ), he seemed to be dancing his demons away, and it is time to credit him for a more complex image than previously assumed.
If his solo work reveals a pretentiousness that never darkened Astaire's sunny horizons, no male dancer was ever as sexually potent in tandem on-screen; he can make a soft shoe with Debbie Reynolds an adventure in eros. Betrayed by overreaching with the ill-fated Invitation to the Dance , Kelly minimized his true gifts as entertainer and misjudged his audience's appetite for his brand of high culture. It was barbarous of MGM not to lend him for Guys and Dolls and Pal Joey and to saddle him with the airless Brigadoon and heavy-handed Les Girls . If the last four decades were dotted by the dashing of tantalizing projects and by Kelly's inability to stamp his post-Donen directorial assignments with his own personality, Kelly could take comfort in his singular contribution to the all-but-extinct musical form; time will reveal an icon more complex than the quixotic puddle jumper of Singin' in the Rain . In film after film, this superb actor choked back darker impulses to earn his goodness; he is the all-American operator who plays all the angles, but ultimately seeks the light in a song-and-dance spotlight.
—Jerome Delameter, updated by Robert Pardi