Born Eugene Curran Kelly, August 23, 1912, in Pittsburgh, PA; died in his sleep, February 2, 1996, in Beverly Hills, CA. Dancer, actor, singer, choreographer, director, producer, author. Whether he was "singing in the rain," spending time "on the town," or just being "an American in Paris," Kelly delightedaudiences with his exceptional dancing, acting, wit, and charm. A man who initially wanted to be a baseball player for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Kelly instead turned his talents to dance and greatly revolutionized the art in the entertainment medium. Unlike fellow dancer Fred Astaire, who often performed elegant numbers in top hat and tuxedo, Kelly represented the common man and danced athletic routines in sports coats, loafers, and with props like umbrellas and street lamp poles. Kelly did not set out to become a dancer, although he and his siblings were sent to music and dance classes by their mother. Duringthe Depression, he and his brother Fred operated a dancing school and performed at the Chicago World's Fair of 1934. In the late 1930s, Kelly ventured toNew York to work in the theater and obtained a chorus role in Leave It to Me.He also performed in The Time of Your Life and was cast in the title role inPal Joey. Kelly also choreographed Best Foot Forward. In the 1940s, he set out for Hollywood and appeared in For Me and My Gal in 1942. After several small roles, he found success with Cover Girl, which through advancements in cinematic technique, used a dance sequence that showed Kelly dancing with his alter ego (also portrayed by Kelly). He recognized that dancing for cinema wasdifferent than dancing for stage and worked to develop routines that, according to the New York Times, were designed to "evolve naturally from the plot and the action on screen." Kelly told the Times that "I tried to do things uniquely cinematic, that you couldn't do on a stage. Call it 'cine-dancing,' or whatever, but I tried to invent the dance to fit the camera and its movements."
In 1945, Kelly again made cinematic dance history with his performance in Anchors Aweigh. In the film, he dances with Jerry the mouse, the animated cartoon character of Tom and Jerry fame. In this picture, and several subsequent films, Kelly fought studio reluctance and ultimately created groundbreaking routines on screen. This was also evident in On the Town, a film which Kelly also directed and choreographed. Instead of being filmed in the studio, the dance sequences were shot in New York City and featured large-scale routines withdancers portraying common citizens. Kelly, who had served in World War II with the U.S. Navy, used dancers dressed as sailors in some of the scenes. In the 1940s, he was also paired with Astaire in Ziegfeld Follies, a film which displayed the dancers' very different styles and techniques. Kelly also showedhis dancing talents in American in Paris and his dramatic talents in the role of a journalist in Inherit the Wind. Kelly's work, both as performer and director, brought him further acclaim. In Singin' in the Rain, his dance routine through rain puddles on a deserted street is one of the most beloved and remembered dance sequences ever filmed. The film was selected by the Library ofCongress as one of the first twenty-five films for its National Film Registry.
During his career, Kelly appeared in more than forty films, including Xanaduand That's Entertainment. He also directed The Cheyenne Social Club, Gigot, and Hello, Dolly! He also wrote, choreographed, and performed in Take Me Out to the Ball Game. Kelly continued to be involved in the theater as well, directing the Flower Drum Song and writing and choreographing the Pas de Dieux, acontemporary jazz ballet, for the Paris Opera Ballet. He received more than twenty curtain calls on opening night. Kelly was no stranger to television audiences, either. In 1963, he portrayed a priest in the series Going My Way, and he received an Emmy for his 1967 production of Jack and the Beanstalk. Therecipient of numerous awards, Kelly was honored with the Kennedy Center lifetime achievement award, the National Medal of Arts, an American Film InstituteTribute Award, and a special Academy Award (for his work in An American in Paris). He was also made a chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French government.