The Kennedy Center

Gene Kelly


Gene Kelly
(actor, dancer; born August 23, 1912 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; died February 2, 1996)

He could sing, dance, act, and direct--and he could do these all well. Gene Kelly majored in economics in college and went on to law school, but his love for movement and dance sent him to New York on a search for his destiny. He had hoped to find a job as a choreographer, but show business had different plans for this talented performer.

Kelly made his debut in the musical,Leave It to Me in 1938, but didn't hit super stardom until he starred in Pal Joey on Broadway. This hit sent Kelly into the movie business. He made his film debut in For Me and My Gal with Judy Garland, in 1942. Soon, Kelly's career in show business couldn't be stopped. He continued to star in such films as, DuBarry Was a Lady, Thousands Cheer, Cover Girl, Words and Music, and The Three Musketeers. He also went on to choreograph the movies in which he starred, such as, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, Brigadoon, Anchors Away, and An American in Paris.

Kelly wanted to show audiences a connection between dancing and athletics, a premise on which he based his own style. He got a chance to do just that when he co-directed and starred in On the Town, Singin' In the Rain, which he also choreographed, and It's Always Fair Weather. He also starred in Les Girls, Marjorie Morningstar, Inherit the Wind, What a Way to Go, Forty Carats, and Xanadu. Kelly continued to direct in Hello, Dolly!, Gigot, Tunnel of Love, The Cheyenne Social Club, and A Guide for the Married Man. He also directed a Broadway musical, Flower Drum Song.

Kelly always enjoyed experimenting with the incorporation of dance and film, an interest aptly exemplified in Invitation to the Dance. He directed, choreographed, and starred in this film involving the telling of three stories only by means of dance. The first is a classical ballet, the second a modern ballet based on Schnitzler's "Reigen," and the third a modern dance based on "Aladdin" and "Sinbad," in which living dancers mingle with cartoons.

The first American to be invited to choreograph and stage an original ballet at the Paris Opera, Kelly presented a ballet danced to Gershwin's Concerto in F. The performance received 27 curtain calls on its premiere night in 1960. Consequently, he was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French government, and the ballet became part of the Paris Opera's repertoire. The Director of the Opera presented Kelly with the honor and exclaimed, "Until tonight, the Paris Opera was ten years behind the times in ballet. Now we are ten years ahead."

Kelly's achievements in both television and film also won him recognition. He received a Dance Magazine Award for directing and starring in "Dancing: A Man's Game," and an Emmy for his production of "Jack and the Beanstalk" in 1967. The American Film Institute awarded him in 1985 with the Life Achievement Award for his work in motion pictures. Kelly, receiving the award, said he was glad he could make people smile "by running over a couple of couches or through a rainstorm."

Also, in 1985, Kelly executive produced and narrated an anthology of dance-on-film excerpts called That's Dancing. The film features, among others, Kelly's "schoolroom" routine with Donald O'Connor from Singin' in the Rain and a sequence from Invitation to the Dance. In his later years, Kelly continued to be interested in modern, jazz, and classical dance, but he found modern-day musicals to be boring and monotonous. Kelly died in 1996 at the age of 83.

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