Gene Kelly was basically a tap dancing Don Draper.
Gene Kelly (August 23, 1912 — February 2, 1996) was an American actor, dancer, and choreographer. You may remember him as the guy who performed a whimsical ditty in inclimate weather
Film producer Daivd O. Selznik discovered Kelly after seeing him star in Pal Joey
on Broadway. Under MGM, Kelly became a megastar by appearing in a string of famous musicals. His biggest successes in the post-war period were On the Town
, An American in Paris
, and his iconic role in Singin' in the Rain
Although he tended to play fast-talking hucksters
, Kelly's performances gave the impression that anyone — athletes, sailors, or Joe Sixpack — could sing and dance. This was evidenced by his trademark outfit, which consisted of a polo shirt and loafers
. The white socks were handy for protecting his feet; Kelly later shared this tip with Michael Jackson
, which led to the singer's trademark look.
His biggest ambition lay not in acting, however, but dance choreography. His improvisational style is famously seen in Summer Stock
, in which Kelly's character creates music out of a squeaky floorboard and a sheet of newspaper
Gene Kelly was among many creative influences to whom Michael Jackson paid tribute in his "Beat It" and "Bad" videos. Paula Abdul
also included a Shout-Out
to him in her "Opposites Attract" video, in which she dances with an animated cat.
Gene Kelly provides examples of:
- Because You Were Nice to Me: Judy Garland was his mentor on the set of Me and My Gal; Kelly would later claim she taught him everything he knew about the business. Years later, when Garland came out of rehab, Gene requested her for Summer Stock.
- Big Man on Campus: Not only was he competitive at work, he was a rabid competitor in sports as well.
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: Kelly's perfectionism was infamous among his co-stars and colleagues, over whom he ruled as absolute overlord.
- Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor both bore the brunt of this while shooting Singin' in the Rain; Reynolds basically had to mimic Kelly's every move (despite not being a trained dancer) in heels, while O'Connor got shouted at whenever Kelly was irritated with Reynolds, since Kelly didn't feel justified in punishing a novice. Reynolds, still working despite being an octogenarian, attributes her longevity to Kelly's hellish training.
- The Everyman: The famous sweater-loafer combo came about as a result of him trying to wear a tux like Astaire. With his build, however, Kelly still looked like a longshoreman even in tails.
- Lightning Bruiser
- Made of Iron: Remember that famous dance number in the rainstorm? Gene had a 100+ degree fever at the time.
- Odd Friendship: Following Paula Abdul's release of "Opposites Attract". Kelly took notice of the music video and enjoyed it, later asking Paula over to his place for tea. The pair continued to meet for tea once per week until his death.
- Real Men Wear Pink: Easily the manliest ballet dancer next to Patrick Swayze.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Himself and Fred Astaire. The pair didn't dance together often, unfortunately.
- Tom Hanks Syndrome: Kelly's career fizzled in the 1950s, and he didn't make much of an impression as a dramatic actor (He played E.K. Hornbeck, an expy of H. L. Mencken, in the 1960 film version of Inherit the Wind).
- Type Casting: Kelly made big splash as Joey Evans... and basically played the same role for fifteen years.
- What Could Have Been: Kelly originally suggested doing a dance with Mickey Mouse instead, but Disney was going through serious financial problems during the early 40's, and couldn't afford to outsource animation to other studios.
- Kelly was all set to play the lead in Easter Parade (1948), but broke his ankle during a volleyball game (Not caused by the game itself, but by stamping his foot in frustration when his teammates started goofing off). Fred Astaire ended up filling in for him, playing opposite Judy Garland. As it was originally meant for Kelly, the role is significantly darker than the boy scouts Astaire was known for playing.
Notable film roles:
- Joseph Brady in Anchors Aweigh (1945 Academy Award nominee for Best Actor). Best known for a fantasy sequence with the cartoon character, Jerry Mouse of Tom and Jerry.note
- Serafin in The Pirate (1948)
- D'Artagnan in The Three Musketeers (1948)
- Eddie O'Brien in Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949)
- Gabey in On the Town (1949)
- Jerry Mulligan in An American in Paris (1951 Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actor)
- Don Lockwood in Singin' in the Rain (1952)
- Tommy Albright in Brigadoon (1954)
- Ted Riley in It's Always Fair Weather (1955)
- E.K. Hornbeck in Inherit the Wind (1960)
- Danny McGuire in Xanadu (1980)