Creator / Gene Kelly

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"Gene Kelly was basically a tap dancing Don Draper."

Eugene Curran 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.

Though he tended to play "heels", 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 in dance choreography and he developed a style that looked and felt as if he was making up the moves in the moment. This 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. He also revolutionized the way dance numbers were filmed by having the camera not just pan from side-to-side but move forward and backward as well while incorporating those camera movements into his choreography. This technique gave his routines a visual depth and kinetic energy that had never been seen before and is still being used to this day.

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's work 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, who was still working up until her death in December 2016 despite being an octogenarian, attributed 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.
  • Intergenerational Friendship:
    • He was close to Fred Astaire, who came from the generation of performers before his, and eagerly took every opportunity to work with his idol and friend.
    • 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.
  • May–December Romance: The Tom Cruise of his generation! He looked good for his age, but most of his leading ladies in The '50s (Vera Allen, Leslie Caron, Debbie Reynolds) were barely twenty. Kelly himself was in his forties.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: Easily the manliest ballet dancer next to Patrick Swayze.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Himself (Red) and Fred Astaire (Blue). The pair didn't dance together often, unfortunately. Their styles have been described as Astaire skittering across the stage like a waterbug on a pond, while Kelly stomped holes in the floorboards.

Notable film roles:


See also:

  • The Time of Your Life (1939), stage play that featured Kelly as Harry the dancer in the original 1939 Broadway production
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