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 inclement 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. (As he once put it, "Fred Astaire represented the aristocracy, I represented the proletariat.") This quality was further evidenced by his trademark outfit, which consisted of a polo shirt, white socks 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.
- 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.
- 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). However in a case of Early Installment Weirdness, Gene Kelly did appear in the little known Film Noir Christmas Holiday (opposite Deanna Durbin), where he plays a proto-Norman Bates killer. The film has a cult status among noir afficionados.
- The Atoner: Later in his career he did admit that he might've crossed the lines a few times with his particular style of directing and apologized to some actors that he thought got the worst of it, like O'Connor and Reynolds. Reynolds in particular was shocked Kelly considered her a friend and was amicable, as she was under the impression he despised her.
- Kelly made big splash as Joey Evans in Pal Joey... and basically played the same role for fifteen years.
- He always gets the girl... but not before having a few drinks thrown at him first. Kelly excelled at playing the cad.
- 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—and that's after it was lightened quite a bit from the original draft of the script.
Gene Kelly on TV Tropes:
- Danny McGuire in Cover Girl (1944)
- 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)
- Andy Miller in The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)
- The Cheyenne Social Club (1971) — Kelly directed but did not appear onscreen
- Danny McGuire (possibly the same Danny McGuire as in Cover Girl) in Xanadu (1980)
- The Time of Your Life (1939), stage play that featured Kelly as Harry the dancer in the original 1939 Broadway production