“I didn’t want to move or act like a rich man. I wanted to dance in a pair of jeans. I wanted to dance like the man in the streets.”—Actor-director Gene Kelly, quoted in the PBS “American Masters” documentary, Gene Kelly: Anatomy of a Dancer (2002)
The star of Singin’ in the Rain and other MGM films, who was born 100 years ago today, brought the musical to its peak in the 1950s, both through his own incomparable dancing and through the innovative movies he directed with collaborator Stanley Donen.
Some bits of trivia about Gene Kelly:
*Before heading to Hollywood, he originated the title role in the landmark Rodgers and Hart musical Pal Joey on Broadway;
*With his career as a leading man on the big screen more or less over by the early Sixties, he assumed the most famous role of another iconic Irish-American entertainer, Bing Crosby’s Fr. Chuck O’Malley, in a one-season TV series adaptation of Going My Way.
*The man with the smile that wouldn’t fade in the famous title scene from Singin’ in the Rain had a real struggle to put on a happy face, as he battled a 103-degree fever at the behest of a notorious taskmaster: himself, in his role as director.
*My favorite scene in the 1980s comedy Legal Eagles shows an insomniac Robert Redford tap dancing in the bathroom, batting a paddle ball while eating ice cream and singing along with Kelly in “Singin' in the Rain."
*According to his widow, one of his favorite pastimes offscreen was completing crossword puzzles—in ink.
Fulfilling his ambition magnificently, Kelly showed that you didn’t need to be a top-hat society swell to dance, just a fellow with enough heart to soar as he turned lampposts and umbrellas into improbable dance partners.