Guest Author - Carol Taller
Eugene Curran, better known as Gene Kelly (August 23, 1912 - February 2, 1996), became famous for his energetic and athletic dancing style. In actuality, he was a dancer, singer, choreographer, actor, film director and producer. He was good looking and played amiable characters which helped him become a likable star from the mid 1940s to the late 1950s.
He was born into a large family near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His mother enrolled him and his brother James into dance classes when they were young, but they both dropped out quickly when teased that dance was for girls. By the time he was 15 he enrolled into dance classes again on his own accord, believing it would be a good way to meet girls.
Kelly went to Pennsylvania State College to study journalism, but the economy was bad so he was forced to drop out temporarily and help his family financially. He and his younger brother Fred worked to win money in local talent contests, and he performed in local nightclubs.
Later, he enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh, where he studied economics and joined in the school’s musical productions. His family opened up a dance school, and he assisted there as a teacher during this time. After college he went on to law school, but he dropped out shortly afterward to focus on performing.
Kelly was soon hired by Robert Alton as a dancer in Cole Porter’s Leave it to Me. Alton hired him again in One for the Money, where he was able to act, sing and dance in eight different routines. His first chance to do his own choreography was for The Time of Your Life, which earned a Pulitzer Prize. And in 1940 Kelly was the lead in Pal Joey, by Rodgers and Hart.
Kelly married Bonnie Blair in 1941. Together they became known for their radical politics. While he stood for what he believed in, many of his choices damaged his career potential. His marriage with Blair lasted 15 years and they had one child, Kerry, together.
In 1944 Kelly enlisted in the Navy. He was stationed in Washington, D.C., and it was his job to write and direct documentaries. When Kelly returned to Hollywood, he pushed to be more involved with directing his own films. Some were not as successful as others.
Kelly had tremendous success with An American In Paris, which won six Academy Awards. In 1952 he was the co-director, star and choreographer in Singin’ In the Rain, probably the most popular musical of all time.
Kelly was an avid sports fan and tried to bring athleticism into dance. He was very articulate about his wish to take the “sissy” image out of dance. He was known for his hard work, perfectionism, and unpredictable temper.
In 1960 Kelly married Jeanne Coyne, his choreographic assistant. He remained married to her until she died of leukemia in 1973. They had two young children together, Bridget and Tim. He tried to be a good father to his children and refused any work that would take him away from his home in Los Angeles. It was at this time that he made television guest appearances and children’s records.
He later went on to marry Patricia Ward, whom he remained married to until he died after a stroke in 1996.