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Gene Kelly
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Birth Name: Eugene Curran Kelly
Date of Birth: August 23, 1912
Birth Place: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Gene Kelly Photo

This buoyant American film star of the 1940s and 50s was a renowned dancer-choreographer, the embodiment of proletariat good-guy cheer and a key figure in shaping the golden age of the Hollywood musical. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Kelly was the son of a theatrical manager and actress. After an unsuccessful screen test for RKO in 1935, Kelly turned to stage work, making his Broadway debut in the chorus of "Leave It to Me" in 1938. He scored his biggest stage triumph as Joey Evans, the anti-hero of the Rodgers and Hart/John O'Hara musical "Pal Joey". The latter caught the attention of film producer David O Selznick who signed Kelly to a seven-year contract. Selznick immediately loaned his new star to MGM for "For Me and My Gal" (1942), a musical romp about a vaudeville couple (Kelly and Judy Garland) determined to play the Palace Theater. Kelly's star was on the ascendant and MGM bought out his contract with Selznick. He was cast in the all-male "The Cross of Lorraine" as a prisoner of war. In 1944, Kelly added choreographer to his resume when he created the dance sequence for the "Alter Ego" number in the stylish "Cover Girl", in which he was a Brooklyn club owner romancing an up-and-coming actress-model (Rita Hayworth). This marked the beginning of a long string of MGM musicals that starred Kelly, including 1945's "Anchors Aweigh" (notable for the sequence in which Kelly dances with cartoon mouse Jerry of "Tom and Jerry" fame), and two directed by Vincente Minnelli, "Ziegfeld Follies" (1946), in which he dances "The Babbitt and the Bromide", which had been popularized onstage by Adele and Fred Astaire, and "The Pirate" (1948), which reteamed him with Garland and featured a lively Cole Porter score, including Kelly's tours de force, "Nina" and "Be a Clown". Kelly branched out into directing with "On the Town" (1949), which he co-helmed with Stanley Donen. Adapted from the Leonard Bernstein-Betty Comden-Adolph Green Broadway hit, "On the Town" followed the adventures of three sailors (Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin) on leave for one day in New York City and the women (Ann Miller, Vera-Ellen and Betty Garrett) they encounter. Kelly and Sinatra reteamed for Busby Berkeley's "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" (also 1949), as turn-of-the-century ballplayers coping with a new female owner (Esther Williams). Kelly and Donen co-directed the "Strictly USA" segment and received an overall story credit. But it was the Oscar-winning "An American in Paris" that marked Kelly's artistic triumph. Directed by Vincente Minnelli and written by Alan Jay Lerner, the musical was an original story that interpolated a lushly-arranged Gershwin score. While the plot was fairly standard (American man, Kelly, torn between wealthy Nina Foch and gamine dancer Leslie Caron), the staging was imaginative, including a spectacular 18-minute ballet sequence that still ranks as one of the best ever filmed. The film won a total of eight Oscars as well as a special award for Kelly, citing his "brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film". Kelly followed with what many consider to be the greatest film musical--"Singin' in the Rain" (1952). Set in the 1920s, just as talking films are being introduced, the film follows the romance of silent screen star Kelly and newcomer Debbie Reynolds. Featuring the rubbery Donald O'Connor and an uproarious Jean Hagen, the film contains some of the movie musicals best-remembered sequences, including his signature routine to the title song and the "Broadway Rhythm" ballet. Throughout the 50s, Kelly continued to appear in musicals (e.g. "Brigadoon" 1954 and the underrated "It's Always Fair Weather" 1955) but most were forgettable. An attempt to make a strictly dance film, "Invitation to the Dance" (1956), which Kelly wrote, directed, choreographed and starred in, received mixed reviews; most cited the final "Sinbad the Sailor" sequence as the most successful as it displayed the novel mixing of live action and cartoons. Increasingly from the late 50s, Kelly began to play non-musical roles, notably as a skeptical reporter in Stanley Kramer's "Inherit the Wind" (1960). He also worked more behind the camera, helming such diverse fare as "The Happy Road" (1956), "A Guide for the Married Man" (1967) and the overblown version of "Hello, Dolly!" (1969). Throughout the 70s and 80s, Kelly worked less frequently, often as host or narrator of TV specials or compilation films ("That's Entertainment!" 1974, its two sequels from 1976 and 1994, and their companion piece, "That's Dancing!" 1985). His last major onscreen appearance was in the poorly executed "Xanadu" (1980). He worked as an uncredited supervisor of the musical sequences in Francis Ford Coppola's misbegotten "One From the Heart" (1982). Kelly's final screen appearance was as host of a segment of "That's Entertainment! III" (1994). Kelly was married to actress Betsy Blair from 1940 to 1957; to dancer Jeanne Coyne (Donen's former wife) from 1960 until her death in 1973; and to journalist Patricia Ward from 1990 until his death from complications from a stroke in February 1996.

Great Hollywood Memories, Vol. 1: The Golden Years
U.S.S. Franklin: The Ship That Wouldn't Die
That's Entertainment! Part 3 (1994)
Christmas at the Movies: Hosted by Gene Kelly (1991)
The Marx Brothers in a Nutshell (1990)
Michael Jackson: The Legend Continues (1989)
The Ship That Wouldn't Die (1988)
Submarine Warfare (1987)
North and South (1985)
Sins (1985)
That's Dancing! (1985)
Smithsonian: American Treasure (1985)
The Ultimate Swan Lake (1984)
Xanadu (1980)
Viva Knievel! (1977)
That's Entertainment 2 (1976)
That's Entertainment! (1974)
That's Entertainment, Part 1 (Special LV Edition) (1974)
40 Carats (1973)
Frank Sinatra: Ol' Blue Eyes Is Back (1973)
The Cheyenne Social Club (1970)
Hello, Dolly! (1969)
Christmas at Wells Cathedral (1969)
A Guide for the Married Man (1967)
Jack and the Beanstalk (1967)
The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)
What a Way to Go! (1964)
Gigot (1962)
Hollywood: The Golden Years (1961)
Inherit the Wind (1960)
Let's Make Love (1960)
Marjorie Morningstar (1958)
The Tunnel of Love (1958)
Badman's Country (1958)
Les Girls (1957)
The Happy Road (1957)
Invitation to the Dance (1956)
It's Always Fair Weather (1955)
Brigadoon (1954)
Deep in My Heart (1954)
Crest of the Wave (1954)
Love is Better Than Ever (1952)
Singin' in the Rain (1952)
The Devil Makes Three (1952)
An American in Paris (1951)
It's a Big Country (1951)
The Black Hand (1950)
Summer Stock (1950)
On the Town (1949)
Take Me out to the Ball Game (1949)
The Pirate (1948)
The Three Musketeers (1948)
Words and Music (1948)
Living in a Big Way (1947)
Ziegfeld Follies (1946)
Anchors Aweigh (1945)
Cover Girl (1944)
Christmas Holiday (1944)
Du Barry Was a Lady (1943)
Thousands Cheer (1943)
The Cross of Lorraine (1943)
Pilot No. 5 (1943)
For Me and My Gal (1942)

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