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Gene Kelly: The Epitome

Of A Song And Dance Man

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Gene Kelly at home in 1986. Image by Allen Warren and used under a Creative Commons license.
From His Humble Beginnings — And Forgetting The Facial Scar — Gene Kelly Took Musicals From Ethereal, Light-Hearted Incarnations To The Incredibly Blended, Real And Groundbreaking Triumphs Of Art


By David Fantle and Tom Johnson
Special for Modern Times Magazine

Aug. 24, 2014 — It was the summer of 1978 when we first met Gene Kelly. As newly minted high school graduates, we had put in three hard months selling beer at Minnesota Twins baseball games to come up with the airfare to get us to Los Angeles. After nearly two years of persistent correspondence, Kelly had finally green-lighted a visit at his Beverly Hills home.

To say we were fans of the Golden Age of Hollywood musicals, and in particular Kelly’s huge contribution, would be understating the case. Our consuming passion for that era had inspired us to found a film society that brought the musicals of Kelly, Astaire and Garland and others to Twin City-area nursing homes and appreciative residents who grew up on these films.

For almost a half of century Kelly had lived in the same French colonial house with red window shutters on Rodeo Drive in the Beverly Hills flatlands just south of Sunset Boulevard. On the appointed day, he strolled over to us from his favorite room, the library, with an almost syncopated bounce in his step. We had seen it dozens of times before in his movies; whether gliding down a backlot rue at MGM as An American in Paris, or with two buddies in New York City out for a day in On the Town or giving us that “glorious feeling” while Singin’ in the Rain. It was a jaunty, confident and athletic stride.

On the Town, which Kelly co-directed with Stanley Donen, remained his all-time favorite musical, mainly because it was his directorial debut at MGM and the opening number, “New York, New York,” and some establishing shots were filmed on location in the Big Apple.

“That was no small achievement back in 1949, especially when you consider that the studio had a standing New York set that looked more authentic than parts of the real city,” he said.

Up until suffering a series of strokes in the mid 1990s, Kelly traveled the college-lecture circuit discussing his movies to sellout crowds. Today, Kelly’s legacy is being perpetuated by his widow, Patricia Ward Kelly, who tours the country giving presentations and insights on her husband:  dancer, singer, actor, director, choreographer and timeless renaissance man.

That legacy and his movies give us a “glorious feelings” 72 years after his film debut opposite Judy Garland in For Me and My Gal.

Gene Kelly would have been 104 on Aug. 23.

David Fantle & Tom Johnson have interviewed more than 250 celebrities, mostly from “Hollywood’s Golden Age. They are co-authors of the 2004 book, Reel to Real: 25 years of celebrity profiles from vaudeville to movies to TV. Reach them at
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