Gene Kelly

(23 August 1912 – 2 February 1996)

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Eugene Curran “Gene” Kelly was an American dancer, actor, singer, film director, producer and choreographer. He was known for his energetic and athletic dancing style, his good looks, and the likeable characters that he played on screen.

Best known today for his performances in films such as “An American in Paris” (1951), “Anchors Aweigh” (1945), and “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952), he was a dominant force in musical films until they fell out of fashion in the late 1950s. His many innovations transformed the Hollywood musical and he is credited with almost single-handedly making the ballet form commercially acceptable to film audiences. Kelly received an Academy Honorary Award in 1952 for his career achievements. He later received lifetime achievement awards in the Kennedy Center Honors (1982), and from the Screen Actors Guild and American Film Institute. In 1999, the American Film Institute also numbered him 15th in their Greatest Male Stars of All Time list.

When Gene Kelly arrived in town in 1941, MGM was the largest and most powerful studio in Hollywood. He came directly from the hit 1940 original Broadway production of “Pal Joey” and planned to return to the Broadway stage after making the one film required by his contract. His first picture for MGM was “For Me and My Girl” (1942) with Judy Garland. What kept Kelly in Hollywood were “the kindred creative spirits” he found behind the scenes at MGM. The talent pool was especially large during World War II, when Hollywood was a refuge for many musicians and others in the performing arts of Europe who were forced to flee the Nazis. After the war, a new generation was coming of age. Those who saw “An American in Paris” (1951) would try to make real life as romantic as the reel life they saw portrayed in that musical, and the first time they saw Paris, they were seeing again in memory the seventeen-minute ballet sequence set to the title song written by George Gershwin and choreographed by Kelly. Another Kelly musical of the era, “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952), was one of the first 25 films selected by the Library of Congress for its National Film Registry. Kelly was in the same league as Fred Astaire, but instead of a top hat and tails Kelly wore work clothes that went with his masculine, athletic dance style.