The legacy of Gene Kelly, the legendary dancer, singer, actor, director and choreographer, is celebrated in this extensive biography by two young film buffs. Kelly emerges as the “Sinatra” (or “Brando”) of dance, an artist whose exacting standards coupled with an athletic, masculine energy produced some of the greatest masterpieces in the history of the film musical, including Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris and On the Town. As a dancer, Kelly drew on a distinctly American vernacular for his choreography, in contrast to Fred Astaire’s facsimile of Continental elegance. While Kelly’s influence on American cinema waned after the 1960s, his importance in the development of American dance as popular entertainment cannot be overstated.
Gene Kelly grew up under modest circumstances in Pittsburgh. An educated man, he dropped out of law school when he realized he could make more money teaching dance than being a lawyer in the middle of the Great Depression. After some success on Broadway, he moved to Hollywood in the early 1940s. He quickly became an in-demand dancer and choreographer, co-starring with Frank Sinatra in three films in the late 1940s (Anchors Aweigh, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, On the Town). This period of his life also included his marriage to the actress Betsy Blair, his collaboration with a young dancer named Stanley Donen, a brief stint in the Navy, and the birth of his first child.
The early 1950s brought further triumphs, including an Honorary Academy Award, a Best Picture win for An American in Paris (directed by Vincente Minnelli) and the release of Singin’ in the Rain (codirected by Stanley Donen), which many consider the greatest film musical of all time. Unfortunately, Gene Kelly had a few flops at the end of the decade. His career recovered in the the 1960s, his last full decade of work, with a dramatic turn in Inherit the Wind, a leading role in the French musical, The Young Girls of Rochefort, and directing Barbra Streisand in Hello Dolly!
After the 1960s, Kelly’s career took a back seat to family matters. His second wife, Jeanne Coyne, died in 1973. He received multiple career honors in the last two decades of his life before his death in 1996. He’s Got Rhythm is a wonderful tribute to Gene Kelly’s vast accomplishments.
Here is another book that provides more detailed information about the contributions of three extraordinary talents who were dancers, choreographers, actors and directors: Dance me a song: Astaire, Balanchine and Kelly, and the American Film Musical.