Famous Birthdays: Gene Kelly
"There's a strong link between sports and dancing, and my own dancing springs from my early days as an athlete"
Born: August 23, 1912. Died: February 2, 1996 (Aged 83).
1912: Eugene Curran Kelly is born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.
He was an American dancer, actor of film, stage, and television, 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. He choreographed his own dance routines in such hit 1940s and '50s films as Singin' in the Rain, Anchors Aweigh, An American in Paris and On the Town. His many innovations transformed the Hollywood musical, and he is credited with almost single-handedly making the ballet form commercially acceptable to film audiences.
1920: When he was 8, Kelly's mother enrolled him and his brother James in dance classes. Kelly didn't like it much and was continually involved in fistfights with the neighbourhood boys who called them sissies. Kelly stopped and didn't dance again until he was 15.
1931: Kelly enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh to study economics, joining the Phi Kappa Theta fraternity. He became involved in the university's Cap and Gown Club, which staged original musical productions. After graduating in 1933, he continued to be active with the Cap and Gown Club, serving as the director from 1934 to 1938. Kelly was admitted to the University of Pittsburgh Law School.
1937: Kelly served as a teacher at The Gene Kelly Studio of the Dance during his undergraduate and law student years at Pitt. Having successfully managed and developed the family's dance school business, he moved to New York City in search of work as a choreographer.
1938: His first Broadway assignment, in November of that year was as a dancer in Cole Porter's Leave It to Me! as the American ambassador's secretary who supports Mary Martin while she sings My Heart Belongs to Daddy. He had been hired by Robert Alton, who had staged a show at the Pittsburgh Playhouse where he was impressed by Kelly's teaching skills. When Alton moved on to choreograph One for the Money he hired Kelly to act, sing, and dance in eight routines.
1939: Kelly was selected for a musical revue, One for the Money, produced by the actress Katharine Cornell, who was known for finding and hiring talented young actors. His first big breakthrough was in the Pulitzer Prize - winning The Time of Your Life, which opened on October 25, in which, for the first time on Broadway, he danced to his own choreography. In the same year, he received his first assignment as a Broadway choreographer, for Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe. He began dating a cast member, Betsy Blair.
1941: Kelly married Betsy Blair on October 16, they divorced in 1957. They had one child, Kerry born in 1942.
1942: Starred in his first motion picture: For Me and My Gal with box-office champion Judy Garland.
1943: He took the male lead in Cole Porter's Du Barry Was a Lady with Lucille Ball (in a part originally intended for Ann Sothern). His first opportunity to dance to his own choreography came in his next picture, Thousands Cheer, where he performed a mock-love dance with a mop.
1944: He achieved a significant breakthrough as a dancer on film when MGM loaned him to Columbia to work with Rita Hayworth in Cover Girl, a film that foreshadowed the best of his future work.
1945: In Kelly's next film, Anchors Aweigh, MGM gave him a free hand to devise a range of dance routines, including his duets with co-star Frank Sinatra and the celebrated animated dance with Jerry Mouse - the animation for which was supervised by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.
1946: In Ziegfeld Follies, which was produced in 1944 but not released until this year, Kelly collaborated with Fred Astaire, for whom he had the greatest admiration, in the famous "The Babbitt and the Bromide" challenge dance routine.
1948: He was due to play the male lead opposite Judy Garland in Easter Parade, but broke his ankle playing volleyball. He withdrew from the film and convinced Fred Astaire to come out of retirement to replace him.
1949: There followed Take Me Out to the Ball Game, his second film with Sinatra, where Kelly paid tribute to his Irish heritage in The Hat My Father Wore on St. Patrick's Day routine. This musical film persuaded Arthur Freed to have Kelly make On the Town, in which he partnered with Frank Sinatra for the third and final time. A breakthrough in the musical film genre, it has been described as "the most inventive and effervescent musical thus far produced in Hollywood."
1951/1952: There followed in quick succession two musicals that secured Kelly's reputation as a major figure in the American musical film, An American in Paris and probably the most popular and admired of all film musicals - Singin' in the Rain in 1952, he co-starred with Debbie Reynolds. As co-director, lead star, and choreographer, Kelly was the central driving force. Kelly received an Academy Honorary Award for his career achievements, the same year An American in Paris won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
At the peak of his creative powers, Kelly made what in retrospect some see as a mistake. In December 1951, he signed a contract with MGM that sent him to Europe for 19 months to use MGM funds frozen in Europe to make three pictures while personally benefiting from tax exemptions. Only one of these pictures was a musical, Invitation to the Dance, a pet project of Kelly's to bring modern ballet to mainstream film audiences. It was beset with delays and technical problems, and flopped when finally released in 1956.
1958: His first foray into television was a documentary for NBC's Omnibus, Dancing is a Man's Game, where he assembled a group of America's greatest sportsmen - including Mickey Mantle, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Bob Cousy and reinterpreted their moves choreographically, as part of his lifelong quest to remove the effeminate stereotype of the art of dance, while articulating the philosophy behind his dance style. It gained an Emmy nomination for choreography and now stands as the key document explaining Kelly's approach to modern dance.
1960: Kelly married his choreographic assistant Jeanne Coyne, who had previously been married to Stanley Donen between 1948 and 1951. Kelly and Coyne had two children, Timothy born in 1962 and Bridget born in 1964. This marriage lasted until Coyne's death in 1973.
1963: Kelly joined Universal Pictures for a two-year stint. He joined 20th Century Fox in 1965, but had little to do - partly due to his decision to decline assignments away from Los Angeles for family reasons. His perseverance finally paid off, with the major box-office hit A Guide for the Married Man in 1967 where he directed Walter Matthau. Then, a major opportunity arose when Fox commissioned Kelly to direct Hello, Dolly! in 1969, again directing Matthau along with Barbra Streisand. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards and won three.
1970's: He made another television special: Gene Kelly and 50 Girls and was invited to bring the show to Las Vegas, which he did for an eight-week stint on the condition he be paid more than any artist had ever been paid there. He directed veteran actors James Stewart and Henry Fonda in the comedy western The Cheyenne Social Club), which performed poorly at the box office. In 1973 he worked again with Frank Sinatra as part of Sinatra's Emmy nominated TV special, Magnavox Presents Frank Sinatra. Then, in 1974, he appeared as one of many special narrators in the surprise hit of the year That's Entertainment!. He subsequently directed and co-starred with his friend Fred Astaire in the sequel That's Entertainment, Part II in 1976. In 1977, Kelly starred in the poorly received action film Viva Knievel!, with the popular stuntman, Evel Knievel. Kelly continued to make frequent TV appearances.
1980: His final film role was in Xanadu, an expensive theatrical flop that has since attained a cult following. It starred Oliva Newton-John. In Kelly's opinion, "The concept was marvellous but it just didn't come off".
1982: He later received lifetime achievement awards in the Kennedy Center Honors and from the Screen Actors Guild and American Film Institute.
1990: Kelly married Patricia Ward and their marriage lasted for six years until his death in 1996.
1996: Kelly's health declined steadily in the late 1980s. In July 1994, he suffered a stroke and stayed in a hospital for seven weeks. In early 1995, he had another stroke and died on February 2, 1996 in Beverly Hills, California. His body was cremated, without funeral or memorial services.
1999: The American Film Institute also numbered him 15th in their Greatest Male Stars of Classic Hollywood cinema list.
2013: Singin' in the Rain ranked US number 1 in "The Nation's Favourite Dance Moment".
FUN FACTS: Kelly was a fluent in French; He retained a lifelong passion for sports and relished competition and was known as a big fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Yankees; His athleticism gave his moves a distinctive broad, muscular quality and this was a very deliberate choice on his part.