Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Gene Kelly: A Brief Bio

Gene Kelly was embarrassed when his mom sent him to dance classes.  Although he was small for his age, the 8-year-old fought back when neighborhood bullies teased him for being a sissy.  By the time he was a teen, he realized good dancing attracted girls, so he continued the lessons.  After Kelly entered college in 1929, he and older brother Fred worked up dance routines to earn money by winning talent contests and performing at nightclubs. The family opened a dance school in 1930, and Kelly taught there while earning a degree in economics at the University of Pittsburgh.

Yet crunching numbers didn't grab Kelly. Dancing did.  And soon enough he started racking up huge numbers as one of the top movie stars of all time.  The American Film Institute ranks Kelly's "Singin' in the Rain" as the best filmed musical, with "An American in Paris" at No. 9.  Kelly (1912-96) was the son of Harriet and James Kelly, a phonograph salesman for Columbia Records who lost his job at the onset of the Great Depression.

Kelly's Keys

Top musical director, dancer and choreographer.
Overcame: Ridicule as a child for learning to dance.
Lesson: There is nothing that can't be improved.

"I find it almost impossible to relax for more than one day at a time."  The family stayed in financial step with dance studios in Pittsburgh and Johnstown, Pa., and when Gene graduated from Pitt in 1933, he taught there full time.  Bigger Dreams In 1937 he moved to New York City to become a choreographer. Failing, he returned to Pittsburgh, teaching dance steps for a local company.  Feeling that provincial experience wouldn't count for much, he aimed once more for New York, wrote Clive Hirschhorn in his Kelly biography.  This time Kelly bought a one-way train ticket in August 1938. In three months he landed his first Broadway part and impressed the producer, who put him in eight routines in his next musical — and hired him to choreograph "Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe." Soon he was dating cast member Betsy Blair.

Then came Kelly's big break.  He landed a spot in the Rodgers and Hart musical "Pal Joey" in 1940, and that shot him to stardom.  Cast member Van Johnson recalled: "I watched him rehearsing and it seemed to me there was no possible room for improvement. Yet he wasn't satisfied. It was midnight and we had been rehearsing since 8 in the morning. I was making my sleepy way down a long flight of stairs when I heard staccato steps coming from the stage. I could see just a single lamp burning. Under it a figure was dancing: Gene."  Kelly's early career lesson is that practice can lead to a bigger stage.  Arthur Freed, the top musical movie producer of all time, according to the documentary "Gene Kelly: Anatomy of a Dancer," saw "Pal Joey" and loved it.  He introduced Kelly to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer honcho Louis B. Mayer, who promptly offered him a contract — and was astounded when Kelly told him he first wanted to finish the stage run of "Pal Joey" in October 1941.  When it ended, Kelly married Blair and moved to Hollywood.  His first movie was "For Me and My Gal," with Judy Garland.  Kelly proved to be a stickler, insisting on redoing dance routines. That caused tension with the director, but all was forgiven when the film became a hit in 1942. 

Two years later Kelly starred in "Cover Girl" opposite Rita Hayworth. By then, Freed was giving him creative control over his career, and the star showed what he could do with it in 1945's "Anchors Away" alongside Frank Sinatra. They rehearsed for eight weeks. Kelly ordered 73 takes of one scene.  With creative control of the dancing, Kelly insisted on having much of it shot in New York. "He was one of the very few musical directors who shot on location," Peter Smith, chairman of the department of theater arts at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., told IBD. "That was revolutionary, since everyone else was simply using sound studios."

Joseph McBride, the screenwriter who wrote "Into the Nightmare," said: "Kelly's everyman qualities and athletic approach to dancing were a complete contrast to Fred Astaire, his only peer, who projected an aristocratic demeanor and seemed almost magically ethereal in his dancing. Kelly's Irish-American upstart's charm and regular-guy image helped audiences identify with him and made his very masculine style of dancing popular, transforming movie musicals forever."

Smith added: "When you think of Astaire, you have an image of a very sophisticated, white tie-and-tails persona. Kelly wasn't formally trained in some ways, so he developed his own set of skills and was really a genius at choreography. Prior to him, male dancers all looked tall and lean, but Kelly opened the door for shorter, muscular guys. Without him, I don't think we would have musicals like 'West Side Story.'"
Kelly's career in film is a reminder that boundaries don't hinder the fearlessly creative.  Hurdles And Huzzahs
Kelly hit his share of bumps, as with "The Pirate" in 1948, but he quickly bounced back with "On the Town" the next year — and with something even bigger in 1951.  That's when he starred in "An American in Paris," which won the Academy Award for best picture. Also at the 1952 ceremony, Kelly landed an honorary Oscar for his contribution to filmed musicals.  "Kelly was the consummate artist who pushed himself very hard and expected the same of his colleagues," Earl Hess and Pratibha Dabholkar wrote in "Singin' in the Rain: The Making of an American Masterpiece." "They found him to be a powerhouse of energy, creative ideas and almost overwhelming self-confidence. But he was also very fair and considerate and ready to drop his own dancer numbers from release prints if he believed the overall good of the film would be served."

Also in 1952, Kelly co-directed, choreographed and played the lead in "Singin' in the Rain."  Besides being many critics' favorite musical, AFI ranks it the fifth best movie of any kind.  "Its impact on American popular culture after its 1952 release grew over the course of half a century following its initial release," said Hess. "The movie garnered more fans with the advent of each new generation, and the spread of color television in the mid-1960s gave average viewers an opportunity to catch a glimpse of its original glory in their living rooms. The 50th anniversary of the movie led to a digitally renovated version of the film being shown in 2002. While the initial release had only been in eight other countries, it was eventually translated into many languages for a worldwide audience."


In December 1951, after shooting "Singin'," Kelly went to Europe and sank into three movies that turned into shipwrecks. Also, his marriage fell apart, and by the time he returned to America in July 1953 the heyday of the movie musical was over.  With MGM under a new penny-pinching boss, there were no more location shoots, so 1954's Scottish fairy tale "Brigadoon" was filmed on a sound stage and Kelly had little control over the unhappy result: The movie lost money, and the critics ripped it.

Kelly had enough of MGM by 1957 and left to direct Broadway plays and Paris ballet. He appeared in a few films and on TV in the 1960s, winning an Emmy for directing the 1967 kid movie "Jack and the Beanstalk." The same year, he directed a movie smash, "A Guide for a Married Man," starring Walter Matthau. But two years later his "Hello, Dolly!" flopped.  Then in 1974, Kelly helped narrate the surprise hit "That's Entertainment!" Moviegoers got into the musical highlights, so two years later he directed a sequel, coaxing an aging Astaire out of retirement to perform song-and-dance duets with him.

Then came the crown of his career, wrote Hirschhorn: "No honor Gene received throughout his lengthy career could match the glittering annual Kennedy Center Honors on Dec. 5, 1982, when together with Lillian Gish, Benny Goodman, Eugene Ormandy and 95-year-old stage director George Abbott, he was one of the recipients of an award for a lifetime achievement in the performing arts."  Kelly's last on-screen appearance was to introduce "That's Entertainment! III" in 1994. Kelly died two years later at 83.
He continues to have an afterlife on sites like Gene Kelly Fans. 

Read More At Investor's Business Daily: http://news.investors.com/management-leaders-in-success/092013-671903-gene-kelly-danced-his-way-to-top-of-movie-musicals-for-two-decades-uwlwords-gene-kelly-rehearsed-routines-until-perfected.htm#ixzz2gWfkTuZs 

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