Director, Performer, Producer, Choreographer
( b. Aug 23, 1912 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA - d. Feb 02, 1996 Beverly Hills, California, USA ) Male
Gene Kelly was a director and choreographer who brought a vigorous athleticism, casual grace and an earthy masculinity to the high romance of lavish Hollywood musicals.
Eugene Curran Kelly was born in Pittsburgh. In high school Mr. Kelly took dance lessons while also playing on the football and hockey teams. His education at Pennsylvania State College was interrupted by the Depression.
He was later able to major in economics at the University of Pittsburgh and received a degree in 1933, but jobs were scarce and he went to work for a dancing school partly owned by his mother. Meanwhile, Mr. Kelly directed plays produced locally and formed a dance act with his brother Fred, with whom he performed in a theater for children at the Chicago World's Fair in 1934. In the mid-1930's Mr. Kelly also redirected vaudeville acts that passed through Pittsburgh.
Mr. Kelly did not decide to try his luck in New York until 1938, when he was 27 years old. His first job was as a Broadway chorus boy in 1938's Leave It to Me dancing while Mary Martin sang "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," but the next year he won critical acclaim for his featured role as the comic hoofer in William Saroyan's play The Time of Your Life. That success led to his being cast in Pal Joey, the 1940 Rodgers and Hart musical, in which he played the unscrupulous central character so convincingly that John Martin, a critic for The New York Times, said, "He is not only glib-footed, but he has a feeling for comment and content that give his dancing personal distinction and raise it several notches as a dancing art."
In 1941, he left for Hollywood, where he was to bring a new vitality to dance on film and help change the whole concept of movie musicals.
Mr. Kelly was lent to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the studio most noted for lavish musicals. His first film, in 1942, was "For Me and My Gal," in which he starred as a small-time vaudeville hoofer opposite Judy Garland.
One of Mr. Kelly's most memorable dance performances came in the seven-minute "Slaughter on 10th Avenue" ballet sequence in "Words and Music," a 1948 movie that was only subliminally based on the lives of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.
"This film was a milestone," he said in 1977. "It was the first musical to be shot on location. We took the musical off the sound stage and showed that it could be realistic. The idea of doing such a thing was anathema to the studio moguls. We shot a lot of it in New York and showed sailors getting off their ship in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and singing and dancing through the streets of New York.
"Singin' in the Rain," released in 1952, was one of the last of the big MGM musicals and it was, said Vincent Canby, film critic of The New York Times, in a 1975 appraisal, "a movie masterpiece." In the title number, a love-struck Mr. Kelly, with an umbrella as his principal prop, sang and splashed ecstatically and obliviously through a downpour on an all-but-deserted street. The sequence is widely regarded as a classic piece of cinematic choreography.
Since it was a period piece in the first place, taking place in the Hollywood of the 1920's, when sound was revolutionizing the movie business, "Singin' in the Rain" even today does not seem dated, possibly because, as Mr. Kelly put it, "when you work in a period that was, you have some distance and a better chance to make a picture last."
Mr. Kelly's last major musicals at MGM were "It's Always Fair Weather (1955) and "Les Girls" (1957), which were both hits. In the 1950's, he also appeared in "Deep in My Heart," "Marjorie Morningstar" and "The Devil Makes Three," and he produced and directed "The Happy Road," "Tunnel of Love" and other movies.
In 1994, Mr. Kelly was a recipient of the National Medal of Arts, awarded by President Clinton in a ceremony at the White House.
Source: The New York Times obituary