Dancing in the rain, happy and singing. It is certainly the quickest image when thinking about Gene Kelly. The actor, director, and dancer is one of Hollywood’s most popular and still famous stars, having innovated musicals and created several classics of the genre. August 23 is the 110th anniversary of his birth, but the film about his life – to be starred by Chris Evans, is still in the early stages… will take a while. That’s why it’s worth remembering this incredible trajectory of one of the biggest stars of all time in the entertainment world.
Eugene Curran Kelly was born into a family of five children to Irish Catholic parents and while still at home he was encouraged to develop his artistic gifts. At just 8 years old, he started dancing lessons. As expected, the boy preferred sports, where he excelled at school, but he soon realized that – as a dancer – he impressed the girls even more.
In college, Gene chose journalism, but to help his family, he worked as a gas station attendant, gym teacher, and other jobs, and began flirting with theater. The shows that he set up with his brother, Fred, also began to yield, and together they created Kelly Studios of the Dance, which quickly gained a branch. But the stages were starting to enchant Gene even more. After a few small roles, he began to succeed in musicals such as The Time of Your Life, and Pal Joey, as well as getting praise for the choreography of Best Foot Forward, on Broadway. Next stop? Hollywood. Naturally.
In 1942, that is, 80 years ago, Gene Kelly made his film debut, alongside Judy Garland in For Me and My Gal. At MGM, he made seven more films in the next three years, and the musical Anchors Aweigh, with Frank Sinatra, earned Gene an Oscar nomination.
During World War II, Gene Kelly left his career to serving a two-year stint in the Navy as a lieutenant, making training films. He returned to Hollywood, but to roles larger than acting, including producing, and directing, in increasingly grandiose productions like The Three Musketeers and The Pirate, making Gene the biggest star in the industry at that time. His creations united cinema and ballet in an even more charming way than Fred Astaire. In 1951, An American in Paris won no less than 8 Oscars, including best picture, and Gene Kelly received a special statuette “in recognition of his versatility as an actor, singer, director, and dancer, and specifically for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography” at the movies”.
Therefore, when Singing in the Rain hit theaters, it seemed impossible that Gene could still surprise, but the movie about the entrance of sound in the cinema managed to become more than a cinema or a classic, it entered pop culture and is still imitated today, recognized and adored.
He continued to innovate until, like all dancers, age began to weigh heavily on ballets, gradually leaving to choreograph and take on the direction of films and TV specials on his own. His pas de deux, Concerto in F, with music by George Gershwin, created especially for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1960, was a success, as was the film Hello, Dolly, where he directed Barbra Streisand. His farewell as an actor – dancing – was the musical Xanadu, alongside Olivia Newton-John, in 1980.
Gene Kelly was married 3 times and had three children. He died in 1996, at home, in his sleep, after dealing with the aftermath of the stroke he suffered a few years earlier. For those who aroused the passion for dance in so many generations, he used to joke that success was the result of chance. “It’s true that I didn’t want to be a dancer,” he said in an interview. “What I really wanted to do was play for the Pittsburgh Pirates [baseball team]. They lost a great athlete”, he joked, smiling.
Lucky for us we get so many dreams in the movies.