Gene Kelly

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"If Fred Astaire is the Cary Grant of Dance, then I'm the Marlon Brando."


Gene Kelly (1912-1996) was an American actor, dancer, and choreographer. You may remember him as the guy who performed a whimsical ditty in inclement weather.

Film producer Daivd O. Selznik discovered Kelly after seeing him star in Pal Joey on Broadway. Under MGM, Kelly became a megastar by appearing in a string of famous musicals. His biggest successes in the post-war period were On the Town, An American in Paris, and his iconic role in Singin' in the Rain.

Though he tended to play smarmy characters, Kelly's performances gave the impression that anyone -- athletes, sailors, or Joe Sixpack -- could sing and dance. This was evidenced by his trademark outfit, which consisted of a polo shirt and loafers.

His biggest ambition lay not in acting, however, but dance choreography. His improvisational style is famously seen in Summer Stock, in which Kelly's character creates music out of a squeaky floorboard and a sheet of newspaper.

Gene Kelly was among many creative influences to whom Michael Jackson paid tribute in his "Beat It" and "Bad" videos. Paula Abdul also included a Shout-Out to him in her "Opposites Attract" video, in which she dances with an animated cat.

Gene Kelly provides examples of the following tropes:
  • Big Man on Campus: Not only was he competitive at work, he was a rabid competitor in sports as well.
  • The Everyman: The famous sweater-loafer combo came about as a result of him trying to wear a tux like Astaire. With his build, however, Kelly still looked like a longshoreman even in tails.
  • Lightning Bruiser
  • Made of Iron: Remember that famous dance number in the rainstorm? Gene had a 103 degree fever at the time.
  • Mean Boss: Kelly's perfectionism was infamous among his co-stars and colleagues, over whom he ruled as absolute overlord.
    • Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor both bore the brunt of this while shooting Singin' in the Rain; Reynolds basically had to mimic Kelly's every move (despite not being a trained dancer) in heels, while O'Connor got shouted at whenever Kelly was irritated with Reynolds, since Kelly didn't feel justified in punishing a novice.
  • Odd Friendship: Following Paula Abdul's release of "Opposites Attract", Kelly took notice of the music video and enjoyed it, later asking Paula over to his place for tea. The pair continued to meet for tea once per week until his death.
  • Passing the Torch: While playing Danny McGuire in 1980's Xanadu, Kelly actively mentored director Robert Greenwald, advising him on how to direct a musical, and eventually gifting Greenwald with the watch that Kelly used to time musical numbers in his own films.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: Easily the manliest ballet dancer next to Patrick Swayze.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Himself and Fred Astaire (see above quote).
  • Tom Hanks Syndrome: Kelly's career fizzled in the 1950s, and he didn't make much of an impression as a dramatic actor (He played E.K. Hornbeck, an expy of H. L. Mencken, in the 1960 film version of Inherit the Wind).
  • What Could Have Been: Kelly originally suggested doing a dance with Mickey Mouse instead, but Disney was going through serious financial problems during the early 40's, and couldn't afford to outsource animation to other studios.
    • Kelly was all set to play the lead in Easter Parade (1948), but broke his ankle during a volleyball game (Not caused by the game itself, but by stamping his foot in frustration when his teammates started goofing off). Fellow dancer (and fellow insane perfectionist) Fred Astaire ended up filling in for him, playing opposite Judy Garland. As it was originally meant for Kelly, the role is significantly darker than the boy scouts Astaire was best known for playing.

Gene Kelly has performed in the following roles: