Saturday, July 21, 2012
Most people know Gene Kelly as a dancer, an actor, occasional singer and perhaps someone who enjoys a rainy day more than most. Some might even know he was a groundbreaking director and choreographer, too. But there’s a lot people don’t know about the handsome hoofer from Pittsburgh. And that’s where the Film Society of Lincoln Center comes in. They’re currently in the middle of a two week retrospective on Kelly. This August just happens to be the 100th anniversary of his birth.
I was lucky enough to attend an Evening with Gene Kelly at the Walter Reade Theater last night, hosted by Kelly’s wife, film historian Patricia Ward Kelly - a thoroughly fascinating woman in her own right. Various film clips of some of Kelly’s most famous musical numbers were punctuated by Patricia’s insightful commentary, revealing anecdotes and warm recollections of her late husband. She also dug into stacks of boxes on stage and pulled out some of Gene’s old things to share with us - choreography notes, sweet valentines Gene wrote to her...an Irish shillelagh he kept by his bedside.
Perhaps what most surprised me to learn, and maybe it shouldn’t have, was Gene’s voracious appetite for knowledge and his fierce intelligence. According to Patricia, Gene spoke multiple languages (French and Latin, among them) and liked to quote poetry. The two of them seemed to have quite a connection, despite their 46 year (!) age difference. When they met in 1985, Patricia was 26 and Gene was 73. She didn’t even know who “Gene Kelly” was! She got to know the man behind the star, and that’s who she was able to show us last night.
After all these years, Gene still has the power to captivate. During the clips they showed, there were audible gasps from the audience (“He’s sooo good looking!” “He makes it look so easy!”).
And indeed, he did make it look so easy. Here are my favorite examples:
The "Alter Ego" dance from 1944's Cover Girl
"The Newspaper Dance" from 1950's Summer Stock
"The Roller Skate Dance" from 1955's It's Always Fair Weather. Because he's tap dancing. On roller skates.