Gene Kelly's life was the stuff of a Hollywood musical. He was a would-be baseball player and failed law student who once made money teaching basic dance steps in the basement of his parents' Pennsylvania home.
After a few Depression-era amateur contests, he conquered Broadway and then Hollywood, starring in such films as "Singin' in the Rain," "On the Town" and "An American in Paris." Along the way, he revolutionized motion picture choreography and achieved success as a director and producer as well.
"Singin' in the Rain," the beloved, campy 1952 Hollywood spoof, provides the lasting image of Kelly's winning screen persona: an affable, optimistic man with a crooked Irish grin and soft spot in his heart. Often called the best musical ever made, the film also showcased Kelly as a virile heartthrob, opposite the leggy Cyd Charisse in the sultry "Broadway Ballet." Another classic number from that film — "Gotta Dance" — said much about the man.
His artistic reputation was assured in part to a winning collaboration with writer-director Stanley Donen. Kelly and Donen wrote the original story for "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," a turn-of-the-century musical starring Kelly, Sinatra, Esther Williams and Jules Munshin. Next came the artistic breakthrough "On the Town," featuring Kelly, Sinatra and Munshin as three sailors on a 24-hour leave in New York City.
Kelly's most memorable credits show a pattern of American archetypes: Runyonesque entertainers, sailors on leave and an expatriate artist in love with a French girl. Kelly also won praise for straight drama, such as his portrayal of a glib, cynical newspaperman based on the legendary H.L. Mencken in "Inherit the Wind," the 1960 film with Spencer Tracy and Fredric March.
Judy Garland, in 1942, was Kelly's first dance partner on the big screen. Later came Fred Astaire, Rita Hayworth, Frank Sinatra, Leslie Caron, Reynolds, Donald O'Connor, Shirley MacLaine and many others. But of all Kelly's dance partners, none was more memorable than an umbrella.
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