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Gene Kelly

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Gene Kelly, Photo courtesy of New York Public Library



Athletic, eclectic, and charming Gene Kelly (1912-1996) excelled as a dancer-actor and influential movie director and choreographer. Kelly began performing in clubs as a teenager, often with his brother Fred, and ran a dancing school while earning a degree in economics. He made his Broadway debut in Leave It to Me (1938) and became a hot property two years later as the lead in Pal Joey. Early choreographic accolades were gained in Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe Revue (1940) and Best Foot Forward (1941). Kelly's first movie was For Me and My Girl (1942). Alone and with frequent collaborators Stanley Donen and Vincente Minnelli, Kelly made more than a dozen major movie musicals. His work in On the Town (1949), Singin' In the Rain (1952), and An American in Paris (1955) beautifully demonstrate his use of long dance sequences to integrate elements of plot and character, while introducing a moving camera into the choreography. Invitation to the Dance (1957) shows him pushing out boundaries of dance on film, mixing live artists with animation and special effects. With the 1958 television special, "Dancing: A Man's Game," Kelly helped to attract male performers to the field.

Pictured right: A studio shot of Gene Kelly, whose athletic, weighted style combined ballet and jazz influences with tap.(Photograph from the Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.)


Read an essay by Karyn D. Collins -- Selected research materials


This number from Anchors Aweigh (1945), also pictured in the photo left, in which Gene Kelly dances with the cartoon character Jerry the Mouse demonstrates Kelly's constant pursuit of innovative ways to capture dance on film. Kelly's onscreen personality had an exuberant, all-American charm that brought dance down to earth. (Credits: Photofest)

Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh