Gene Kelly Centennial: Widow Patricia W. Kelly Shares Intimate Memories

As we’re getting closer to legendary Hollywood dancer Gene Kelly’s centennial, the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York is honoring him with its series, Invitation to the Dance: Gene Kelly, a 23-film retrospective that honors his legacy...
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As we’re getting closer to legendary Hollywood dancer Gene Kelly’s centennial, the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York is honoring him with its series, Invitation to the Dance: Gene Kelly, a 23-film retrospective that honors his legacy...

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As we’re getting closer to legendary Hollywood dancer Gene Kelly’s centennial, the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York is honoring him with its series, Invitation to the Dance: Gene Kelly, a 23-film retrospective that honors his legacy as a dancer, actor, film director, and choreographer on the big screen.

We chatted last week with the trailblazer’s widow, Patricia Ward Kelly, who is currently writing a memoir on their unique relationship, and asked her an array of questions about her late husband’s oeuvre, as well as intimate details about the man behind the legend.

For all you Gene Kelly fans, here are some snippets of that interview as a precursor to his milestone birthday celebration….

On the eve of your late husband’s centenary, what do you think he’d want his legacy to be? He would want to be remembered for changing the look of dance on film and creating a particular American style of dance.

What can Gene Kelly fans expect from the Film Society's retrospective? I think there are two things. One would be the array of terrific films they’ve put together…and to be able to see them in glorious 35 mm Technicolor is an extraordinary opportunity. What I’m bringing are two very different shows; mine are theatrical pieces. The first is an intimate look at Gene Kelly as man and as a creator. The second night I go into more detail about how revolutionary he was, changing the look of dance on film.

Of all his professional accomplishments as a dancer, choreographer, director, actor, and producer, what did he enjoy the most? What he really preferred was to create. He wasn’t so crazy about being a performer. He really would’ve preferred being behind the camera all the time.

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Patricia Ward Kelly at the Film Society of Lincoln Center His dance in "Singin in the Rain" is one of his most iconic movie moments. How did Gene feel about that particular dance number? Any personal stories about the making of that movie you can share? You know, Gene was having to watch the bottom line, he had to watch budgets and schedules, so you don’t hear the happy-go-lucky kind of stories…you hear more that yes, he was sick when he shot Singin in the Rain…but you sure don’t see that in the number, do you? [laughing]

What are some things that people don't know about Gene personally? We really came together through our mutual love for words and language and poetry. And I don’t think most people associate that with him and the fact that he wrote poetry and read a book a day and spoke French and Italian and Yiddish...

He used to stick funny notes all around the house for me and stick them on the refrigerator. He’d cut things out of the newspaper and the magazines. Sometimes he’d stick a picture of a monkey on the refrigerator and then draw a little arrow and say “You”…

He loved Valentine’s Day and my birthday. He would always start at midnight—he couldn’t wait—and so little Valentines would appear around the house and cute little notes. I don’t think most people would think of him that way.

Photo credit for main image: Gene Kelly from 'An American in Paris.' THE KOBAL COLLECTION