Biography of Gene Kelly

Gene Kelly had always been an avid dancer, but initially started down a track to become a lawyer. After 2 years in law school, he dropped out to pursue dancing full time. His first job was in Pittsburgh and his first Broadway gig was working on Leave it to Me! a musical by Cole Porter. Later, his leading role in Pal Joey on Broadway made him a star. He then broke into Hollywood with many starring roles in movie musicals such as For Me and My Gal, Cover Girl, Anchors Aweigh, and Ziegfeld Follies. MGM, the studio he was working with, wanted him to act in more musicals, but Kelly was intent on directing and starring. After Kelly's success as the star of the film Take Me Out to the Ball Game, producer Arthur Freed decided to give Kelly the chance to direct On the Town with his close pal Stanley Donen. Then followed hits like Summer Stock and An American in Paris, which Kelly starred in, but did not direct. In 1952, Gene Kelly paired up with Stanley Donen yet again to direct Singin' in the Rain.

Following Singin' in the Rain, Kelly had a somewhat strained relationship with the studio he was contracted with, MGM, which coincided with the decline of the movie musical. MGM would not loan him out to other studios, which cost him roles in the films of Guys and Dolls and Pal Joey. In 1969, he directed the film version of the musical Hello Dolly! He turned down The Sound of Music after Stanley Donen had done the same, infamously telling the producer, "Go find someone else to direct this piece of shit." As a choreographer and dancer, Kelly was known for his athleticism, masculinity, and hardworking determination. His belief in hard work was, at times, zealous and single-minded, causing his actors and dancers great stress. An article about Kelly accompanying the PBS American Masters documentary about him states, "Solely responsible for creating a new approach to film musicals as performer, as choreographer and as director, Kelly's story has never been fully told. A creative genius fueled by single-mindedness, a volatile temper and narcissism, his need for perfection was uncompromising."

Study Guides on Works by Gene Kelly