• Interviews

Patricia Kelly: “It’s all in the Gene’s”

Eugene Curran Kelly, better known as Gene, is easily recognized as one of the legendary figures of the Golden Age of Hollywood. But everything could have gone so differently for this Pittsburgh native. Initial plans were for a legal career, but after two months in law school, Kelly saw a different future for himself: teaching dance. After several local jobs, he made his Broadway debut as a dancer in 1938, where it would only take two years before he got his first lead In Pal Joey, which propelled the then 28-year-old to stardom. Two years later, after being signed by David O. Selznick, Kelly was in Hollywood co-starring with Judy Garland in For Me And My GalSingin’ In the Rain, Anchors Away, Brigadoon, On The Town and An American In Paris.

Since the acclaimed entertainer passed away in 1996, his widow, Patricia Kelly, has become the guardian of his legacy and archive. Part of her mission to keep the heritage of her husband alive has morphed into a one-woman show called “Gene Kelly: The Legacy” that in non-pandemic times, takes her around the world showcasing the unique talents that were Gene Kelly’s. She spoke to

Walk us through a little of what your one-woman show is?

The show is a journey into (Gene’s) heart and mind. I take you behind the scenes where you get to understand not only how he created those amazing musical numbers, but why. What drove him and what his passions where. By the end of it, you have a better understanding of the many dimensions of the man.

Are there misconceptions?

So many people saw him on screen and while they loved him, they didn’t know all his various talents. He spoke French and Italian and Yiddish. He read Latin. He read a book a day. He didn’t just act and sing. He directed and choreographed and worked closely with the musicians and arrangers. I have created a second show with a live symphony show with 70 musicians. They play music live to the clips where we preserve Gene’s voice and taps and weave the stories in between, giving people (a glimpse into) an intimate relationship between the music and the dance. This shows how Singin’ in the Rain came into being and how he danced with Jerry the mouse.


There is a whole generation who hasn’t seen Gene perform.  If you were to guide them, what do you recommend that they see?

I always suggest that people can go to YouTube to see the iconic clips. That is a good way to get into him. Look at the Singin’ In The Rain number. They might not know who Gene is but they know the guy who danced in the rain with the umbrella. But to see the breadth of his dancing and choreography, watch him dance with Jerry in in Summer Stock just to see how contemporary he was.

You oversee his archives. There was a big fire back in 1983 that destroyed his house and much of his memorabilia. But I understand not everything was lost. What still exists of Gene’s archives.?

You will read that he lost everything, He did lose a lot but a lot of paper materials were in a back room. So, a lot of letters survived which really showed the writers’ personality. For example, I have a letter from Irving Berlin that he wrote to Gene about Hello Dolly. He wrote to him to congratulate him “There are so many great moments in the picture; that one chorus of Hello Dolly with Streisand and Armstrong is as high a spot as I have ever seen in any picture. And that parade is really amazing.”

Gene was part of Hollywood royalty. How was it for you to enter that celebrity circle?  

You hit it right on the head. I was a complete outsider. When I first met him, I didn’t know who he was. I was a nerdy American scholar who was a Herman Melville specialist. I didn’t have posters on my walls. Roddy McDowall once told me I was like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. I wasn’t in awe of these people. They weren’t on my radar. Gene had to give me a cinema 101 class. He would run movies and intro me to John Ford and Frank Sinatra. He opened me to a world I had no knowledge of. Now 30 years later, I could learn so much more but that isn’t going to happen

How come we haven’t seen a Gene bio?

No, we haven’t because he explicitly asked not to have one. I have been adamant about that. We watched several together and he told me he doesn’t want this so I will adhere to that. And then, who would play Gene? They only made one of these guys. He is like a comet that soars through the air. You get one Judy Garland. You get one Frank Sinatra and you get one Gene Kelly.