Gene Kelly, the lithe, genial dancer who earned his place as an American movie icon by joyously stomping through puddles in the title role of Hollywood's Singing in the Rain, died Feb. 2 at age 83.
Kelly began as a chorus boy on Broadway, where he later earned stardom in the title role of Rodgers & Hart's Pal Joey. He spent most of the rest of his career in movies, as a dancer and choreographer in the 1940s and '50s, and later directing.
Kelly won a special Academy Award in 1951 for "his versatility as an actor, singer, director and dancer, and specially for his brilliant achievements in the art of choereography on film."
Memorable roles include several either using Broadway writers or based directly on Broadway material. A role call of his hits would have to include An American in Paris, On the Town (which he co directed), Anchors Aweigh, The Pirate and of course, Singing in the Rain.
Kelly returned to Broadway in 1957 to direct the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Flower Drum Song. He directed the 1969 film version of Hello, Dolly! Non-musical acting roles include the role based on journalist H.L. Mencken in the film adaptation of Inherit the Wind. Kelly is reported to have died in his sleep in Los Angeles of complications following strokes in July 1994 and again one year ago.
Born Eugene Curran Kelly in Pittsburgh on Aug. 23, 1912, Kelly held a variety of menial, non-showbiz jobs before beginning his career as a Broadway chorus dancer in the mid 1930s. A piece of theatre trivial involves the fact that he was one of the chorus boys who sang behind Mary Martin in the number that launched her career, "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," in the 1938 Cole Porter musical, Leave It To Me!
Kelly reportedly was chosen for the title role of "Pal Joey" personally by composer Richard Rodgers, who had seen him do a dance in William Saroyan's The Time of Your Life.
Describing his own style, Kelly is reported to have remarked, "Fred Astaire represents the aristocracy when he dances. I represent the proletariat."
Perhaps his finest moment was the last line of the song "Singing in the Rain" -- a burst of rapture upon falling in love -- in which he abashedly explained to a looming cop, "I'm dancing and singing in the rain," then flashed a beatific smile and skipped down a rain-drenched street, handed his umbrella to a scurrying unfortunate, and disappeared into the night.