Gene Kelly – The Working Man’s Hoofer

Day 108 of Colourisation Project – August 23

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

Born this day, August 23, 1912 Eugene Curran ‘Gene’ Kelly was an American dancer, actor, singer, film director, producer, and choreographer. Known for his energetic and athletic dancing style as well as his good looks, Kelly was the working man’s Fred Astaire.

Gene Kelly

Publicity Still – Gene Kelly – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

There’s an old saying to the effect that the women who swarmed to movie musicals in the 1950’s dreamed of dancing the night away with Fred Astaire and of going home with Gene Kelly.

As it happened the two were very good friends but they were polar opposites. Where Fred Astaire  wore top hat and tails, Kelly wore work clothes. Astaire was athletic elegance, Kelly was elegant athleticism. Astaire never appeared bare-chested, or with bare arms or legs, Kelly did. In contrast to Astaire’s dapper elegance, Kelly’s all American boy look would bound across the stage in tight pants showing off a muscular male ballet dancer’s body. Where Astaire glided across shiny dance floors, Kelly bounced. And off the dance floor Astaire was staunch Republican, where Kelly was staunch Democrat.

Time Magazine, March 2002, sums it up nicely….

“Fred was grace, Gene was energy. Fred was poise, Gene was power. Fred was ethereal, Gene was earthy. Fred was the Continental, Gene was All-American. Fred was top-hat, white tie and tails, Gene was baseball cap, T-shirt and jeans…Fred would just materialise, a slim apparition who hardly noticed the impact he made…Gene came barreling towards you, arms outstretched…Astaire danced on clouds…Kelly was grounded, seemingly welded to terra firma…”

Interestingly Kelly was originally cast to star as Don Hewes alongside Judy Garland in Easter Parade (1948). However Kelly broke his ankle playing volleyball before filming began and Astaire was called out of retirement to replace him. The film of course went on to become one of Hollywood’s great success stories.

Kelly, who graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in economics appeared as actor and dancer in 29 musical films, always choreographing his own dance routines, and often those of others. A major player in Hollywood musicals until they fell out of favour in the late 1950s, Kelly is credited with popularising the ballet form and making it more commercially acceptable. He was classically trained in ballet and had studied modern dance in New York with Martha Graham taking his inspiration from sports, including his favorite sport, hockey.

Kelly will always be remembered for his many memorable performances in Hollywood’s musicals released throughout the 1940s and 1950s including Anchors Aweigh (1945), The Pirate (1948), The Three Musketeers (1948), On the Town (1949), Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949), Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Brigadoon (1954) and Invitation to the Dance (1956).

Kelly wanted to be known for changing the look of dance on film. To overcome the problem of dance on film looking two-dimensional, Kelly choreographed his dancers so they were constantly moving toward the camera. He kept the dances shorter than they would have been on stage and used light and color to add a sense of a third dimension. 

In Singin’ in the Rain, widely considered one of the best musicals/dance films ever made, Kelly put together one of the most joyous dance sequences ever filmed, which I have included here for your enjoyment. It’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face!

Kelly had a fever of 103 degrees while filming the famous rain scene, his inspiration for the famous dance scene was the way children liked to play in the rain. The tapping of Kelly’s shoes was also dubbed later. The suit that Kelly wore in that sequence shrank over three grueling days of shooting and was sold at auction recently for over $100,000.


Gene Kelly was working on an autobiography at the time of his death in 1996. He died at age 83 of complications from two strokes on February 2,  in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California.

Kelly has received a long list of awards and honours throughout his career and after his death including;

  • a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6153 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.
  • Best Actor award from the National Board of Review for his performance in For Me and My Gal in 1942
  • Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in Anchors Aweigh in 1945
  • Nomination for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for An American in Paris in 1951
  • Honorary Academy Award in 1952 “in appreciation of his versatility as an actor, singer, director and dancer, and specifically for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film.” This Oscar was lost in a fire in 1983 and replaced at the 1984 Academy Awards.
  • Golden Bear at the 6th Berlin International Film Festival for Invitation to the Dance in 1956
  •  was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in France, 1960
  • Silver Sail Best Actor for What a Way to Go! at the Locarno International Film Festival in 1964
  • was voted the 42nd Greatest Movie Star of all time by Entertainment Weekly
  • Cecil B. DeMille Award at Golden Globes.
  • Lifetime Achievement Award in the Kennedy Center Honors in 1982
  • Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute in 1985
  • Lifetime Achievement Award from Screen Actors Guild in 1989
  • he was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1992
  • ranked 15th by the American Film Institute in their Greatest Male Stars of All Time list in 1999,
  • the National Medal of Arts presented by President Bill Clinton in 1994

Quite a list of achievements! Sadly they don’t make movies like the old Hollywood musicals anymore and with Gene Kelly’s death, the curtain came well and truly down on the Golden Age of movie musicals.


“Fred Astaire represented the aristocracy, I represented the proletariat.”  – Gene Kelly

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2 Responses to Gene Kelly – The Working Man’s Hoofer

  1. Pingback: Donald O’Connor – Made ‘Em Laugh | Random Phoughts

  2. Pingback: Kathryn Grayson – Hollywood Soprano | Random Phoughts

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