I have been waiting for one of these days to come! Lovers of movies, music and dance unite! As today we celebrate the 103 years since the birth of great Gene Kelly, American dancer, actor, singer, film director, producer and choreographer. He did 46 movies out of which we name For Me and My Gal, Du Barry Was a Lady, Thousands Cheer, Ziegfeld Follies,Living in a Big Way, The Pirate Movie, The Three Musketeers, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, Summer Stock (film), An American in Paris, Anchors Aweigh and Singin’ in the Rain. Gene Kelly received an Academy Honorary Award 1952 for his career achievements. He received lifetime achievement awards in the Kennedy Center Honors (1982), and from theScreen Actors Guild Awards and American Film Institute.
Roddy Mc Dowell interviewed Gene Kelly in 1979 on PBS about the beauty of making musicals.
Who dreams the musical numbers up?
Gene Kelly: They come about in many ways as any idea is pulled out in the air. Sometimes you will find that the numbers come out of the songs. The songs are sometimes written for the musical in which they are done. In this case, and we’re still talking about Singing in the Rain, the songs were from the catalogue of Arthur Frey. And the songs they were not written for a specific comedy. We took them out and placed them where they are. Singin in the rain itself – I was asked by the producer what I would do to this number and I said, well It’s gonna be raining and I’m gonna be singing. It was one of those cases where the number wasn’t very hard to conceive.
I suppose it was very difficult to do. To photograph rain it is very difficult.
Gene Kelly: Yes, that was the hardest things about it. It’s a simple dance and it wasn’t difficult for the dancer, in this case, myself, to do it. But it was very hard for Howard Ross, the photographer, to photograph it. And he did a terrific job. The musicians all have great credit. And of course the most credit goes to Mr Freyd and Mr. Brown who composed the song to begin with. It is a very good song.
When you first came to MGM, you didn’t come as a musical performer, did you?
Gene Kelly: I did, but some director claimed I wasn’t a musical performer and he wanted me to just be an actor. MGM did borrow me to do roles up with Judy Garland, that’s the first thing I did in pictures. Later, they bought my contract. We were bought and sold. You remember those days? Like a football or baseball player used to be. So they bought me and I became an indebted servant to MGM. I did after Me and MY Gal, the musical with Judy, I did just movies, and then I did another musical.
Was there a problem to convince them that you should really be in musicals?
Gene Kelly: I really didn’t believe I was going to stay in Hollywood. I never thought I had a motion picture career. I thought I did my contract and after, I could go back to the stage.
You didn’t think about a career,really?
Gene Kelly: No, I thought in motion pictures you had to look like Gable or Gary Cooper or someone. I never thought of myself as a motion picture actor. And the musical sort of opened up for me.
To get the opportunity to direct, how did that come about?
Gene Kelly: Well, I fastened on that, because one time I saw a dance that I did in one of the early musicals and I saw it cut together and they were cutting away to a lovely lady who was just watching me and it ruined the dance. That’s when I said: You better direct your own numbers! Or do them with friends who understand that. Then I got interested and then it became my life. I really wanted to do nothing else.
When you do a musical number in your mind, you plan out how it would be cut, right?
Gene Kelly: Yes, you have to do that anyway. But the old fashioned way of doing it and that still was retained quite a few years after I got to MGM, was to make a song or a dance part of the story. Now for the singer that is very good, because he can sing I love you, I love you and they can cut away and you can still hear I love you and they can cut back. But when you cut away from a dancer is cutting away the verbs from a sentence. So, a dance has to be a complete whole or shouldn’t buy its way in. If the dance has to do something with the story, it should buy the way, but it’s not always possible to. That’s in the era of entertainment. And that’s how I made up my mind to shoot my own numbers. And actually the people of MGM where delighted. And when I went down to Columbia, they were too delighted, because they hated to do it. They were like: Take them away!