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Gene Kelly: the dancer and the bookworm

Star's widow recounts their time together at the Pasadena Playhouse.

February 21, 2014|By Laura Tate
  • Patricia Ward Kelly, widow of actor and dancer Gene Kelly, at the Pasadena Playhouse in Pasadena on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Kelly is planning a tribute to her late husband in, "Gene Kelly: The Legacy, An Evening with Patricia Ward Kelly," at the Pasadena Playhouse on March 1 and 2, 2014.
Patricia Ward Kelly, widow of actor and dancer Gene Kelly,… (Raul Roa / Staff…)

Ask a 20-something if they know who Gene Kelly was and most likely the response will be a blank stare. Start singing the lyrics to “Singing in the Rain,” and immediately his or her face will light up with recognition of one the most famous, eponymous American film musicals.

Gene Kelly’s choreography, dancing and singing are indelible in the American musical landscape —particularly in the films “An American in Paris” and “Singing in the Rain.” However, what many may not know is the breadth of Kelly’s work beyond his singing and dancing, as well as the iconic dancer’s talents and interests that lived outside the limelight of his film and theater career.

With the show “Gene Kelly: the Legacy, an Evening with Patricia Ward Kelly” (at the Pasadena Playhouse March 1 and 2), Gene Kelly’s widow, Patricia Ward Kelly, strives to introduce the man behind the scenes that few people knew.

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“It’s a very warm, personal show,” film critic and historian Leonard Maltin said of “Gene Kelly: The Legacy” in a recent telephone interview. “Not just that you get to see great footage of Kelly at work — that in itself would be an entertaining evening — but Patricia shares her personal story: her relationship with Gene, how they met, what she learned that she didn’t know ... She really brings him to life in a very intimate 3D way that makes you appreciate his work that much more.”

After catapulting into stardom with the Rodgers and Hart theater musical “Pal Joey,” Gene Kelly came to Hollywood where his unique choreography and exuberant dance captured the imagination of the American film-going audience. Kelly choreographed many, if not most, of the dance sequences in the films and theater musicals he starred in, came to direct his own musicals that starred friends like Frank Sinatra, and was behind the lens of others, such as “Hello Dolly!” with Barbra Streisand.

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