Today we are talking to PaTricia Kelly, the widow of one of the most iconic and influential performers in entertainment history, Gene Kelly, all about her husband's incomparable career on Broadway and in Hollywood, in honor of his centennial coming up on August 23. Tracing Gene Kelly's journey from his theatre roots starring in Cole Porter's LEAVE IT TO ME!, Rodgers & Hart's PAL JOEY and William Saroyan's Pulitzer Prize-winning THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE on Broadway to his unforgettable screen appearances in many of the greatest movie musicals ever made - COVER GIRL, ON THE TOWN, SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, THE PIRATE, AN AMERICAN IN PARIS and many more included - Mrs. Kelly gives us a vivid look into the life of one of the most important artists of the twentieth century. In addition to behind-the-scenes stories involving Kelly's frequent collaborators - such as esteemed director Vincente Minnelli, songwriter and producer Arthur Freed, arranger Saul Chaplin and others - Mrs. Kelly also shares candid anecdotes involving her husband's position directing Rodgers & Hammerstein's FLOWER DRUM SONG on Broadway, helming the feature film adaptation of HELLO, DOLLY! starring Barbra Streisand, as well as his appearing in two idiosyncratic movie musicals later in his life, LES DEMOISELLES DE ROCHEFORT (THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT) for Jacques Demy, as well as his au revoir to movie musicals in form of the Olivia Newton-John roller disco starrer XANADU in 1980. Additionally, Mrs. Kelly fills us in on all the details about this weekend's two-night Gene Kelly retrospective celebration, which she leads and narrates, as part of Gene Kelly @ 100 and her future plans for the multimedia presentation as she begins to tour the show across the country. Plus, reflections on SINGIN' IN THE RAIN's 60th anniversary and the recent Fathom HD premiere presentation in theaters, the impact of Kelly's work behind the camera, his choreographic legacy, what a legend is like at home, memories of attending the opening night of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (starring HELLO, DOLLY! lead Michael Crawford), what the master would say about GLEE, SMASH, BUNHEADS and today's movie musical renaissance - as well as much, much more!
Film Society Lincoln Center's Gene Kelly @ 100: AN EVENING OF Gene Kelly and CHANGING THE LOOK OF DANCE ON FILM will be presented July 20 and July 21, respectively, at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center. More information is available here.
I've Got A Crush On You
PC: Your commentary on the AN AMERICAN IN PARIS Blu-ray - as well as the entire presentation itself and all of the many bonus features - is absolutely excellent.
PK: Oh, thank you! That was a joy to do - they did a great job on that whole package, I think. On the new SINGIN' IN THE RAIN Blu-ray there is another great bonus feature with a lot of today's choreographers and directors talking about the impact that Gene had on them that I think is really worth seeing, as well.
PC: Is AN AMERICAN IN PARIS the pinnacle of Gene's career, in your estimation?
PK: Well, it's certainly one of them. AN AMERICAN IN PARIS was a project that was so near and dear to Gene's heart - really, the ballet in particular.
PC: One of the greatest sequences in film history.
PK: You know, it was just such an extraordinary feat at the time and he was so proud of how it turned out.
PC: How did he work alongside Vincente Minnelli to create that? On the commentary Gene speaks about how every movement was designed specifically for the camera and the angle of it.
PK: Absolutely. Well, you have to remember, he was the director of the ballet - Vincente was, of course, the director of the movie, but he had just finished filming FATHER'S LITTLE DIVIDEND and he mostly left the entire ballet to Gene to stage and direct from behind the camera, although he was still around to supervise. You know, I am often quite taken aback when I talk about or I hear someone else talking about Gene being behind the camera directing and the audience lets out this kind of audible gasp - it's happened a few times.
PC: They are not aware of his many talents?
PK: No! It is really surprising - people just don't think of him as being behind the camera; they imagine him as up on the screen. But, what they are seeing he usually created and choreographed - or created along with someone else - and then choreographed specifically for the camera.
PC: The whole package.
PK: Oh, yeah - he would work really closely with the camera operators and cinematographers, especially.
PC: Every detail was attended to and considered.
PK: Yes. When I was recently interviewing Rita Moreno at a screening of SINGIN' IN THE RAIN - just last week, actually - she talked about how they would all go every day and be just amazed at watching him direct; literally hopping from behind the camera, checking the viewfinder, watching the dailies, to running onto the set and performing in front of the cameras, then running back to see the take.
PC: A one-man-movie studio.
PK: I don't think a lot of people realize that he was wearing all of those hats at the same time - and I think that is something very important that we have to try to get out there more. You know, people love the movies but they don't always realize that Gene was so involved with every aspect of so many of them.
PC: He was one of the most instrumental forces in a lot of projects - SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, which he co-directed, being one of them.
PC: How did AN AMERICAN IN PARIS come about, as far as you know or he recounted to you?
PK: Well, there are different stories about it, but there was something that happened at the Hollywood Bowl over a pool match that somebody has described - somebody wanting to buy "An American In Paris", but George Gershwin really only wanting to sell all the songs together at one time. So, they had a tremendous lot of music from which to choose for the project, and, of course, Gene and Vincente Minnelli worked extremely well together - they were like the perfect complement to each other. Gene used to say that he would be looking at one thing and Minnelli would be looking at another and it would all just come together - often, Minnelli would just have such an incredible attention to details and that would be it. For instance, in the ballet in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, for the Toulouse-Lautrec section, Minnelli would change one little item on the ground and Gene would be like, "What are you doing?" But, then, when he went and saw the scene through the viewfinder, he saw that Vincente had, indeed, improved it - through this minute detail - and make it even better.
PC: Two true perfectionists.
PK: They were. And, Vincente was so gifted with his use of Technicolor - the Minnelli Technicolor. His knowledge and use of the great capabilities of that format was right in sync with what Gene wanted to accomplish; the largeness of that. He and Gene were really in sync on everything - Gene always used to feel that you lose the third dimension of choreography in movies, so he always felt like he was struggling to convey the three-dimensional art form of dance in a two-dimensional medium like film. So, one of the things that Gene discovered as he was studying the use of the camera is that color and light can affect the appearance and almost simulate a third dimension. So, their work with the cinematographer, John Alton, on that was very in tune - they used a lot of color in light in the ballet to convey that sense of life in the dance.
PC: Was 3D a consideration for the final sequence - or, perhaps, for the whole film? The method was starting to come into vogue at the time.
PK: Not for Gene. They were doing some things in 3D at the time, but they hadn't really worked out the kinks in the technology out yet, so they were really just trying to capture dance as best they could with 2D. I mean, look at what Wim Wenders just did recently - I saw a screening of PINA and at the screening he said, "I watched all of Gene Kelly's movies preparing for PINA." But, it is a more of a stage setup in that, I suppose, whereas Gene was trying to use the dance incorporate the plot into the dance and advance the story of the movie. I kind of wonder if and how he would use the technology that we have available now - he was always looking for new things and new innovations and new ways to capture movement; but, he knew it was a tricky thing, too. I mean, just look at the Jerry Mouse dance…
PC: Another classic clip.
PK: He talked to Maya Deren about it and how you have to ground the animation and you can't just have these figures just floating because then you will lose the power of the dance.
PC: It's a timeless sequence - and it has so few cuts.
PK: Oh, yeah - one of the interesting things about Gene's work is that there are cuts in these numbers, but they are usually cuts on a turn so that you don't have this kind of chopped-up stuff like you often see these days. I was on a panel with some animators once and there were different people who animated Jerry at all of these different points and they were able to look at it and say, "Oh, so-and-so created Jerry in these cells and so-and-so created Jerry in these cells," but the public wouldn't even know that it is a slightly different mouse and a different artist painting it just watching that scene. On that scene, Gene used to say that the camera operator got an ulcer filming it! [Laughs.]
PC: Understandably so!
PK: It was just so difficult to figure out where the camera needed to be and just the whole imagining of this animated figure was so complex to do at the time. But, the camera operator really didn't know where that figure was supposed to be in relation to where Gene was…
PC: This was before video villages and computer visualizations, of course.
PK: Right. And, then, there's COVER GIRL, too - Gene said that was the toughest thing he ever did in his life.
PC: What a sequence! Let's hope a COVER GIRL Blu-ray happens someday soon - and THE PIRATE, especially. Are there any tentative plans for either to appear in HD?
PK: Oh, I hope so! THE PIRATE, to me, is just so… [Pause.] I just love it. Audiences tend to go either really hot or really cold on THE PIRATE, but I happen to really love it.
PC: It's spectacular - one of my absolute favorites, as well.
PK: I know Liza Minnelli loves it, too. I think that it just shows off the exquisite Technicolor and the great wit of Gene so well, and, also, the palpable chemistry between Gene and Judy Garland.
PC: You can say that again - their chemistry is true movie magic.
PK: The problem is that the restoration process is very expensive, so I am grateful that the studios are trying to preserve and perpetuate some of these films, but it's hard because they have to look at bottom line, too. Fortunately, Warner Brothers is releasing all of Gene's works on a movies-on-demand type of format so people will be able to have access to the work that they maybe have not had access to before.
PC: Are there some of Gene's films that haven't been released on video or DVD yet that you would like to see put out - some lost gems?
PK: Well, you see, that's one of the things I do in my shows - I use excerpts and I use clips from different movies to show the breadth of his work. Then, I share stories and talk about the films. It's not like a lecture or anything, though - it's a totally theatrical piece. It's really more kind of like a one-woman-show and what I have tried to do is pick things that I found particularly revealing about Gene and his creative process and show those things; I share some things about him that people might not know in the show and I have some props and things from some of the sets. And, so, anyway - for example, LIVING IN A BIG WAY; three of the best numbers that Gene ever choreographed are in that.
PC: I'm ashamed to say I've never even seen it.
PK: Not many people have! In fact, the construction sequence is really spectacular in particular, but, as Gene said, the movie is "a real dog of a picture," in his words. [Laughs.]
PC: That's hilarious.
PK: So, I don't really suggest to people to run out and get LIVING IN A BIG WAY immidiately, but they should know that there are some extraordinary numbers in there. If people come to see my show, they get to see them there, as well. There are some others, too - I think he does some fine acting in BLACK HAND; I think he's quite good in that and a lot of people might not know that film. There were some scenes that sort of made him cringe in that, though, I remember.
PC: A harsh critic - particularly on himself.
PK: He certainly was. INHERIT THE WIND is another one that people don't really think about him as being in - they forget he was a straight actor, too!
PC: They really do.
PK: You know, there was an actor up there in all those musicals! I say that to people all the time. They say, you know, "Oh, he's acting?" And, I'm like, "Of course! And he's singing and dancing, too - whatever he is conveying at the moment." I find that to be so funny that they don't really see the two as being related, but they are.
PC: Do you think the dance trumps all and dazzles them? Does it overwhelm the rest?
PK: I think that Gene is just so accessible to people that they forget he is playing a role - they feel like, "Oh, that's the guy."
PC: He embodies his roles - effortlessly.
PK: Right. Right.
PC: Leslie Uggams just did this column and we spoke about her appearance in INHERIT THE WIND and how great he was in it, as a matter of fact.
PK: Oh, wow! I so appreciate you sharing that - I forgot she was in it, too! I think that's part of the critical part of my show that people will enjoy; I show who he was at home - he was actually a very cerebral guy. He preferred to mostly sit at home and read poetry or a book - he spoke several languages; Yiddish and French and Latin. He even studied economics! I try to show all the multi-dimensionality of this man in my show - really, a renaissance man.
PK: I think that that is the message I like to convey to people most because then it enhances the movies - I mean, when you see THE PIRATE, you understand everything that went into it, you know? So, I think that gives people a broader sensibility.
PC: Speaking of THE PIRATE, have you ever gotten a chance to see any of the cut songs or have none survived? There were a few that didn't make the final film, I know.
PK: Unfortunately, no. The one that I would love to see most is the notorious scene between Gene and Judy that was cut - the "Voodoo" number. The film has been destroyed, though, unfortunately.
PC: Did he ever describe the scene to you?
PK: Well, I guess she went into this kind of trance and it was an extremely sexual song at the time, apparently - I'm sure it would be quite tame compared to today's standards, though. But, at the time, it was extraordinary; Gene said that it was just an extraordinary scene, but it had to be removed immediately - the studio felt the audience didn't want to see Judy in that extremely sexual kind of way.
PC: How fascinating.
PK: In all of the movies there were cut numbers that I'd love to see - in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, for example, there's "I've Got A Crush On You"; but, that was destroyed, as well. Thankfully, we've got the soundtrack for it, at least, in that case.
PC: What did he tell you about that scene?
PK: He said that they created this bed - this $10,000 bed - that he danced around on and he sang that song while basically making love to this pillow while singing; there are a couple still photos. But, sadly, that number is gone now and it would be just amazing to get the chance to see it.
PC: Any others?
PK: In INVITATION TO DANCE there was a pre-cursor of Twyla Tharp's Sinatra tribute - he choreographed numbers that would be performed all the way up to Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, but the studio did not like that at all, so they cut it and destroyed the footage. I just have a couple still photos of that, too.
PC: What a shame.
PK: Gene always said that they would cut his bed scenes in films - because they were usually the ballads. They cut a lot of great Frank Sinatra material, too, over the years. Often, the ballads would really slow down the pictures, so they were right in that regard, but it's such a shame they didn't save any of the footage.
PC: "Do I Love You?" in DUBARRY WAS A LADY is a great exception to that rule, of course. Did you two discuss his relationship with Cole Porter? They worked together on several projects.
PK: Oh, Gene loved Cole Porter. The sort of interesting thing about that is that Cole Porter wrote the music for Gene's first Broadway show, LEAVE IT TO ME!, and then he did the music of LES GIRLS, which Gene starred in and which was Cole Porter's last picture. Speaking of THE PIRATE, Gene used to say that Cole arranged the songs so that they fit Gene's particular, what he called, "Irish whiskey tenor voice".
PC: What a descriptive!
PK: Gene really appreciated Cole doing that. And, then, there were the lyrics - Gene loved that language that Cole used. You know, there were songs with words like neurasthenia! [Laughs.]
PC: Not a word you hear every day.
PK: In my show, I use "Nina", actually - it is just so charming! You can really see the Douglas Fairbanks influence, too - you see Gene in a little bit of a different light; with the twinkle in his eye and the humor.
PC: Do any Cole Porter stories come to mind since we are on the topic?
PK: Well, on THE PIRATE, he went over to Cole's house one day for lunch to get the "Be A Clown" number - he had written it overnight and then had Gene over for lunch the next day to pick it up. Gene said that was the first time anyone ever served him wine during lunch… [Laughs.]
PC: That is funny.
PK: Gene just loved the songwriters - he had such an appreciation for all of them. He was very intent on creating a particularly American style of dance that was performed to the American popular music of his youth, which was breaking away from the European tradition. Martha Graham and all of the modern dancers at the time were dancing to very percussive beats and Gene really wanted to use these wonderful songs he loved and devise a kind of movement to them - a new vocabulary, as Rita Moreno calls it. He really wanted to be remembered for the way he changed dance on film.
PC: Did you two ever discuss Frank Sinatra's casting in the film adaptation of PAL JOEY? Was Gene even considered for it at the time, as far as you know?
PK: No, no, no. He felt that it was really too late. He felt that, by the time they had gotten around to doing it, that it wasn't the right mix for him at that point in his career. It's interesting, because the role on Broadway skyrocketed him into the stratosphere and a lot of people paid attention to it and wanted him to go to Hollywood, but I think that the play THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE was even more influential in Gene's career; he understood that you really had to play a role and convey story in that. So, as a non-dancer, supposedly, in the play, he had to convey the process of dance but not do it coming across as a total dancer like he really was. That set the tone for the kind of characters he would continue to play - the kind of irresistible heel.
PC: And TIME OF YOUR LIFE was his first choreography seen on Broadway, as well.
PK: Right. Right. He did a lot of choreography around that time, too - a Billy Rose revue and BEST FOOT FORWARD. He learned a lot from Bob Alton, as well.
PC: How did he get involved with directing the original Broadway production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's FLOWER DRUM SONG?
PK: Well, he was looking to do more directing and more work onstage, so the timing was really good. He knew that it was not going to be one of their blockbusters, so he tried to create it and work with it in a smaller vein. It was successful and he worked with Carol Haney on the choreography for that, but a lot of people forget he ever even directed it. There were a lot of articles on the recent FLOWER DRUM SONG and very few even mentioned that he had done the original production, which I thought was strange.
PC: Did Gene want to continue to pursue a theatre career or was Hollywood where his true affections resided most of all, do you think?
PK: I think that he would have been interested in one, but I think he was sort of pigeonholed - he was pigeonholed as a tap dancer. I don't think people often saw him as a director or as a choreographer or creator or even as a straight actor. I know that one role that he really wanted to play was Sky Masterson in GUYS & DOLLS - and that was one thing that really was political; it was a battle between Sam Goldwyn in Los Angeles and Nick Schenck in New York.
PC: What an interesting piece of trivia!
PK: That was the first and only time Gene begged for a role, but they wouldn't release him from his contract to do it. Obviously, the role ended up going to Marlon Brando. So, yes, he did want to do some other things that he couldn't do, as well - Elia Kazan actually sent him the script for DEATH OF A SALESMAN and that would have delighted him; to have played Biff.
PC: What a performance that could have been.
PK: Yeah. Who knows? Kazan may have sent it to a lot of people to get reaction and gauge interest, but it's something Gene would have loved to do. You know, he was in touch with Thornton Wilder - he really had envisioned HELLO, DOLLY! as the original Thornton Wilder story - he thought that that was the way the movie should be done; a very intimate take. But, yet, Fox wanted this big, 70mm picture like they ended up doing. So, there were a lot of projects that never got off the ground that he was trying to generate, but I think it would have been fun to see what he would have put up on the screen if they gave him his way on HELLO, DOLLY!
PC: Was Carol Channing ever considered for the film or was it always going to be with Barbra Streisand in the title role?
PK: It was always Streisand, I think - because of FUNNY GIRL being a bit hit before that.
PC: It was a three-picture deal, I believe.
PK: Honestly, I don't know what the specific arrangement was at the time, but I know that it was a bit difficult - you know, everyone expected Barbra Streisand to be difficult or whatever but Gene said that she absolutely was not at all. Gene said that she was wonderful, and, in fact, she and Gene were very much alike - their precision and the dedication to their craft. But, when she came onset, she let him know she thought she was too young for the role and Walther Matthau didn't really want to be there at all, so it was a bit of a problem to do HELLO, DOLLY! Michael Kidd was the choreographer on the picture, but Gene choreographed and staged the "Ribbons Down My Back" number and Michael Crawford's number, "It Only Takes A Moment". If you look at those numbers, they are very distinct numbers in the picture. Of course, he also created the parade scene, as well. Another interesting thing about that picture is that the producers did not want Michael Crawford to sing.
PC: Which is almost impossible to believe.
PK: I know, but they didn't want him to sing "It Only Takes A Moment" in the film - they said that he had this tiny, little voice and that they wanted a powerhouse to sing that song. So, they didn't want that scene even to be in the picture with him singing it, but Gene said, "No, I want it in," and, since, obviously, look what's happened to Michael Crawford!
PC: Precisely. Michael spoke so favorably of working with Gene when he did this column. Did you and Gene see him in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA at any point?
PK: Yes, we did. We were actually at the opening night in Los Angeles. Michael was a dear friend to Gene and I have heard him in interviews recently explain why Gene was so important and so inspirational to him. So, I really, really appreciate that - Michael speaks so highly of what Gene taught him and it is so nice to hear. You know, with things like that and with the new Warner Brothers featurette with these choreographers, directors and dancers saying, "Hey, Gene Kelly was my inspiration; Gene Kelly is my model; Gene Kelly influenced me; Gene Kelly inspires me every day," it's really like he's alive. It's not like he's dead and 100 - he's still cool and relevant.
PC: He remains relevant.
PK: That's what I think is so important about what we're doing: he doesn't need a birthday party, but it's important that young people see his work and that they are inspired by him. You know, he didn't want people to imitate him, he just wanted people to take what he did and let that inspire them to create something new - just like he did. He wanted people to create new formats and break down more boundaries and challenge more things, all the time. It's important for young people to be exposed to that, I think.
PC: Liza Minnelli adored Gene as well, as she recently told me when she did this column. Was it mutual?
PK: Oh, yes! Gene just adored Liza - she's so amazing. He loved her so much - and her mother, as well, of course. It was mutual admiration with all of them. You know, he's been gone sixteen years now, but there is this continual outpouring of love and support for Gene and that is just so fabulous.
PC: The new HD print of SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is superb. The TCM/Fathom re-release was so enjoyable and the audience just adored it. It never ages.
PK: Oh, that's so great to hear. You know, the question really is, "Why do we keep watching SINGIN' IN THE RAIN sixty years later?" And I think the answer to that is: because it is so contemporary.
PC: How so?
PK: Even though it is a period piece, the choreography is timeless. It's so contemporary - you don't look at it and go, "Oh, that's 1920!" or, "That's so 1950!" It's very inspired and fresh. I think that, also, the humor holds up very well.
PC: The audience was incredibly responsive at the theater where I saw it.
PK: Even though it's a dated picture and it's from a dated time, it doesn't feel that way at all. I think that, as Gene said, "SINGIN' IN THE RAIN has legs." Like you said, it doesn't really seem to age. I think that the fact that SINGIN' IN THE RAIN just nearly sold-out 600 theaters across the country says an awful lot about the appetite for that type of thing and we need to be creating something of that high quality of work now, for today's audiences. Audiences will respond, but the movie people will just have to have some guts to make pictures of that kind of quality again. They need to trust the audience more and take a lot more risks - I think that the audience is there, but we don't consider them nearly enough.
PC: GLEE, SMASH and many of the recent and upcoming movie musicals can give us some hope. What do you think Gene would have to say about those properties and the current musical renaissance?
PK: Well, I think that, obviously, he would be pleased - I think that any focus on dance and movement and creativity he would embrace and endorse. Again, it's very, very hard to imagine, but back when Gene was doing INVITATION TO DANCE, there was really no other way to see dance on that level - you know, you couldn't turn on a TV and see the best dancers from Denmark and Paris.
PC: Certainly not.
PK: I think that he wanted that film to really be an homage to dancers around the world. So, to imagine that now you can turn on a television and see dance almost 24 hours a day is amazing - just amazing. I have to say that I smile a little bit when I see shows like DANCING WITH THE STARS and they say things like, "Emmitt Smith has legitimized dancing for men." And, I think, "Well, I think that Gene did that a few decades ago actually," but it's nice to see that the blending of masculinity and grace is a positive, encouraging thing for young men and that there is less of a stigma on dance now for men in general. Gene's whole crusade in his life involved that - that's another thing; we are actually going to be releasing a new DVD of his Omnibus TV show, DANCING: A MAN'S GAME, this fall.
PC: What exciting news.
PK: Yeah - we are probably going to be premiering it at the Paley Center here in a big gala. When you see the proliferation of dance now, it seems odd to look back and see this show that was created to highlight the connection between acting and dance, but we are still talking about it as if it's something new.
PC: Gene was so ahead of his time in his use of technology, as well - the outstanding COVER GIRL solo sequence leaps to mind.
PK: Right. That's what my second show at Lincoln Center is mostly about, actually - CHANGING THE LOOK OF DANCE ON FILM. The first show is more a look at the man in the creative arts and the second is a like more specific complement to that - it is a much more in-depth look at how Gene really physically changed the look of dance on film and his use of camera and everything else we've been talking about - like in that scene. You know, that extraordinary alter ego number in COVER GIRL had never been done before - imagine that now could it be done so easily with computers; but, at the time, it was essentially thought to be impossible to do. Something like the low-light Technicolor in ON THE TOWN was ahead of its time, as well. He used tricks, yes, but there were so many amazing, well-thought-out movements of the camera and conscious decisions of how the camera could be used - he used to call the camera the one-eyed monster. That was always his preoccupation - how to use the camera to best showcase the choreography.
PC: Speaking of ON THE TOWN, what were Gene's thoughts on the fact that so much of Leonard Bernstein's stage score was removed and replaced by lesser material for the film?
PK: Well, I think that with Comden and Green working on it and it being their first show all together and them being all friends - I have great photographs of Leonard Bernstein and Gene and Comden and Green - it wasn't an issue, really. I think that they make choices in Hollywood and sometimes what works onstage doesn't work in a movie - as we were talking about before, the first thing to go in a movie are the ballads; "Lonely Town" and things like that. So, it's a compromise and everyone has to agree on what works to continue to perpetuate the movie. Sometimes people make a mistake and think that it is the same to stage or choreograph a film as it is a stage show and it isn't; Gene created films for the camera.
PC: Both SINGIN' IN THE RAIN and AN AMERICAN IN PARIS are jukebox musicals - and the trend is popular again now. It's not necessarily about the source material, it's what you make of it - would you agree?
PK: Exactly. I recently saw Adam Shankman at a screening of ROCK OF AGES and he is on the Warner Brothers DVD saying exactly that - that what he had just created was an homage to those movies. I think that what Gene would be most concerned about now is how the dance was being shot - he believed it should be shot full-on, full-figure; you don't show a lot of jumbled-up body parts. One thing that I think that people's response to the film clips in my show and the reception of screenings like they just had of SINGIN' IN THE RAIN shows is that people have the patience to watch this kind of entertainment, but they are just not being given it on a regular basis.
PC: The audience exists for it.
PK: They do. One thing Rita Moreno and I were talking about last week was how editing can render dance impotent.
PC: What an insightful perspective.
PK: You need that full figure - you can't just show a head bobbing around; it doesn't mean anything. Dislocated parts have no power. Audiences are just glued to the full-figure shots in these old movies - I don't think we have to jazz it up with quick cuts and editing and everything to make it have an effect on an audience. I do think we need to find people to trust that. Michael Hazanavicius, the director of THE ARTIST, told me what a huge inspiration Gene was to him - as a director, choreographer and dancer; especially the full-figure filming and the way Gene would cut.
PC: What did Gene think of Bob Fosse?
PK: Well, I think that one of the important things to consider is that Gene preceded him. Fosse came after Kelly and I think the influence is very strong. Again, I think that that kind of circles back to people's perceptions of Gene - they don't see Gene as the creative force. People think of Fosse as being the driving force of choreography and direction, but they don't necessarily see Gene that way - and, really, he was the predecessor of all of that kind of thing. It needs to be reiterated and made clear - Gene Kelly wasn't inspired by Fred Astaire; he had already designed his own style of dance before he met or ever saw Astaire in anything. People think they are connected, but they really are not - although they admired each other tremendously, of course.
PC: In what ways do they differ most significantly, do you think?
PK: Astaire was continuing the basic European tradition of dance - more the ballroom style. Gene definitely wanted to break away from that - especially as a Depression-era kid - and invent his own new style; and he did.
PC: THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT is very ahead of its time - a sung-through pop musical not unlike the mega-musicals of the 1980s. Did Gene enjoy working with a visionary like Jacques Demy?
PK: Demy was so unique - he loved Demy. The only thing I regret about that movie is that they didn't use his voice - Gene spoke French and he could sing in French, so I don't know why they did that and used someone else's voice. To be honest, it's hard for me to watch that film now because the dubber doesn't sound like Gene at all - yet, I love the movement and the color and the fantasy of it and so did Gene. But, you know, it probably wouldn't pop out as much to other people as it does to me, so they can enjoy it.
PC: Demy's musicals have been very influential to many directors - particularly his use of color and music.
PK: Gene loved Demy - I have letter between the two of them and it was like a mutual appreciation society. So, then, on that, there was also Michel Legrand doing the music, who was also a friend - I've had the opportunity to meet Legrand and he so admired Gene and it was so mutual. Gene so admired these people - he really revered them. He never saw any of his work as work and it was never, you know, all about Gene Kelly - and it's often odd to me that I read that kind of thing sometimes. He knew that the key to what he was doing was that you get all the best possible people because that ends up making you look good - if you get great actors and great designers and great musicians and look at it as one big collaboration it will all turn out for the better. He really had a special regard for the composers and the arrangers in particular.
PC: Any players specifically?
PK: Well, Uan Rasey, the trumpet player in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, told me about Gene's attention to detail and how Gene told him to play that trumpet riff "sexy" - not to play it like 1928 Gershwin, but play it like a sexy, modern jazz piece. So, again, that's another example - who would think he would be there while they were recording the soundtrack for the film, offering advice? But, he was.
PC: Olivia Newton-John recalled such fond memories of Gene on XANADU when she did this column. Did Gene enjoy his experience on that film or was it as stormy as rumored? It's become quite a beloved film for it's idiosyncrasies, in any event.
PK: Yeah - now it's like a cult film! It's at every OutFest and everything like that every year. First off, Gene absolutely loved Olivia Newton-John and I will tell you that I got an extremely kind and gracious letter from her after he died. She has always been so complimentary - every interview she does she gives a nice nod to him; I always appreciate it when people do that. But, to be honest, except for maybe Olivia, as far as XANADU being a good experience, it was not. He was really angry about the process for that film, actually, because he wore so many hats usually - because he wrote and directed and choreographed and produced and acted and put so much of himself into the projects he was involved with - that I think he felt restless on that film. He thought that spending volumes of money on a film whose script wasn't even finished was obscene. He said it was the only picture he ever worked on where nobody knew what they were doing and the whole thing and how it was being done was really offensive to him. I think that he thought movies were a privelege and it was an important art form and this kind of waste of resources was really offensive.
PC: How did his number with Olivia in the film come about?
PK: That is a very interesting story because Gene's number with Olivia was not in the picture originally - I don't know if you know that or not.
PC: They went back and added it in?
PK: Yes. Actually, it was shot afterward - that's why it looks so different. [Laughs.]
PC: It does stick out a bit.
PK: They went back and shot it because, after the first screening, everybody said, "Where's the number with Gene and Olivia?" And there wasn't any. So, they begged Gene to come back, but he refused because he was so offended and angry about the way everything had gone. Then, they got Kenny Ortega, the choreographer, to call Gene and ask him to come back. Gene said, "Did they put you up to this?" And, Kenny said, "Yes," and, Gene said, "I'll come back on one condition: that it is a closed set and that the director and producer come nowhere near it." So, Gene, Kenny, the cinematographer, the camera operator and Olivia went back and did that scene. Gene choreographed it and designed it specifically to Olivia's capability - that's always what Gene did; design a number to a performer's ability, especially women. In the case of Sinatra, he choreographed to Sinatra's capabilities, but, otherwise, he would always choreograph to a woman's capabilities; you want to make them look good. I have a clip from XANADU in my second show, actually - I think their number together is really cute. Olivia wasn't a dancer, but I think it's a really charming scene and they pull it off.
PC: It is.
PK: Again, it says a lot about Gene's directing style with the camera - full-figure, and you see the chemistry between these two people. For me, the Gene I knew is the guy in XANADU - that was done in 1980 and I met Gene in 1985. The gestures, the way he walks across the floor, the way he stands, the way he answers the phone - that's all very reminiscent for me of the Gene I knew. [Laughs.] It's actually touching to me, even if it is a very silly, silly picture. People do love it, though. I speak at all the events and people really respond to that picture, which is great to see.
PC: Did you catch the Broadway adaptation of XANADU?
PK: I didn't. I really wanted to come out to see it - and it was funny because I heard about it from them after the fact that they wanted me to come and see it, but I think that, at that point, everyone thought I was 95 or something and not accessible and not available to come to New York and see something like that. [Big Laugh.]
PC: Which is certainly not the case!
PK: It's just so campy and fun and I think that that is the perfect way to do it - I bet that it works particularly well onstage because it was not necessarily designed specifically for the camera; they didn't really think that part through, I don't think.
PC: Kenny Ortega has directed some episodes of the new Sutton Foster series BUNHEADS and that has had some full-figure, one-shot dance sequences in it. Have you seen it yet?
PK: Oh, I am so happy to hear that - I haven't seen the show yet, but I love Kenny and I knew he felt a real alliance with Gene. It's a very nice alliance we all have, I think.
PC: What have been your experiences at the recent showings of the HD print of SINGIN' IN THE RAIN?
PK: I just was at a showing with Rita at the Smithsonian and it was so funny because she was just laughing and laughing - I was trying to watch the screen, but it was almost as fun to watch Rita watch the movie. It's so great to see the audience be so receptive to the film on its sixtieth anniversary and I hope I am here and around to celebrate its seventieth and eightieth and even one-hundredth! You know, when they were creating that movie they never would have imagined it would have a life like it does - they never would have even imagined any of it. Gene would be so, so happy that this film continues to inspire people.
PC: Will you be bringing your Gene Kelly show to other venues?
PK: Yes. I will be doing more shows in New York and across the country. There is very little repetition or crossover between the two shows I am doing at Lincoln Center for Gene Kelly @ 100, so I recommend people come to both if they are curious about it. There is a lot more detail in the second night, I would say.
PC: How would you describe the style of the two shows and how you present the material?
PK: Well, I really wanted to give people a very intimate theatrical experience - I really want people to feel like we are in our living room just having a chat and these geniuses are sitting on the couch after dinner and telling us these unreal stories. They are both very intimate evenings with some very revealing clips and some unusual audio recordings of him, too - some without the orchestrations, which are hard for me to listen to because they are so personal to me but that I think the audience should hear. Rita Moreno said that it was like a pajama party - and that's how I want people to feel. I want people to feel relaxed and ready to experience Gene in a different way. I encourage people to introduce themselves afterwards, as well - I love meeting people and talking about Gene.
PC: His legacy continues on with each new screening of one of his films.
PK: That's true. You know, people come up to me all the time and they say, "Oh, I know you're probably tired of hearing this, but I love your husband's work so much," but, I don't! I never get tired of hearing it.
PC: How did you and Gene meet?
PK: The short story is that I met him at the Smithsonian when I was the writer of a special about the Smithsonian and he was the narrator of it - I tell the story in my show - but, the irony of ironies of it all is that I didn't even know who Gene Kelly was.
PC: No way!
PK: I didn't - it's hard to even believe, I know. So, I actually fell in love with the real guy before I fell in love with the guy on the screen. It's so funny - it's hard to believe, really, but it's so true, too. That's life.
PC: Thank you so much for this today, Patty. This was fascinating and so revealing.
PK: Oh, thank you so much for doing this, Pat. I am so appreciative. This was so wonderful. Bye.
Pat Cerasaro is a playwright and screenwriter currently in pre-production on his first feature film.|