“I’m Kelly’s start on vaudeville propelled him to stardom.

“I’m singing in the rain”, you might have heard this
quirky tune from the musical Singing in
the Rain, starring Gene Kelly. Gene had a unique dance style, coming from
his background in ballet and tap. From performing with his five siblings, to
starring in classic Hollywood musicals, Gene Kelly’s start on vaudeville propelled
him to stardom.

            Gene
Kelly was born August 23, 1912 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Number three of
five siblings, raised by his Irish mother and father. His mother, had a passion
for the arts, performing with a local stock theater company. She later enrolled
her children into the Fairgreaves School
of Dance. Before beginning dance at the age of 8, Kelly played many sports
like ice hockey. At a later time, this athleticism would distinguish him from
other dancers. In the 1920s, Jay, Jim, Gene, Louise, and Fred named themselves
“The Five Kellys” and performed in local vaudeville shows in Pennsylvania. Here
Kelly learned the difference between dancing and performing. Although Gene
enjoyed dancing and performing, the neighborhood kids would bully him, causing
him to quit. Later on, he discovered his love for dance again through his
brother Fred.

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            Throughout
High School, Gene played sports like basketball, football, and ice hockey. But dancing
got the attention of girls, therefore Gene’s brother Fred taught him tap. Fred
and Gene entered talent shows for money, as well as displaying their skills in vaudeville
shows. Later, in the early 1930s, Gene enrolled into University of Pittsburgh
to study law. He spent his summers at the YMCA as a stage and dance coach. After
graduating college, his mother decided to run a dance school. Gene joined his
mother at the “Kelly School of Dance”, later renamed the “Gene Kelly Studios of
the Dance”, to teach tap and ballet. During this time, he took ballet classes
in Chicago and New York, to help him become a better choreographer. Gene found
the opportunity to practice choreographing by creating routines for vaudeville
acts that passed through Pennsylvania. Sooner or later, New York would welcome
Kelly’s work on Broadway.

            Kelly
took a job as a choreographer for the musical “Hold your Hats” at the
Pittsburgh Playhouse in 1938, this caught the attention of Robert Alton, giving
Gene his first job on Broadway, dancing in a six-male chorus, in the musical
“Leave It To Me”. After several other choreography jobs, Gene finally got his first
main role on Broadway, as Joey Evans, in the 1940 musical “Pal Joey”. This
musical got the attention of Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM, and put Kelly in
first movie musical, starring alongside Judy Garland.

            In 1942,
Gene Kelly’s experience in vaudeville came full circle in the musical “For Me
and My Gal” as him and Judy Garland played two vaudeville performers reaching
for stardom. He demonstrated to audiences his distinct distinctly Irish way of
tapping as well as his athleticism, making him stand out from his peers, like
Fred Astaire, who incorporated ballroom into his routines. Gene’s extraordinary
gift later give him an Oscar award for his work in the 1951 musical, “American
In Paris”, where he choreographed a 17-minute ballet piece. One year later in
1952, Kelly co-directed, choreographed and starred in on the most iconic movie
musicals “Singing in the Rain”. It features the renowned scene of Kelly with a
black umbrella and hat, tap dancing around the street lights in the rain. A
clip of this scene has 19 million views on YouTube, an amazing feat for a movie
made in the 50’s.

            Through
his journey performing in vaudeville shows to creating iconic musical films
like “Singing in The Rain”, Kelly made millions of people fall in with music
and dance. His incredible tapping will always remain in people’s memories as
well as his way of making audiences smile.

            

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