Gene Kelly was a remarkable Pittsburgh celebrity. His talent and charisma took him to the top of show business. His modest starts in the Steel City are an important model to Pittsburgh students who study the arts or demonstrate aptitude for something not typically considered a career.
He was born on August 23, 1912 in Pittsburgh. His mother insisted that he learn to dance, and by the age of eight his family was appearing at amateur nights around town. Of course, most little boys don’t dream of dancing. He wanted to be a Pittsburgh Pirate, and Gene Kelly was an extremely good athlete as a child. While at first he didn’t like dancing, when he discovered girls (and how they liked dancing), he changed his mind.
In 1932, the Gene Kelly Studio of Dance opened, and he and his family taught dance around the city. He choreographed shows for the Pittsburgh Playhouse while attending the University of Pittsburgh for economics.
By 1938, he was ready for more and went to Broadway. his big break came in The Time of Your Life as Harry the Hoofer. When it went on tour, Gene Kelly took over in the lead role and won awards for it. He eventually found himself in Hollywood, with plenty of talent and very few roles for him. His first role was across from Judy Garland in For Me and My Gal. He went on to choreograph his own dances and experiment with dance on film. He learned that film was a different medium than the stage, and experimented with what could be done (including the classic dance with Jerry the Mouse). He left Hollywood to fight in World War II, and returned in 1946.
His career continued until the 1970s, creating many classics like An American in Paris and Singing in the Rain. Later, he didn’t want to be away from his children for long, and he seldom appeared in anything. He died in 1996 in Beverly Hills.
Today in Pittsburgh, he is remembered for his contributions to the arts. A born dancer, he contributed to the age of the Hollywood Musicals as one of the greatest leading males of all time. The Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera recognizes students prom the Pittsburgh area with the Gene Kelly Awards for Excellence in High School Musical Theater today, patterned after the Tony Awards. Hopefully, his legacy will encourage another generation of Pittsburgh artist to lace up their shoes and dance through life.
Gene Kelly Scene: http://www.genekellyscene.com/bio.htm
Pittsburgh CLO: http://www.pittsburghclo.org/pages/gene-kelly-awards