By Mark Morellini
Patricia Ward Kelly, the wife of the late Gene Kelly, brings her Gene Kelly: The Legacy show to Sydney and readers have the opportunity to read the complete interview in which Patricia speaks about the show and candidly shares some aspects of her life with the iconic silver screen legend.
1). WHAT CAN AUDIENCES EXPECT FROM YOUR REMARKABLE SHOW??
It is interesting that you ask this since people generally do not know what to expect. Most husbands and wives don’t record their spouses every day, so what I present is a very intimate portrait of Gene as a man and as a creative artist. There is no model for my show, so I often say that I take people on a little journey into Gene’s heart and mind, using the stories he shared with me along with brilliant film clips on a big screen. Gene wanted to be known more for being behind the camera as a director and choreographer, so I share these dimensions of his work. He also sang to me at night as a way of revealing very personal parts of his life and I share some of these songs. Gene was a multi-faceted person—a real Renaissance man—and I want audiences to come away with an understanding of these many dimensions. I greet people after the show and one comment I hear quite often is, “I loved him before, but I love him even more now.”
2). BRIEFLY, HOW DID YOU AND GENE KELLY MEET?
I was a writer on a television special about the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. in December 1985 and Gene was the host/narrator. The grand irony is that I did not know who Gene Kelly was when I first met him.
3). DID YOU EVER IMAGINE UPON MEETING GENE KELLY THAT ONE DAY YOU’D BE HIS WIFE?
Absolutely not. I never dreamed that I would move to Beverly Hills and marry a legend. It simply was not on my radar. I did not grow up at the movies as many people do. But in hindsight, not knowing Gene was famous and not being in love with his screen persona proved to beneficial.
4). WHAT WAS GENE KELLY LIKE AWAY FROM THE LIMELIGHT?
He was a very cerebral man whose mind was constantly in motion. He was a voracious reader and loved to sit on the couch and read next to me. He also loved listening to music when we sat in front of the fireplace at night, especially to his friends Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole.
5). DID GENE KELLY HAVE A PARTICULAR ‘BEHIND THE SCENES’ FOND MEMORY FROM ONE OF HIS MOVIES WHICH HE REMINISCED ABOUT?
Gene told me that after they finished shooting An American In Paris he and Arthur Freed got the MGM projection room in Paris and invited the painter Raoul Dufy to see the film. (Dufy’s work is represented in the fountain segment of the American In Paris ballet.) Gene was worried that Dufy would not like the way that the filmmakers had incorporated impressions of Dufy’s paintings in the ballet sequence. But when they turned up the lights at the end of the film, Dufy was weeping with joy and asked them to run it again.
6). WHY WAS GENE KELLY THE STANDOUT PERFORMER OF HIS ERA?
I think there are a few standout performers of that era; Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland; Fred Astaire come to mind. I always say they were like comets that fly by once in a lifetime. Gene was unusual because he was not only a triple threat; he was a septuple threat as an actor, dancer, director, choreographer, writer, singer, producer. Plus, he had that ineluctable quality that draws people in and cannot really be imitated.
7). I REMEMBER GROWING UP WATCHING GENE KELLY MOVIES ON TELEVISION. THAT ICONIC SCENE WHERE HE’S SINGING IN THE RAIN WAS EMBEDDED IN MY MIND FROM AN EARLY AGE – WHY DO YOU THINK MILLIONS OF PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD TO THIS VERY DAY HAVE A SPECIAL PLACE IN THEIR HEART FOR GENE KELLY AND HIS FILMS?
Although Gene was a very private man in person, he seems accessible on-screen. People of all ages relate to Gene splashing in the puddles and swinging off of the lamppost. They imitate the movement and feel that the dancing is natural and something that they could do (even though Gene said it was very difficult to make it appear so easy!). Gene always said that the purpose of his work was to bring joy and that translates all around the world and for every generation.
8). WHAT AUDIENCE WOULD GENE KELLY THE LEGACY SHOW APPEAL TO?
I always say there is no demographic for my show; it appeals to people five years old to 95 and every age in between. And men and women are equally drawn to Gene and his movies. Obviously, the show appeals to dancers, actors, performers in musical theatre, and others who idolise Gene, but the experience also appeals to people with no real knowledge of Gene’s work. It explores many subjects, including romance, loss, grief, innovation, the pursuit of excellence, and basic human integrity. For me, one testament to the show is the fact that many people make an effort to see it more than once and some, including several young boys who have become friends, come again and again.
Feb 12. State Theatre, 49 Market Street. $59-$109+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.statetheatre.com.au