GENE KELLY Biography - Other artists & entretainers


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Eugene Curran Kelly was born on August 23, 1912 in Pittsburgh, PA, the third of five children. James Kelly, a phonograph salesman, provided a modest living for his family, and Harriet Curran Kelly introduced her children to the arts. By the time Gene was eight, "The Five Kellys" – Jay, Jim, Gene, Louise, and Fred – were performing dance routines at amateur vaudeville nights.


But Gene preferred sports to dancing. Adept at gymnastics, ice hockey, swimming, football, and baseball, he truly hoped to one day play professional baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Gene’s athletic prowess later proved beneficial in a way he probably did not expect - in dancing. Years later in a television special entitled "Dancing: A Man’s Game," Gene demonstrated that dance is merely an extension of movements used in sports.


As a boy, however, Gene’s athleticism also helped win the fights he and brother Fred endured on the way home from dancing lessons. Originally Gene despised the lessons, which began as soon as he could walk. In high school it became apparent that dancing made him popular with girls, and he began to enjoy it.


Gene and brother Fred began to appear at amateur nights as "The Kelly Brothers," and once even danced to the music of Cab Calloway himself. They also made sure they saw any vaudeville dancer who came to town, whereby they would quickly memorize the steps and make them their own.


In 1932, The Gene Kelly Studio of the Dance was founded, with one studio in Pittsburgh and one in Johnstown. It was a family affair with mom Harriet as manager, dad Jim as the bookkeeper, and Gene, Louise, and Fred as teachers. One of their many students recalls that as a teacher Gene was always enthusiastic, always energetic. This former student always remembered that Gene took the time with each student to make sure they did not fall behind, and he never gave up on anyone, no matter how unlikely a dancer they may have been. Gene taught at the studios part time while attending school. He also choreographed and directed shows at the Pittsburgh Playhouse and "Cap and Gown" shows at the University of Pittsburgh.


In 1933 Gene graduated from the University of Pittsburgh as an economics major. By this time the Depression had hit the family hard. Gene worked at many jobs to put himself through school, including ditch-digging and working as a soda jerk. The one he enjoyed the most, however, was dancing. After college Gene attended the University of Pittsburgh to study law, but his heart belonged to dance.


By 1938 Gene had achieved all he could as a teacher, and Broadway beckoned. His first Broadway job was as a dancer in Leave It to Me, which is best remembered today as Mary Martin’s debut, not as Gene’s. This was followed by a slightly larger role in One for the Money in 1939.