By Christopher Cussat
The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust recently presented Gene Kelly: The Legacy, An Evening with Patricia Ward Kelly on Wednesday, May 21, at 7:30 p.m., at the Byham Theater in downtown Pittsburgh, Pa. The event was part of the Cohen & Grigsby Trust Presents series (www.TrustArts.org).
Gene Kelly was a joyous performer. As a legendary dancer, director and choreographer, he brought astonishing grace, athleticism and masculinity to the big screen. He continues to delight and captivate us, yet we know little about him.
During this unique evening, Patricia Ward Kelly, his widow and biographer, presented an intimate portrait of this dynamic and innovative artist who created some of the most memorable and iconic scenes in film history. “Truly personal and a rarity in tributes like these—I felt privileged to be there,” said Leonard Maltin of Entertainment Tonight.
Kelly’s compelling presentation combines rare and familiar film clips, previously unreleased audio recordings, personal memorabilia, and insights culled from her hours of interviews and conversations with her husband. This special live program makes for a remarkable experience praised as “a real treat” by Variety and hailed as “deeply moving” and “mesmerizing.”
The Hollywood Reporter wrote, “Patricia holds the stage at this point in her life as a seasoned pro, standing with considerable poise in a demanding presentation while sharing her memories and insights about Gene’s personality, artistic commitment and their personal relationship.”
Patricia Ward met Gene Kelly in 1985 in Washington, D.C., where she was the writer for a television special about The Smithsonian for which he was the host and narrator. Soon after, he invited her to California to write his memoir. They fell in love, married, and were together until his death in 1996.
“I am very happy to be bringing the show to Gene’s hometown of Pittsburgh—so much of who Gene was and what he accomplished is rooted here in his steel town upbringing and in the upheaval that he and his family experienced during the Great Depression,” said Kelly. She continued, “The theaters and movie houses that Gene frequented as a young boy (including The Byham in its previous incarnations) played an important role in his creative development, so it is an honor—and a kind of coming full circle—to bring his Legacy to the place where it all began.”
According to Kelly, it was an opportunity to show sides of her husband not well known by the public. “Many people know and love the person they see up on the screen, but few know the many dimensions of the man and his work.” She added that people do not know that [for examples] he was fluent in French, was a Shabbos Goy who spoke Yiddish, studied economics, memorized and wrote poetry, frequently read a book a day, and did The New York Times crossword puzzle in ink. “That’s one of the things that is most rewarding for me about doing the show—sharing the little lower layers that make Gene come to life for people in new and interesting ways. Gene was very guarded and revealed little about himself in interviews—the fact that he let down his guard and entrusted me with his story was a great privilege.”
She also noted, “Each time I do the show, I learn new things from the audience and am touched by the personal stories that people share with me when I greet them before and after—he inspired many, and others continually tell of being moved by a particular number, or describe the way Gene’s work affected them at a certain time in their lives.”
Kelly explained that some remember being introduced to Gene’s movies by a parent or grandparent, and, of course, there are many for whom he was a first ‘love’—a crush that, in some cases, has lasted for decades. “So, in many ways, the experience is very reciprocal,” she concluded. “People often ask me if it is difficult to do the show because it is so personal and emotional—in fact, sharing the stories helps to deal with the absence, as Gene remains current and continues to influence new generations.”
Currently, Patricia Ward Kelly serves as sole trustee of The Gene Kelly Image Trust and as Creative Director of Gene Kelly: The Legacy, a corporation established to celebrate his artistry worldwide. She lives in Los Angeles where she is completing the definitive book about her late husband.
Gene Kelly: The Legacy is currently on tour in the U.S. and abroad, and has premiered at sold-out evenings at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and New York City’s Lincoln Center. More information about Gene Kelly: The Legacy can be found at: www.GeneKelly.com, www.facebook.com/GeneKellyTheLegacy, and http://youtu.be/9Y6LiXSFjs0.