Eugene Curran Kelly (August 23, 1912 – February 2, 1996) was an American actor, dancer, singer, filmmaker, and choreographer. He was known for his energetic and athletic dancing style, his good looks, and the likable characters that he played on screen. He starred in, choreographed, or co-directed with Stanley Donen some of the most well-regarded musical films of the 1940s and 1950s, until they fell out of fashion in the late 1950s.
Kelly is best known today for his performances in films such as George Sidney’s Anchors Aweigh (1945), with Frank Sinatra and Kathryn Grayson; for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor, On the Town (1949), with Sinatra, Betty Garrett, and Ann Miller, Jules Munshin, and Vera-Ellen; Vincente Minnelli‘s An American in Paris (1951), with Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, Georges Guétary, and Nina Foch; Singin’ in the Rain (1952), with Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen, Millard Mitchell and Cyd Charisse; Brigadoon (1954), with Van Johnson, and Cyd Charisse; and It’s Always Fair Weather (1955), with Dan Dailey, Charisse, Dolores Gray, Michael Kidd, and David Burns.
Kelly made his film debut in Bubsy Berkeley’s For Me and My Gal (1942), with Judy Garland and George Murphy; followed by Roy Del Ruth’s Du Barry Was a Lady (1943), with Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, and Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra; Thousands Cheer (1943), with Kathryn Grayson, Mary Astor, John Boles, Ben Blue, and Frances Rafferty; The Pirate (1948), with Garland, Walter Slezak, Gladys Cooper, Reginald Owen, and George Zucco; Summer Stock (1950), with Garland, Eddie Bracken, Gloria DeHaven, Marjorie Main, and Phil Silvers; and George Cukor‘s Les Girls (1957), with Kay Kendall, Mitzi Gaynor, Taina Elg, Jacques Bergerac, Leslie Phillips, Henry Daniell, and Patrick Macnee.
Non musical films during this period include Pilot #5 (1943), with Franchot Tone, Marsha Hunt, and Van Johnson; Tay Garnett’s The Cross of Lorraine (1943), with Jean-Pierre Aumont, Cedric Hardwicke, and Peter Lorre; Christmas Holiday (1944), with Deanna Durbin; The Three Musketeers (1948), with Van Heflin, June Allyson, Vincent Price, Lana Turner, and Angela Lansbury; Black Hand (1950), with J. Carrol Naish and Teresa Celli; It’s a Big Country (1951), with Ethel Barrymore, Gary Cooper, Van Johnson, Janet Leigh, Marjorie Main, Fredric March, George Murphy, William Powell, James Whitmore, and Nancy Davis; The Devil Makes Three (1952), with Pier Angeli and Richard Egan; Seagulls Over Sorrento (1954), with John Justin, Bernard Lee, and Jeff Richards; and The Happy Road (1957), with Barbara Laage, Michael Redgrave, and Bobby Clark.
Kelly’s post musical films include Irving Rapper’s Majorie Morningstar (1958), with Natalie Wood and Claire Trevor; Stanley Kramer‘s Inherit the Wind (1960), with Spencer Tracy, Dick York, Harry Morgan, Donna Anderson, Claude Akins, Noah Beery Jr., Florence Eldridge, and Jimmy Boyd; and J. Lee Thompson’s What a Way to Go! (1964), with Shirley MacLaine, Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum, Dean Martin, Bob Cummings, and Dick Van Dyke; 40 Carats (1973), with Liv Ullmann, Edward Albert, Binnie Barnes, Deborah Raffin, Nancy Walker, and Natalie Schafer; Viva Knievel (1977), with Evel Knievel, Lauren Hutton, Red Buttons, Leslie Nielsen, Cameron Mitchell, Frank Gifford, Dabney Coleman, and Marjoe Gortner. He appeared in French director Jacques Demy‘s musical comedy The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967), with Catherine Deneuve; and his final film was the musical Xanadu (1980), with Olivia Newton-John and Michael Beck.
Kelly directed films without a collaborator, including Invitation to the Dance (1956), with Tommy Rall, Igor Youskevitch, Tamara Toumanova, and Carol Haney; The Happy Road (1957), with Barbara Laage, Michael Redgrave, Bobby Clark, Brigitte Fossey; The Tunnel of Love (1958), with Doris Day, Richard Widmark, Gig Young, Gia Scala, Elisabeth Fraser, Elizabeth Wilson; Gigot (1960), with Jackie Gleason; A Guide for the Married Man (1967), with Walter Matthau, Robert Morse, Inger Stevens, Sue Ane Langdon, Claire Kelly, and Elaine Devry, and cameos by Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, Terry-Thomas, Jayne Mansfield, Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, Joey Bishop, Art Carney, and Wally Cox; Hello, Dolly! (1969), with Barbra Streisand, Matthau, Michael Crawford, Danny Lockin, Tommy Tune, Fritz Feld, Marianne McAndrew, E.J. Peaker, and Louis Armstrong – which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture; and The Cheyenne Social Club (1970), with James Stewart; Henry Fonda, Shirley Jones, and Sue Ane Langdon.
Kelly co-hosted and appeared in Ziegfeld Follies (1946), That’s Entertainment! (1974), That’s Entertainment, Part II (1976), That’s Dancing! (1985), and That’s Entertainment, Part III (1994). His many innovations transformed the Hollywood musical, and he is credited with almost single-handedly making the ballet form commercially acceptable to film audiences. Kelly received an Academy Honorary Award in 1952 for his career achievements, the same year An American in Paris won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. He later received lifetime achievement awards in the Kennedy Center Honors (1982) and from the Screen Actors Guild and American Film Institute. In 1999, the American Film Institute also ranked him as the 15th greatest male screen legend of Classic Hollywood Cinema.
Each review will be linked to the title below.
(*seen originally in theaters)
(**seen rereleased in theaters)
- For Me and My Gal (1942) – directed by Busby Berkeley
- Du Barry Was a Lady (1943) – directed by Roy Del Ruth
- Pilot #5 (1943) – directed by George Sidney
- Thousands Cheer (1943) – directed by George Sidney
- The Cross of Lorraine (1943) – directed by Tay Garnett
- Cover Girl (1944) – directed by Charles Vidor
- Christmas Holiday (1944) – directed by Robert Siodmak
- Anchors Aweigh (1945) – directed by George Sidney
- Ziegfeld Follies (1945) – directed by Lemuel Ayers, Roy Del Ruth, Robert Lewis, Vincente Minnelli, Merrill Pye, George Sidney, & Charles Walters
- Combat Fatigue Irritability (1945) – uncredited director – short
- Living in a Big Way (1947) – director Gregory La Cava
- The Pirate (1948) – directed by Vincente Minnelli
- The Three Musketeers (1948) – directed by George Sidney
- Words and Music (1948) – directed by Norman Taurog
- Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949) – directed by Busby Berkeley
- On the Town (1949) – co-directed with Stanley Donen
- Black Hand (1950) – directed by Richard Thorpe
- Summer Stock (1950) – directed by Charles Walters
- An American in Paris (1951)** – directed by Vincente Minnelli
- It’s a Big Country: An American Anthology (1951) – directed by Clarence Brown, Don Hartman, John Sturges, Richard Thorpe, Charles Vidor, Don Weis, & William A. Wellman
- Love Is Better Than Ever (1952) – directed by Stanley Donen – uncredited cameo
- Singin’ in the Rain (1952)** – co-directed with Stanley Donen
- The Devil Makes Three (1952) – directed by Andrew Marton
- Crest of the Wave (1954) – by John & Roy Boulting – aka Seagulls Over Sorrento
- Brigadoon (1954) – also co-directed With Stanley Donen
- Deep in My Heart (1954) – directed by Stanley Donen
- It’s Always Fair Weather (1955) – also co-directed with Stanley Donen
- Invitation to Dance (1955) – also director, writer
- The Magic Lamp (1955) – also director, writer – short
- The Happy Road (1957) – also director
- Les Girls (1957) – directed by George Cukor
- Marjorie Morningstar (1958) – directed by Irving Rapper
- The Tunnel of Love (1958) – director only
- Inherit the Wind (1960) – directed by Stanley Kramer
- Let’s Make Love (1960) – directed by Georg Cukor – uncredited cameo as himself
- Gigot (1962) – director only
- Going My Way (1962-1963) – TV series; main role
- What a Way to Go! (1964) – directed by J. Lee Thompson
- Jack and the Beanstalk (1967) – also director – TV movie
- The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967) – directed by Jacques Demy
- A Guide for the Married Man (1967) – director only, ncredited narrator
- Hello, Dolly! (1969)** – director only
- The Cheyenne Social Club (1970) – director only
- 40 Carats (1973) – directed by Milton Katselas
- That’s Entertainment (1974) – directed by Jack Haley Jr. – compilation film
- That’s Entertainment, Part II (1976) – director, co-host – compilation film
- Viva Knievel! (1977) – directed by Gordon Douglas
- Xanadu (1980) – directed by Robert Greenwald
- That’s Dancing (1985) – directed by Jack Haley Jr.
- The Love Boat (1977-1987) – TV series – 2 episodes (1984)
- North and South, Book I (1985-1986) – directed by Richard T. Heffron – mini-series – 6 episodes
- Sins (1986) – directed by Douglas Hickox – mini-series – 3 episodes
- That’s Entertainment! III (1994) – directed by Bud Friedgen & Michael J. Sheridan – compilation film