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Gene Kelly: A Biography by Clive Hirschhorn

Gene Kelly: A Biography

by Clive Hirschhorn

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Gene Kelly was in the process of writing his autobiography, but sadly died at the age of 83, in 1996, before completing it. His widow Patricia Ward Kelly is said to be writing a book about her late husband’s life, but I’ve just about given up hope of it ever appearing. Until such time as it does however, there are a few biographies of Gene available, and this book by Clive Hirschhorn is widely regarded to be the best in its field. It is certainly the first place I would direct anyone wanting to know more about Gene Kelly.

There is a mistake right at the beginning of the book however; Hirschhorn gives Gene’s date of birth as 3rd August, when it was in fact 23rd August. This seems like such an easy thing to have checked that I cannot help but wonder if this was a typo that somehow escaped correction! I feel obliged to mention it however, because anyone starting the book may wonder if it is going to be filled with other errors – happily, it isn’t.

The book gives a good account of Gene’s childhood, with his strict but happy family life, including the dance lessons which his mother insisted all of her five children take, and the dance school which Gene started, together with other members of his family. It then describes his move to New York, where he found success on Broadway, and then his film career, starting in the early 40s, when he made his first film ‘For Me and My Gal’, starring opposite Judy Garland.

Overall, the description of Gene’s career is comprehensive, and mentions the high and low points of his career, which not only consisted of dancing, acting and singing, but also directing, producing and choreographing (yes, Gene Kelly was truly deserving of the description ‘multi-talented’).

The book also gives a detailed but respectful account of Gene’s personal life, including his first marriage to Betsy Blair with whom he had a daughter, Kerry, and which marriage ended in amicable divorce; and his second marriage to Jeanne Coyne, with whom he had a son and a daughter, Timothy and Bridget. This marriage ended in tragedy, when Jeanne died of leukemia in 1973.

Gene himself was interviewed for this book, and there are many, many quotes from him, as well as people he worked with, and members of his family (predominantly Kerry). The book is interesting, and well written; my interest was held throughout, and although I am a big fan of Gene Kelly, I found out a few things which were previously unknown to me. Hirschhorn seems to have great respect for his subject, but is still able to be objective. As well as the many films which Gene starred in, I also found the accounts of his work as a director to be very interesting (in particular, his work on the film Hello Dolly!, which must have been in difficult circumstances, considering that the two main stars, Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau, could barely stand the sight of each other!) I would have liked to have seen more about Gene’s involvement with liberal politics, and his business relationship with Stanley Donen (which unfortunately ended in a falling out, but while the two men worked together, they certainly produced some amazing films).

Overall, Gene Kelly comes over as I have always imagined him to be; determined, hard-working (in the extreme), a perfectionist, but a very kind, unfailingly honest man, with a strong sense of right and wrong, and a very deep love for his family.

Sadly, as this book was written in the 1970s, it does not cover any of the last 20 years of it’s subject’s life, which is a shame. It is however, worth mentioning the lovely foreward, written by Gene’s friend Frank Sinatra. It is a lovely start to the book, and a nice tribute to Gene Kelly.

Overall, if you are interested in reading about Gene Kelly, or his work, I would certainly recommend this biography. ( )
1 vote Ruth72 | Jan 16, 2012 |
Good book on Mr. Kelly my favourite dancer of all time. I wanted to find out more of what he was like. He was a perfectionist which I think you need to be when your a choreographer and put the quality he put out. His life before he was famous also was well laid out. His family ran a dancing studio for many years in Pittsburg and then also in Johnstown and did vaudeville shows. It's amazing all the preparation he had before he became a world class dancer. ( )
  charlie68 | Jul 10, 2009 |
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Actor, singer,, dancer extraordinaire, Gene Kelly was a fist-class showman whose talent lit the American movie screne for many delightful years.

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