The Basics: Did Gene Kelly Marry?

This entry is part 11 of 15 in the series Gene Kelly: The Basics.

I can’t imagine an adult man not wanting marriage. Freedom is lonely…it’s sheer boredom…’getting to know you’ is the loveliest thing in life….A little variety can’t possibly compensate for the joys of solidity, of having someone close by your side, of having children.

For the joy of having a child, I’d eliminate a lot of freedom. And for a wife. A woman clips your wings a bit, but she’s worth it.  – Gene Kelly, TV Radio Mirror – November 1962

Gene Kelly was married three times during his life.

His first wife was Betsy Blair (December 11, 1923 – March 13, 2009). She was an aspiring actress/dancer from New Jersey who met Gene in 1940 when she was a day early for a night club audition. He was the choreographer for the show, and she was hired. They began dating, and were married in September of 1941.  She was 17.  While married to Gene, Betsy was involved with various political groups, and would eventually be investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Her most famous role was in the film Marty (1955) for which she received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination and won a BAFTA award as Best Foreign Actress. Shortly after these acclamations, however, she and Gene began living separate lives, and the couple divorced in 1957. Betsy continued to work on the stage in New York and London and in films overseas after the divorce. She died from cancer at age 85 in London.

Gene’s second wife was Jeanne Coyne (February 28, 1923 – May 10, 1973). She had first met Gene as a child, taking classes from him at The Gene Kelly Studio of the Dance in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. After appearing on Broadway, Jeanne moved to California and became a regular at the Kelly house, along with her first husband (and Gene Kelly’s creative partner), Stanley Donen. She and Donen would divorce in 1949 after a year of marriage. Jeanne was an assistant to Gene and many other stars throughout the 1950s and, along with dancer Carol Haney, helped with some of Gene’s most famous films and dance numbers.  Jeanne appeared in such films as On the Town (1949), Summer Stock (1950), Singin’ in the Rain (1952), and Kiss Me Kate (1953).  After Gene and Betsy divorced, Jeanne was Gene’s constant companion and they married in August of 1960. After marrying, Jeanne decided to give up her career to focus on being a wife and mother. Jeanne Coyne died in 1973 from leukemia.

Gene’s third wife was Patricia Ward Kelly. She met Gene in 1985. He was narrating a documentary for the Smithsonian Museum, and she was the scriptwriter. Gene invited her to move back to California with him, and in 1990 they were married. On February 2, 1996, Gene died in his sleep from a massive stroke. Patricia Ward Kelly is the trustee of the Gene Kelly Image Trust, and still makes public appearances speaking about her late husband. Her website states that she is working on a book about Gene, but no publication date is available.

Sources and Further Reading:

  • Blair, Betsy.  The Memory of All That: Love and Politics in New York, Hollywood, and Paris.  New York: Knopf, 2003.
  • Gene Kelly: Creative Genius, “Listen to My Heart”
  • Hirschhorn, Clive.  Gene Kelly: A Biography.  New York: St. Martin’s, 1985
  • Wikipedia: Betsy Blair, Jeanne Coyne, Gene Kelly
  • Yudkoff, Alvin. Gene Kelly: A Life of Dance and Dreams. New York: Watson-Guptill, 1999.

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