100 Reasons to Celebrate Gene Kelly #10: His Physical Fitness and Athleticism

This entry is part 10 of 16 in the series Reasons to Celebrate Gene Kelly.

It was August 2008 (around the time of Gene Kelly’s 96th birthday) when Turner Classic Movies featured a 24-hour Gene Kelly Marathon. I had no idea it would totally change my life for the better.

While watching the film fest, I quickly got a hint of Kelly’s physical capabilities with the Brando dance at the end of Les Girls (1957), but An American In Paris (1951) was a virtual thesis in his athleticism and fitness: the feisty tap on the piano in “Tra La La La” (why did he have to cover that tank top up?), jumping onto the fountain, wearing that skintight jumpsuit.

Great art makes you think. Here was Gene bouncing around like a kid at 39, and I could barely waddle across the room. I never considered that I could be fit, but Gene made me think that maybe it was possible. Still I remained stationary, except for searching for “everything Kelly” I could get my hands on. For instance, I couldn’t stop admiring

  • The Pirate‘s (1948) fantasy ballet sequence (those thighs, oh dear).
  • The vaudeville scene in Singin’ In the Rain (1952), which showcases his biceps in a sleeveless shirt.
  • The bandit chief tango and swing through the air in Anchors Aweigh (1945).
  • His graceful and seemingly impossible tap-dance on rollerskates in It’s Always Fair Weather (1955).
  • And his athleticism in Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949), where he threw Frank Sinatra around like a sack of feathers, leapfrogged up a balcony, and tapped on one foot in “The Hat My Father Wore.”

If these films are a master’s class in the physical fitness of Gene Kelly, then The Three Musketeers (1948) is the doctorate. Note, for instance, Kelly’s leap over the statue, the shishkebabbing of half of France, and the signature move of his lying on his back with legs afloat and leaping to his feet, a move also seen in Thousands Cheer (1943) and Anchors Aweigh.

I also loved the Saturday Evening Post article from around the time of Summer Stock (1950) when Gene said his warmup was “60 pushups in 60 seconds!” Then I found the Ed Sullivan video where he did the push-up thing with Sullivan on his back, assuring him he wouldn’t drop him. The next day I went downstairs and began riding my old stationary bike; eventually I moved outside when the weather got nice. A year later I walked/jogged my first of six half-marathons.

Gene Kelly comes along during my training and these races via iPod. You can only guess what I was listening to and singing in a downpour last fall (the other racers got a hoot out of it.) While there were other factors involved in my decision to get in shape, Gene’s example was certainly a motivator. I think he’d appreciate the thought and the effort. And I hope the same inspiration happens for other fans for years to come.

Patty Grove
Rothschild, Wisconsin

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