In the 1940s, three musicals united two future legends of entertainment: Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. Onscreen, their characters displayed opposite personalities, and offscreen, the stars’ careers were in very different moments. But without a doubt, this partnership represented a turning point for both Kelly and Sinatra, marking their rise to bigger stardom.
In 1945, the two dress as sailors for the first time in Anchors Aweigh (right), co-starring with singer Kathryn Grayson and Jose Iturbi. Four years later, the duo reunite and add a third male member to their already successful partnership: the funny and entertaining Jules Munshin. In this film, Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949), the trio faces a new reality when their baseball team hires a new manager, played by Esther Williams. This would be the final film of Busby Berkeley and also the first time that Frank’s love interest is played by the delightful Betty Garrett.
Kelly’s and Sinatra’s most successful pairing would come the same year with On the Town (1949). Dressed again as sailors, their characters take shore leave in New York City on a mission: to score with women and sightsee (well, this is what Sintra’s character originally planned to do). On the Town again starred Jules Munshin and Betty Garrett as well as dancers Ann Miller and Vera-Ellen.
In fact, one could argue that Anchors Aweigh is the prequel to On the Town (just as It’s Always Fair Weather is a sequel to the same). The narratives and characterization are virtually the same; Kelly’s sailors are more talkative and active in love while Frank’s are shyer and passively charming. Years later, in a stage show, Gene was still playing off this image, asking his co-star and friend if he had lost his standing with women. (Frank got married five times, while Gene had three wives.)
Almost from the time he landed in Hollywood in the early ’40s, Gene Kelly enjoyed both personal and collaborative successes and was often paired with some of the most talented people in the industry. Frank Sinatra, however, saw his popularity and music career decrease in the mid-1940s and, thus, signed on for this “musical trilogy” (with Kelly) as a way to keep himself in the eye of the public. The crooner-turned-musical-star would only get over this phase after winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in From Here to Eternity (1954). But this is a subject for another time…