“I enjoy working in TV, but you’re doing…it fast…to sell soft drinks and beer. You’re not doing it to lure people out of their homes. The challenge is not nearly so great, is it?” — Gene Kelly (Radio Times, October 1972)
Gene Kelly’s TV career began in October 1939 — yes, you read that right, 1939 — on a live broadcast from New York called Magazine Rack. Along with other guests, he had to wear green makeup since early cameras had trouble picking up the color white (Mitchell Stephens). Gene’s television career likely ended in February 1994 on an interview program called Reflections on the Silver Screen.
In the intervening 55 years, Gene made several groundbreaking programs:
- Dancing: A Man’s Game (1958), which a reviewer called; “A blithe and beautifully simple treatise…pure delight…a brilliant new star in…a new medium” (The Sun, Baltimore, December 1958).
- Two spectacular shows sponsored by Pontiac cars (1959): “The show is marked by simplicity and good taste…no one can accomplish this better than Gene Kelly” (B.H. Times, April 1959).
- Going My Way (1962), a series in which he played a Catholic priest. Gene on the matter: ”No one in the world ever thought of my being a priest — except my mother” (T.V. Radio Mirror, November 1962).
- New York New York (1966): “Gene Kelly shows TV how to do a musical” (Deseret News, February 1966).
- Jack & The Beanstalk (1966): “Kelly discovered that most junior shows either frighten or confuse young children, so he decided to make one tiny tots could enjoy” (Pittsburgh Post Gazette, February 1967). As discussed in another column in this series, Gene won an Emmy for this one.
- Childrens Letters To God (1969): NBC told Gene of unprecedented public reaction, outdoing Charlie Brown and Babar in popularity (letter to Gene in the Gotlieb archives, Boston MA).
- An American In Pasadena (1978) was his last big production. Gene said it was “a chance to thank all those who’ve lent a hand to my career” (Disney Magazine, 1988).
In addition to creating and starring in his own television specials, Gene Kelly was a welcome visitor on the shows of other stars. For example, he sang with Julie Andrews (right) and cracked-up Dean Martin. He quizzed, awarded, hosted, roasted and toasted. He danced for JFK and the Queen of England as well as with Kermit the frog and a woggle bird. He sold beer, wine, barbecues and shoes.
“For nearly thirty years [Gene Kelly] has been involved in major TV productions as a creator, writer, producer, choreographer, actor, dancer, host, guest star or narrator — and sometimes in several of these capacities at once.” (Disney Magazine, 1988)
“I’m still doing a few TV appearances just to pay the rent…singing and doing a little dance – all that’s left of old dad.” — Gene Kelly (American Film, 1979)
Gene, to us you’ll never be “old dad.” You are amazing and immortal.
So, fellow fans, next time someone says that Gene Kelly was “history” following Singin’ In The Rain (1952), tell them, on the contrary, that he made history in innovative TV work which has stood the test of time. You can even tell them he danced with Kermit the Frog.