I'm not big into musicals. I prefer Jackie Chan movies or science fiction or silly comedies like Airplane or even recorded NFL games. However, listening to Lileks talk about the movie It's Always Fair Weather on the air with our Patriarch of the Airwaves, I got the itch to try it out. It came up on AMC and I TiVo'ed it. That's when I decided that Gene Kelly was the definition of cool.
Gene's mom forced him to take dancing lessons as a child when what he really wanted to do was play shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He would get beat up on the way home from school by the other boys who called him a sissy. When you see him in the movies, he's anything but a sissy. In contrast to Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly was built like the athlete he was.
Talking about the contrast between them, he said, "When I arrived in Hollywood, I was twenty pounds overweight and as strong as an ox. But if I put on a white tails and tux like Astaire, I still looked like a truck driver... I looked better in a sweatshirt and loafers anyway. It wasn't elegant, but it was me."
It took about half of It's Always Fair Weather for me to realize that everything he did was dance. Every movement was fluid and graceful and strong and purposeful. I'm in the middle of An American in Paris right now, but snagged this little bit out of the introduction to show you what I mean.
I replayed this scene several times and then showed it to my son to appreciate the choreography put into such a simple event. The guy is just cool and confident in every move.
I'll admit I don't watch all of his movies. I typically fast forward over some of the musical numbers. My TiVo has decided that since I like Gene Kelly movies, I must like all manner of musicals, so I'm constantly fighting with it to delete them as fast as they show up. In fact, I wonder if it thinks I'm insane with the eclectic collection of things I watch. Oh well.
One more biographical note about Gene Kelly. After his second wife died of cancer and left him with two children, he repeatedly turned down movie roles to be a dad instead. That's a strong man in my book. That's cool.