Event—Public Programming

Spotlight on Gene Kelly: The Chicago Years

Gene Kelly backstage, Harris Theatre, Chicago, 1939. Taken by Ann Barzel.

Gene Kelly backstage, Harris Theatre, Chicago, 1939. Taken by Ann Barzel.

Gene Kelly backstage, Harris Theatre, Chicago, 1939. Taken by Ann Barzel.

Patricia Ward Kelly

Listen to an audio recording of this program.

Film historian Patricia Ward Kelly, Gene Kelly’s widow and the leading authority on the cinema and stage legend, will discuss the role Chicago played in the remarkable genesis of the legendary dancer, director and choreographer.

People around the world know Gene Kelly through his appearances on screen in movies like Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris and On the Town, but few know how important Chicago was in shaping his life and work. As Kelly said in a 1983 interview with Chicago Tribune writer Howard Reich, “I still consider Chicago the place where I really learned my basic dancing.”

In addition to stories about her husband’s dance training, Mrs. Kelly will also share little-known anecdotes about his time on the Kiddie Isle at the 1933 World’s Fair, his performances at the Harris Theatre downtown, his skinny-dipping in Lake Michigan, his visits to Jazz clubs, his partnering of Irene Castle at the famous Pump Room, and his trips to the South Side with the great actor John Barrymore.

In the late 1970s and early 1980’s Mrs. Kelly (then Patricia Ward) in Chicago as a researcher and contributing scholar for the Northwestern / Newberry Writings of Herman Melville. She met Gene Kelly at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. in 1985, when he was the host/narrator for a television special and she was a writer. Soon after, he invited her to California to write his memoir, a job for which she recorded his words nearly every day for over ten years. They married in 1990 and were together until his death in 1996. Currently, Mrs. Kelly serves as Trustee of The Gene Kelly Image Trust and Creative Director of The Gene Kelly Legacy, Inc., a corporation established to celebrate Gene Kelly’s artistry worldwide. She lives in Los Angeles where she curates the Gene Kelly Archives and is completing the book about her late husband.

This event is part of our programming related to the free exhibition, The Legacy of Chicago Dance. Visit it April 27 through July 6, in our Roger J. Trienens Gallieries. Download a PDF flyer for related programs, to post and distribute.

Explore the Newberry's Midwest Dance Collection, which encompasses over 3,200 books and periodicals on dance history, as well as over 80 manuscript collections from dancers, dance companies, dance schools and studios, and other dance affiliates.

Support for this program has been provided by Cindy and Stephen Mitchell.

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