BWW Interviews: Show Creator Patricia Ward Kelly on McCallum Theatre's GENE KELLY- A LEGACY
The McCallum Theatre presents Gene Kelly - The Legacy, An Evening with Patricia Ward Kelly on Wednesday, March 5, at 8:00pm. Gene Kelly became one of the top stars of the 1940s and 1950s. He didn't just act, sing, and dance; he also served as choreographer and had a major impact on dancing in the movies. He was known not only for his energetic and athletic dancing style, but also for the likeable characters that he played on screen. In addition to his memorable film performances, his innovations transformed the Hollywood musical and he is often credited with making the ballet dance form commercially acceptable in film. Biographer and film historian Patricia Ward Kelly takes audiences behind the scenes and shares an intimate story of her late husband Gene Kelly, the man who helped create some of the most memorable scenes in film history. This unique, live performance combines rare and familiar film clips, never released audio recordings, memorabilia, and personal insights culled from hours of interviews with her husband. Patricia reveals a very personal side of this American legend and his perspective on the innovative work for which he wished to be remembered. I had the chance to chat with Ms. Kelly for a few minutes about this very special theatrical event celebrating the life and career of this legendary dancer, performer and director. Here are a few excerpts from that conversation.
DG: Let's start with the history of you and Gene. When did you meet, and so on ...
PK: Well, that's a large portion of the show, but I met him in 1985 when I was brought on as a writer for a television special about The Smithsonian in Washington D.C. and he was the host -narrator. And, ultimately he ended up bringing me out here to write his memoir and then married me five years into that process - so that the show is actually - I recorded him almost every day for over ten years in some format and the show is really based upon those recordings. I sometimes call it "Gene on Gene" or "Gene Unplugged" because it's the way Gene wished to be represented and it's a really intimate story that people simply don't have. Because the accounts in books and the accounts on line are either quite inaccurate or not very inclusive - they just don't show the many, many dimensions to this guy and his work behind the camera, which is how he wanted to be remembered --- and the magnitude of the breadth of his knowledge and the breadth of his dance styles and choreography and everything. And, so it's a really personal evening and an evening where people walk out saying "I never knew that about him. I never knew that."
DG: So, what is The Gene Kelly Image Trust?
PK: Well, they're different things. The Image Trust is something Gene established in his lifetime because in California there's what is called the "right of publicity" to deal with his name, voice and likeness - so, I'm the trustee of that. But the Legacy is different. The Legacy is a corporation that I set up to promote the legacy in perpetuity. So, I wear a lot of different hats. He appointed me the trustee of his image and that's a whole different thing, That's dealing with the pirating and - working on that. But the Legacy is really how to promote him and his work, and is separate.
DG: What was the impetus for putting this particular evening, or show, together?
PK: He would have been 100 years old in 2012. And I knew that a lot of people were going to celebrate him in some way. And, what I wanted to do was celebrate him the way that he wished to be remembered. He was very, very specific about that. He really never cared about being a performer. In fact, he preferred NOT to be in front of the camera - he wanted to be behind it. But, over the years I think a lot of people have forgotten, or either didn't know, that he was instrumental in creating what you see on the screen and, for example, people come up to me all the time and say "I had no idea he directed Hello Dolly", and other pictures. They don't see him in that capacity. So, it's fun with the show to introduce that to people. So, I started it at The Academy of Motion Pictures in 2012, and then it went to Lincoln Center and then it's just been rolling out across the country and it will go abroad, in fact, in 2013.
DG: What is something surprising about Gene that people wouldn't know by looking at his career or his resume?
PK: Well, I think - I can tell you easily from the comments I get after the show - people are quite surprised - a lot of people come up and say "I didn't know he was such an intellectual". They don't realize that he spoke French fluently, that he spoke Yiddish, he read Latin - he read a book a day, very often - he wrote poetry --- he was an economics major. He was essentially a true Renaissance man. They see him as the guy up on the screen. They don't realize that he studied mathematics, he was an economics major - that he understood the connection between mathematics and dance - that he really studied the use of the camera in capturing dance - and that he was WAY ahead of his time in the innovations and really revolutionary things that he did with the camera and dance. Like blending animation and live action, with Jerry the Mouse, and dancing with himself in Cover Girl. So, they see this man - they love him up on the screen, and that's great, but they have no idea of the many dimensions to him.
DG: What can audiences expect from the show itself.
PK: Well, it's very intimate - even if I'm in a very large house I try to make the feeling like we're just sitting in the living room having a chat. It's a bit of a hybrid show - I think a bit hard to classify. Because, it's not a lecture - I don't sing and dance, all of that is done by Gene - but it is a one-woman theatrical piece. It has really terrific film clips that I selected to try to show the breadth of Gene's work - the real diversity of it - and to show some things that people - some people are familiar with - but many leave the theatre saying I've never seen that clip, or I've never seen that clip in that way. And then I have - Gene used to sing to me at night and often used song lyrics to show sides of himself, particularly if he got kind of close to the bone, and so I have some really rare audio of him. And then there's a theatrical component of personal items that I reveal that kind of surprises people - I won't give any more of that away because it is a component of the show.
DG: Are there other aspects of "The Legacy" besides this one show? What else are you doing?
PK: Well, I'm actually doing a tribute to Gene Kelly in song - A Life in Song --- at Carnegie Hall in December. And that covers a different - that's on December 4th - and a lot of people don't think about Gene and song -- because they might think more even about Fred Astaire than Gene in that - but that was such a major component of his style of dance, and such a major component of his life. And so I've created another show for Carnegie Hall. And, I speak at a lot of high schools and ... umm,.. just trying to continue to spread the word and to introduce young people to him. That's a major part of it, to just show his pursuit of excellence and the quality of his work and his attention to detail in everything. And kids love it. Young people really get it. They understand that Gene shot the dancer full figure and didn't chop it up into body parts. And they understand the romance of it. I meet with a lot of young people, a lot of dance companies, a lot of theatre companies.
DG: Gene Kelly has been described by so many people - by fans, by critics, by film historians. How do you think Gene would best describe himself?
PK: Hmm. That's an interesting question. Ahh ... (a long pause) ... I can tell you how he would LIKE to be described. He would like to be described as the man who changed the look of dance on film.
The McCallum Theatre presents Gene Kelly - The Legacy, an Evening with Patricia Ward Kelly on Wednesday, March 5, at 8:00pm. Tickets are priced at $50, $40, $30 and $20 and are available at the Theatre's web site atwww.mccallumtheatre.com, or by calling the McCallum Theatre box office at (760) 340-ARTS.