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From East Liberty to Hollywood, Gene Kelly Brought His Pittsburgh Roots to Dance

Gene Kelly Fans

The life of Gene Kelly, legendary dancer, director, choreographer and Pittsburgh native, will be celebrated Wednesday evening in a show presented at the Byham Theater called Gene Kelly: The Legacy, An Evening with Patricia Ward Kelly. As his widow and biographer, Ward Kelly discusses both Gene Kelly’s career and personal life.

She explained that no matter which direction her husband took his career, where he came from was always a huge influence.

“Gene was very distinct among the Hollywood elite. He was kind of the outcast. He wasn’t in the upper crust, and in fact, he used to say he wasn’t even invited to the Basil Rathbone house. He was the lower, middle income guy. It started, obviously, with the Pittsburgh roots, which were very important for him. But, very distinct from [Fred] Astaire who hung out with the Vanderbilts and the Whitneys. That was not Gene Kelly.”

Ward Kelly said her husband’s masculine style of dance, which differed so greatly from that of Fred Astaire’s, came from his hockey and baseball playing in Pittsburgh as he was growing up. This helped him achieve what she believed to be his ultimate goal; to change the way dance looked on film. Gene also used the camera in a new way, by taking dance “into the streets.”

Many Pittsburgh locals have described Gene Kelly as their hero, including Chris from Squirrel Hill. Not long after he viewed one of Ward Kelly’s presentations about her husband at a local high school, Chris and his wife took up swing dancing. 

Gene Kelly: The Legacy, An Evening with Patricia Ward Kelly takes place at 7:30pm at the Byham Theater and is presented by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

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