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Gene Kelly


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The major strength of this accessible biography of the great stage and film dancer, choreographer, actor and director is Yudkoff's detailed treatment of Kelly's early years and his struggle to achieve professional success, although Kelly's later years devolve into something of a muddle. Kelly's mother enrolled her five children in dancing school and enjoined them to use their talent to supplement the blue-collar Irish Catholic family's income. Young Gene (1912-1996) complied by teaching children to dance at the local synagogue in Pittsburgh, before working his way through college by dancing in clubs. Later, he jettisoned law school to establish a family business, the Gene Kelly Studio of Dance. Kelly's big break came with the title role in the 1940 musical Pal Joey; he caught the eye of David O. Selznick, who brought him to Hollywood and gave him a part in For Me and My Gal (1942) with Judy Garland. Yudkoff vividly re-creates the famous Hollywood parties that Kelly and his first wife, Betsy Blair, hosted, featuring cutthroat charades and all night political discussions. His treatment of Kelly's personal life is less compelling, however: too much of it is based on speculation. Yudkoff touches on Kelly's left-wing politics during the red scare, but never really explains why Kelly was able to continue working while Blair was blacklisted. Unfortunately, he compresses into one chapter the last 45 years of Kelly's life, in which he remarried twice after a divorce from Blair, raised two children and undertook many creative projects. B&w illus. Agent, Linda Kroner. (Jan.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

Gene Kelly fans will relish this absorbing biography. Yudkoff (a writer and film producer) deftly narrates Kelly's journey from Pittsburgh to Broadway to Hollywood, sensitively telling behind-the-scenes stories and relating the details of Kelly's personal life--from his troubled first marriage, to the highly competitive game parties he held at his house, to his experiences during the McCarthy era. But it is the enormously fascinating material Yudkoff discovered about Kelly's early life that's most impressive. It was, we learn, the determination and intense work ethic he got from his mother as a child that carried him far from poverty in Pittsburgh. He and his siblings spent their youth performing at an impossible number of gigs to fulfill their mother's dreams and, later, to help make ends meet during the Depression. This is the real heart of the story--one of guts and triumph--that sets the stage for Kelly's creative achievements and lasting fame. A well-researched, honest, and respectful work, this is essential for fans and students of film history.--Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, NJ Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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