Gene Kelly’s daughter reveals the star’s secret to success

Kelly was the first great movie star of the 1960s: big, brash, dazzling. With his backlighting, biker jacket and bolero jacket, just the colour of the picture he was about to give them, his grin, and a massive eight o’clock shadow, Kelly could be the icon of America. He was the showman, the cowboy, the hair stylist who never left the ranch. In her new memoir, “Gene Kelly – My Father”, Kerry Kelly makes it clear that her dad embodied this ideal. In the early 1960s, she writes, he was among the first of Hollywood’s big stars to become involved in politics, first by doing a campaign ad for President Kennedy in 1960 and then acting as assistant to the president at Camp David for the next decade. This led her father to the point where he discovered that the “real world” and the movie business were not as separate as he thought, and that fame had gone both ways. With ex-husbands Billy Keith and Glen De Valk, a fellow actor, Kelly turned their rocky marriage into a documentary about the marriage that aired in the United States in 1968. At the end of this film, many people in the audience were crying because of the loss of their own marriages. Kerry Kelly notes that the one quality that the man who made these films could share with his own families was his fiery love for family – indeed, he was the greatest father of all time. She goes on to reflect on the character-driven films she used to watch with her dad in her childhood and the effect they had on her life. The family vacations always included visits to the studio where Kelly made musicals or the golf courses at Holmby Hills in Los Angeles where the family would go to play with the child stars of those movies, like Ryan O’Neal and Farrah Fawcett. A Hollywood goddess like Kelly transformed her father’s innocence. Even before she was born, Kelly took her mother, Ann, as her model. In her mother’s arms, this mini-me was just the sort of doll from which Kelly grew into a big boy who led his family as a matador, a preacher and a cowboy. Growing up, she would make her way in the movies, too, with her father’s encouragement. Kelly would often only perform to the high of his heart, meaning that he would often play to tears – a sob fest that delivered him awards in the 1950s. This started off as his first love, the musicals in particular, though his younger brother Owen interjected a few wise words in this interview with actor Patrick McGoohan for the Guardian this year. “He was the ultimate romantic and romantic actors end up being,” Owen Kelly said. “That’s why he’s so well-loved.” * * *

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