'Gene Kelly: The Legacy' — Patricia Kelly on her late husband, plus exclusive Q&A

In one of the highlights of last month's Starz Denver Film Festival experience, Jim and I had the fabulous opportunity to attend Gene Kelly: The Legacy — An evening with Patricia Ward Kelly. As guests of Mrs. Kelly. What a fabulous treat it was.

Patricia Kelly on Gene Kelly

Patricia Kelly's two-hour, behind-the-scenes presentation highlighted her late husband's life and legacy in a sentimental, intimate manner no other biographer might be able to do. "Since I had the privilege of recording his words nearly every day for over ten years," Mrs. Kelly told me by email, "I have a story that no one has."

And what a story...

The heartfelt presentation mesmerized those in attendance, Jim and myself included. Our hearts were warmed by the moments we'd seen often, such as footage from "Singing in the Rain," "On the Town" and many rare clips, too. And our knowledge of Gene Kelly the performer — and the man — was expanded by the intimate details Patricia Kelly told prefacing the memorable clips, exclusive audio recordings and never-before-seen memorabilia.

Not only did Patricia Kelly share insights on Gene Kelly's professional moments and preferences — he originally hoped to be a baseball player or priest; he loved Rita Hayworth and Judy Garland; his childhood heroes included Douglas Fairbanks and Lon Chaney Sr. — but personal ones as well. She had no qualms about telling how she came to be his biographer in 1985 when she was just 26 and he was 73 — and his wife five years later. "Gene never seemed old to me, ever," she said. She revealed how Gene Kelly ended up with that famous scar on his cheek, his favorite food (cold mashed potato sandwiches!) and his final conversation with his adoring wife.

Gene Kelly: The LegacyThe entire GENE KELLY: THE LEGACY presentation made my heart sing, brought me to the verge of tears several times. Patricia Kelly bravely and respectfully told stories that revealed much about a man who lived his life as privately as his super-stardom might allow. In the process, Mrs. Kelly's stories also revealed her undying love and admiration for her late husband and her steadfast commitment to ensuring Gene Kelly's legacy lives on.

Jim and I were not only moved and impressed by Patricia Kelly's unique and memorable presentation, but with her determination to shake hands with as many attendees as possible before the show and again once the show ended and the theater emptied. She made each one of us feel as if we were her friend — and she impressively not only requested my husband's name when we first met, she called Jim by name as we left.

Such gestures underscore Patricia Kelly's genuine affection for those who admire her late husband, those who were moved by his work throughout their lives and his.

"As I take the show across the country and abroad, it is very rewarding to begin to share that story and to hear the responses from people in the audience," Mrs. Kelly told me by email. "I learn new things each time and I am very touched by the personal insights that people share with me. So, for me, the experience is very reciprocal."

As I mentioned here prior to attending the performance, Patricia Kelly graciously agreed to answer some questions the Grandma's Briefs readers might have for her. My request for questions to propose yielded more than 30.

"I am very impressed by the list of questions," Mrs. Kelly said in response to my question-filled email. "Interestingly, it is thoughtful questions like these that have guided me in my creation of the GENE KELLY: THE LEGACY show and in the writing of the memoirs. Initially, I assumed that people would only want to know things like how he shot Singin’ in the Rain, but over the years I’ve learned that people are interested in the many layers of Gene and his work."

Thirty questions is an awful lot for Mrs. Kelly to answer, though, so she simply chose the ones at the top of the list I sent her. Below are her answers to those questions. Answers to nearly all that were sent to me for Mrs. Kelly are answered in her fabulous presentation, so be sure to "subscribe" on the GENE KELLY: THE LEGACY website for updates on when she will be presenting it near you.

Patricia Kelly on Gene Kelly, exclusively for Grandma's Briefs readers

Grandma's Briefs: What did Gene Kelly consider to be his "big break?"

Patricia Kelly: When Gene starred in “Pal Joey” on Broadway, he became an overnight sensation. Several people from Hollywood saw his performance and wanted him to come to California. But Gene often cited the William Saroyan play “The Time of Your Life” as a pivotal point in his career, because it was in that performance that he began to appreciate the need for dance to convey a character and further the plot.

GB: Did he mentor young dancers?

Patricia Kelly: Gene loved young dancers and was always very appreciative of their energy and talent. I remember going backstage with him to meet dancers after seeing performances by Hubbard Street Dance from Chicago and the Jerome Robbins Broadway show. He was at ease with young people and it was wonderful to see the mutual regard. He encouraged young performers like Michael Jackson and Paula Abdul and was an inspiration for many others. Although he died nearly 18 years ago, he continues to be a guiding light. Nearly every day, I hear from dancers, directors, choreographers, and cinematographers from all around the world, who write to say that Gene touched their lives in some way. That is a real joy for me, and something for which he would be very proud.

GB: It's been written that when Gene Kelly made "Singing In The Rain" he had 102-degree fever. Is that true?

Patricia Kelly: There is a lot of mythology about the making of “Singin’ in the Rain,” but that is one of the true stories. Gene was very sick when he shot the iconic number (in 1 ½ days!). He was a consummate professional and it is important to remember that he created the number and that he was also behind the camera setting up the shots. I was on the road with the great Rita Moreno for the 60th anniversary of Singin’ in the Rain last year and she described watching Gene on the set. She said he was in constant motion and that he literally leapt from behind the camera to in front of the camera to behind it and on and on. Leslie Caron has described him similarly in his shooting of the American in Paris Ballet.

GB: Why do you think "Singing in the Rain" became his most iconic film more so than "An American in Paris?"

Patricia Kelly: I’ll borrow Rita Moreno’s response when she was asked why people are still watching Singin’ in the Rain after so many years. She said, “because it is a perfect musical.” I have to agree. There are so many brilliant components—the writing, the music, the dancing, the cinematography, the performances, the wit and charm. It is a period piece yet it is still very contemporary. The choreography is very new and fresh and still inspires many dancers and choreographers. Plus there is the universal element of joy. You don’t need a translation for that. It works all around the world and affects people of all ages. I think An American in Paris holds up very well, too. Many people actually prefer it. But Singin’ in the Rain touches a particular chord. I have been traveling around the world this year to introduce the film with the music being played by a live orchestra. Something very special happens when a large audience experiences the movie on a big screen. It makes me smile to hear the communal laughter and the sighs of appreciation.

GB: How did he deal with dancing injuries? At home, did he soak his feet or wear special slippers? Did he do stretching exercises or have a certain way of sleeping, etc?

Patricia Kelly: Gene used to say, “you dance hurt.” He often performed with injuries—torn hamstrings, sprained ankles, broken ribs. It was part of the job. He described dance as “a masochistic sport,” because of the wear and tear on the body. Gene was no longer dancing in public when I was with him, so I did not experience his routine firsthand. But I saw the x-rays that revealed what years of leaping and torque and lifting women did to his body (like Cyd Charisse in the scarf dance in Singin’ in the Rain” with three Ritter fans blowing against him!).

GB: Did Gene Kelly enjoy dancing for leisure and fun when he wasn't working?

Patricia Kelly: Gene enjoyed social dancing, but both he and Fred Astaire often pretended they were injured so they wouldn’t have to dance at a party, because the minute they hit the dance floor EVERYONE wanted to dance with them. Gene thought dancing with a woman was very romantic and, in his early days, it was a form of courtship as it was a way to put your arm around a girl.

Be sure to visit GENE KELLY: THE LEGACY to subscribe for updates on Patricia Kelly's presentation.