Friday, July 18, 2008

It's Official: I Have A Crush On A Dead Man

And by "dead man," I don't mean someone who is lousy in bed, or incredibly dumb, or even on death row (although, at my age I suppose I can't be too fussy about any of those characteristics - except, of course, the first one). I mean a person who died in 1996.

That man is Gene Kelly. Okay, so the old-school pictures don't necessarily translate well into pixels, but that is a dreamy-looking guy. He was an accomplished singer, dancer, actor, director, choreographer, and producer. I'd be willing to bet that he was kind to his mother and never missed an opportunity to help widows and orphans. He just seems like that kind of guy on the silver screen - and movies never lie to us, do they?

How this infatuation came about is that I recently saw The Drowsy Chaperone at the Providence Performing Arts Center, and not only was the show awesome but it also reminded me how much I have always loved musicals.

A few weeks and one NetFlix subscription later, I watched Singin' In The Rain and I was in love. Gene did the choreography as well as some very fine singing, dancing, and acting in that movie, which led me to watch An American In Paris - a film he also choreographed. Now I've got On The Town and Gene Kelly: Anatomy of a Dancer waiting for me at home. Oh, and I'm also reading a biography of the man.

Clearly, I am obssessed.

Someone recently asked me what I find so attractive about him (okay, fine, it was my therapist, but it might be a question a friend would ask). Aside from his - excuse the cliche - movie star good looks, he was also incredibly talented in so many areas. He seems to have been one of those people who set a goal for himself and didn't rest until he reached it - someone who strove for excellence all the time. I admire that, even though (or maybe because) I am someone who is so much more easily defeated.

Then there's the dancing. Great day in the morning, the dancing! His style was athletic, energetic, and definitely masculine. He was incredibly strong, and yet graceful. Watching him, I am always amazed at how easy he makes it look.

I took ballet for twelve years. I know that most, if not all, of what Gene Kelly did was not easy at all. I also took tap for one year, but at age 30 and after all those years of ballet, it turns out that my hips were too turned out and I was the worst tap-dancer ever. I could perform the steps, but I could never get the noises right, which is sort of the whole point of tapdancing, don't you think?

On one hand, it proved that my mother may have known what she was doing when she refused to let me take tap when I was a kid because she didn't want to listen to the noise. On the other hand, I believe that the only time to take tap along with ballet is when you're a kid and building neural pathways like nobody's business. Which, I learned in the first chapter of Gene Kelly's biography, is exactly what he did and look where it got him.

Gene Kelly wasn't perfect. I've read enough on IMDb to know that he was a perfectionist and he could be a tyrant on a movie set. Apparently, he was the sort of man people either loved or loathed. He made Debbie Reynolds cry, for pete's sake! But somehow, amidst all the movie-musical glamour, that makes him more human. He worked hard and expected the same from the people who worked with him. I think most of us can relate to that far more than we can to many of the spoiled and self-indulgent movie stars of today.

Like the narrator in The Drowsy Chaperone, I've always thought that life would be infinitely nicer if, when I'm having a bad day, some friends would rally around and sing me a song about cheering up because tomorrow will certainly be better. Or if, instead of negotiating traffic after a long day at work, I could join my fellow Newporters in a rousing production number designed to leave us all feeling happy and refreshed.

So maybe a lot of my love for Gene Kelly has to do with the characters he played, and the fact that musicals always had a happy ending - which, as we know, is often not the case in real life.

Then again, it could be this simple: all that dancing gave the man a really fine ass.