Singin' in the Rain Celebrates 60th Anniversary at the Smithsonian

Rita Moreno played Zelda Zanders in the movie
photo by Jeff Malet
Rita Moreno played Zelda Zanders in the movie

Gene Kelly would have been 100 years old this August 23.

“Singing' in the Rain”, the iconic MGM musical (and best ever Hollywood musical, according to most audiences and critics), which saw Kelly doing a slop-slippy tap dance in the rain, is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.

Here is Pixie-haired Patricia Ward Kelly, widow to Gene Kelly and keeper of the flame for his dance and film legacy.

Here’s Rita Moreno, dazzling at 80 years old, and one of the few still living members of the “Singin' in the Rain” troupe (along with Debbie Reynolds and co-director Stanley Donen), twirling a signature “Rain” umbrella.

Here’s a wall of momentos and puff and stuff from the Warner Brothers library of films, like Clint Eastwood’s costume-bedraggled cowboy wear from the Oscar-winning “Unforgiven.”

Here we are at the Smithsonian American History Museum for a screening of “Singin' in the Rain,” and marking the arrival of a three-disc ultimate collector’s edition of the movie. This writer is celebrating.

Not only is Kelly and “Singin' in the Rain” being celebrated, but so is the Smithsonian’s summer portion of its Warner Brother’s film festival, with three movies celebrating the advent of sound: “The Jazz Singer,” “The Broadway Melody” and “Don Juan,” screened last weekend.

Moreno—a triple threat winner of a Tony, an Emmy and an Oscar (for supporting actress in “West Side Story”)—looked like a red carpet wowser, at any age. She recalled being “in awe of Kelly. I worshipped him. I was 17 and I had a small part in the movie, and here was this man, already a legend, and it was just astonishing to be there, to be in this movie. I watched all the great song-and-dance segments being filmed: Donald O’Connor in “Be a Clown”, “Gotta Sing Gotta Dance”, Gene and Cyd (Charisse).”

“When I met Gene, he was a man in repose,” Kelly’s widow set. “I think by choice, in some ways. He wasn’t dancing any more, at least not in public, because he wasn’t the Kelly you saw on the screen anymore. But he was still dynamic, smart, handsome. I had a writing job back then on a Smithsonian project, he was doing something for a television show on the Smithsonian. I get embarrassed even now that back then I had no idea who he was.” They met, they eventually married, in spite of a much buzzed-about age difference—he was in his 70s, she was in her twenties. Now she’s everywhere, talking about Kelly, “Rain,” the man and American dance, and working on a biography of Kelly. She’s a Trustee of The Gene Kelly Image Trust, and Creative Director of “Gene Kelly: The Legacy,” a corporation established to commemorate Kelly’s centenary world-wide.

“There’s going to be lots going on,” she said. “Gene was all about dance as an American art form. He was muscular, confident. He embodied in dance, I think, what it was to be an American .”

Moreno remembers how tough it was to forge her career as a Latino actress in the 1950s. “I was always an Indian maid, a Mexican spitfire, something like that. When you were under contract, you had to do what they gave you.”

Washington theater goers will remember her from her entirely convincing and funny portrait as the slob of “The Odd Couple,” a female protagonist version of Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple,” also starring Sally Struthers at the National Theatre.

She grabbed an umbrella and started coquettishly twirling. Cameras snapped. “Hey, how’d you do that,” Kelly yelled.

“I’m a pro,” Moreno said.

Kelly. Moreno. The movies.

Unforgettable.

Previous
1 2 3 4
Next
Comments are temporarily disabled.
Thu, 24 Jul 2014 00:23:05 -0400

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive the latest Georgetowner updates.