When Patricia Ward was growing up in Fort Collins, Colorado, she was a huge fan of 19th century author Herman Melville. Gene Kelly? Well, she had heard the name perhaps, but wasn’t quite clear on who exactly it was.
“I wasn’t sure if that person was a male or female, and I really was a nerdy kid who spent most of my life with my nose in a book,” she said. “My dream was to become the best Melville scholar in the world.”
She did become a Melville scholar for a while, but she also became the third wife of one of the biggest talents in American musical history, marrying the legendary film star in 1990.
Patricia Ward Kelly will talk about her experience with the iconic dancer/actor/director/choreographer over the last decade of his life and will examine her husband’s long career in “Gene Kelly: The Legacy — An Evening with Patricia Ward Kelly,” Saturday night at 7:30 at The Egg.
‘Gene Kelly: The Legacy — An Evening with Patricia Ward Kelly’
WHERE: The Egg, Empire State Plaza, Albany
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
HOW MUCH: $38-$18
MORE INFO: 473-1845, www.theegg.org,
She will tell her husband’s story through the use of film clips, previously unreleased audio recordings and her own experience.
“It’s a live theatrical piece, but I don’t do any singing or dancing,” said Ward Kelly. “I let Gene do that. We have some fantastic clips from his career, and I quite literally unpack some of his belongings on the stage. It’s a journey into his mind and what drove him. It’s about what made him tick and what touched him.”
Meeting in 1985
Ward Kelly first met her husband in 1985 when he was 73 and she was 26. He was the host/narrator of a television special about the Smithsonian. Ward was on her way to becoming a Melville scholar and had been hired by PBS to help write the documentary.
“There is a considerable age difference between us, which I do address in the show,” she said. “I guess I felt I needed to get that out of the way. But Gene was so young at heart, so vibrant and such a brilliant man, I never noticed the age difference. He was way ahead of his time, and I think that’s why we’re all still enjoying his movies 60 years or so after he made them. He was timeless.”
As they were wrapping up work on the PBS documentary, the veteran film star asked the young writer if she would be interested in writing his memoirs. She said yes, moved to Beverly Hills, and four years later they were married.
“I actually fell in love with the man before I knew that much about him,” said Ward Kelly.
“For me, it was a blank slate because I knew so little about him. We sat in a room and would just start talking, about our shared interests, our love of poetry. He was such a bright, erudite, gentle type of person. I was transfixed. People might get a sense of Gene from watching him on the screen, but they have no idea of the dimensions of the man.”
She tells the audience that her husband was an academic type, having graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in economics.
“He was very well educated, he was liberal, and he grew up in an Irish Catholic family in Pittsburgh during the Depression era,” she said.
“He supported many liberal causes, and during the ’50s if you did anything connected to human rights you were under suspicion of being a Communist. He wasn’t a member, but he knew some who were. And Gene wasn’t blacklisted because he was making the film industry too much money.”
The star of “Singin’ in the Rain” and “An American in Paris,” Kelly was the kind of talent that only appears once in a great while, according to his wife.
“People like Gene and Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra are like comets,” said Ward Kelly. “They go through once and you don’t see them again. There’s nobody else like them. They broke the mold.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]