The Classic Movie Blog Association is sponsoring the Gene Kelly Centennial Blogathon from August 20 - 25 and this is my contribution to the event. Please click here for links to the other participating blogs.
1960 was the year that
- an American U-2 spy plane was shot down over Russia and its pilot, Francis Gary Powers, was imprisoned there
- young Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali) won the gold medal in the light heavyweight competition at the Summer Olympics in Rome
- Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and John Updike's Rabbit, Run were published
- NASA launched the first communications satellite, Echo I, into space
- the first working laser was built by American T. H. Maiman
- #1 hit songs of that year included the Everly Brothers' "Cathy's Clown," The Drifters' "Save the Last Dance for Me" and Percy Faith's version of the theme from A Summer Place
- on TV, Western series ruled the ratings, with Gunsmoke, Wagon Train and Have Gun Will Travel ranked one, two and three for the year
- Camelot, starring Richard Burton, Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet, debuted on Broadway
- John F. Kennedy was elected the 35th President of the United States
As the new decade dawned and the U.S. prepared to embark on a New Frontier, Hollywood was in a state of flux, still reeling from the impact of television on movie attendance. Alfred Hitchcock, whose films since 1954 had been almost exclusively Technicolor/Vistavision dazzlers featuring top stars, shocked audiences and critics with the psychological thriller Psycho. Filmed in black and white, with TV production values and just one bankable star who is killed off in the first half-hour, Psycho was the highest grossing film for that year in the U.S. None of the top ten box office hits of 1960 were musical films. Two musicals did surface in the year's top twenty, Vincente Minnelli's Bells are Ringing with Judy Holliday and the George Cukor-directed Marilyn Monroe vehicle, Let's Make Love.
|Mitzi Gaynor, Kay Kendall, Gene Kelly and Taina Elg - Les Girls|
Kelly's next film, the drama Marjorie Morningstar (1958), teamed him with a nearly grown-up Natalie Wood. Later that year he would return to Broadway and direct the original production of The Flower Drum Song, a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that went on to garner six Tony Award nominations and to win one.
With the musical film genre on the wane, Kelly happily accepted an invitation early in 1960 from A.M. Julien of the the Paris Opéra and Opéra-Comique and travelled to Paris to devise a modern ballet for the company. While in France Kelly made a quick trip back to the States to appear in George Cukor's latest film-in-progress.
The Billionaire, a romantic comedy/musical was offered to Marilyn Monroe by producer Jerry Wald of 20th Century Fox. Though it had been hoped Billy Wilder would direct, he was already working on The Apartment (1960). And so the package Wald brought to Marilyn and that she accepted included director George Cukor, screenwriter Norman Krasna and co-star Gregory Peck. The film's slight premise followed the shenanigans of a billionaire (Peck) who discovers that an Off-Broadway revue spoofing him is in the works. When he surreptitiously attends a rehearsal of the show, its star (Monroe) mistakes him for an actor on audition. The billionaire falls for the cabaret star and decides he must learn to be a nightclub performer so he can join the act and woo her. Incidentally, since he is a billionaire and can afford the best possible tutors, he eventually hires three of great expertise - Milton Berle to instruct him in the art of comedy, Bing Crosby to help him learn to sing and Gene Kelly to teach him dance moves.
As with each of Marilyn Monroe's late-career films, there would be problems on the set. Though the star was coming off a smash hit film, the one considered the best of her career, Billy Wilder's Some Like it Hot (1959), she was in trouble. According to her half-sister, Berniece Miracle, "It was in 1960 that Marilyn began to come completely apart." She believed the drugs Marilyn had initially taken to relax and get to sleep "had turned against her," affecting her moods and ability to work.
Though George Cukor struggled mightily to keep filming on track, the production fell expensively behind schedule. Arthur Miller was called back for further rewrites. And the powers at Fox, mystified by her capricious demands, began to believe that Marilyn was actually mad. As if there wasn't enough chaos, Marilyn created a public scandal by openly carrying on an affair with Yves Montand, whose wife, Simone Signoret, had just won the Oscar for Best Actress.
In the midst of this commotion, Gene Kelly made the 6,000 mile flight from Paris to Hollywood to film his cameo for the picture. Arriving on a Sunday night, he filmed for two hours with Montand on Monday and departed for Paris and his ballet project on Tuesday. Quickly in and out, his may have been the best experience of anyone on the film.
|Yves Montand, Marilyn Monroe and Gene Kelly on the set|
Gene Kelly's 45-minute jazz ballet, Pas de Dieux, was a great success in Paris. His next film, the critically acclaimed, Oscar-nominated Stanley Kramer drama, Inherit the Wind, was released just a few month after Let's Make Love. He would remain busy throughout the 1960s - appearing in the 1962 - 1963 TV series, Going My Way, the 1964 Fox musical comedy/romance, What a Way to Go! with Shirley MacLaine (in a role originally intended for Marilyn Monroe) and the imaginative Jacques Demy musical, Les demoiselles de Rochefort (1967) with Catherine Deneuve and her equally beautiful (now long-lost) sister, Françoise Dorléac. The decade would also bring Kelly opportunities to direct - the poignant Jackie Gleason vehicle Gigot (1962), the comedy hit A Guide for the Married Man (1967) starring Walter Matthau and the musical Hello, Dolly! (1969) starring Barbra Streisand.
|Gene Kelly and Françoise Dorléac in Les demoiselles de Rochefort|
Turner Classic Movies honors Gene Kelly's centenary birthday today, August 23, with 24 hours of his films as part of its annual Summer Under the Stars celebration in August. Click here to learn more...And click here for links to blogs participating in Michael and Jill's Summer Under the Stars blogathon on Gene Kelly's day.
Marilyn Monroe by Barbara Leaming, Crown (1998)
George Cukor: Master of Elegance by Emanuel Levy, William Morrow & Co. (1994)