CLOSE
Original image
Getty Images

4 Surprising Facts About Gene Kelly

Original image
Getty Images

Eighteen years ago last week, the world lost one of Hollywood's greatest entertainers: Gene Kelly. Arguably, most of the public today knows Kelly best because of his iconic performance in Singin’ in the Rain (1952), but here are a few other facts about the legendary song-and-dance man you may not know.

1. He Perfected Cine-Dance

Gene Kelly refused to choreograph his musical numbers like his predecessor Busby Berkeley, who generally filled his films’ frames with visual spectacles and geometric patterns requiring little movement from actors. Rather, Kelly wanted to make the camera movements serve the choreography, to create something one could not on a theatrical stage.

As a result, Gene Kelly adopted the term cine-dance (cinema + dance), which he defined as “any dancing choreographed specifically and particularly to be filmed or televised.” This meant, then, that for every number involving dance, Kelly (and his assistants) had to devise not only the dance choreography, the staging of dances and the dancers’ physical movements, but also the film choreography, the coordination of camera movements in relation to the musical number.

Kelly’s cine-dance is evident in Singin’ in the Rain. For example, when Kelly’s character closes his umbrella, not caring if he gets wet, the camera closes in on him. The same thing happens when he sings, “Come on with the rain / I’ve a smile on my face.” Here, he opens his arms wide, inviting both the rain and the camera to move in toward him. But most noticeably, when the music climaxes and Kelly steps out into the street twirling with faster and wider movements, the camera also cranes wider and upward, fusing camera and dance. If this doesn’t do it for you, turn on any season of Dancing with the Stars or Strictly Come Dancing to see the influence of Kelly’s cine-dance.

2. He Tamed Technology

Gene Kelly also broke new ground with his use of special effects. For example, in Cover Girl (1944), Kelly's character picks a fight with himself after worrying that his fiancée is falling out of love with him. This internal struggle leads to a tricky solo dance called the "alter-ego number," in which two Gene Kellys simultaneously dance alongside and against each other onscreen. Created with Kelly’s co-choreographer Stanley Donen—and no CGI—the alter ego number made Kelly a star and secured him a contract at MGM.

Kelly also made cinema history when he danced alongside Jerry the Mouse in Anchors Aweigh (1945). In the film musical, Kelly’s character sits before a roomful of school children and reads them a story. But the viewer experiences the tale through a mixture of live action and animation. This memorable segment of Anchors Aweigh only lasts four minutes but took months to complete. There were 10,000 painted frames to synchronize with Kelly's movements. Kelly was filmed first, and then Jerry was animated frame by frame before the two figures were joined onscreen. The technique was repeated years later in Kelly's experimental dance film, Invitation to the Dance (1956).

Finally, Kelly invented "the Ubangi" (now called a “camera offset”), a mechanism to get low-angle shots that were virtually impossible because of the large size of Technicolor cameras. According to Kelly’s biographer, the mechanism was “a long lip that projected from the camera, heavily reinforced with iron grids underneath, and with a mirror on it, only a couple of inches off the floor, so that the camera could shoot down into the mirror which, in turn, could be adjusted to reflect the exact angle [Kelly] wanted.” Kelly invented the device for his satirical fantasy film The Pirate (1948).

Each of these technical innovations derives from Kelly's desire to do something onscreen that could not be done onstage and that had never been done before.

3. He took the Musical On Location

In keeping with Kelly’s need to advance cinema and the musical specifically, the star wanted to shoot one of his films, On the Town (1949), outside the studio—and outside Hollywood, in fact. This was generally unheard of in the 1940s, especially for a big-budget MGM musical, all of which were filmed on soundstages, backlots, or nearby. Consequently, to get his wish to travel to and shoot in Manhattan, Kelly had to put up a fight with MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer, who could not visualize the effect that Kelly (and his co-director Stanley Donen) were after. He thought the idea was indulgent and a waste of money. "Why not just do it on the backlot—like everyone else?" Mayer asked.

Ultimately, Mayer gave Kelly, Donen, and the rest of the unit five days in NYC, two of which were apparently spoiled by bad weather. The crew shot where and when they could. "We had to 'steal' and 'cheat' every shot, and somehow keep our cameras hidden from the passers-by who would only delay us further and crowd around if they knew a picture was being made," Kelly once said.

Numerous scholars and critics consider On the Town the first film musical shot on location. While this is not completely true, it is the first big-budget color musical from MGM’s Freed Unit (the production unit of which Kelly was a part) to be shot on location, and it prompted other directors to do the same. It was highly successful, earning over three times its budget on first release.

4. He's Making a Comeback Today

Even though Kelly has been dead 18 years now and his most admired films are over six decades old, his presence in the 21st century is alive and well.

In the past eight years, the deceased Hollywood song-and-dance man has made appearances in Family Guy, a Funny or Die sketch, and at least four television commercials, two for Volkswagen alone. In addition, The Simpsons, Glee, Saturday Night Live, Britain's Got Talent, Usher, Jaime Cullum, and Mint Royale have recently paid homage to Gene Kelly and Singin' in the Rain.

Furthermore, over the past decade, several Kelly-related fansites, tumblelogs, Twitter and Facebook accounts, video mash-ups, and message boards have appeared online, all of which continue to be extremely active. And this makes sense, considering the legacy that Kelly left behind.

Original image
Magnolia Pictures
arrow
Lists
8 Gonzo Facts About Hunter S. Thompson
Original image
Hunter S. Thompson in Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson (2008)
Magnolia Pictures

Like any real-life legend, there are many myths surrounding the life and work of Hunter S. Thompson. But in Thompson’s case, most of those stories—particularly the more outlandish ones—are absolutely true. The founder of the “Gonzo journalism” movement is one of the most fascinating figures of the 20th century. In celebration of what would have been his 80th birthday, here are some things you might not have known about the eccentric writer.

1. HE WAS NAMED AFTER A FAMOUS SCOTTISH SURGEON.

Hunter S. Thompson was reportedly named after one of his mother’s ancestors, a Scottish surgeon named Nigel John Hunter. But Hunter wasn't just your run-of-the-mill surgeon. In a 2004 interview with the Independent, Thompson brought along a copy of The Reluctant Surgeon, a Biography of Nigel John Hunter, a biography of his namesake, which read: "A gruff Scotsman, Hunter has been described as the most important naturalist between Aristotle and Darwin, the Shakespeare of medicine and the greatest man the British ever produced. He was the first to trace the lymphatic system. He performed the first human artificial insemination. He was the greatest collector of anatomical specimens in history. He prescribed the orthopaedic shoe that allowed Lord Byron to walk."

When pressed about what that description had to do with him, Thompson responded: "Well, I guess that might be the secret of my survival. Good genes."

2. HE MISSED HIS HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION … BECAUSE HE WAS IN JAIL.

Just a few weeks before he was set to graduate from high school, at the age of 17, Thompson was charged as an accessory to robbery and sentenced to 60 days in jail. 

“One night Ralston Steenrod, who was in the Athenaeum with Hunter, was driving, and Hunter and another guy he knew were in the car,” Thompson’s childhood friend Neville Blakemore recalled of the incident. “As they were driv­ing through Cherokee Park, the other guy said, ‘Stop. I want to bum a ciga­rette from that car.’ People used to go park and neck at this spot. And the guy got out and apparently went back and mugged them. The guy who was mugged got their license number and traced the car, and within a very short time they were all three arrested.

“Just before this Hunter had been blamed for a nighttime gas-station rob­bery,” Blakemore added, “and before that he and some friends got arrested for buying booze under­age at Abe's Liquor Store on Frankfort Avenue by the tracks. So Hunter had a record, and he was already on probation. He was given an ultimatum: jail or the military. And Hunter took the Air Force. He didn't graduate with his class.”

3. IT WAS A FELLOW JOURNALIST WHO COINED THE TERM “GONZO.”

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

While covering the 1968 New Hampshire primary, Thompson met fellow writer and editor Bill Carodoso, editor of The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, which is where Thompson first heard him use the word “Gonzo.” “It meant sort of ‘crazy’ or ‘off-the-wall,’” Thompson said in Anita Thompson’s Ancient Gonzo Wisdom: Interviews with Hunter S. Thompson. Two years later, in June 1970, Thompson wrote an article for Scanlan’s Monthly entitled “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” which became a game-changing moment in journalism because of its offbeat, slightly manic style that was written with first-person subjectivity.

Among the many fellow journalists who praised Thompson for the piece was Cardoso, who sent a letter to Thompson that “said something like, ‘Forget all the sh*t you’ve been writing, this is it; this is pure Gonzo.’ Gonzo. Yeah, of course. That’s what I was doing all the time. Of course, I might be crazy.” Thompson ran with the word, and would use it himself for the first time a year later, in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

4. HE TYPED OUT FAMOUS NOVELS TO LEARN THE ART OF WRITING.

In order to get the “feel” of being a writer, Thompson used to retype his favorite novels in full. “[H]is true model and hero was F. Scott Fitzgerald,” Louis Menand wrote in The New Yorker. “He used to type out pages from The Great Gatsby, just to get the feeling, he said, of what it was like to write that way, and Fitzgerald’s novel was continually on his mind while he was working on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which was published, after a prolonged and agonizing compositional nightmare, in 1972.”

"If you type out somebody's work, you learn a lot about it,” Thompson told Charlie Rose in 1997. “Amazingly it's like music. And from typing out parts of Faulkner, Hemingway, Fitzgerald—these were writers that were very big in my life and the lives of the people around me—so yeah, I wanted to learn from the best I guess."

5. HE RAN FOR SHERIFF IN COLORADO.

In 1970, Thompson ran for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado on what he called the Freak Power ticket. Among his political tactics: shaving his head so that he could refer to his opponent as his “long-haired opponent,” promising to eat mescaline while on duty, and campaigning to rename Aspen “Fat City” to deter "greed heads, land-rapers, and other human jackals from capitalizing on the name 'Aspen.'" Unfortunately, he lost.

6. HE STOLE A MEMENTO FROM ERNEST HEMINGWAY.

In 1964, three years after Ernest Hemingway committed suicide at his cabin in Ketchum, Idaho, Thompson traveled to the late author’s home in order to write “What Lured Hemingway to Ketchum?” While there, according to his widow, Hunter “got caught up in the moment” and took “a big pair of elk horns over the front door.” Last year, more than a decade after Thompson’s death, Anita returned the antlers to the Hemingway family—which is something she and Hunter had always planned to do. “They were warm and kind of tickled … they were so open and grateful, there was no weirdness,” Anita said.

7. HE ONCE USED THE INSIDE OF MUSICIAN JOHN OATES’ COLORADO CABIN AS HIS PERSONAL PARKING SPACE.

Magnolia Pictures

Earlier this month, musician John Oates—the latter half of Hall & Oates—shared a story about his ranch in Woody Creek, Colorado, just outside of Aspen, which is currently on the market for $6 million. In an interview with Colorado Public Radio, Oates recalled how when he first purchased the cabin, there was a red convertible parked inside. “I happened to ask the real estate agent who owned the convertible, and he said ‘your neighbor Hunter Thompson,’” Oates said. “Why is he keeping his car in a piece of property he doesn’t own? The real estate agent looked at me and said ‘It’s Woody Creek, you’ll figure this out. It’s a different kind of place.’” After sending several letters to his neighbor to retrieve his vehicle, Oates took matters into his own hands and deposited the car on Thompson’s lawn. Oates said that the two became friends, but never mentioned the incident.

8. AT HIS FUNERAL, HIS ASHES WERE SHOT OUT OF A CANNON.

On February 20, 2005—at the age of 67—Thompson committed suicide. But Thompson wasn’t about to leave this world quietly. In August of that year, in accordance with his wishes, Thompson's ashes were shot into the air from a cannon while fireworks filled the sky.

“He loved explosions," his widow, Anita, told ESPN, which wrote that, “The private celebration included actors Bill Murray and Johnny Depp, rock bands, blowup dolls and plenty of liquor to honor Thompson, who killed himself six months ago at the age of 67.”

Original image
Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images
arrow
entertainment
15 Memorable Quotes from George A. Romero
Original image
Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

Hollywood has lost one of its most iconic horror innovators with the death of George A. Romero, who passed away on Sunday at the age of 77. “He died peacefully in his sleep, following a brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer, and leaves behind a loving family, many friends, and a filmmaking legacy that has endured, and will continue to endure, the test of time,” his manager, Chris Roe, said in a statement.

Though he rose to prominence as the master of zombie flicks, beginning with Night of the Living Dead, Romero honed his filmmaking skills on a far less frightening set: shooting bits for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

“I still joke that 'Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy' is the scariest film I’ve ever made,” Romero once said. “What I really mean is that I was scared sh*tless while I was trying to pull it off.” (Rogers returned the favor by being a longtime champion of Romero’s work—and even called Dawn of the Dead “a lot of fun.”)

It’s that high-spirited sense of fun that made Romero’s work so iconic—and kept the New York City native busy for nearly 50 years. To celebrate his life and career, here are 15 of his most memorable quotes on everything from the humanity of zombies to the horror of Hollywood producers.

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF HAVING A SENSE OF HUMOR

“For a Catholic kid in parochial school, the only way to survive the beatings—by classmates, not the nuns—was to be the funny guy.”

ON THE HOLLYWOOD WAY

“If I fail, the film industry writes me off as another statistic. If I succeed, they pay me a million bucks to fly out to Hollywood and fart.”

ON BEING PIGEONHOLED

“As a filmmaker you get typecast just as much as an actor does, so I'm trapped in a genre that I love, but I'm trapped in it!”

ON ZOMBIES AS A METAPHOR

“I also have always liked the monster within idea. I like the zombies being us. Zombies are the blue-collar monsters.”

ON FINDING OBJECTIVITY AS A FILMMAKER

“There are so many factors when you think of your own films. You think of the people you worked on it with, and somehow forget the movie. You can't forgive the movie for a long time. It takes a few years to look at it with any objectivity and forgive its flaws.”

ON THE REAL VALUE OF THE INTERNET

“What the Internet's value is that you have access to information but you also have access to every lunatic that's out there that wants to throw up a blog.”

ON THE HORROR OF DEALING WITH PRODUCERS

“I'll never get sick of zombies. I just get sick of producers.”

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF COLLABORATION

“Collaborate, don’t dictate.”

ON THE BEAUTY OF LOW-BUDGET MOVIEMAKING

“I don't think you need to spend $40 million to be creepy. The best horror films are the ones that are much less endowed.”

ON HUMANS BEING THE REAL VILLAINS

“My zombies will never take over the world because I need the humans. The humans are the ones I dislike the most, and they're where the trouble really lies.”

ON BEING IMMUNE TO TRENDS

“Somehow I've been able to keep standing and stay in my little corner and do my little stuff and I'm not particularly affected by trends or I'm not dying to make a 3-D movie or anything like that. I'm just sort of happy to still be around.”

ON THE HUMANITY OF HORROR

“My stories are about humans and how they react, or fail to react, or react stupidly. I'm pointing the finger at us, not at the zombies. I try to respect and sympathize with the zombies as much as possible.”

ON THE ENDURING APPEAL OF HORROR

“If one horror film hits, everyone says, 'Let's go make a horror film.' It's the genre that never dies.”

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF SURROUNDING ZOMBIES WITH STUPID PEOPLE

“A zombie film is not fun without a bunch of stupid people running around and observing how they fail to handle the situation.”

ON LIFE AFTER DEATH

“I'm like my zombies. I won't stay dead!”

SECTIONS

More from mental floss studios