Gene Kelly (born August 23,1912) started out in a kid act with his four dancing brothers and sisters — The Five Kellys. Gene was the middle child. Sometimes, when the booking called for it, the act would be comprised of a smaller “away team”, often pairing Gene with his brother Fred. They played local vaudeville and social gigs throughout the 1920s. Once they even got to go on as a disappointment act for the 7 Little Foys. In 1928, the family took over a dance school. Gene was the head teacher. He was a busy guy, teaching, attending college (majored in economics) and still performing. (He got to sub once for the Nicholas Brothers in a Cab Calloway revue in Altoona during these years). But the Depression made the scarcity of regional show biz work even scarcer. Gene went to New York, auditioned, and there followed the legendary string of Broadway and Hollywood hits he is now known for. He was still acting into the mid-eighties, and passed away in 1996.
To find out more about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
[…] to charm audiences. A vaudeville historian could no doubt point to many examples, such as the Five Kellys, a 1920s dancing “kid act” featuring a young Gene Kelly and his siblings. One of the most […]
[…] early performing career was less extensive, but he and his siblings were billed as The Five Kellys and made appearances in the Pittsburgh area. Occasionally Gene traveled with just his younger […]
Were kids actually allowed to be in vaudeville? Didn’t the “Gerry Laws” put the kabash on kids performing on stage?
Every once in a blue moon I get a worthwhile question. Thanks RileyRoam for asking the first one I’ve gotten in a long time! The answer is, laws — all laws — are just laws. They don’t actually literally eliminate whatever “crime” they’re designed to eliminate. Here in New York TO THIS DAY we have a law that forbids dancing in bars, it’s called the Cabaret Law. At any policeman’s or judge’s whim, any venue in NYC can be shut down. People still dance in bars. So there was the Gerry Law and the Gerry Society here in NYC, and they did keep an eye on things, and they did bust people. That doesn’t mean people didn’t evade the law, or flout it and then take a fine. Think about burlesque back in the day. There was a period when the burlesque dancers would be busted practically every night. They’d STILL get back on stage the following night. Also, I’m not sure what sort of legislation they had elsewhere in the US. I think an act could work all over the U.S., but they’d have to play it smart in New York. So the answer is sometimes the acts coped with the law, and sometimes they broke it. I doubt that it accomplished much more than a game of cat and mouse
oh! an to answer your first question: yes. Yes, they did
Okay. Thank you. I’m writing a fictional story for kids about a kid in a family vaudeville act. I’m trying to make it as accurate as possible. Your site and book are very helpful.
Thanks! Please keep us in the loop! I know my readers will love to know about the book when it comes out
A Most Appropriate Tribute To Gene Kelly By Harris Milgrim I Do Say
A most appropriate tribute to Gene Kelly by Harris Milgrim I do say-
A memorable happening in 2000 on one rainy summer NYC day.
I took my son Harris Milgrim to my hometown showed him around-
Being Manhattan, NY he loved it there and was most spell bound!
Not knowing forecasted weather on that hot summer’s day’s season-
Was there that lamppost where we walked for a particular reason?
Harris’s precociousness aged eleven for musical theatre was so young-
Did a flawless rendition of Gene Kelly dancing and in the rain that he sung!
Around that aforementioned lamppost like the movie “Singing in the Rain” you must know-
Overlooked a huge restaurant glass picture window and Harris did quite a show!
Gene Kelly spiritually guided Harris-all was too perfect I felt Harris wasn’t alone!
Harris’s Manhattan lamppost street stage was at that point solely his own –
Action inside the restaurant froze watching a young boy literally happily perform-
I as a mother knew Harris’s showmanship capabilities that was really his norm!
Harris had always an extremely strong singing projected anywhere-
The audience could close their eyes hear plus imagine Gene Kelly dancing there!
Not having an umbrella he give his thrilled audience and me quite that illusion!
The restaurant audience saw Harris do Gene Kelly’s tribute with full conclusion!
Cell phones with cameras weren’t easy to work with years ago back when-
My son’s performance couldn’t be taped in 2000 so sadly back then.
The “Singing in the Rain” performance of Harris and Gene Kelly is forever entwined-
For all that witnessed it -that was truly most interesting done by a child surely one of a kind!
Gene’s brother Fred was in the original production of the Stephen Sondheim musical FOLLIES.