Vera-Ellen (1921-1981) should have been one of Broadway and Hollywood’s most enduring stars. She was a fine dramatic and light comedic actress, and was considered by a number of authorities to be the greatest all-around dancer of her generation. And for a brief moment in 1950, she was an American household name, as famous as Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio or General Douglas MacArthur.
She could do tap, toe dancing, adagio, modern dance (formerly known as dramatic dancing), comic dancing, partnered dancing, prop dancing, Apache dancing and advanced acrobatics.
"Vera-Ellen growing legion of fans was stunned by the Vera they saw in "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue". The number had been originally staged more comedically by George Balanchine for Ray Bolger in the 1936 Rodgers and Hart stage musical "On Your Toes" and it had also been used in the 1939 film of the same name. Now the number, as staged by Gene Kelly, was serious, different from Bolger's slaphappy dance routine.
It has been termed the first dance noir, echoing the popular film noir genre of the '40s. Kelly stated: "I changed the libretto from the comedy which Balanchine had done to a tragic ballet... We rehearsed the number for four weeks and shot it in three days.
The seven and a half minute jazz ballett "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" became her all-time favorite dancing role, completely regenerated her Hollywood career, achieved landmark status in the history of the musical film, and became the single work of art for which she is most remembered today. Vera-Ellen's work ethic was legendary and Kelly was a notoriously severe hard-master, but she could take everything he could dish out". -"Vera-Ellen: The Magic and the Mystery" by David Soren, Meredith Banasiak and Bob Johnston (2003)
Vera-Ellen and Gene Kelly in "Words and Music" (1948) directed by Norman Taurog
"She Tried to Be Good" paperback book cover illustration by Rudy Nappi (1951), a dead ringer for Vera-Ellen
"I asked Vera-Ellen what it was like, to dance with the two greatest male hoofers in the world, what were the differences between them. 'The only difference is what you see on the screen', she told me. She did say, however, that Fred Astaire is the more detached of the two".
"I’ll never have a dance I loved more than “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue”, I’ll never stop being grateful to Gene Kelly for having given me my chance at doing it with him. They play the music of Slaughter over the air even now. If I hear it while driving I have to stop the car, pull over on the side of the road – and listen to it, hearing that music makes me shiver and quake, I get goose-flesh at the memory, though we rehearsed it for six weeks, it lasted exactly seven minutes on the screen, the greatest seven minutes of my professional life." -"Motion Picture and Television Magazine" (July 1952)
Dick Powell, Judy Garland and Gene Kelly on 22nd March 1943 ("For Me and My Gal" - CBS Radio)
"The first time Gene Kelly appeared on a stage he had to borrow a tie from screen star Dick Powell. It took him eight years to return it". (Pittsburgh Press, May 16, 1943)
Dick Powell and Claire Trevor in "Murder, My Sweet" (1944) directed by Edward Dmytryk, adapted from the novel "Farewell, My Lovely" by Raymond Chandler
Somewhere in the mid-Forties, the private detective was born in "Black Mask" magazine. You can paddle around in the dark waters of Edgar Allan Poe panning for artistic antecedents to film noir, but you needn't venture further back than this rough-edges magazine of "pulp" fiction.
"Black Mask" was created in 1920 by H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan, as a lowbrow bookend for the pair's witty and urbane Smart Set. At the late age of forty-five, Raymond Chandler took his first pecks at the typewriter keys, following Dashiell Hammett's path through the pages of "Black Mask". -Eddie Muller
Gene Kelly's character of E.K. Hornbeck represented H.L. Mencken (American journalist, magazine editor and satirist) in the film "Inherit the Wind" (1960), directed by Stanley Kramer.
Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse in a promotional still of "It's Always Fair Weather" (1955) directed by Stanley Donen
Gene Kelly's agility, virility, and Technicolor smile were a virtual refutation of the gloomy fatalism of film noir heroes like Mitchum and Bogart. Thus it's only a short leap from Kelly's "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" ballet, danced with Vera-Ellen in "Words and Music".
Vera-Ellen kissing Gene Kelly in "On the Town" (1949) directed by Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly
Vera-Ellen shines displaying her athletic abilities in the scene 'Miss Turnstiles' ("On the Town"), choreographed by Gene Kelly.
Kelly may have been born in Pittsburgh, but it was a Manhattanite's brashness he brought to the Arthur Freed musical unit at MGM -which returned him, at his and Stanley Donen's request, to the streets of New York for their plein air masterpiece "On the Town" in 1949.
Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth in "Cover Girl" (1944) directed by Charles Vidor
In most of his films, he played the hyperathletic sexual initiator of partners like Judy Garland, Vera-Ellen, Debbie Reynolds, or Leslie Caron. That his 'American in Paris' character was essentially priapic is revealed amid the dreamy Impressionist artifice of the Moulin Rouge ballet, in which Kelly dances in a skintight bodysuit before the splayed skirts of the cancan girls.
Only Cyd Charisse could bring the frenetic Kelly to a standstill, as she did from a sitting position with one long imperious leg in "Singin' in the Rain". "MGM didn't know what they had with Cyd, did they?" Kelly said to me when I interviewed him at his Beverly Hills home in March. Source: www.genekellyscene.com