Happy 100th Birthday, Gene Kelly!

Say “Fred Astaire” and people think “Ginger Rogers.” Say “Gene Kelly” and people think…”Gene Kelly.” His name is not twinned in the firmament with anyone else’s. On second thought, his name is twinned with Astaire’s, not always in any complementary way but in a competitive way: who’s the better dancer, Fred or Gene? I mean no disrespect to the latter, whose 100th birthday is being commemorated tomorrow on TCM, if I say I prefer the former. I tend to agree with Arlene Croce, in her “The Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers Book,” when she writes, “The major difference between Astaire and Kelly is a difference, not of talent or technique, but of levels of sophistication.” On the other hand, as Pauline Kael rebutted, “Kelly isn’t a winged dancer; he’s a hoofer, and more earthbound. But he has warmth and range as an actor,” whereas “[Astaire] was always and only a light comedian and could function only in fairy-tale vehicles.” All the same, I’m not sure why we have to choose Fred or Gene: it’s merely a parlor game. They are indisputably the two greatest male dancers that the Hollywood musical produced.

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