Gene Kelly wasn't always the whirling, lively leading man we all remember from Singin’ in the Rain. Not only was he born far from Hollywood, but for many years he wasn't sure if he wanted to be a dancer at all! His path to fame was long, winding, and full of painful moments, but a surprising turn of events made Kelly into the star we still adore today.
Baby Gene comes into the world
The entertainment icon's life started far from the limelight. On August 23, 1912, Eugene Curran Kelly was born in the working-class East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His Irish-Canadian-German father made a conventional living as a traveling phonograph salesman, but his mother had other ideas for Kelly and his siblings, particularly his brother Fred.
His first dance steps
When Kelly was 8, his mother enrolled the boys in dance lessons. They both disliked it. In fact, they rebelled against her and constantly got into fistfights with the neighbor boys, who weren't artistically inclined and called the Kelly brothers "sissies." In fact, these taunts and gibes nearly derailed film history and prevented Kelly from becoming an icon.
Recovering from a bad experience
The two brothers were bullied so much that Kelly quit dancing, at least for a time. Searching for something that made him feel free, he began running, taking to the hills and the woods of Pittsburgh to let the wind rush through his hair and forget about the negativity for a while. Physically, he was coming into his own — Kelly wasn't known for his grace during his early childhood.
His signature scar
Biographer Clive Hirschhorn went so far as to call Kelly "accident-prone" as a boy. There was no better example of that than when the six-year-old careened off his tricycle and slashed his left cheek on a piece of metal left on the street. That accident left a scar that, as luck would have it, added to Kelly's masculine charm. Shirley MacLaine later referred to it as "the sexiest thing I ever saw."