Regarding a previous recent blog, one kind reader commented I need not apologize for dredging up personal memories of times with special people I've been blessed to know socially, professionally and personally. As the comment writer stated, those were times when someone actually had to have TALENT to have a television show. Thanks to him for that kind message and validation of these shared memories. Talent also played a giant role for some all-time classic feature films, too. "Singin' In The Rain", was certainly a profound example. Gene Kelly, Debbie Reyonlds and the very under-rated and mega-talented Donald O'Connor were the people who made their magic jump out of the screen and into our hearts and lifetime memories. Following are some fond memory snippets of my personal times with each of them.
Gene Kelly - A Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, native, (as am I), Gene's family and mine knew each other from Gene's youth. He and I both had the same art teacher, Jean Thoburn, at Pittsburgh's Peabody High School, although 25 years apart. Ms. Thoburn was very proud of Gene, as she indeed should have been, and we all were. (Sidebar: I completed my freshman year at Peabody before moving to New York to continue my acting career.) Gene also performed and choreographed his first semi-professional play at The Pittsburgh Playhouse in 1938, just before going to Broadway to appear in his first professional play. The Playhouse was alson my alma mater (for drama school) and where I first acted on stage, ten years after Mr. Kelly. I was with him in person only once, but privately, during my broadcasting years in Las Vegas. We shared memories of Pittsburgh (and Ms. Thoburn, our art teacher) with Gene sitting in his bathrobe in his dressing room backstage at the Las Vegas Hilton, where he was performing, circa 1969-70. Gene told me he felt he was more of an athlete than a dancer. Since he was in his bathrobe, with only slippers on his feet, I looked down at his calves, which were very visible from our close seated positions across from one another. Those calves, from decades of athletic dancing, were the size of most people's thighs. They were like pistons on a giant steam engine. The strength he had obviously garnered in those incredible legs was truly overwhelming to see "up close". When we concluded our visit, Dick Martin of Rowan and Martin's LAUGH-IN, came into the dressing room, and as I departed, both were speaking fluent French. Since French is my second language, I could understand they weren't speaking about me, (or at least not while I was there!), thank Heaven. The visit was memorable and Gene was as first-class as one would expect.
Debbie Reynolds - She and I shared mutual friends, as well as ex-husband Eddie Fisher and daughter Carrie, but I hadn't met Debbie until I was Entertainment Editor at Channel 11 (KARE-TV) in the early-to-mid 1980s. Debbie was here for a personal appearance and she agreed to have me interview her. The interview took place in her suite at the Holiday Inn on 34th Street, near the airport. Debbie was delightful, but also strong. She paid her dues, and then some, from her fledgling years on screen, filming not far from her native Burbank, California, to almost always memorable acting singing and dancing roles. She told me Gene was a task-master and perfectionist. Some of the dance scenes which have only three or four minutes of screen time took days to shoot, with constant rehearsals and repeat "takes". (Gene actually had a case of mild pneumonia when he performed the signature "Singin' In the Rain" number with that famos umbrella, splashing in puddles. That scene took six days to shoot.) Debbie said she was exhausted, but happily so, when they wrapped shooting. I didn't mention I had an acquaintanceship with Eddie Fisher. His breakup with Debbie was emotionally devastating and hurtful to her, as everyone knows. As we all know, she's a brilliant, focused and exceedingly-talented lady, who will also appear in a pre-taped interview with TCM's Robert Osborne in the July 12th big-screen one-time resurrection of "Singin' In The Rain".
Donald O'Connor - According to Donald's daughter, the day following his death in 2004, she said a few of the last words he ever spoke, were, "I want to thank the Academy for this Lifetime Achievement award". He was, of course, sadly saying words he never got to say, but certainly shioud have. His multi-talents were at the top of the show business ladder, but sadly ignored by those who give awards for perfomance excellence. Not recognizing his talents publicly was a travesty, in my opinion, and the opinions of many others. I got to know Donald well during my Las Vegas broadcasting days in the late 1960s and 1970, and briefly from time-to-time in later years, not long before his passing. He and his wife Gloria, he told me, were fans of my weather broadcasts in Las Vegas, and both were occasional guests on my television talk show there, too, when he would perform at the now-torn-down Sahara Hotel. We spent several fun private times simply talking about show business, and not for television or radio interviews, but rather just enjoying reminiscing, and, I'm honored to say, at Donald's kind invitation. One of Donald's neighbors in Sedona, Arizona,, where he lived his final years, was the late dancer Ann Miller, also a wonderfully-multi-talented performer.
I'm not a shill, paid or otherwise, for TCM, but thanks to Ted Turner, those who never saw "Singin' In The Rain" on the big screen should take the opportunity to do so, and even if for only a couple hours, see what REAL movies were, and why some of us "geezers" long for the days of quality entertainment to someday miraculously return, en masse. In my opinion, those sorts of movies, even though fiction, made us happy. They also, again in my opinion, inspired us to want to approach life with more positive attitudes, so sorely needed today.
Thanks for taking the time to read these thoughts and reminiscences. I hope you'll also find the time to watch my SENIOR MOMENT webcasts at www.startribune.com/video. The subject changes every Monday, as does my choice of SPAM or SPAM LITE for lunch. :)