When Gene Kelly needed something from the hardware store, he didn’t drive there — he roller-skated! “We’d skate down on a Saturday morning and then skate back home,” his daughter Kerry Novick recalls to Closer.
A natural athlete who pioneered a masculine, energetic form of dance in groundbreaking musicals, including Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris, Gene was
also a very active, involved father.
“I have many very good memories of going to Yosemite, climbing rocks and cooking beef stew from a tin,” Kerry explains. “My mother was not an outdoors type, so at least twice a year, my dad and I would go on a trip to a national park together.”
The only child of Gene’s marriage to his first wife, Marty actress Betsy Blair, Kerry had a unique window into the lives of MGM’s greatest generation of song and dance legends. She recalls the gatherings her parents would throw on weekends with games of charades or volleyball, movie nights and music around the piano.
“It was usually like 25 people. André Previn or Lenny Bernstein would sit down at the piano, and then somebody — Lena Horne and Judy Garland were there a lot —
would start singing,” Kerry says. Although the hosts and guests were on Hollywood’s A-list, Kerry insists the gatherings “were very ordinary and not at all glam.”
That’s because Gene and Betsy, despite their career successes, didn’t have star pretensions. “I had a lot more ordinary chores than most of my peers,” Kerry recalls. “I had to make my bed and help clear the table — that kind of stuff.”
Gene loved playing sports or doing something active in his downtime. “I still find it almost impossible to relax for more than one day at a time,” he once said. But Gene also had some hobbies that might surprise his fans.
“My parents spent all the money they had when they bought our house in Beverly Hills, so he made a lot of the furniture,” confides Kerry, who remembers her father’s dark wood end tables and bookcases. The cases came in handy because Gene loved to read and passed down his appetite for learning to his daughter. “One of my earliest memories is that every night after supper, we would sit in his big red leather chair in the den and choose something from the encyclopedia,” she says. “We would pick a topic and read out loud. That’s how I learned to read.”
The dance legend also offered to teach his daughter how to tap dance, but that was less successful. “I had one lesson, but he said he wouldn’t teach me if I didn’t practice,” Kerry admits. “And I didn’t practice.”
Today, Kerry, like so many, still marvels at how her father made it look so easy on screen. “One of the most wonderful things he ever said to me is how he just wanted to make people happy,” she says. “He felt he had succeeded.”