Patricia Ward Kelly wasn’t aware of Gene Kelly’s legacy when she met him in 1985 on a California set. No Singin’ in the Rain, no dancing with Jerry Mouse in Anchors Aweigh, certainly not his stint in Santa Fe for the filming of The Cheyenne Social Club, where he acted as director and producer. He was there to host and narrate a TV special. She was a burgeoning writer.
"It was a blank slate for me, and I think that really was the way to get to know him, because I got to see all the dimensions of this extraordinary man before I kind of fell in love with that gorgeous person up on the screen," she tells SFR.
The May-December relationship is one she broaches during her one-woman show, which waltzes its way to the Lensic on Saturday. "One of my responses is, Oh, come on you guys, don't tell me you wouldn't of fallen for him too," she says.
Ward Kelly shares memories, anecdotes, keepsakes and film clips during the presentation in an effort to "inspire people, young people, to excellence, and to pursue their passions and their dreams."
In a move she says is akin to a Catholic confessional, she became the iconoclast's biographer. Forcing him to go beyond the superficial and "getting him to reveal the many layers of his life and for him to reflect on those with me."
"We hit it off with our mutual love of words," she says of the courtship that followed.
"We started quoting poetry back and forth and I really fell in love with his immense mind and his really beautiful use of words from this kind of erudite gentleman and Pittsburg street kid. It was a beautiful blend."
His heart, along with his brilliant mind that "absorbed things like a sponge," Ward Kelly says, is what she misses the most. "The breadth of his knowledge. He could be describing one of the great 19th century French ballerinas, and then he could be describing a double-play in baseball and its relationship to ballet."
Then, of course, came the first time they danced as a couple.
Kelly would often shy away from the dancefloor at parties and functions, Ward Kelly says, often blaming a fake injury. But when the time came to cut a rug with his wife, it instantly became unforgettable.
"We did get to dance in the house," she reminisces. "It was New Year's Eve and we had Champagne and caviar, and we had Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole on the stereo. It was really—it was so romantic and lovely and really a beautiful memory."
Gene Kelly: The Legacy
7 pm Saturday, Oct. 10. $10-$75
211 W San Francsico St.,