< Return to Adherents.com's Guide to Movies
< Return to Religion of the AFI's Top 50 Screen Legends
< Return to Famous Catholics
The Religious Affiliation of
great American actor and dancer
From: Alvin Yudkoff, Gene Kelly: A Life of Dance and Dreams, Watson-Guptill Publications: New York, NY (1999), pages 2-3:
Pittsburgh, 1922: It was really asking for trouble. The five of them would walk down Mellon Street in the East Liberty section, the two Kelly girls in spotless dresses, their three brothers enclosed in stiff Buster Brown suits and collars. They were not even going to Sunday Mass, which might have curbed the hostile instincts of the Polacks shooting craps on the sidewalk... Instantly the Kellys knew what they faced: truants from the local "Protestant P.S."--it was their shorthand for the grimy, gray neighborhood public school. The Kellys attended St. Raphael's, the Catholic academy, at considerable financial sacrifice--a point made by their mother almost every day of the semester...
Yudkoff, page 6:
The exchange of blows, the shoving and kicking and tripping, spilled from sidewalk to street... Then, out of their apartment would charge their avenging mother, Harriet Kelly, to rout the Protestant bullies...
All of them, especially Harriet Kelly, recognized James Sr., as the family patriarch, was a worthy man of unimpeachable moral rectitude, a believer in hard work, hard drinking, and restorative attendance at Mass.
[Gene's] brothers and sisters... managed to avoid the usual childhood diseases. But not Gene. It was almost as if he had to taste all of them. The most worrisome by far was a serious bout of what was diagnosed as pneumonia. It may have been related to the mysterious but virulent worldwide influenza pandemic that killed more than 675,000 Americans in 1918. The Kellys prayed at home and in church, and Gene recovered completely.
Yudkoff, page 8:
...if Harriet [Gene's mother] had possessed the talent herself, despite her background as a carefully brought-up Catholic girl she would have tried to make her own way somewhere in show business.
Gene Kelly's parents wanted their son to be an attorney. Yudkoff, page 9:
 A secure post that was prestigious and even paid a decent dollar. Maybe the first Irish-Catholic judge to be appointed to the Supreme Court.
Yudkoff, page 57:
 Robeson's life-style was a revelation to the Irish Catholic's mama's boy [Gene Kelly] from Pittsburgh... It was well known to the cast at Westport that Robeson and Hagen were lovers, which did not seem to bother Ferrer, as the three celebrities appeared to have settled into a comfortable menage a trois.
Yudkoff, pages 58-59:
The season at Westport accelerated Gene's immersion into the laissez-faire sexual beahvior of the theatrical world. Sleeping with somebody--male-male, male-female, whatever, whomever--without intention of marriage or, at least, of pursuing a partnered life was indisputably the Westport way. Gene was one of the very few who did not partake.
 Somehow, driving through Mexico, observing the poverty of the peasants in abject prayer at the churches, rich with gold and silver and jewels, he was sickened by the contrast. He abhorred the role of the Church in supporting the fascist Franco against the Spanish Republic. Now, seeing it firsthand, the failure of the Church, his church, to come to grips meaningfully with the physical and spiritual needs of the poor opened his eyes to the hypocrisy of what he called "organized religion." Feeding into his consciousness were his recent meetings with simpatico contacts who had influenced him with their outspoken attitudes--Robeson, Comden, Green, and many left-wing intellectuals.
Yudkoff, page 74:
On the return trip, long before they saw Pittsburgh looming in the distance, he made it plain to his father that he was now a complete agnostic. His father could tell Harriet or not, as he chose. But no longer would Gene Kelly be dominated by the wishes and preferences of his mother.
 On days when Panama Hattie gave no matinee, he and Betsy [Blair] visited museums or took in the art galleries on 57th Street. They were both readers and would spend time in his apartment, enjoying books and records. There was some hand-holding and kissing but (to her frustration) no sex. He continually made a point of her tender age, as if that was the barrier that prevented intimacy. From time to time he made jokes about the federal Mann Act, which prohibited the movement of minors across state lines for purposes of sexual activity. And she came from New Jersey, he reminded her. While she thought Gene had a beguiling sense of humor, those attempts at being funny did nothing more than distress her. For his part, he had to remind himself constantly she was only seventeen...
Yudkoff, page 85:
Long after midnight he and Betsy would leave Bergen's and walk through a deserted Times Square to the Hudson, and the goodnight kiss. That's what it was, just a goodnight kiss, as though he too were a teenager returning his prom date to her home. Gene knew she expected more of him, in every way.
Those at Bergen's who attracted [Gene Kelly's girlfriend Betty Blair] were men who took the most fiery anti-capitalist positions, displaying a passion she found magnetic. It was just the out-of-control quality she missed in her relationship with Gene. They still had not slept together. Any number of times she suggested they go to his hotel after leaving Bergen's. Gene would have none of it; she was, he made clear, still underage, barely on the cusp of adulthood. Perhaps, she was beginning to conclude, his reluctance to advance the erotic aspect of their relationship represented some sort of old-fashioned gallantry, or a Catholic hangup. Assuredly, he was not gay...
Yudkoff, page 88:
With all the strains of dealing with a person whose attitude toward lovemaking was bafflling, hurtful, and unnatural, she [Gene Kelly's girlfriend Betty Blair] was determined that when and if Gene went to Hollywood, she would be with him. She would even go now, with not a word about marriage, but what was the point with this Catholic conformist, this mama's boy?
Yudkoff, pages 89-90:
When no one else was present, [Gene's] mother did bring up the subject of his girlfriends, or lack of them. He was, after all, nearing thirty--getting up there for a Catholic boy. Blessedly, that Jewish Marlow girl, once a worry, had gone her own way. But what about that bright young thing she had met at Pal Joey?
Yudkoff, page 110:
Indeed, what about Betsy? On the train back from Pittsburgh he found himself thinking about her... made him wonder why he had been such a jackass as to let her slip out of his life... He met her at Bergen's after the evening performance.... he proposed. He couldn't help thinking, ever the showman, that in a play or movie the moment called for a song. And a dance. Betsy had an immediate idea. Best Foot Forward was starting a trail pre-Broadway run in Philadelphia. Gene was required to be present to review the show one last time. She would go with him, and they would elope. Simple.
He knew elopement was out of the question. Betsy was seventeen. Without her parents' consent, a marriage license would not be granted. In any case, Harriet [Gene's mother] would never sit still for a nonreligious civil ceremony...
When he called later in the morning, Betsy's parents were thrilled. yes, Betsy was amazingly precocious but still a teenager and a constant worry besides, what with her impulsive left-wing notions. What better for their daughter than the support and protection of an established star? They swiftly made arrangements for a Catholic ceremony.
Gene and Betsy were married at St. John's Church, in Philadelphia, on September 24, 1941.
...his and Betsy's daughter was born, on October 16, 1942. Gene wanted to name her Bridget. Betsy thought Bridget was too cloistered, had too much of an Irish-Catholic scullery-maid connotation. He replied that his mother would like Bridget. She told him she didn't give a damn. She wanted a name that "had a lilt to it"... She proposed Kerry. Gene did not wish to fight or quibble; he was finally in a wonderful mood. So they compromised. Kerry Kelly it would be.
Yudkoff, page 171:
During a discussion by MGM top-echelon executives about HUAC charges and countercharges, Mayer said that despite Kelly's leadership and the decision to fly to Washington, which Mayer opposed vehemently, Kelly "couldn't possibly be a Commie because he is a Catholic boy who loves his mother."
Webpage created 27 May 2005. Last modified 2 May 2007.
We are always striving to increase the accuracy and usefulness of our website. We are happy to hear from you. Please submit questions, suggestions, comments, corrections, etc. to: email@example.com.