Gene Kelly's 1958 TV Special

In Gene Kelly's obituary in the New York Times, columnist Albin Krebs mentions that in 1958, Mr. Kelly “conceived, wrote, narrated and danced in an NBC-TV special [“Dancing: A Man’s Game” ] in which he used athletes to demonstrate the sheer physicality and manliness of dance, often viewed by Americans as an effete art.”


Of course, Kelly had already demonstrated this idea in his movies, but this is 1958 - you couldn’t just rent  old musicals on Netflix. TV was prevalent, fewer musicals were being made, some people had not seen the bulk of his filmed performances (which were now mostly behind him). TV was one of Gene Kelly’s teaching media now.

The show aired on December 21st as part of NBC’s Omnibus, a series which ran from 1952 to 1961. Omnibus programs, as the name implies, covered many subjects - science, art, etc. There’s even a famous showing of Orson Welles as King Lear.

Some of the stars  of “Dancing: A Man’s Game” include boxing legend Sugar Ray Robinson, Broadway dancer Patrick Adiarte (Kelly would also direct Adiarte onstage that year in  Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song.), and baseball great Mickey Mantle.

What in the world did he do with them?  Adiarte is listed in the Internet Movie Database as a solo dancer. I imagine he was filmed separately, demonstrating dance moves as Kelly narrates. But what did Gene Kelly do with the sports figures? Did he make them perform his signature sideways, moving push ups dance? Did he make them perform a movement from their respective games then incorporate it into a dance? Did he slowmo and still shot the athletes and dancers in action, and layover drawings of the human muscular system to show similarities? What did he do? Whatever it was must have been exciting.

We’ve already seen Kelly’s abstract version of popular sports in dance in his movies. Vera-Ellen’s energetic athlete-of-all-sports section of the “Miss Turnstiles” number, choreographed by Kelly,  in On The Town (1949) is highly recommended. It’s humorous, it introduces our leading lady, it’s brilliantly coordinated and it’s just plain fun to watch.


  1. I think Gene Kelly was the manliest of men, a perfect role model for other male dancers and a public who viewed them as effeminate. Your article is spot on about his footprints on film history. I always thought another male dancer, this one in ballet, was like Kelly. Edward Villelas was athletic and masculine. These guys have to be as strong as an ox to do what they do. For the time period in which Kelly did his show, it was needed.

    From ClassicBecky

  2. Hello ClassicBecky,
    I have never heard of the ballet dancer you mention. Googling him just now I find he has a very impressive career - Kennedy Center Honors, Moscow ballet invitation, even performed in a few television specials. I'm going to look for a few video clips.

    Thanks for mentioning him and thanks for following.

    -- Java


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