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Gene Kelly’s daughter Kerry recalls ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ star’s fierce devotion to family in Hollywood

Gene Kelly’s daughter Kerry recalls ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ star’s fierce devotion to family in Hollywood


Kerry Kelly Novich was raised by one of the most iconic stars from Hollywood’s golden era – but she insisted her childhood was “ordinary.”

Gene Kelly, the beloved song-and-dance man who starred in films like “Singin’ in the Rain,” “On the Town,” “Anchors Aweigh” and “An American in Paris,” passed away in 1996 at age 83. His successful Hollywood career spanned half a century and he appeared in 45 movies. He is revered today as an innovator in film dance.

Kerry Novich didn’t follow in her father’s footsteps but she carved out a career for herself that celebrates his love of family. As a child, adolescent, and adult psychoanalyst, with more than 55 years’ experience, she also writes. Her husband and she recently collaborated to create “Emotional Muscle”: Strong Parents and Strong Children. She said it is targeted at “parents and grandparents, as well as teachers.”

Fox News interviewed Kerry Novich about his childhood with the star and about the Navy’s early years. He also spoke about how Hollywood influenced him.


Fox News How did you realize your father was unique from all other dads when you were a child?
Kerry Kelly Novick Well, one thing about growing up in Beverly Hills is that almost everybody’s father or mother was in show business. So it wasn’t so different.

I think it was more of a realization that for the rest of the world, everybody’s parents weren’t famous. But because it was so ordinary where I grew up, it didn’t feel different. Even my dad was not unlike me. My father and I used to go out for bagels, then we would head to the hardware shop. My mother and I went to the public library. Our lives were quite ordinary.

Kerry Kelly Novich at three weeks old.

Fox News Gene Kelly: What was your childhood like?
Kelly NovickHe was an extremely dedicated, present and available dad to me and my siblings. He was also very active and fun. He actively participated in schoolwork. However, he loved to play games with us.

Fox News What’s a favorite memory you have of your father?
Kelly NovickThere are many. The one thing that comes to my mind most often is when I was very little. My age was between four and five. He had a bad habit. When he came home from work, he used to take his large red leather chair and choose something for us. That’s actually how I learned to read. He made learning fun and enjoyable for all of us.


Fox News Your dad enlisted in Navy. What impact was that experience on your father?
Kelly NovickBecause his number was available, he enlisted in Navy. Then he was sent to boot camp in San Diego. Following that, he did boxing and completed basic training. The Navy assigned him to the training film-making unit. He made training films about how to assemble or disassemble a rifle, and other things until the end.

After Navy service in World War II, Gene Kelly returned to films.

He made the most important training film, “Combat Fatigue Irritability”. That’s a short film that he directed and partially wrote. This film discusses what used to be called “combat fatigue irritation”, which was previously known as “shell shock”. Nowadays, it’s PTSD. The impact of combat on sailors and soldiers was also addressed. They also received different types of treatment. It was a really powerful movie for its time that can now be found at the National Library of Medicine, along with John Fords’s which were similar.

Fox News It seems like mental health wasn’t something that was discussed or understood as it is today.
Kelly NovickPerhaps it was within certain circles. My parents were both intellectuals, and they were also very avant-garde. Mental health was something they knew about. My father used to go to veteran’s hospitals to entertain the young men who were in recovery. Everyone was aware of the importance of mental health. And I felt my father’s film was very fascinating, especially for me since I’m a mental health professional.

Fox News What was your father’s relationship like with the other servicemen?
Kelly NovickIt was fantastic. My father was born in Pittsburgh to a small family. He grew up in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood. He was a normal person. His friendship with the military personnel was excellent. It was also the cause that he lost many of his closest friends during combat.


Kerry Kelly Novich said she has a normal upbringing.

Fox News These are just a few of the fun facts Gene Kelly has to offer that will be a surprise for fans.
Kelly Novick His college degree was economics. He majored in economics and was captivated by American history and politics. In the public, he’s seen as a carefree, athletic dancer. In private, he was an intelligent intellectual. He was always interested in new things and was always reading.

Fox NewsYour parents may not have been movie stars, it sounds. 
Kelly NovickAlthough they were both talented dancers, they also had to be hard-working. They were like professional athletes so they didn’t have the luxury of just lolling around. Their parents were hardworking and everyone had a job. Since he was in college, my father supported his family. He ran two dance schools in Pennsylvania with his family. My grandfather lost his job during the Depression. Dance schools provided support for the family. My mother’s mother was a school teacher who also took care of the family.

Gene Kelly visiting London with his wife, actress Betsy Blair and daughter Kerry, 1955.

Although they were successful in Hollywood, my dad knew from the beginning that he would live a different kind of life. So when I came along, they didn’t want me to be some sort of rich kid. There were chores, but I also got a little allowance. It was a different Hollywood family. My parents hosted activities such as softball, volleyball and ping-pong on weekends. Evenings were spent singing and playing around with the piano.

Gene Kelly is seen here listening to his daughter Kerry reading aloud from 'Worzel Gummidge' by Barbara Euphan Todd on the set of the MGM film 'Crest of the Wave' in London, circa 1953. The film was based on the play 'Seagulls Over Sorrento' by Hugh Hastings. 

They would show a movie on Sunday evenings in their living room using a 16-millimeter projector. At the age of 11, I had learned to operate the projector. It was a proud moment for me. While they valued hard work, they were also very proud of their family. They were creative and fun friends, who enjoyed spending time at our house.


Fox News Do you remember your dad teaching you how to dance?
Kelly Novick *Laughs*. He was willing to give me a lesson. I had one lesson and then he said I had to practice every day or else he wouldn’t continue the lessons. I didn’t practice. So he didn’t continue the lessons. This was evident in his work ethic.

Fox NewsDoes it really seem that Judy Garland was actually a close family friend?
Kelly NovickIt was. They were good friends. He was very grateful for Judy, I believe. He was already a star in Hollywood when Judy was introduced to him. His mother was his inspiration to make movies. Her teachings included using subtle gestures and more complex facial expressions, as well as the importance to use small gestures for conveying emotion. He was always welcomed and treated with kindness by her. That was something he never forgot. Together they were constant singers and dancers. They were best friends up until her death. Judy and her extended family were an integral part of my childhood.

Gene Kelly and Judy Garland in publicity portrait for the film 'For Me And My Gal', 1942. 

Fox News What were your father’s later years like?
Kelly NovickHe made a career shift. As the studio system changed, he began to do more directing work and made cameo appearances. My sister and brother were left behind by my stepmother, who died at nine and seven years old. My dad decided to stop filming on location. If he couldn’t bring the kids, he wouldn’t do it.

In that moment, I was an adult and had moved to England. He had been functioning solely as a parent, and made the decision to be a stay-at-home dad and take care of my siblings. He was devoted to his family in later years. My sister and brother were his priority and he looked after them. However, he also mentored many artists. For career advice or personal guidance, people would seek him out like Paula Abdul and Michael Jackson. It was an honor.


Fox News You’ve been working with children and families for a long time. Is this the role that inspired you?
Kelly NovickBeing a parent was something I always wanted to do. As a child, I babysat a lot. After graduating college I was briefly employed as a set designer and costume supervisor. However, after graduating from college I returned to school and studied to become a child psychologist with Anna Freud London.

Gene Kelly (1912 - 1996) with his wife Jeanne Coyne (1923 - 1973) and their children Tim and Bridget, circa 1968.

The thread was always there. My father was very passionate about children. One of his grandmothers, a teacher himself, was my father. The family was known for being sensitive to children’s needs. There were scenes with children in almost every one of my father’s films. He was proud to see me. I was important to him and he had confidence in me. His response was, “I trust you.” This is the right thing to do if you’re feeling confident.

Fox News What’s life like for you today?
Kelly Novick It’s terrific. Three of my children have nine grandchildren. I’m still very active in my career. Together, my husband and I have written books. We’re both psychoanalysts so we do a lot of teaching. I’m 79 and I’m healthy, happy and busy.

Gene Kelly swings from a lamp post in a still from the film, 'Singin' In The Rain' directed by Kelly and Stanley Donen, 1952.

Fox News Before your father’s passing, how did he feel about Hollywood?
Kelly NovickHis career was a source of pride for him. He expressed gratitude that others continued to appreciate his work, even towards the end. He once said to me that he just wanted people to be happy. He succeeded, I believe. The joys of creativity are taught by his films. Although it is not possible for someone to spontaneously sing and dance as they stroll down the street, it’s still possible. It’s not possible for people to walk down the street and suddenly burst into song or dance. This is why his films are still so beloved.


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