Gene Kelly's widow 'never thought' about 47-year age difference with star: 'He was so young at heart'

Patricia Ward Kelly met Gene Kelly in 1985 when she was writing for a television special about the Smithsonian Museum, which he happened to be hosting.

I did not know who Gene Kelly was when I first met him. That always surprises people,” Patricia Ward Kelly told Fox News Digital from her home office where memories overflow from their relationship. “In fact, some people think I’m making it up.”

Ward Kelly was in her mid-20s at the time, and the inimitable star of classics like “Singin’ in the Rain,” “On the Town” and “An American in Paris,” was 47 years her senior.

The age issue was not an issue for me,” she explained. “And the funny thing is, I never really even thought about it because he was so young at heart.”


Gene Kelly was 47 years older than wife Patricia Ward Kelly. (Ted Dayton/WWD/Penske Media/Silver Screen Collection)

She said she did not think about their age difference “until the tabloids started making such a big deal about it. And then I didn’t even add up the difference until they made a big deal.”

The age difference also did not matter to her parents. “My parents understood and didn’t see it as any problem. They knew I’d always kind of colored outside the lines a little bit. And so it seemed perfectly natural to them. There wasn’t anything strange about it.”

However, as a self-described “nerdy Herman Melville scholar,” being “suddenly thrust into this spotlight and to have people around you passing judgment on you and your life” was an issue.

WATCH: Gene Kelly’s widow says their age difference was ‘not an issue’ because he was ‘young at heart’

Gene Kelly's widow says their age difference was 'not an issue' because he was 'young at heart' Video

That was harder to take, if you go from anonymity to being the poster child at the checkout counter at the grocery store,” she said. “But it is strange when people are following you, taking pictures and certainly nothing like what people are experiencing today, what these mega stars experience in terms of violations of privacy, but we were just on the edge of it.”

Gene Kelly and Patricia Ward Kelly were married from 1990 until his death in 1996. (Kypros/Getty Images)


Ward Kelly said she did not go to many movies growing up.

I hear from so many people now saying, ‘Oh, my gosh, my mother would keep me home from school if a Gene Kelly movie was on’ or, they watched them with their parents or grandparents and that just wasn’t my upbringing,” she explained. “In a weird way, I think it was the best way to meet Gene because I came with no preconceived notions of him. Everybody else comes in there like, ‘Oh my God, I love you.’ And I didn’t know who he was. I didn’t know what he represented. I didn’t know his films at all.”

WATCH: Gene Kelly thought of Frank Sinatra as closer than a brother and ‘revered’ Judy Garland, widow says

Gene Kelly thought of Frank Sinatra as closer than a brother and 'revered' Judy Garland, widow says Video


She said after they worked on the TV special together, he asked her to help him with his memoir. “I figured it would maybe be a couple of weeks, and we ended up getting married five years into that process.”

Gene Kelly doing his iconic dance in “Singin’ in the Rain.” (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

She added, In a strange way, I’m very happy that the work came first, and the marriage came second, because I was really committed to getting Gene’s words on tape and then on paper, and making sure that I got a sense of this man that he felt had not been captured before.”

Ward Kelly said she fell in love with his “words,” explaining they both loved etymology, the study of the origins of words.

We started playing word games and quoting poetry back and forth and by the middle of the week I realized he spoke French, he spoke Italian, he read Latin, he spoke Yiddish, he wrote poetry,” she said. “He had memorized an extraordinary amount of poetry, and he had a love of language. I mean, it wasn’t just that he had studied these things and absorbed them. It was that he was like a child. He delighted in them. He delighted in the sound of words and would often just say a word over and over, because he loved the way it sounded, and so I found it very charming.”

In private, the singing and dancing star was “very quiet,” she said.

Entertainers Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra pose for a portrait wearing sailor uniforms in a still from the movie “Anchors Aweigh” which was released on Aug. 13, 1945. (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)


People will ask me if he danced around the kitchen,” she said, “but his idea of a great time was to sit in front of the fire at night and listen to Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole on the stereo. To read a book, to just have a quiet, very quiet evening. And so that’s how we spent much of our time was just in, sitting next to each other on the couch, or sitting across from each other in front of the fire. And, and I think those are some of the most memorable evenings.”

When he was younger, she said Kelly’s home was a “kindof salon” for the stars at that time. “So you might stop by, and Leonard Bernstein might be playing the piano, or Oscar Levant or Judy Garland might be singing, and some people in another room would be playing a version of charades.”

Most of Kelly’s closest friends were not stars, but she said he “revered” Judy Garland.

“He really always credits her with his career and teaching him how to perform in front of a camera. Frank Sinatra was a dear friend. And really, as Gene said, they were closer than brothers. And Frank really showed that at the end of Gene’s life, when I was with him, I could see how clear that was and this kind of camaraderie that they had and, just really deep affection for one another.

Gene Kelly with Marilyn Monroe and Yves Montand, right, on the set of 1960’s “Let’s Make Love.” (Getty)

However, she said he was very private and relished not having to be “on.”

Hewas ‘on’ any time we left the house. I mean, the tour buses went by constantly and so, even on a walk around our neighborhood, you were ‘on’ and being recorded,” Ward Kelly remembered.

She said the “hardest point we had with privacy” was the times the star spent in the hospital in the last years of his life.

Nurseswere selling the stories out of the hospitals,” she said. “And it was before all the HIPAA rules came into play. And, the people would listen in on the 911 calls and show up to take pictures at the hospital and people dressed as priests and tried to come into the room. And, and I found that the biggest violation of all, because at that point, when you should not have to spend your energy with these things and trying to protect somebody’s dignity and privacy, your attention is spent on that kind of chasing people down stairways and things like that.”

She added, “That was I think is a real violation and I don’t know how to stop it.”

She said fans might be surprised by the magnitude of his brain, the immensity of his brain. They somehow don’t imagine that he has this intellectual capacity. I think, perhaps it’s something that maybe plagues dancers, choreographers, that somehow that particular kind of genius is not like other.”

Gene Kelly dancing with Judy Garland in a scene from the film “For Me and My Gal.” (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images)

Fans are a “little surprised that he is an intellectual, as he was, and that he was a true Renaissance man and so gifted in many areas. A lot of people are surprised that he directed and choreographed. They’ll ask me if he ever choreographed anything, and I’ll say, ‘Yes, just about everything you’re seeing.’”


She said Kelly was also extremely protective of her during their relationship, describing a black tie event they attended early on when someone called her name and took a photo of her. She said her mother later told her she looked like a “deer in the headlights.”

And I said, ‘Well, Mom, you know, you have no idea quite what this experience is like,’ but, it wasn’t anything I was prepared for. I tried to weather it as best as I could, I’m sure there are people who handle it much better, but Gene was good about it. He would – you’ll see him in the photographs – He held on to me with a tight, tight, grip. He held my hand, and I can see in the pictures now that, I’m sure, gave me a sense of strength at that time.”

Since his death in 1996, Ward Kelly said she misses the brightness of his mind.”

She continued, “I miss the joy of the delight in words and sitting. There’s nothing like sitting next to somebody, reading, and then you’ll kind of stop and talk briefly and then go back to reading. I mean, I don’t think there’s much that’s more romantic than that. I mean, maybe I’m odd, but I just that was just an amazing thing. And I think I also I miss his decency. I really miss his decency. I miss his integrity. He was fighting for things way ahead of the pack.”

She said he was also the “epitome of romance.”


He would wake me up in the middle of the night just to go out on the balcony to see the full moon,” she said. “And I miss the little valentines he would leave sprinkled around the house for Valentine’s Day and the little, little, enamel boxes from England that he would give to me. And he’d take a red felt marker and put a heart on the inside of them. So that’s all gone. And I have them. I have the valentines, and I have the notes that he left for me and everything. That’s a pretty big hole to fill.”

Ward Kelly said she is doing “everything she can to preserve his legacy, including her one-woman show “Gene Kelly: the Legacy,” that illustrates his creative process and how he changed the “look of dance on film.

Gene Kelly dancing in 1950. (Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

She also does a live symphony tribute to Kelly, in which she interweaves stories about him with clips from his films that the orchestra accompanies.

During his life, Kelly had a “crusade” tobreak down the stigma of boys dancing, and it’s still prevalent today,” she said, adding that she works with a group that tries to engage boys in dancing.

In 1958, Kelly put together a television special called “Dancing Is a Man’s Game,” in which he would choreograph a dance based off of sports movements described by athletes like Mickey Mantle and Sugar Ray Robinson.

Ward Kelly said her late husband’s movies are also used forchildren who haveautism, dyslexia and dyspraxia.

“A friend of mine has a kid who has autism, and he’s watched ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ more than 20 times. It’s something that is joyful,” she said.

His movies are also used to help trigger memories in Alzheimer’s sufferers.

WATCH: Gene Kelly’s widow says star was the ‘epitome of romance’

Gene Kelly's widow says star was the 'epitome of romance' Video


I speak in a lot [of] care homes,” she explained. “His movies are not violent. They bring back instantly, will trigger them positive memories, songs and things. So, there’s a pretty broad spectrum that I don’t think he certainly was not aware how much his work would be used and in so many different, different ways.”

Ward Kelly said her late husband’s movie “On the Town” with Sinatra – which celebrates its 75th anniversary later this year – “broke new ground, by being shot on location in New York City and using the city itself as the kind of chorus, [which] had not been done before.”

She added, “Gene’s never going to go away. I think, you will have the 75th anniversary of ‘On the Town,’ but there will be the 150th anniversary. I think he’ll just keep going.”

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