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Book reviews for "Yudkoff,_Alvin" sorted by average review score:

Gene Kelly: A Life of Dance and Dreams
Published in Paperback by Watson-Guptill Pubns (2001)
Author: Alvin Yudkoff
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Nothing New on Kelly Here
The author tries, but fails, to adequately tell Gene Kelly's life story. There are so few materials on the life and career of Kelly that this book was eagerly anticipated by his fans. Unfortnately, this one doesn't make the grade. In his "novel" approach, the author attempts to crawl inside Kelly's mind as he sits watching the American Film Institute Awards in the 1980s. He thinks Kelly's thoughts and presents them to readers, as though he inhabits a secret corner of the choreographer/dancer's mind and is literally giving us "the inside scoop" on how Kelly felt about his life, career, and relationships. He also invites himself into closed door sessions (where he couldn't possibly have known what was being said between Kelly and Mayer, Kelly and Betsy Blair, Kelly and Jeanne Coyne, Kelly and Donen, etc.). The result is half novel/half biography, all failure. When the author finally does climb out of Kelly's mind back into the reality of the dancer's life, he doesn't get all of his facts straight. In one instance he reports that Vera Ellen saluted Kelly at the American Film Institute Awards. If so, she did it from the netherworld. Ellen had been dead for several years by the time of the AFI awards.

For some odd reason writers have a hard time writing about Kelly and doing it well. Perhaps it is because Kelly's life is devoid of serious scandel; there is nothing scurrilous on which to hang juicy rumors. Let's hope, then, that Kelly's widow, Pat Ward, will soon release the biography that Kelly, himself, was working on the last few years of his life. Then we'll REALLY know what Kelly was thinking, and not have to rely upon second-hand Kelly-think.

Good, but doesn't "keep going"...
Gene Kelly : A Life of Dance and Dreams is well written and researched (the errors are only minor, such as the fact that Vera-Ellen did not speak at Gene's AFI salute since she died in 1981). Despite a fantastic and thorough beginning, the book really falls short in the end when it tries to cover the years 1952-1996 in only 35 pages. The second half of Gene's life deserves at least as much time as the first half! It's like there needs to be a second volume, but this one was going to press. More info was needed on Gene's relationships with his family, especially after the emphasis on his love of family in his early life. It was apparent that the author was unable to speak to Gene's surviving family members in writing this book. Despite that, the author did a good job with the sources he did use.

Candid and Compelling
I have a hunch the authors of the two customer reviews I have just read - - one from Bloomington, Indiana, the other from Philadelphia - - are very much like me; female, long-time Gene Kelly devotees with a passion for his films, who have gone out of our way over the years to absorb the countless interviews (thousands by Kelly's own reckoning) in print and radio and TV when Gene reminisced about his life and career, the joyous moments and the disappointing ones, and expressed his forthright opinions and ideas.

And because he was and is our idol, the head of the class, we surely paid attention. What he had to say really sunk in. Accordingly, self-appointed scholars of Gene Kelly's life and times, we tend to grade ourselves as the only Phi Beta Kappas around. We are the smartass know-alls who own the guy.

But familiarity breeds conceit; the danger for us overheated Kelly fans is we begin to think we are the sole keepers of the flame. When somebody comes along with a fresh perspective, as does Alvin Yudkoff in the new biography "Gene Kelly: A Life of Dance and Dreams," all too often we go ballistic. We feel angry, almost violated and immediately join the "gotcha!" gang, almost lusting to ferret out inaccuracies of fact or attitude. We resist any imaginative approach to the telling of the life of a remarkable, and very complicated, man.

A perfect example of such behavior is offered up by Lisa from Bloomington who, perhaps because Gene was a magnificent tap dancer, obsessively looks for footnotes, footnotes and more footnotes. (Sorry, I can't resist this not-so-wisecrack but I am always irritated by someone who primly expects a readable, riveting biography like this one to be a heavy PhD thesis with droning sidebars identifying sources - - such as a 1947 article in Cahiers du Cinema or snatches from a long-ago conversation on the Hillcrest golf course - - that only interrupt the overall narration flow.)

So Lisa buys the book and is "disappointed" with the author's technique which she finds "irritating."

She is referring, of course, to the author's choice of the American Film Institute's honoring of Gene Kelly in a 1985 CBS telecast, a very real event, as the launching pad, the imaginative matrix for the biography, allowing us to go back and forth in time, taking in the flow of Gene's feelings and thoughts, so we can begin to understand his life as he saw it. A cinematic technique, if you will, but what better way to render a film icon?

And the point that this particular "gotcha!" groupie still hasn't got is that Kelly's thoughts, like his voice-over in a film, are not flights of fancy, cobbled together by the author. They are based (surely we, the avid Kellyites, know this) on the above cited, wide-ranging interviews Gene gave out for over fifty years. So when Kelly "thinks" badly of Cary Grant... or dwells on his creative differences with Stanley Donen and Barbra Streisand... or worries about his aging mother and the upbringing of his own family (and where oh where does Lisa get the idea that this book implies Kelly was a lousy father?)... or, like Fred Astaire incidentally, suffers from a phobia of being at a social event only to be asked by a well-meaning woman to dance with her - - like Vivian Leigh in the encounter cited by Lisa - - expecting an unrehearsed Nirvana on the dance floor with Kelly, as gallant as ever, hating to disappoint - - all these truly biographical nuggets of interest obviously come out of the author's extensive archival research. It's what he does with the research that makes his book worth reading.

As it happens, just to show I'm not a consummate grouch, let me say I am much more in accord with your second reviewer, the Gene Kelly Home Page host from Philadelphia. She points out an error involving Vera-Ellen but doesn't make a fuss about it. In a calm and measured way she praises the research and writing. Most importantly she appears to be in tune with the way the book is organized but feels there should have been much more attention to the post-stardom years, 1952-1996 when rock and roll came in and Kelly was literally out of the picture. I agree with her when she says "the second half of Gene's life deserves at least as much time as the first half."

One thing is almost certain, to come back to Lisa who ends her tirade with: "Anyway, it makes me hope Gene Kelly's autobiography will still be published. There is definitely a place for it."

So do I - - but let's do a reality check, please; the odds are that it does not exist. It is four years since his passing. As the book under discussion goes into very sympathetically Gene had a lot of trouble completing his own literary, playwriting and screenwriting endeavors. He set standards for himself that were difficult to meet. Evidence points toward the certainty that his notes were incinerated when his Beverly Hills home burned down in the Christmas fire of 1983. So until something comes along that does it better, I'll continue to recommend "Gene Kelly: A Life of Dance and Dreams."

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