Over several decades I got to meet many Hollywood stars in their latter years and it was always a great joy to me. I wish I could have met Fred Astaire but I did get to 'dance' with Gene Kelly.

Back in the 1980s I interviewed him in his London hotel when he was over here plugging one of the That's Entertainment documentary films, which are well worth watching. Gene made three films at MGM in Borehamwood, which gave us something to talk about rather than his more famous movies. I always found that more productive to keep their interest.


Gene Kelly. Photo: MGM

Gene Kelly. Photo: MGM


Gene told me he found the pace of British film making slower than in Hollywood and the equipment not so up-to-date, but this was the early 1950s. He did recall with fondness that there was a pub next door to the studio and he would enjoy going for a drink with members of the crew.

At the end of the interview, when there was nothing to lose, I asked if I could do some very simple step dance movements with him so I could say I once danced with Gene Kelly. He agreed, and of course it lasted just a few seconds but I got a lasting claim to fame. Not long after this column appears I am due to see Giovanni from Strictly in his dance show with a meet and greet backstage. I am tempted to ask him the same thing, and why not as he was not born when I met Mr Kelly.


 Singin in the Rain trailer: Donald OConnor, Debbie Reynolds and Kelly (1952)

Singin' in the Rain trailer: Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds and Kelly (1952)


I have never been a good dancer; I can still shamble around a dance floor doing a waltz but the Gay Gordons are beyond me. I was once my street's peppermint twist champion of 1962 but the only way I could twist again is if two people one of each side hoist me up when my knees lock.

Do you find time has reduced you to daddy and mummy dancing and even then only after a drink or two? Were you able to copy John Travolta's moves from Grease but now need to be well oiled?


Rogers in the 1930s

Rogers in the 1930s


I did get to meet the legendary Ginger Rogers towards the end of her life but alas she was in a wheelchair. It was at a star-studded tribute event and they introduced her with a clip from an early 1930s film with my friend Douglas Fairbanks Jr. It was 60 years later and the host Robert Wagner and Doug, who looked very aged, held her up to the lectern to say a few words. I could not make up my mind whether this was cruel or something special.

As a host and organiser of a nostalgia events it is a hard choice. Back in 1984 Doug agreed to attend an event at Elstree Studios to which I invited other veterans like Lord Grade, triple Oscar-winning director of photography Freddie Young and others. I decided to phone Dame Anna Neagle and said please come. Anna was reluctant due to her health but Elstree meant so much to her she agreed to. As ever I had no budget so they all made their own way to the studio. After the event Anna phoned me to say it was so much fun to be back after decades. Sadly she died a couple of years later so it was her last visit. I like to think I did not exploit her.

Until next time, if you are a driver or passenger in a car remember 'clunk click every trip', which is one for my more mature readers.

  • Paul Welsh MBE is a Borehamwood writer and historian of Elstree Studios