Road-Tripping to Gene Kelly’s House: Fan Tourism on Rodeo Drive
by Kelli Marshall — DePaul University
March 03, 2017 – 14:07
From 1946 to his death in 1996, Hollywood song-and-dance man Gene Kelly lived in a white farmhouse on Rodeo Drive. For nearly a decade, the Kellys hosted weekly parties in which showbiz elites like Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, and Rita Hayworth would join Kelly and his wife, Betsy Blair, in a variation on charades called The Game. Apparently on these nights, the farmhouse’s front door was always open, and people would come and go as they pleased.
In 1983, the Kelly house nearly burned to the ground after a Christmas tree caught fire. While the family was unharmed (except for a burn on Kelly’s hand), the fire destroyed, among other things, valuable papers and Hollywood memorabilia, collections of art and antique furniture, and home movies of the kids’ birthday parties. The following year Gene Kelly rebuilt his house from the original blueprints.
Based on this rich history, it makes sense Kelly’s fans would travel to Rodeo Drive to glance at the house in which the star lived for 50 years. They’ve journeyed for various reasons: “killing time before going to the airport,” doing “drive-bys [of celebrity homes] while in LA,” and taking “mini-tours of Hollywood” during film festivals.
At Kelly’s home, these fan-tourists have remained in their cars and gotten out, some lingering for 45 minutes. Denise recalls being nervous in 1980 that Kelly might see her sneaking a photo. Donna says she has few regrets in life, “but not knocking on Kelly’s door is in [her] top three, as he was still alive.” Steve, Carol, and Sue report doodles in the sidewalk, which fans will immediately recognize as those belonging to Kelly’s children and his second wife, Jeanne Coyne. Looking at the markings, Sue was moved she’d discovered “a record literally set in stone of probably the happiest part of Gene’s life in that house."
Impressively, some fans have made their way into the Kelly home. David thinks back to the “dark paneled walls awash in paintings” and "sliding glass doors that looked out onto the swimming pool." Adele remembers being surrounded by “floral fabrics” as she felt the weight of Kelly’s Academy Award.
Despite their experiences at the farmhouse, every fan with whom I’ve spoken describes it as modest and homey, similar to those in their middle-class suburbs. Appropriately perhaps, Gene Kelly’s home reflects his star persona: the American everyman—or as John Updike puts it, that guy in loafers and a t-shirt…white socks, no white tie.