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Fred Kelly

Taught Queen Elizabeth to Dance the Can Can & won a few Tony Awards
Dancer, choreographer, singer, teacher, and television director Fred Kelly starred on Broadway, won three Tony awards, invented the Cha Cha, introduced the Mambo, danced in the movies, directed the Ice Capades and taught some very famous people how to dance. Among his pupils were his young brother Gene Kelly, Dick Powell, John Travolta, and Queen Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret.   He became an award winning dancer on Broadway in 1940.  Drafted in 1941 he toured the world for three years performing for Allied Troops in Irving Berlin's "This is the Army". After the war he became a television pioneer directing the Steve Allen show and other programs. Fred danced with his brother Gene in the "I Love to Go Swimmin' With Wmmen" scene of the 1954 movie "Deep in My Heart".  As a dance teacher he ran schools in Pittsburgh and New Jersey along with professorships at several universities.  Fred Kelly was a colorful character, great performer, and an influential choreography and teacher.

Pittsburgh's Dancing Kelly's

Fredric Kelly was born the youngest of the five Kelly children in Pittsburgh on June 29, 1916.  He 
grew up in on Mellon Street in Highland Park where he attended St. Raphael’s elementary school.  His Canadian born father James Patrick Joseph Kelly was a sales executive for Thomas Edison's Columbia Phonograph Company.  Gene's mother Harriet, who as a hobby performed in local stock productions, made all five of her children take music and dance lessons.  She enrolled the four year old Fred in dance classes at Blinsky’s School of the Dance on 6th and Penn in downtown Pittsburgh. The Kelly kids Jay, Jim, Gene, Louise, and Fred began performing dance routines around 1921 as "The Five Kellys" at amateur vaudeville nights and charity events.   Fred by the age of eight was earning $50 a week dancing.

Fred taught Gene how to tap dance so they could earn money for school. Together they devised dance routines and found work dancing in local nightclubs as the “Kelly Brothers”.  They danced, told jokes, and did acrobatics for coins.  

Fred emceed, danced and performed magic in a show for children called "Kelly's Kiddy Kabaret" at the Warner Theater in Pittsburgh. He worked at the Warner from seventh through twelve grade. Fred gave dancing lesson to another Warner Theater cast member singer Dick Powell. During part of his summer vacations from the 8th through 12th grades Fred performed on the Goldenrod showboat that cruised from Pittsburgh on the Ohio down the Mississippi to New Orleans.  He also performed a magic act at the Stanley Theater.

The Kelley Dance School

Fred's mother took a job as a receptionist at Boulton's dance school in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. When the owner Lou Boulton skipped town leaving behind a pile of unpaid bills, Harriet took over the dance school.  She paid the bills and renamed it the "Kelly School of Dance".  Fred and and his older brother Gene became dance instructors.  Fred taught over a thousand students the basics of the fox-trot, the waltz the two-step, and tap. A twenty minute dance lesson cost each student 50 cents. The Kelly’s opened a second dance school on the main street of Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 1933.  

Fred worked as a dance instructor while he attended studies at the University of Pittsburgh.  During his time  working on his Bachelor of Arts Degree Fred was the  the Pitt Panther mascot, a cheerleader, and the Pitt band formation instructor. As a member of the Cap and Gown Club he danced in musical productions at the Pitt and the Nixon Theater.  His brother Gene returned to Pittsburgh from Broadway in 1939 to direct Fred in starring role in a Cap and Gown production at the Nixon.

From Pitt to Broadway Awards

After graduating from Pitt Fred joined his brother in New York.  In 1940 Fred replaced his brother in the title role of the "The Time of Your Life" when Gene left to star in "Pal Joey". The role was expanded for Fred with an increase  from 6 dance scenes to 11. With his first ever performance on Broadway he won three Donaldson Awards, the precursors of the Tony.  He won for acting, comedy, and dancing.  Helen Hayes, Charlie Chaplin and Antoinette Perry presented him the awards.  It was quite an achievement for the recent Pitt graduate. Fred and Dorothy Maguire took the show on the road for an extended national tour.

Fred was drafted in the Army in 1941 but ended up back on Broadway in Irvin Berlin's musical "This is the Army". After basic training Fred contacted his friend actor Ezra Stone, who starred on radio as "Henry Aldrich". Ezra was in an Army entertainment unit and asked Fred to choreography a new show that Irvin Berlin was putting together for the Army at Camp Upton on Long Island. Fred choreographed the opening number “Mandy” and appeared in the musical. The show opened on Broadway in 1942 with a cast of 300 servicemen. After its Broadway run the show made a 13 city tour.

After a performance in Washington the entire cast was invited to the White House for dinner.  Fred stayed late into the night talking with the President and his wife Elanor. "This Is the Army" was made into a movie in 1943 with Fred appearing in the role of Mandy.  Fred joined a smaller cast of 149 and went with the show on a worldwide tour performing for Allied Soldier. The show closed its run in Honolulu on October 22, 1945. Proceeds from the show, which amounted to $15 million were donated to the Army Relief Emergency Fund to aid spouses and parents of servicemen.

Dancing with the Princesses

While Sargent Fred Kelly was appearing in London during World War II General Eisenhower requested that Fred report to Buckingham Palace to teach young Princess Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret to tap dance. They were fans of Shirley Temple. Sergeant Kelly reported to the palace several times a week to teach tap and ballroom dancing to the young princesses and other royal children.  At the princesses urging he also taught them to dance the Can-Can. Fred also lent the princess his and a buddy's army jackets so that they  could sneak into four performances of "This is the Army".     The young princesses gave of performance of the Can-Can for their parents in what was considered revealing costumes.  The English press was outraged when it was learned that Fred had instructed the girls in the risque French Can-Can. He was nearly busted to buck private.

Years later Gene Kelly was invited by Queen Elizabeth to a command performance showing of his movie "American In Paris" . Excited to be honored by the Queen Gene slowly approached her highness in the reception line.  The Queen broke out of the receiving line to rush over to Gene and excitedly asked "Oh, Mr; Kelly, is it true you are the brother of Fred Kelly?"

Television Pioneer

During the war Fred read a Time Magazine article about the coming new media of television written by Anthony Minor a CBS vice president. Fred wrote Minor asking for a job in television after the war. CBS hired Fred to direct the show “Casey Crime Photographer”. Before the live show aired the star walked off. Fred had to take his place for the first episode. To help remember his lines he had his staff write them on art cards. He is thus created with introducing cue cards to TV. Fred moved over to NBC to direct one of the first musical variety shows the Lanny Ross Show. He next directed Kay Kyser Kollege of Musical Knowledge and choreographed for NBC's Colgate Comedy Hour. Pioneering the television talk show he directed 1000 hours of the Steve Allen Show from 1950 to 1952.

Cha Cha Cha

While working in television Fred also worked as a choreographer.  Fred appeared in and choreographed the musical  My Romance in 1948.  Fred Kelly choreographed the Ice Capades for three years.  He worked the Ice Capades owner John Harris who also owned of the Pittsburgh Warner theater chain. 

Fred also choreographed shows for the entertainers who appeared at at the famed Latin Quarter Club.  Secrelty moonlighting at the Havana Madrid club he worked tihe the Tito Puente band.  There on August 2, 1948 he invited a new dance where the the dancers moved sideways and chanted "cha cha cha".  To conceal his moonlighting he credited the dance to Frederico Calais.

Fred Kelly Dance School and Professor of Dance

In 1955 most of the network television shows moved their production to the West Coast, Fred did not want to move to California. His wife Dottie persuaded him to open a dance school the Fred Kelly Dance Studio in Oradell, New Jersey. His school became the largest dance school in New Jersey.  Over 100 of his students went on to dance on Broadway.  One of his tap and jazz dance student was the kindergarten-age John Travolta. Fred operated the dance school for 25 years. 
Fred also was at professor of dance at Pace University in Manhattan for 28 years. He also taught in the musical comedy program at the New School and at Princeton and West Point. Harry Belafonte was one of his dance students at the New School.

While living in New Jersey he served as police and fire commissioners and acting mayor of the town of Closter.

Fred returned to Broadway in 1971 appearing in the musical Follies in the role of Willy Wheeler.

Fred sold his dance studio in 1983 and retired with his wife Dottie to Tucson Arizona. He passed away in Tuscon at age 83 on March 15, 2000. 

Fred's dance shoes hang in the Wall of Fame at Manhattan's Roseland Ballroom in honor of his creation of the Cha Cha Cha and his promotion of the Mambo.  In 
April of 2004 the University of Pittsburgh honored Fred Kelly, by naming the lobby of the Stephen Foster Memorial, the Fred Kelly Lobby. The University also offers the annual Fred Kelly Award for Outstanding Achievement in Theatre.

Fred and Gene
Fred 1930's
Fred Dancing
Steve Allen Show Staff