Saturday, August 22, 2009

Pittsburgh ought to be singin' in the rain

Three years from Sunday will mark the 100th birthday of beloved actor and Pittsburgh native Gene Kelly (August 23, 1912).

That gives me plenty of time to make an iconic popsicle stick statue of him “Singin’ in the Rain” and hang it from a lamp post in Pittsburgh’s landmark Market Square.

I think that kind of eyeball evidence might be what it takes to get city officials interested doing what ought to come naturally.

Ever since I returned last fall from a trip to write about golf in Wisconsin, I’ve been consumed with the idea of Pittsburgh building a Kelly statue in the heart of the city. The city is investing $5 million in a beautification project Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl says will make “Market Square an even better destination for residents, visitors and families.”

I love Pittsburgh, but sometimes I want to take its leadership and bat them over over their collective heads with a hearty loaf of Mancini’s Italian bread. A statue of Kelly singin’ in the rain from a Market Square lamp post would bring international attention to the city and not to mention tourist dollars.

Yet, I can’t get any of the magazines to let me write a story about it and my fledgling efforts to convince opinion makers have been met with shrugs. I might have to resort to writing a letter to the editor, a stinging surrender by someone who still likes to pretend he’s professional.

I wish I had the eloquence to convince city leaders that the Kelly statue would earn Pittsburgh accolades and loot.

If I can’t, maybe The Fonz can.

David Fantle of Visit Milwaukee told me that the statue of Milwaukee “native” Arthur Fonzerelli of “Happy Days” fame the city erected in 2007 has been an wholesome godsend to downtown tourism.

“It cost us $90,000 in donated sponsorships to build and has in just two years earned us more than $9.5 million in worldwide media value,” Fantle says.

Today, a steady stream of visitors to central Milwaukee stop by the downtown river plaza to ape it up with the “Bronze Fonz.”

Now -- ehhh! -- we all love Fonzie. But Gene Kelly is one of America’s most sparkling icons.

And for me it’s all because of that joyful dance he made famous in the 1952 movie.

The American Film Institute in 2007 ranked “Singin’ in the Rain” as the fifth greatest American movie of all time. These experts in cinematic glories ranked it ahead of “Gone With The Wind” (6), and “The Wizard of Oz,” (10).

Only “Citizen Kane,” “The Godfather,” “Casablanca” and “Raging Bull” ranked (in order) better than the great Kelly vehicle.

Not a man or woman alive can’t relate at some level to that euphoric dance. Released nearly two years before the birth of Howard Stern, that dance is an upraised middle finger to anyone who finds themselves caught without an umbrella in the crapstorm of life.

Check it out. The sequence is 4:36 seconds of pure magic.

It’s particularly relevant to a city like Pittsburgh, a perpetual underdog of a metropolis despite consistent top rankings in numerous “most livable city” listings.

Once dubbed “Hell with the lid off” because of its smoke-belching crush of fiery factories, Pittsburgh today is as green and fresh as a salad bar. The mills, gone thirty years, have been replaced by high-tech upstarts, downtown universities and riverside fitness trails. Skies once choked with smoke, today crackle with free citywide WiFi.

It’s a city you can still put your arms around. Downtown is geographically incarcerated by the waters of the Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio rivers. The only direction downtown can sprawl is straight up.

Leaders from all over the world are about to discover its charms as they come to town for the G-20 summit September 24-25.
Guaranteed, many of the leaders of the industrialized world learned what America is all about by watching movies like “Singin’ in the Rain.”

I hope somebody in the city picks up the baton and runs with it. Three years is plenty of time to raise awareness, funds and construct a statue that will give Pittsburgh a joyful jolt of publicity and a euphoric new image that will resonate around the world.

I’d do it myself, but I’ve got a full plate. I need to go out and rent “Singin’ in the Rain.”

I don’t want to rain on my own expertise, but I’ve never seen the flick.

I hear it’s pretty good.


Jinksy said...

I love the jumps on and of the kirb into the puddles - always wished I could do that myself!

auntsuzy said...

I live in England and visited Pittsburgh with an American friend this Spring, purely because I wanted to follow in Gene's incomparable footsteps. We were surprised by the seeming nonchalance of the citizens when we, all excited, sought information at various venues. He surely is Pittsburgh's most famous export, and he often managed to mention his hometown in films and interviews.
We planned our own 'GK trail' and had a wonderful day, ending amazingly with a rainbow across the town, seen from a glass fronted restaurant up on the heights. I was surprised by the beauty of the city. Gene once described it as being heavily industrialised rather like Birmingham, here in England, which is near to where I live, so I was not expecting it to be so attractive.
It is sad that there is nowhere to 'go', no communal gathering place to just sit and remember this wonderful man.
I have a website celebrating his genius, if anyone cares to take a look. Thanks.

Chris Rodell said...

Thanks, Jinxy. Good chatting with you behind the e-drapes. Now get out there and run around naked!

Hi Auntsuzy. I really don't think many people in Pittsburgh know that Gene Kelly is one of us. A dancer, even a sublime one, seems at odds with our self-image so no one's done any promoting.

I wish I'd have known you were in Pittsburgh. I'd have been thrilled to show off the city. Thanks so much for getting in touch and sharing your story!