Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Pittsburgh needs a Gene Kelly statue . . . now!

Next year will be the 100th birthday of beloved actor and Pittsburgh native Gene Kelly (August 23, 1912).

I figure that gives me plenty of time to make an iconic 750,000-popsicle stick statue of him “Singin’ in the Rain” and affix it to 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 from a 2008 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.

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 lamppost would bring international attention to the city, not to mention tourist dollars.

And thanks to a February msnbc.com story about America’s best pop culture statues, I’m something of an expert. Civic leaders gushed about their rockin’ Ray Charles, their over-sized Albert Einstein and their little stoned Yoda.

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.

An official for 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,” he said.

Today, a steady stream of visitors to central Milwaukee stop by the downtown river plaza to ape it up with the “Bronz 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 minutes, 36 seconds of pure magic.

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

I hope somebody in the city picks up the baton and runs with it. One year 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. Tonight we’re watching “Singin’ in the Rain.”

And I have lots and lots of popsicles to eat.

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