Rarely is a man as truly blessed with enthusiasm for life and the "gift of gab" as Fred Kelly was. When his stories began to roll out, people just settled in, laughed and listened. It was hard not to be incredulous, for in his 83 years, Kelly was part, it seemed, of everything: the rise of small, private dance schools, the golden age of Broadway and film musicals, the era of star-studded nightclubs, the beginning of television variety shows, the world's fairs and the wars and the world of education, as a master teacher at colleges and conferences.
He was the youngest of the Five Dancing Kellys from Pittsburgh, beginning his performing career at age 4 and fighting his way home from school to teach a masculine, athletic style of movement at the family dance studio. He remembered dancing with his brother, Gene, at the 1934 Chicago World's Fair to earn money for college, and Fred later received his degree in history, all the while serving as "Pitt's" team mascot. The Kelly Brothers once replaced the famous Nicholas Brothers (who had left abruptly to make a Hollywood film) in a performance with Cab Calloway's orchestra. Fred boasted of dancing with luminaries such as Catherine Littlefield and Adele Astaire and teaching students as diverse as Queen Elizabeth and John Travolta. Fortunately, much of this is documented in Rusty Frank's book, Tap! The Greatest Dancers from 1900-1955.
Growing up in theater, Kelly slipped easily from the role of dancer to choreographer, director--whatever it took. He explained why a theater's green waiting room was so named (it was the plants, not the paint), and that his work on Green Grow the Lilacs came just before it emerged as the path-breaking musical Oklahoma!, and that once he actually had two dance shows running at New York clubs and used a Spanish-sounding alias when he ran uptown to play Lou Walters's (Barbara's dad) Latin Quarter. He talked about what fun it was to be a magician on roller skates in early TV, have a star on the Walk of Fame, be awarded a fifty-year pin by Dance Masters of America, be roasted by the Lamb's Club, and how sad it was to see so few at the reunion of the star-studded Irving Berlin patriotic musical show, This Is the Army (1942).
When Gene Kelly left the New York production of William Saroyan's The Time of Your Life to star in Pal Joey, Fred Kelly took over the role and won three Tony awards (then known as the Donaldson Awards), a record number that stood for many years. A favorite story of Kelly's was that Bob Fosse said he was inspired to a Broadway dancing career when he saw Gene Kelly dance in The Time of Your Life when it toured Chicago. With glee, Fred reminded Fosse that he'd played Chicago but Gene never had. His favorite yarn, though, must have been about the time that the other teachers were snowed out of the Chicago National Association of Dance Masters convention, so Fred taught all the classes in turn.
When you visited with the Kellys, one rich anecdote would lead to another, and until her death in 1995, his Dottie, his beloved "girl next door," would at some hour take his hand and indicate that the show was over.
Fred Kelly died two days before St. Patrick's Day, and two months before he was to again headline (at 83) the National Tap Dance Day celebration in Fort Worth/Dallas. He is survived by his son Michael Kelly, his daughter Colleen Beaman, his sister and fellow Dance Master Louise Bailey and the thousands to whom his dancing brought joy.
Betty Orman, 75, an eighteen-year sales representative for Dance Magazine, died May 25 at her home in Lombard, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. When she retired (a few weeks before her death), Orman, who handled advertising sales in the Midwest for the magazine as well as for Stern's Directory and Dance Magazine College Guide, said, "Dance Magazine has been an important and fulfilling part of my life for many years."
Orman was an avid dancegoer and became involved in the dance community through her work.
"We will greatly miss her enthusiasm and vivacity," said Dance Magazine publisher Barbara Paige Kaplan. Company president Rosalyne Paige Stern added, "Betty was beloved by all who knew her. She was a part of the fabric of the dance world. A colleague and my friend for sixty years, she was always there for the Dance Magazine family."
Ann Barzel, a senior editor at Dance Magazine, said, "Betty was a knowledgeable and dedicated aficionado of dance. She attended dance performances of every style and level. She appreciated the beauties of the art and understood the problems of the profession. Through the years she was often my companion at dance performances--sometimes a dance-school recital, more often a performance by a major company. Betty was an understanding member of the audience with sympathy for performers and generous applause."
Orman is survived by sons Steven, Daniel, Mitchell and Scott Orman.