June 10, 2024

5 Facts About “An American in Paris” (1951)

An American in Paris is one of Hollywood’s most spectacular musicals ever produced. Featuring a score by American musical icon George Gershwin and dance performances by the talented Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, it tells the story of Jerry Mulligan, a struggling American painter in post-war Paris in love with Lise, a young French woman already engaged to a cabaret singer.

An American in Paris won the 1951 Oscar for Best Picture.

The unabashedly sunny Technicolor musical beat out the critically acclaimed tragedy A Place in the Sun and the film adaptation of Tennesse William’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play A Streetcar Named Desire. Back then, the Oscars were broadcast on the radio, so no red carpet to watch on TV.

Technicolor was a big deal at the time.

The 1950s was a time of transition from black and white to color film, with color still a relative rarity in Hollywood in 1951. Nearly every review mentioned that An American in Paris was filmed in Technicolor, which was renowned for its highly saturated color. An American in Paris was only the second color film to win the Best Picture Oscar (after Gone with the Wind). It also won Oscars in several technical categories, highlighting its striking visual appeal.

Before it was a movie, An American in Paris was a composition by George Gershwin.

Gershwin’s jazz-infused orchestral piece titled An American in Paris was inspired by his own experiences in Paris in the 1920s, a time when many notable artists, such as Hemingway, Picasso and Fitzgerald were living and working there. The composition premiered in 1928 at Carnegie Hall in New York City and became one of Gershwin’s best-known pieces, performed by orchestras regularly throughout the 1930s and 1940s. The composition inspired the movie and its famous final dance sequence is set to it.

Gershwin died 14 years before the release of the movie.

Gershwin died tragically of a brain tumor in 1938 at the age of just 37. Hollywood producer Arthur Freed bought the rights to Gershwin’s An American in Paris composition from his brother, Ira Gershwin for $158,750, after seeing it performed in concert. Ira insisted that the piece be surrounded exclusively by Gershwin compositions and penned the now familiar movie lyrics to his brother’s standards such as “I Got Rhythm,” “Our Love Is Here to Stay” and “S Wonderful.”

Gene Kelly was more than just the lead.

Gene Kelly not only played the lead role of Jerry, the soldier-turned-painter who calls Paris home after World War II—he also choreographed the film and helped with casting. Kelly earned an honorary Academy Award as an “appreciation of his versatility as an actor, singer, director and dancer, and specifically for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film.” Kelly was one of the first superstar choreographers to incorporate what, at the time was considered “lowbrow, pop-culture” forms of dance such as tap and jitterbug into his routines.

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