Inside the 47-Year Age Gap Between Gene Kelly and His Third Wife, Patricia Ward Kelly
Gene Kelly and Patricia Ward Kelly were married for the last six years of the actor’s life. The two wed in 1990, and Kelly died in 1996. And Ward has spent the decades since then preserving his film legacy.
In a 2019 interview, she opened up about the massive age gap between Gene and herself. He was 47 years her senior.
Patricia Ward Kelly was 26 when she met 73-year-old Gene Kelly
When Patricia and Gene met in 1985, the 26-year-old author had never even heard of the man, nor had she seen Singin’ in the Rain, one of his most famous films.
“I was in Washington, working on a documentary about the Smithsonian museum,” she told The Irish Times in 2019. “Gregory Peck was to be the host narrator. I had seen To Kill a Mockingbird, so I knew who he was. At the last minute, , they said Gene Kelly was to be the host instead. The name meant nothing to me.”
The pair happened to meet that night while walking out of the museum’s bathrooms, and Patricia said the meeting was “surreal,” even though she had no idea who he was.
“It was midnight at the Air and Space Museum, and I was plonking my way into the ladies’ room and this very elegant man came out of the men’s bathroom. That was the first time I saw him,” she said. They continued to work on the documentary together, and all the while, Patricia had no clue she was talking to one of the biggest star’s of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
“It wasn’t until the final day when he drove off in a limo, and the woman next to me said, ‘He was really famous, you know,’” she explained. “And then I went to the video store and took out a ton of videos. I hauled all these videos home and watched them all. I just remember this kind of marathon of watching with my mouth agape, because the work is so brilliant. And timeless.”
Gene Kelly lied about Patricia’s age to the press when they got married
Patricia then got a call from the actor six months later asking her to come out to California to collaborate on a project. She did, and their working relationship led to Gene asking Patricia to help write his memoir.
They got married five years later in 1990, when Patricia was 31. Weirdly enough, Gene told the press at the time of their wedding that she was 36.
“It was a very unHollywood thing to do,” she told The Irish Times. “Usually people are subtracting years from their age.”
Patricia Ward Kelly ‘never even thought about the age difference’ between her and Gene Kelly
Although her husband was 47 years older than her, the age gap didn’t phase her at all.
“I know this sounds odd, but I never even thought about the age difference,” she said. “Until I started seeing the headlines in the tabloids in the grocery store. He was so terribly handsome. He didn’t seem old to me. He was the kind of guy who would bolt across the street when the light changed; he wouldn’t walk. He was just always in motion.”
Gene had been married twice before, to Betsy Blair from 1941 to 1957, and Jeanne Coyne from 1960 to 1973. Coyne was one of Kelly’s two assistants who helped him choreograph his famous on-screen dance numbers. Patricia said in her interview that Gene was determined not to marry again before he met her.
“I think he used word ‘Pygmalion’ about me,” she said. “It just worked. He never expected it to happen, neither of us did. We didn’t go into it—we kind of backed into it. Gene had always swore he would never remarry.”
Patricia was grateful for their age gap.
“People say to me, ‘Don’t you wish you had known him when he was much younger?’” she said. “But the way I look at it is, I got him when he didn’t have to prove anything to anyone.”
Gene died on Feb. 2, 1996, following complications from two strokes. Patricia still works on preserving his legacy.