Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
August 21
October 4, 1951
An American in Paris premieres

While director Vincente Minnelli and performer Gene Kelly were solid earners for MGM, their new film An American in Paris caused slight trepidation. For one thing, executives wondered whether the public could sit through a nearly 20-minute ballet section that bordered on the surreal (and cost the studios over $500,000 to make). The answer turned out to a resounding yes. The movie was not only a box office smash, but won six Academy Awards including Best Picture. Arthur Freed, who oversaw the musical unit of MGM, initiated the project with only a title and a composer. He explained to Alan Jay Lerner, who was to write the script, that the film would be named (and about) An American in Paris with Gershwin music, especially his 1938 suite “An American in Paris.” The rest was dreamed up by Freed’s exceptionally talented team as they went along. Since they were unable to shoot in Paris, the designers created a magical copy in the MGM back lot. Freed picked Kelly as the lead, and worked closely with him and director Minnelli to create a ballet sequence that recreated Paris in the painterly styles of six of its most famous impressionistic and modernist painters (Raoul Dufy, Claude Renoir, Maurice Utrillo, Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Rousseau, Toulouse-Lautrec). The high art touches were not lost on all. One MGM responded, “Am I wrong? It seems to me that I once saw some paintings on 57th Street that looked like certain sets in the ballet.”


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