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Talented song and dance men have hoofed it across the silver screen almost since movies were born, but of those who earned fame during the Golden Age of Hollywood, only three stand out as genuine legends: Fred Astaire, James Cagney and Gene Kelly.
Astaire, of course, is the paragon of onscreen elegance; Cagney, meanwhile, perfected a style of quintessentially American acting, singing and dancing so winningly explosive that it’s been celebrated — and lovingly parodied — ever since.
And then there’s Gene Kelly. In movies like On the Town (with good friend Frank Sinatra), An American in Paris and, of course, 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain — for most movie fans, the greatest Hollywood musical of all time — Eugene Curran Kelly created an utterly inimitable onscreen persona: optimistic, playful, knowing and yet, deep down, hopelessly romantic. That he could dance, it seemed, from morning til night without breaking a sweat only added to his visceral charm. (There’s an old saying to the effect that the women who swarmed to movie musicals in the middle part of the 20th century dreamed of dancing the night away with Fred Astaire — and of going home with Gene Kelly.)
Here, LIFE.com offers rare photographs of the protean dancer, singer, actor, producer, director and choreographer in France in 1960, as he enjoys a prestigious off-screen career highlight: creating a ballet for the storied Paris Opera.
As LIFE noted in August 1960, in an article about Kelly’s Parisian triumph:
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.