A Dance Card to Die for, the Rise and Fall of the King of Gossip: CHANGE PARTNERS: The Star of "Gigi" and Many Other Musicals, Leslie Caron Danced in Films with Both Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. Here She Compares Them., POWER BROKER: In the '30S and '40S, Walter Winchell Could Make or Break a Career with His Syndicated Gossip Column and Radio Show. Columnist Liz Smith Was a Big Fan

Article excerpt

Gene was a bit like Mozart. You know, Mozart would only compose arias for his singers after he could see what they could do with their voices. Gene was the same. He'd wait to see what you could do, and then he would do the choreography. He did it with Cyd Charisse. She had those incredible legs, and he used that. I could bend backward like a knife, and he used that for the ballet on the fountain [in "An American in Paris"] and in that number where I am studious with a book. He used your capabilities.

Gene was a popular character. He didn't dance in salons. He didn't wear tails. He never even wore a tie. That just wasn't him. He invented dancing in T shirts and workman's clothes. In between films, he wouldn't practice. He would just live, then he would gain weight, and then he would have to get back into training and work very hard.

I first met Fred on the set of "Daddy Long Legs." I was maybe 23 then, and I was immediately charmed. He was perhaps the most polite American I have ever met. I consider him the dancing genius of our time. His grace, his good taste, his warm personality and tact were evident when he danced. He also had the luck of having an incredible, unique physical build. He was fast, nervous, light and had perfect balance, perfect rhythm and enormous hands. That enormous hand on your back guided you, with a finger giving you a lot of orders, like the fingers on a piano. You had to hear the play of the fingers on your back.

One day, Fred was supposed to film the passage in "Daddy Long Legs" where he has just walked me back to the hotel after our first night out, and he's so elated, he jumps on a [luggage] trolley, zooms on it all the way to the lift, does one turn, the doors open and there is a fat lady who is horrified to see this middle-aged man playing like a kid. They had reserved the whole day but Fred did it in one take. So the first assistant came to me and said, "Quick, Leslie, get yourself ready. We're going to shoot." I said "What?" And he told me the montage number where Fred takes me to all the night clubs. I said, "I never was taught it." And he said, "Oh, Fred says it's OK." I turned up around 11 and Fred led me through it, from the two-step to the samba to the mambo to the waltz, with ease. …