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It would be 40 years before McDowell learned exactly why Kelly was so irritated. The legendary actor, dancer and musical filmmaker was born this day in 1912.
Talking to a room of fans years ago, McDowell, who played Clockwork Orange gang leader Alex, explained what happened at the party, to which he was invited by an executive from Warner Bros., the studio that made his film.
“He said, ‘You won’t believe it, but Gene Kelly’s here.’ And I said, ‘Great! I’d love to meet him.'” McDowell told the room. “He had his back to me and the guy tapped him on the shoulder, he turned and the guy said, ‘Gene, I would like you to meet Malcolm McDowell.'”
Kelly took one look at McDowell and walked off. “He cut me dead,” the actor recalled. “Can you blame the poor man? I took his wonderful moment and completely fucked with it.” Although McDowell didn’t feel embarrassed, the exec felt awful about the incident, the actor said.
McDowell’s character sings the iconic 1952 musical number during one of the most disturbing and graphic scenes in the 1971 Kubrick classic. Talking to the same room of fans, McDowell said the song was not in the script, the idea just came to him during a take and Kubrick loved it. “It was just instinctive,” he added.
It would not be until 40 years later that McDowell learned why Kelly was so mad about the situation.
“I am telling this story to the Academy, and afterward this lady came up and said, ‘I’m Gene’s widow. Gene wasn’t upset with you, Malcolm. He was really upset with Stanley Kubrick because he hadn’t been paid.’ And I went, ‘My God, there’s quite a gang of us who haven’t been paid!'” he said to laughs.
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Academy Museum of Motion Pictures