Who’s That Woman With Gene Kelly?

Thanks to old newspapers floating around the Internet, the mystery is solved.

This picture of Gene Kelly and Jo Ann Borseth at the beach has gotten quite a bit of traction in Gene Kelly fan circles since I discovered it (on eBay). Borseth has no record on IMDB, and she makes no appearances in Kelly’s biographies, interviews, or gossip-magazine articles. So I did some digging…

First, the photo was taken on Scaroon Manor, Schroon Lake, NY. Portions of Marjorie Morningstar, a 1958 melodrama starring Gene Kelly and Natalie Wood, were filmed here.

Second, in 1957, Borseth — who worked for North Central Airlines at the time — entered a contest for the World’s Ideal Airline Stewardess. The sponsor: Warner Bros. Pictures, the movie studio behind Marjorie Morningstar.

This beauty pageant drew 1,000 entrants. Over “scrambled eggs and chicken livers at the Park Sheraton,” judges graded the female contestants in “press, publicity, pageantry, portraiture, the theatre, and also flying.” Uh, graded them in flying? Of 35 finalists, Borseth won and was named “Miss Spirit of St. Louis.”

Borseth’s winnings contained “a 1957 Hillman, a complete wardrobe contributed by 27 manufacturers, a gold ring, perfume, luggage, gloves, earrings and bracelet, and a portrait.” The winner also received a screen test with Warner Bros. Again, this explains Borseth’s presence alongside the cast of Marjorie Morningstar.

From what I can tell, in Marjorie Morningstar, Borseth sits to the right of Kelly when his character “plays” the piano and sings “A Very Precious Love.”

At the end of the number, she stands up to praise his performance with a hug and kiss on the cheek. It makes sense, then, when Borseth tells a newspaper reporter that while she was on set, “Everybody has been nice to me and I’ve kissed Gene Kelly a million times already.”

But alas, ultimately Borseth “want[ed] no part of the celluloid world.” She told reporters, “You spend hours making one little scene. Everybody works hard, and you do it over and over. It takes so long to get something done. That’s not for me.”

Rather, she concluded, her “ambition is to return to Chicago and her job with North Central Air, get married, and raise a family as soon as possible.”

And that’s way more about the person named Jo Ann Borseth than I thought I’d ever know. Thank you, old newspapers floating around the Internet.

Originally published October 22, 2014.