Stealing from the Best

November 17, 2014 8:29 PM

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The outpouring of responses I received for my piece about Gene and the upcoming stage production of An American in Paris prompted me to think about creativity and influences and the question -- from whence comes art? Early in our conversations, Gene answered the question for me. "I believe that everyone has been influenced by people before him -- or events or happenings," he said. "The best just don't simply spring full-blown from the earth. They're picking up a seed that has been planted before."

For Gene, the seeds were many. "I stole from everybody," he said. Sometimes the borrowing was very conscious, as it was when he and his younger brother Fred went to Loew's Penn Theater in downtown Pittsburgh and picked up the steps of the great Bill Robinson. In Gene's mind, Robinson was "the epitom...

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