BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Oscar-winning actor Gene Kelly's mansion was destroyed early Thursday in a blaze believed sparked by faulty Christmas tree lights, and fire officials credited his son with saving the dancer's life.
Kelly, 71, fled the house in his pajamas after the blaze broke out at 1:25 a.m. His son, Timothy, 21, and daughter, Bridget, 19, were still dressed when they were alerted by a smoke detector and escaped from the two-story, wood-frame house on posh Rodeo Drive. The family's two collie dogs also were saved.
The famous singer, dancer and actor, whose dozens of films include 'Singin' in the Rain,' 'An American in Paris' and 'On the Town,' suffered burns on the back of one hand, plus singed hair. His son suffered minor facial burns.
The actor and his children were standing in the street when firemen arrived at the scene.
'I think they were more shocked than frightened,' Fire Capt. Mike Smollen said. 'They said, 'Everyone's out. Don't worry about us.'
'Tim braved the flames and smoke to help his father, who was on the second floor, escape from the fire. His sister had to run through the room where the fire originated in order to call the fire department.
'Had it not been for the fire detector and Tim's quick action we could have had a real tragedy.'
Smollen said the children were on the first floor watching television and their father was preparing for bed when the smoke alarm went off.
'Tim went to investigate and found the Christmas tree and a portion of the front room on fire,' Smollen said. 'Mr. Kelly was momentarily trapped by the fire licking up the stairwell.'
Officials said the fire was under investigation but said it was probably caused by faulty lights on the tree.
'It was a heck of a thing for your Christmas present for your Christmas tree to catch your house on fire,' Kelly's son told reporters.
Smollen described the house as a 'typical two-story Beverly Hills mansion with 14 or 15 rooms.' He estimated damage to the structure at $300,000, but added the total cost would be much higher because of the contents that were destroyed.
'There was a lot of memorabilia destroyed,' Smollen said. 'I noted quite a few posters from his old movies within the area that suffered the least damage. But the damage was so extensive that most of the contents were beyond recognition.'
Kelly was awarded a special Oscar in 1951 'in appreciation of his versatility as an actor, singer, director and dancer, and especially for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film.'
City fire spokesman Charles Alvey said two firefighter were slightly injured putting out the blaze.