When New York Times op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd wrote recently that George Bush has "turned into Gene Kelly," she set off a firestorm of protest from fans of the late dancer, director and choreographer.

Kelly’s widow, Patricia Ward Kelly, declared that "If Gene were in a grave, he would have turned over in it."

In a letter to the Times, she wrote that "when Gene was compared to the grace and agility of Jack Dempsey, Wayne Gretzky and Willie Mays, he was delighted. But to be linked with a clunker — particularly one he would consider inept and demoralizing — would have sent him reeling."

Dowd’s column, "Soft Shoe in Hard Times," asked "why the president is in such a fine mood" – at a time when "the dollar’s crumpling, the recession’s thundering, the Dow’s bungee-jumping and the world’s disapproving." Nevertheless, she noted, Bush "has turned into Gene Kelly, tap dancing and singing in a one-man review called ‘The Most Happy Fella.’"

Kelly’s widow contrasted her late husband’s achievements with those of the president. Kelley, she wrote, "graduated with a degree in economics from Pitt," and, unlike the president, was "a most civilized man. He spoke multiple languages; wrote poetry; studied history; understood the projections of Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes. He did the Sunday Times crossword in ink."

Kelly, she said, differed from the president also in that he was "exceedingly articulate."

"For George Bush to become Gene Kelly," she concluded, "would require impossible leaps in creativity, erudition and humility."

Gene Kelly’s credits include, in addition to "Singin’ in the Rain" (1952), "Anchors Away" (1945, nomination for Best Actor), "An American in Paris" (1951), and dozens of other films. He was awarded the National Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton in 1994.

George Bush’s credits include tax cuts for the rich, and the war in Iraq, now beginning its sixth year.