Nancy Kelly was a Hollywood leading lady in the 1930s and 40s
Nancy Kelly (March 25, 1921 – January 2, 1995) was an American actress who was a Hollywood leading lady in the late 1930s and 1940s, making thirty-six movies total between 1926 and 1977. Kelly was also the older sister of actor Jack Kelly, who played “Bart Maverick” alongside James Garner and Roger Moore in the 1957 television series Maverick.
Nancy Kelly was born March 25, 1921 in Lowell, Massachusetts. Kelly started in show business as a one-year-old model for James Montgomery Flagg. By the time she was nine years old, Kelly had appeared in so many different advertisements that Film Daily called her “the most photographed child in America due to commercial posing.” In 1929, as an eight year old, she appeared on Broadway in a revival of “Macbeth”. Kelly also played Dorothy Gale in a 1933 to 1934 radio show based on the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Kelly’s film debut was in the 1926 silent film “The Untamed Lady” which starred Gloria Swanson. In 1929, Kelly had a small role in the silent version of “The Great Gatsby” which starred Warner Baxter and William Powell. As an adult Kelly was a leading lady in twenty-seven movies in the 1930s and 1940s, including portraying Tyrone Power’s love interest in the classic “Jesse James” (1939) which also featured Henry Fonda and playing opposite Spencer Tracy in “Stanley and Livingstone” (1939). Other movies of note Kelly starred in include director John Ford’s “Submarine Patrol” (1938), “Tail Spin” (1939) with Alice Faye, the comedy “He Married His Wife” (1940) with Joel McCrea, “Frontier Marshal” (1939) with Randolph Scott as Wyatt Earp, and “Tarzan’s Desert Mystery” (1943) with Johnny Weismuller. In between films Kelly worked the stage and was subsequently a two-time winner of the Sarah Siddons Award for her work in Chicago theatre as well as a Tony Award winner for her performance in “The Bad Seed”, a 1954 play by American playwright Maxwell Anderson. In 1956, Kelly followed up by starring in the film version of “The Bad Seed” for which she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role, but lost to Ingrid Bergman’s “Anastasia” (1956).
After “The Bad Seed” Nancy Kelly appeared almost exclusively on television. In 1957 she was nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Single Performance by an Actress for the TV episode “The Pilot” (1956) in Studio One. Kelly’s other television appearances include leading roles in “Circle of the Day” (1957) episode of Playhouse 90, “The Storm” (1961) episode of Thriller and “The Lonely Hours” (1963) episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Her last role was in the 1977 made for television film “Murder at the World Series” (1977).
Nancy Kelly was married three times. Her first marriage was to actor Edmond O’Brien in February 1941. They were divorced one year later in February 1942. Kelly’s second marriage was to Fred Jackman Jr., the son of silent Hollywood cameraman and director Fred Jackman. They were married February 14, 1946 and divorced in January of 1950. Her third marriage was to theatre director Warren Caro on November 25, 1955. The couple had a daughter together, Kelly Caro in 1957. That marriage also ended in divorce in September of 1968.
Nancy Kelly died from complications of diabetes on January 2, 1995 in Bel Air, California. She was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.
For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Nancy Kelly has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7021 Hollywood Blvd.