Obituary: Nancy Kelly

Nancy Kelly, actress: born Lowell, Massachusetts 25 March 1921; married 1941 Edmond O'Brien (marriage dissolved 1942), 1946 Fred Jackson Jnr (marriage dissolved 1950), 1955 Warren Cato; died Bel Air, California 2 January 1995.

Although she made more than 30 films and received an Academy Award Best Actress nomination, Nancy Kelly's greatest triumphs were in the theatre.

One of New York's most successful child models from infancy, she made her first appearance on the Broadway stage at the age of 10 in Give Me Yesterday (1931). A role in Rachel Crothers's Susan and God (1937), which ran for two seasons on Broadway with Gertrude Lawrence heading the cast, led to a 20th-Century Fox screen-test for Kelly, swiftly followed by a long-term contract and a leading role in John Ford's Submarine Patrol (1938). Frank S. Nugent wrote in the New York Times: "Here's a morning g un forNancy Kelly, who has the responsibility of being the only girl in the cast, not merely by being as decorative as she is, but with a charming and assured performance. Miss Kelly bears watching; in fact, it will be a pleasure."

A year later, the same paper's Bosley Crowther was equally enamoured of Kelly, to the extent that he actually forgave Fox for crowbarring her into Stanley and Livingstone as the patently fictitious object of Henry Morton Stanley's affection. "We don't see," he wrote, "how any one could be so officious as to demand that the presence of an actress so charming must also be supported by documents."

Despite effusions from critics, Fox assigned Kelly a pallid "Outlaw's Noble Wife" role in Jesse James (1939), put her into minor fluff like He Married His Wife and Sailor's Lady (both 1940), and loaned her out for the likes of One Night in the Tropics and Parachute Battalion (both 1941). Her last film for 20th Century-Fox was To the Shores of Tripoli (1942) in which the studio showed its indifference by letting her lose John Payne to Maureen O'Hara.

A return to Broadway to play Alec Guinness's wife in Terence Rattigan's London success Flare Path (1942) was a disappointment; the play ran only three weeks. In Tarzan's Desert Mystery (1943), Kelly was cast as a wisecracking vaudeville magician in a plot that also found room for Nazis, giant spiders, sinister Arabs and dinosaurs. In Show Business (1944) she played a scheming burlesque performer, hell-bent on breaking up the marriage of George Murphy and Constance Moore. Such was the skill of her actingthat she actually managed to simulate convincing lust for Murphy.

After a handful of films in which she was paired with such fading leading men as William Gargan, Lee Tracy and Chester Morris, Kelly returned to Broadway. Her experience with the studios could only have helped her performance as John Garfield's Hollywood-hating wife in Clifford Odets's searing play The Big Knife (1949). Four years later she played another tortured Odets wife in a tour of The Country Girl. Her performance as the agonised mother of an eight-year-old murderess in Maxwell Anderson's Broadwa y hit The Bad Seed (1954-55) won her a Tony Award. Two years later Kelly and other key members of the New York cast journeyed west to make the screen version. She received her Oscar nomination for her work in the film.

Kelly twice received the Sarah Siddons Actress of the Year Award in a theatre career that embraced such disparate playwrights as Shakespeare, Neil Simon and Edward Albee. Her television work included Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Climax and The Pilot (1956), a TV biography of Sister Mary Aquinas, a noted educator and the first nun to be granted a pilot's licence. Variety reported: "Miss Kelly humanised Sister Mary and made a colourful, interesting and touching character out of her." For this pe rformance, Nancy Kelly added an Emmy Award to her crowded mantelpiece.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

The end of an era across the continent

It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

'Focus on killing American people'

Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

Same-sex marriage

As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

The Mafia is going freelance

Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable