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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future
Berlusconi's world of sleaze: The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM

Berlusconi's world of sleaze

The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM
Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

Films and theme parks are just the beginning. Disney believes its control of the now decades-old franchise can bring in merchandise and marketing millions for years to come
Could the golden age of the gaming arcade ever be revived in the era of the Xbox?

Could gaming arcades be revived?

The days when coin-ops were the only way to play the latest video games are gone. But a small band of enthusiasts are keeping the button-pushing dream alive
Edinburgh Fringe 2015: The 'tampon tax' has inspired a new wave of female comedians to reclaim period jokes

Heard the one about menstruation?

Yes, if you have been at the Fringe, where period pieces are taking centre stage