Birthday: March 25, 1921
Died At Age: 73
Sun Sign: Aries
Born in: Lowell, Massachusetts, United States
Famous as: Actress
Spouse/Ex-: Fred Jackman Jr. (m. 1946–1950), Warren Caro (m. 1955–1968)
siblings: Carole Kelly, Jack Kelly, William Clement Kelly
children: Kelly Lurie Caro
Died on: January 2, 1995
U.S. State: Massachusetts
awards: Tony Award for Best Lead Actress in a Play
Nancy Kelly was an American stage and film actress best known for her role in the stage production and film adaptation of ‘The Bad Seed.’ Her portrayal of a suicidal mother in the play earned her prestigious awards while the reprisal of the same role in the film version gave her an Academy Award nomination. Born into an acting and modeling family, she was exposed to the show business as a small child. Her mother, Nan Kelly, was a silent film actress who coached her daughter and managed her career. Young Nancy was prolific as a child actress—she had already appeared in 52 films by the time she was 17. She also had an extensive modeling career as a child and worked in the radio as a teenager. As a young woman, she easily made the transition into an adult actress, leaving behind her teenage awkwardness. She emerged as a leading lady in the late 1930s and appeared in several films opposite stars like Henry Fonda and Spencer Tracy. Simultaneously she also built a successful career as a stage actress on the Broadway. With years, she evolved into a respectable character actress and gave some of her best known performances in dramatic and thriller films.
Childhood & Early Life
Nancy Kelly was born on March 25, 1921, in Lowell, Massachusetts, U.S. to Ann Mary "Nan" (née Walsh) and John Augustus Kelly into a family of Irish descent. She had three siblings including brother Jack Kelly who also became an actor. Her father was a theater ticket broker who later ventured into the real estate business and her mother was a silent film actress who groomed her children for the show business from an early age.
She was introduced to films as a child actress. Sweet-looking and charming, the little girl was quite popular. With her mother acting as her manager, Nancy had appeared in 52 films by the time she was 17. As a child model, she appeared in many different advertisements.
Blessed with a pleasant voice in addition to good looks, she worked extensively in radio as an adolescent. She voiced Dorothy Gale in a 1933-34 radio show, ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and played the ingénue on CBS Radio's ‘The March of Time’ series. Her vocal versatility allowed her to play male as well as female parts.
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As a 17-year-old, she re-entered films as an adult actress in 1938. Her initial works as a young woman included ‘Submarine Patrol’ and ‘Tailspin’ in 1938, and ‘Stanley and Livingstone’ and ‘Jesse James’ in 1939. She received much appreciation for her acting in ‘Jesse James’ which was one of the year’s biggest hits.
In 1940 she starred as Valerie in the comedy film ‘He Married His Wife’ which was about a divorced man who plans to remarry his former wife. A black and white movie, it also had Joel McCrea, Roland Young, and Cesar Romero in the star cast.
Her string of successes continued throughout the 1940s with films like ‘Scotland Yard’ (1941), ‘A Very Young Lady’ (1941), ‘Parachute Battalion’ (1941), ‘Tornado’ (1943), ‘Women in Bondage’ (1943), ‘Show Business’ (1944), ‘The Woman Who Came Back’ (1945), ‘Follow That Woman’ (1945), and ‘Murder in the Music Hall’ (1946). Throughout her film career she also remained active on the stage.
With time, the talented lady evolved into a character actress from being the leading lady. Her best known film performance came quite late in her career. In ‘The Bad Seed’ (1956), she portrayed the role of Christine Penmark, a woman who discovers that her young daughter is actually a sadistic killer and thus turns suicidal. Her portrayal as an emotionally traumatized woman was much appreciated by the audience and critics alike.
During the later years of her career she was also active on television and played leading roles in ‘The Storm’ (1961) episode of ‘Thriller’ and ‘The Lonely Hours’ (1963) episode of ‘The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.’
Nancy Kelly is best remembered for her role as the suicidal mother Christine in the play ‘The Bad Seed’ which won her much acclaim and awards. She reprised the role in the film version of the play for which she earned a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress.
Awards & Achievements
A popular stage actress, she won a Tony Award and a Sarah Siddons Award for her leading role in ‘The Bad Seed’ on Broadway in 1955. She won a second Sarah Siddons Award for her work in a stage version of ‘Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’
Inducted in February 1960, Nancy Kelly has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7021 Hollywood Blvd.
Personal Life & Legacy
Nancy Kelly was thrice married with each of her marriages ending in divorce. Her first marriage was to actor Edmond O'Brien in 1941 which ended the very next year.
She tied the knot again in 1946 with director Fred Jackman but this marriage too was short-lived and the couple divorced in 1950.
She married for the third and the final time in 1955. Her third husband was theater director Warren Caro with whom she had a daughter. This marriage too unraveled with time and ended in 1968.
She suffered from diabetes and died of complications from the disease on January 2, 1995, at the age of 73.