Nancy Kelly (March 25, 1921 – January 2, 1995) was an American actress. A child actress and model, she was a repertory cast member of CBS Radio's The March of Time and became a movie leading lady in the late 1930s, while still in her teens.
She made 36 movies between 1926 and 1977, 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 later that same year.
She had her greatest success in a character role, the suicidal mother in the The Bad Seed, receiving a Tony Award for the 1955 stage production and an Academy Award nomination for the 1956 film adaptation.
Of Irish descent, Kelly was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, into a theatrical family. Her mother was silent film actress Nan Kelly, who coached her and managed her career. As a child actress, Kelly appeared in 52 films made on the East Coast by the age of 17. Her younger brother was actor Jack Kelly, most noted for playing the lead alongside James Garner or Roger Moore from 1957 to 1962 in the television series Maverick.
As a child model, her image had appeared in so many different advertisements by the time she was nine years old that Film Daily commented, "Nancy has been referred to as 'the most photographed child in America,' largely because of her commercial posing."
Kelly worked extensively in radio in her adolescent years. She played Dorothy Gale in a 1933-34 radio show, The Wizard of Oz, based on the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Kelly was the first ingenue on CBS Radio's The March of Time series, with a vocal versatility that made it possible for her to portray male parts as well as female. She also portrayed Eleanor Roosevelt.:434–435
As an adult, she was a leading lady in 27 movies in the 1930s and '40s, including director John Ford's Submarine Patrol, the comedy He Married His Wife with Joel McCrea, Frontier Marshal with Randolph Scott as Wyatt Earp, and Tarzan's Desert Mystery with Johnny Weismuller. Kelly 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, which she followed up by starring in the 1956 film version, receiving a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress. She also starred on television, including leading roles in "The Storm" (1961) episode of Thriller and "The Lonely Hours" (1963) episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. In 1957 she was nominated at the 9th Primetime Emmy Awards for an Emmy Award for Best Single Performance by an Actress for the episode "The Pilot" in Studio One.
Kelly's was married to actor Edmond O'Brien 1941-1942, Fred Jackman, Jr. son of silent Hollywood cameraman and director Fred Jackman 1946-1950 and theater director Warren Caro from 1955 on. She and Caro had a daughter, Kelly Caro, in 1957.
Kelly died at her Bel Air, California, home on January 2, 1995, from complications of diabetes at the age of 73. She was survived by a daughter and three granddaughters. She was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Walk of Fame
For her contribution to the motion picture industry, she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7021 Hollywood Blvd. She was inducted February 8, 1960.
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