Patsy Kelly (January 12, 1910 – September 24, 1981) was an American stage, radio, film and television actress. She is known for her role as the brash, wisecracking sidekick to Thelma Todd in a series of short comedy films produced by Hal Roach in the 1930s. Known as the "Queen of Wisecracks", Kelly's career continued after Todd's death in 1935 in similar roles.
After her film career declined in the mid-1940s, Kelly returned to New York where she worked in radio and summer stock. She also became a lifelong friend, personal assistant, and frequent lover of Tallulah Bankhead. Kelly returned to the screen after 17 years with guest spots on television and in film roles.
In 1971, Kelly returned to the stage in the revival of No, No, Nanette for which she won a Tony Award. She continued appearing in film and television roles until she suffered a stroke in January 1980 which limited her ability to speak. Kelly died of cancer in 1981.
Kelly in Topper Returns (1941)
|Born||Sarah Veronica Rose Kelly
January 12, 1910
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
|Died||September 24, 1981 (aged 71)
Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Cancer|
|Resting place||Calvary Cemetery, Queens|
Kelly was born Sarah Veronica Rose Kelly in Brooklyn to Irish immigrants parents John (died 1942) and Delia Kelly (1875-1930). She began her career in vaudeville as a dancer at the age of 12. While in vaudeville, she performed in Frank Fay's act, first in a song-and-dance routine and later as Fay's comic foil. In one routine, Kelly told Fay and the audience that she had been at the beauty parlor. Fay remarked, "And they didn't wait on you?" She remained with Fay for several seasons until Fay eventually dismissed her.
Kelly, like other New York actors, made her screen debut in a Vitaphone short subject filmed there. In 1933 producer Hal Roach hired Kelly to co-star with Thelma Todd in a series of short-subject comedies. (Kelly replaced ZaSu Pitts, who left Roach after a salary dispute.) The Todd-Kelly shorts cemented Patsy Kelly's image: a brash, wisecracking woman who frequently punctured the pomposity of other characters. Later entries in the series showcased Kelly's dancing skills. Kelly made 35 shorts with Todd before Todd died in 1935. Lyda Roberti replaced Todd, but died of heart failure in 1938.
After the popularity of shorts began to wane, Kelly moved to full-length feature films, often playing working-class character roles in comedies and musicals. One of her memorable roles was as Etta, the cook, in the five Academy Awards-nominated 1938 comedy movie Merrily We Live.
By 1943, Kelly's film career had begun to decline. She appeared in films for Producers Releasing Corporation, the smallest and cheapest of the movie studios. Her last starring roles were in two PRC comedies, My Son, the Hero and Danger! Women at Work, both released in 1943. Kelly left Hollywood and would not make another film for 17 years.
After leaving Hollywood, Kelly returned to New York City where she worked in radio and did summer stock. She also worked as a personal assistant to Tallulah Bankhead (whom she later claimed she had a sexual relationship with).
Kelly returned to the screen in the 1950s with television and sporadic film roles. On television she appeared in guest roles on 26 Men, Kraft Television Theatre, The Man from U.N.C.L.E, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Wild Wild West, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, as well as many unsold pilots. She also made a memorable appearance as Laura-Louise in the film thriller Rosemary's Baby (1968), directed by Roman Polanski, alongside veteran actors Sidney Blackmer, Ruth Gordon, and Maurice Evans.
She returned to Broadway in 1971 in the smash revival of No, No, Nanette with fellow hoofers Ruby Keeler and Helen Gallagher. Kelly scored a huge success as the wisecracking, tap-dancing maid, and won Broadway's 1971 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance in the show. She matched that success the following year when she starred in Irene with Debbie Reynolds, and was again nominated for a Tony.
In 1976, she appeared as the housekeeper Mrs. Schmauss in the film Freaky Friday starring Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris. Her final movie appearance was in the 1979 Disney comedy The North Avenue Irregulars, also co-starring Harris, along with Cloris Leachman, Edward Herrmann and Karen Valentine. Kelly's last onscreen appearance was a guest spot in a two-part episode of The Love Boat in 1979.
At a time when being openly gay was not socially acceptable, Kelly was open about her sexuality. On occasion she would frankly disclose, in public and with typical candor, to being a "dyke". During the 1930s, she disclosed to Motion Picture magazine that she had been living with actress Wilma Cox for several years and had no intention of getting married. She later claimed she had an affair with Tallulah Bankhead when she worked as Bankhead's personal assistant.
In August 1933 Kelly was injured as a passenger in a sedan driven by Gene Malin, the prominent drag performer. Malin apparently confused the gears and reversed off a pier into the water, after leaving a club in Venice, Los Angeles. Kelly suffered serious injuries.
In January 1980, Kelly suffered a stroke while in San Francisco which caused her to lose the ability to speak. She was admitted to Englewood Nursing Home in Englewood, New Jersey, on the advice of her old friend Ruby Keeler where she underwent therapy.
On September 24, 1981, Kelly died of cancer at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California. She is buried with her parents, John and Delia Kelly, in Calvary Cemetery in Queens.
|1929||A Single Man||uncredited/unknown/Bit||silent film|
|1931||The Grand Dame||Peggy O'Rourke||Short|
|1933||Going Hollywood||Jill Barker|
|1934||The Countess of Monte Cristo||Mimi|
|1934||The Girl from Missouri||Kitty Lennihan|
|1934||One Horse Farmers||Patsy||Short|
|1935||The Tin Man||Miss Kelly||Short|
|1935||The Misses Stooge||Patsy||Short|
|1935||Page Miss Glory||Betty|
|1936||Kelly the Second||Molly Patricia Kelly||First starring feature film|
|1936||Pigskin Parade||Bessie Winters||Alternative title: Harmony Parade|
|1937||Nobody's Baby||Kitty Reilly|
|1937||Pick a Star||Nellie Moore|
|1937||Wake Up and Live||Patsy Kane|
|1937||Ever Since Eve||Sadie Day, aka Susie Wilson|
|1938||Merrily We Live||Etta|
|1938||There Goes My Heart||Peggy O'Brien|
|1938||The Cowboy and the Lady||Katie Callahan|
|1939||The Gorilla||Kitty - the Maid|
|1940||Hit Parade of 1941||Judy Abbott||Alternative title: Romance and Rhythm|
|1941||Topper Returns||Emily - the maid|
|1941||Broadway Limited||Patsy Riley|
|1942||In Old California||Helga|
|1942||Sing Your Worries Away||Bebe McGuire|
|1943||Ladies' Day||Hazel Jones|
|1943||Danger! Women at Work||Terry Olsen|
|1955||Lux Video Theatre||Episode: "One Foot in Heaven"|
|1957||Kraft Television Theatre||Episode: "The Big Break"|
|1960||Please Don't Eat the Daisies||Maggie|
|1960||The Untouchables||Slapsie Sadie||Episode: "Head of Fire: Feet of Clay"|
|1962||Pete and Gladys||Katy||Episode: "The Case of the Gossipy Maid"|
|1963||Arrest and Trial||Catalina||Episode: "Call It a Lifetime"|
|1964||The Naked Kiss||Mac, the Head Nurse|
|1966||The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini||Myrtle Forbush|
|1966||"The Wild Wild West - The Night of the Big Blast"||Prudence Fortune|
|1967||C'mon, Let's Live a Little||Mrs. Fitts|
|1967||The Man from U.N.C.L.E.||Mama Sweet|
|Laredo||Abbie Heffernan||Episode: "A Question of Guilt"|
|1968||Bonanza||Mrs. Neeley||Episode: "A Girl Named George"|
|1968||Rosemary's Baby||Laura-Louise McBirney|
|1969||The Pigeon||Mrs. Macready, the Landlady||Television movie|
|1970||Barefoot in the Park||Old Lady||Episode: Pilot|
|1976||Freaky Friday||Mrs. Schmauss|
|1979||The North Avenue Irregulars||Mrs. Rose Rafferty/Blarney Stone, Irregular||Alternative title: Hill's Angels|
|1979||The Love Boat||Mabel Hopkins||2 episodes|