Patsy Kelly

Patsy Kelly (January 12, 1910 September 24, 1981) was an American 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.

Patsy Kelly
Kelly in Topper Returns (1941)
Sarah Veronica Rose Kelly

(1910-01-12)January 12, 1910
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
DiedSeptember 24, 1981(1981-09-24) (aged 71)
Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting placeCalvary Cemetery, Queens, New York
Years active19291979

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 and personal assistant 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 that limited her ability to speak. Kelly died of cancer in 1981.

Early life and early career

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.[1] She performed in Frank Fay's act, first in a song-and-dance routine and later as Fay's comic foil.[2] 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?"[3] She remained with Fay for several seasons until Fay eventually dismissed her.[4]

Kelly made her Broadway debut in 1928. In 1930 and 1931, she performed for producer Earl Carroll in his Sketches and Vanities musicals.

Film career

Kelly 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. The Todd-Kelly shorts cemented 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.[5]

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.

Later career

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.[5][6]

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 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.[1] 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 Walt Disney film Freaky Friday starring Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris. Her last role in a feature film was in another comedy for Disney, The North Avenue Irregulars (1979), also co-starring Harris, along with Cloris Leachman, Edward Herrmann and Karen Valentine. Kelly's final onscreen appearance was a guest spot in a two-part episode of The Love Boat in 1979.

Personal life

Kelly was openly gay. She publicly disclosed to being a "dyke"[7] during the 1930s, when she disclosed to Motion Picture magazine she had been living with actress Wilma Cox for several years and had no intention of getting married.[8] She later confirmed that she had an affair with Tallulah Bankhead when she worked as Bankhead's personal assistant.[6]

In August 1933, Kelly was injured as a passenger in a car driven by Gene Malin, the prominent drag performer.[9] 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.[10][11]

In January 1980, Kelly suffered a stroke while in San Francisco that 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.[12]


On September 24, 1981, Kelly died of cancer at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California.[13][14] She is interred alongside her parents, John and Delia Kelly, in Calvary Cemetery in Queens, New York .[15]

For her contribution to the motion picture industry, she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6669 Hollywood Boulevard.

Selected TV and filmography

Year Title Role Notes
1929 A Single Man uncredited/unknown/Bit silent film
1931 The Grand Dame Peggy O'Rourke Short
1933 Air Fright Patsy Short
1933 Going Hollywood Jill Barker
1934 Done In Oil Patsy Short
1934 The Countess of Monte Cristo Mimi
1934 Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round Patsy
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
1935 Go into Your Dance Irma 'Toledo' Knight
1936 Kelly the Second Molly Patricia Kelly First starring feature film
1936 Private Number Gracie
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 Playmates Lulu Monahan
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 Prudence Fortune Episode: "The Night of the Big Blast"
1967 C'mon, Let's Live a Little Mrs. Fitts
1967 The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Mama Sweet
1967 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 The Phynx Herself
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

See also


  1. "'Company' Takes 6 Honors At Tony Awards". Ocala Star-Banner. March 29, 1971. p. 5B. Retrieved December 5, 2012.
  2. Byrne, James P.; Coleman, Philip; King, Jason Francis (2008). Ireland and the Americas. ABC-CLIO. p. 326. ISBN 1-851-09614-0.
  3. S.D., Trav (2006). No Applause--Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous. Macmillan. p. 183. ISBN 0-865-47958-5.
  4. Cullen, Frank (2004). Vaudeville Old & New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America, Volume 1. 1. Psychology Press. p. 627. ISBN 0-415-93853-8.
  5. Thomas, Bob (November 25, 1959). "Patsy Kelly Goes Back To Films After 16 Years". Toledo Blade. Retrieved December 5, 2012.
  6. Monush, Barry (2003). The Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors: From the Silent Era to 1965, Volume 1. 1. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 388. ISBN 1-557-83551-9.
  7. Gever, Martha (2003). Entertaining Lesbians: Celebrity, Sexuality, and Self-Invention (1 ed.). Routledge. p. 210. ISBN 0-415-94480-5.
  8. Faderman, Lillian; Timmons, Stuart (2006). Gay L. A.: A History of Social Vagrants, Hollywood Rejects, And Lipstick Lesbians. Basic Books. p. 62. ISBN 0-465-02288-X.
  9. "Backs Car Over Pier; Is Killed, Two Hurt". The Lewiston Daily Sun. August 11, 1933. p. 1. Retrieved May 1, 2014.
  10. "Jean Malin Killed, Patsy Kelly Injured". The Norwalk Hour. August 11, 1933. p. 15. Retrieved May 1, 2014.
  11. "Entertainer Dies In Auto Plunge". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. August 11, 1933. p. 7. Retrieved May 1, 2014.
  12. "Patsy Recovering From Loss Of Speech". Boca Raton News. May 4, 1980. p. 7B. Retrieved December 5, 2012.
  13. "Actress Patsy Kelly dies of cancer". Eugene Register-Guard. September 24, 1981. p. 3A.
  14. Flints, Peter B. (September 26, 1981). "PATSY KELLY, ACTRESS IS DEAD: PLAYED COMIC ROLES IN FILMS". The New York Times. p. 28. Retrieved December 5, 2012.
  15. Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Locations 25047-25048). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition.
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