Kelly, Patsy (1910–1981)

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Kelly, Patsy (1910–1981)

American actress-comedian. Born Sarah Kelly on January 12, 1910, in Brooklyn, New York; died on September 24, 1981, following a stroke in Woodland Hills, California; never married; no children.

Selected theater:

New York debut in Harry Delmar's Revels (1927); Earl Carroll's Vanities (1930); The Wonder Bar (1931); Flying Colors (1932); Pauline in revival of No, No, Nanette (1970); Mrs. O'Dare in revival of Irene (1973).


Going Hollywood (1933); Countess of Monte Cristo (1934); The Party's Over (1934); The Girl from Missouri (1934); Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round (1934); Go Into Your Dance (1935); Every Night at Eight (1935); Page Miss Glory (1935); Thanks a Million (1935); Kelly the Second (1936); Private Number (1936); Sing Baby Sing (1936); Pigskin Parade (1936); Nobody's Baby (1937); Pick a Star (1937); Wake Up and Live (1937); Ever Since Eve (1937); Merrily We Live (1938); There Goes My Heart (1938); The Cowboy and the Lady (1938); The Gorilla (1939); The Hit Parade of 1941 (1940); Road Show (1941); Topper Returns (1941); Broadway Limited (1941); Playmates (1941); Sing Your Worries Away (1942); In Old California (1942); My Son, The

Hero (1943); Ladies' Day (1943); Danger! Women at Work (1943); Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960); The Crowded Sky (1960); The Naked Kiss (1964); The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966); C'mon, Let's Live a Little (1967); Rosemary's Baby (1968); (cameo) The Phynx (1970); Freaky Friday (1977); North Avenue Irregulars (1979).

Usually cast as a dumpy, wisecracking maid or the friend of the heroine, talented comedian Patsy Kelly endeared herself to Broadway and movie audiences during the 1930s. Retiring from films during the 1940s, she returned in the 1960s, playing mostly minor roles. In 1971, with her childhood friend Ruby Keeler , Kelly made a stunning comeback to the Broadway stage in the hit revival of No, No, Nanette, winning a Tony for her role as Pauline the maid.

Patsy Kelly was born in 1910 in Brooklyn, New York, and started her career as a dancer in the Broadway musicals of the early 1930s. Roles in Earl Carroll's Vanities (1930) and Wonder Bar (1931), with Al Jolson, paved the way to Hollywood and a series of 21 memorable comedy shorts paired with Thelma Todd . After Todd's mysterious death of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1935, Kelly was briefly teamed with Lyda Roberti , who also died at an early age. Her first feature film was Going Hollywood (1933), with Marion Davies , one of several movies she made with the star, who was also the mistress of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. (In a 1971 interview in Film Fan Monthly, Kelly recalled meeting Hearst and being absolutely stunned by his high-pitched voice. "You'd see this tremendous man, he looked seven or eight feet, with a big Stetson hat, and he'd say 'Hello, Patsy, how are you?' and it would be shocking.") Kelly made three memorable feature films in 1936: Every Night at Eight (which introduced the song "I'm in the Mood for Love"), Thanks a Million, with Dick Powell and Ann Dvorak , and Page Miss Glory, her second movie with Davies.

Following Ladies' Day (1943), Kelly had difficulty getting movie roles. During the War, she had a radio show with Barry Wood, and afterwards had a nightclub act. In 1955, she toured the country with Tallulah Bankhead in the farce Dear Charles, in which she made the most of a mere 15 minutes on stage. Kelly returned to films in 1960, with roles in Please Don't Eat the Daisies and The Crowded Sky. She was a reluctant witch in Roman Polanski's 1968 thriller Rosemary's Baby. "I threw Holy Water on that set all the time I was on it," she said. "But that was a great experience." Later films included The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966) and North Avenue Irregulars (1979).

Kelly was thrilled to be part of the revival of No, No, Nanette, in which she sparkled as the maid, Pauline. "Doesn't Patsy Kelly mug?" began critic Walter Kerr's review in The New York Times (January 31, 1971). "Uh huh. That's what maids did in those days. And it has been arranged for her to do it all at once, in a sequence in which she can slap everything within reach, her own face, the nearest balustrade, a couple of suitcases that must be hustled upstairs. Given the opportunity, she gives it the works: the result is a graduate course, short but exhaustive, in all the slow-burn, flat-palm possibilities developed in two-reel comedies by the masters and mistresses, herself included, of the form. She is grand." Winning a Tony for her performance, Kelly went on to play a featured role of in the 1973 revival of Irene (1973), starring Debbie Reynolds . Kelly, who never married, died in September 1981.


Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. NY: Harper-Collins, 1994.

Kerr, Walter. "A Door Opens, Miss Keeler Enters," in The New York Times. January 31, 1971.

Lamparski, Richard. Whatever Became of …? 1st and 2nd series. NY: Crown, 1967.

Maltin, Leonard. "FFM Interviews Patsy Kelly," in Film Fan Monthly. March 1971.

Wilmeth, Don B., and Tice L. Miller, eds. Cambridge Guide to American Theater. Cambridge and NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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