Obituary: Nancy Kelly

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Nancy Kelly, actress: born Lowell, Massachusetts 25 March 1921; married 1941 Edmond O'Brien (marriage dissolved 1942), 1946 Fred Jackson Jnr (marriage dissolved 1950), 1955 Warren Cato; died Bel Air, California 2 January 1995.

Although she made more than 30 films and received an Academy Award Best Actress nomination, Nancy Kelly's greatest triumphs were in the theatre.

One of New York's most successful child models from infancy, she made her first appearance on the Broadway stage at the age of 10 in Give Me Yesterday (1931). A role in Rachel Crothers's Susan and God (1937), which ran for two seasons on Broadway with Gertrude Lawrence heading the cast, led to a 20th-Century Fox screen-test for Kelly, swiftly followed by a long-term contract and a leading role in John Ford's Submarine Patrol (1938). Frank S. Nugent wrote in the New York Times: "Here's a morning g un forNancy Kelly, who has the responsibility of being the only girl in the cast, not merely by being as decorative as she is, but with a charming and assured performance. Miss Kelly bears watching; in fact, it will be a pleasure."

A year later, the same paper's Bosley Crowther was equally enamoured of Kelly, to the extent that he actually forgave Fox for crowbarring her into Stanley and Livingstone as the patently fictitious object of Henry Morton Stanley's affection. "We don't see," he wrote, "how any one could be so officious as to demand that the presence of an actress so charming must also be supported by documents."

Despite effusions from critics, Fox assigned Kelly a pallid "Outlaw's Noble Wife" role in Jesse James (1939), put her into minor fluff like He Married His Wife and Sailor's Lady (both 1940), and loaned her out for the likes of One Night in the Tropics and Parachute Battalion (both 1941). Her last film for 20th Century-Fox was To the Shores of Tripoli (1942) in which the studio showed its indifference by letting her lose John Payne to Maureen O'Hara. …