Oscar Actors: Kelly, Nancy–Background, Career, Awards, Filmography (Cum Advantage, Tony)

October 15, 2020
Nancy Kelly Career Summary:

Occupational Inheritance: Yes; theatrical family

Nationality: US

Social Class: middle


Family: child actress



Teacher/Inspirational Figure:

Radio Debut:

TV Debut:

Stage Debut:

Broadway Debut:

Film Debut:

Breakthrough Role:

Oscar Role: Bad Seed. 1956; age 35

Other Noms:

Other Awards: Tony Award

Frequent Collaborator:

Screen Image: character actor

Last Film: Bad Seed (penutlimate)

Career Output:

Career Span: 1926-1956; 30 years, then 1 final film

Marriage: actors (O’Brien) and others

Politics: Republican

Death: 73


Nancy Kelly (March 25, 1921–January 2, 1995) was a child actress and model, and then repertory cast member of CBS Radio’s “The March of Time,” before becoming 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.

Nancy Kelly had her greatest success in a character role, the distraught mother in The Bad Seed, receiving a Tony Award for Best Actress for the 1955 stage production and a Best Actress Oscar 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 role of Bart Maverick, one of the two leads, alongside James Garner or Roger Moore from 1957 to 1962 in the ABC television series Maverick. Nancy Kelly and Jack Kelly bore obvious family resemblance to each other but never worked together in film or television.

Kelly was educated at Bentley School for Girls, Immaculate Conception Academy, and St. Lawrence Academy.

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 NBC Radio Network show, The Wizard of Oz, based on 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.

As an adult, she was a leading lady in 27 movies in the 1930s and ’40s, including director John Ford’s Submarine Patrol (1938), , Frontier Marshal (1939) with Randolph Scott as Wyatt Earp, the comedy He Married His Wife (1940) with Joel McCrea, and Tarzan’s Desert Mystery (1943) with Johnny Weissmuller. She also starred in the 1949 Broadway play The Big Knife by Clifford Odets.

Kelly was subsequently a two-time winner of the Sarah Siddons Award for her work in Chicago theatrical productions as well as a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play 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 TV, 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 was a Republican who supported Dwight Eisenhower in the 1952 presidential election.

Kelly was married to actor Edmond O’Brien briefly from 1941–1942, and then to Fred Jackman, Jr., son of silent Hollywood cameraman and director Fred Jackman, from 1946 to 1950. She was married to theater director Warren Caro from 1955 to 1968.  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.

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


The Untamed Lady (1926) with Gloria Swanson
Mismates (1926) with Warner Baxter
The Great Gatsby (1926) with Warner Baxter and William Powell
Girl on the Barge (1929) with Jean Hersholt
Glorifying the American Girl (1929; uncredited) with Mary Eaton
Convention Girl (1935) with Shemp Howard
Submarine Patrol (1938; directed by John Ford) with Preston Foster, George Bancroft
Jesse James (1939) with Tyrone Power, Henry Fonda, and Randolph Scott
Tail Spin (1939) with Alice Faye, Constance Bennett, Charles Farrell, and Jane Wyman
Frontier Marshal (1939) with Randolph Scott as Wyatt Earp
Stanley and Livingstone (1939) with Spencer Tracy and Walter Brennan
He Married His Wife (1940) with Joel McCrea
Sailor’s Lady (1940) with Joan Davis and Dana Andrews
Private Affairs (1940) with Hugh Herbert and Robert Cummings
One Night in the Tropics (1940) with Allan Jones and Abbott & Costello
Scotland Yard (1941) with Edmund Gwenn
A Very Young Lady (1941) with Jane Withers
Parachute Battalion (1941) with Robert Preston, Edmond O’Brien, Harry Carey, and Buddy Ebsen
Fly-by-Night (1942; directed by Robert Siodmak) with Richard Carlson
To the Shores of Tripoli (1942) with John Payne, Maureen O’Hara, and Randolph Scott
Friendly Enemies (1942) with Charles Ruggles
Tornado (1943) with Chester Morris
Women in Bondage (1943) with Gail Patrick
Tarzan’s Desert Mystery (1943) with Johnny Weissmuller
Gambler’s Choice (1944) with Chester Morris
Show Business (1944) with Eddie Cantor and George Murphy
Double Exposure (1944) with Chester Morris
Betrayal from the East (1945) with Lee Tracy
Song of the Sarong (1945) with William Gargan
The Woman Who Came Back (1945) with John Loder and Otto Kruger
Follow That Woman (1945) with William Gargan and Regis Toomey
Murder in the Music Hall (1946) with Vera Ralston
Crowded Paradise (1956) with Hume Cronyn
The Bad Seed (1956) with Patty McCormack
Murder at the World Series (1975) with Lynda Day George

Radio appearances
Year Program Episode/source
1945 Suspense “A Week Ago Wednesday”
1946 Suspense “Dark Journey”
1946 Suspense