Patsy Kelly

Patsy Kelly
Manatt / Warner Brothers

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Patsy Kelly
Film: North side of the 6600 block of Hollywood Boulevard
Actress
Born Bridget Sarah Veronica Rose Kelly on Jan. 12, 1910 in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Died Sept. 24, 1981 of cancer in Motion Picture and Television Country House, CA

Patsy Kelly was a Brooklyn-born Irish-American comedian of Depression-era Hollywood who went on to win a Tony Award on Broadway.

After appearing in numerous films — usually as a wisecracking maid or someone's salty sidekick — Kelly faded from the scene for several years. Her career was revived when Tallulah Bankhead put her in a touring play, "Dear Charles," in 1955.

She won her Tony in 1971 as best featured player in a musical for her role in "No, No, Nanette." Two years later, she was nominated for another Tony as best supporting actress for her role in "Irene," starring Debbie Reynolds.

Kelly was genuinely Irish, although her first name was really Sarah. She was born in Brooklyn on Jan. 12, 1910, to parents who had emigrated from Ireland.

In a 1938 interview, she said she had injured herself in so many childhood accidents on the streets of Brooklyn that she was sent to dancing school to keep her from climbing fences and fire escapes.

Another student in the school was Ruby Keeler, who went on to star in musical films.

When Kelly was only 10, she was getting paid to teach dancing at the school and when she was 13, her brother Willie — who had a job as a stooge for comedian Frank Faye — had her perform some dance routines for his boss.

The next thing she knew, Willie was fired and she was in the act. She appeared with Faye for four years — never with a script. "He would just come out and spring random gags at me," she said later.

There were two different versions of why she left Faye. One interviewer quoted her as saying she was to go to England with Faye for a big booking, but she was afraid to go on a ship — so she quit.

Another interviewer had it that when she was 16, Faye asked her to marry him and that "two weeks later he fired me for calling him by his first name."

She later appeared on Broadway with Al Jolson in "The Wonder Bar."

After her Broadway appearance with Jolson, she was brought to Hollywood at the age of 20. Producer Hal Roach teamed the somewhat dowdy comedian with blond, glamorous, cool Thelma Todd in 24 two-reel comedies that were enormously popular because of their contrasting personalities.

The two were said to be inseparable friends, but their association ended tragically in 1935 when Todd was found dead in her car, presumably of carbon monoxide poisoning. Published accounts at the time termed the death "mysterious" and it was never officially determined whether she had committed suicide or died from some other cause.

This was the second tragedy of Kelly's life. Two years earlier, she was a passenger in the car of entertainer Jean Malin when he accidentally backed off the Venice Pier. Lifeguards managed to pull Kelly out of the submerged vehicle, but her companion drowned.

She played Jean Harlow's best friend in "The Girls From Missouri," then appeared in such films as "Every Night at Eight" with Alice Faye, "Thanks a Million" with Dick Powell and Ann Dvorak and "Page Miss Glory" with Marion Davies.

She was seen in "Old California" with John Wayne and "Pigskin Parade" with Judy Garland.

Other films included "Sing, Baby, Sing," "Wake Up and Live," "Topper Returns," "Broadway Limited" and "Please Don't Eat the Daisies."

After her acting career came back to life through the efforts of Bankhead, she portrayed one of the witches in "Rosemary's Baby," and millions of middle-aged moviegoers told their children of this face from their past.

After making one last film, "The North Avenue Irregulars," she retired in 1980 because of poor health. She entered the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital in 1981 and never left.

She died there of cancer Sept. 24, 1981, at age 71.

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