MARY KELLEY

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MARY KELLEY

Postby Gerry O. » Sun Oct 30, 2005 9:40 am

I find the real-life, behind-the-scenes story of Jack Benny and Mary Kelley very interesting.....How they were deeply in love and were almost married in their younger days, and how Mary came back into Jack's life years later, only this time as a VERY overweight comedienne who was auditioning for the "Fat Girl" part in Jack's "sister" stage act.

At first Jack didn't want to hire her for the part, because the routine included Jack making Don Wilson-type "Fat" jokes at the girl, and Jack couldn't bring himself to say those insulting lines to Mary, but she pleaded with him to give her the job. She had come out of an unsuccessful marriage, suffered from personal problems, had a pile of bills to pay and really needed the money.

Jack reluctantly hired her and she was a hilarious hit (always calling Jack "Kid"). In fact, she was such a hit that around the 1940 period she became a semi-regular on Jack's radio show (playing such parts as a clumsy, wise-cracking Blue Fairy in Jack's "Pinocchio" spoof) and played the part of the hotel chambermaid in Jack's film "Love Thy Neighbor".

She also played parts on other radio shows and films around the 1940 period....but after 1941 she appears to have vanished off the face of the earth (or at least stopped performing). I can't find any biographical info about her on the IMDB site (only performing credits), and I was wondering what happened to her.....

Does anyone here have the "rest of the story" on Mary Kelley?
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Re: MARY KELLEY

Postby LLeff » Sun Oct 30, 2005 7:04 pm

Gerry O. wrote:She also played parts on other radio shows and films around the 1940 period....but after 1941 she appears to have vanished off the face of the earth (or at least stopped performing). I can't find any biographical info about her on the IMDB site (only performing credits), and I was wondering what happened to her.....


Sad to say...she died. And I'd love to know where she's buried, but I don't (yet).
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Postby shimp scrampi » Mon Oct 31, 2005 5:35 am

I'm also intrigued by a couple of inconsistencies in the Mary Kelly/Jack saga - because apparently Mary Kelly kept in touch with Gracie Allen. Just to recap, Gracie and Mary Kelly were roommates in the days when George and Jack were swinging bachelors, and Mary Kelly met Jack through Gracie. When Mary hit hard times, she even lived with George and Gracie for a period, and it apparently broke Gracie's heart to have to ask her to leave the house when she thought Mary Kelly's alcohol problems might become dangerous (or at least a bad influence) on the Burns kids. With that in mind, and knowing that Jack and Mary (Livingstone) were incredibly close with the Burnses - the sad "Jack meets Mary Kelly again after many years" story seems a little confusing. Since Gracie and Mary Kelly seemingly never lost contact with each other, it is surprising that Jack never saw her in that interim - they being only one, very close, proverbial degree of separation from each other.
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Postby Gerry O. » Mon Oct 31, 2005 11:36 am

shimp scrampi wrote:I'm also intrigued by a couple of inconsistencies in the Mary Kelly/Jack saga - because apparently Mary Kelly kept in touch with Gracie Allen. Just to recap, Gracie and Mary Kelly were roommates in the days when George and Jack were swinging bachelors, and Mary Kelly met Jack through Gracie. When Mary hit hard times, she even lived with George and Gracie for a period, and it apparently broke Gracie's heart to have to ask her to leave the house when she thought Mary Kelly's alcohol problems might become dangerous (or at least a bad influence) on the Burns kids. With that in mind, and knowing that Jack and Mary (Livingstone) were incredibly close with the Burnses - the sad "Jack meets Mary Kelly again after many years" story seems a little confusing. Since Gracie and Mary Kelly seemingly never lost contact with each other, it is surprising that Jack never saw her in that interim - they being only one, very close, proverbial degree of separation from each other.


Yes, that IS confusing. The only reason that I can think of for Jack not seeing Mary Kelley while she was living was the Burnses was that it may have taken place during the mid-1930's.

During the mid-30's many New York City-based comedians (especially radio stars) were picking up stakes and moving to California. The Bennys and Burnses both made the NYC to California move, but they probably didn't make it at the same time. George and Gracie could have moved out to California months....or even a year or two....before Jack and Mary did (or vice versa). This would mean that although they were close friends, the two couples may not have physcially seen each other for a long stretch of time. Given that situation, its entirely possible that Mary Kelley could have been living with the Burnses and Jack not be anywhere in sight.

Even if the Burnses and Bennys were writing or telephoning each other from coast to coast, it's possible that George and Gracie wouldn't want to tell Jack about Mary's personal problems and severe weight gain for fear that it would upset him.....and it's been well-documented how easily Jack could get upset.

That's the only situation that I can think of where Mary would be living in the Burns home and Jack not come into contact with her.
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Postby shimp scrampi » Mon Oct 31, 2005 12:30 pm

I believe that Mary Kelly living with the Burnses happened after the whole 'reunion with Jack' story. Mary Kelly also had parts on B&A's radio show around this time. There was one thread or chat room conversation where we worked out some of the dates of the reunion and how much time had elapsed, though I can't seem to find it. I think it was something like 7 years between when Jack and Mary Kelly broke up, and the first skit where she appeared on the radio show. I still find it hard to believe that Jack was totally unaware of what was happening with Mary Kelly because of the Gracie factor. From all accounts Gracie was social friends with many but her dear, close, intimate friends were few and closely guarded - and Mary Kelly was one of those few. So it seems to me that Gracie was in touch with Mary K - and it stretches plausibility that Jack was totally oblivious to what was going on with her. It is, however, entirely plausible that when she auditioned for the part, that was the first time Jack had seen her in some time.
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Postby LLeff » Mon Oct 31, 2005 5:56 pm

shimp scrampi wrote:I believe that Mary Kelly living with the Burnses happened after the whole 'reunion with Jack' story. Mary Kelly also had parts on B&A's radio show around this time. There was one thread or chat room conversation where we worked out some of the dates of the reunion and how much time had elapsed, though I can't seem to find it. I think it was something like 7 years between when Jack and Mary Kelly broke up, and the first skit where she appeared on the radio show. I still find it hard to believe that Jack was totally unaware of what was happening with Mary Kelly because of the Gracie factor. From all accounts Gracie was social friends with many but her dear, close, intimate friends were few and closely guarded - and Mary Kelly was one of those few. So it seems to me that Gracie was in touch with Mary K - and it stretches plausibility that Jack was totally oblivious to what was going on with her. It is, however, entirely plausible that when she auditioned for the part, that was the first time Jack had seen her in some time.


Jack and Mary Kelly broke up in 1926, and her first Benny radio appearance was Feb 4, 1934. What's your source on Mary Kelly living with Burns and Allen? I know Jack had asked that they help MK, which included occasional supporting roles on their show. So I would imagine that her living with them happened after she had "resurfaced".

I wouldn't be surprised if MK dropped out of contact with everyone after her marriage. This is all conjecture, but remember that she had basically surprised Jack with the news of her marriage, and Jack and B&A were quite close by that time. So she might have been afraid of lingering resentment, etc. Also when one is in an abusive marriage, it tends to isolate you from people for various reasons (i.e., spouse demanding attention, shame over what's happening, not being able to emotionally handle relationships to others, etc.). Moreover, MK's marriage was in Chicago rather than New York or Los Angeles, making her connection with Jack or B&A all the more "distant". So I could imagine her disappearing from everyone during 1926-1933, then resurfacing when she was trying to get back on her feet.

Wish I could find a picture of her from the 20s...
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Postby shimp scrampi » Tue Nov 01, 2005 4:54 am

What's your source on Mary Kelly living with Burns and Allen?


George talks about it in Gracie: A Love Story.

The isolation during her marriage does seem the most likely explanation, and as I said, I definitely agree on the living with the Burnses happening after she resurfaced in California. I do wonder if she had totally dropped out of communication with Gracie though, it's probably impossible to know one way or the other. It still could be that the Jack's "shocking" rediscovery of Mary Kelly is, like many anecdotes, slightly exaggerated for effect.
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Another little wrinkle

Postby shimp scrampi » Tue Nov 01, 2005 5:00 am

LL, your comment about Mary Kelly living in Chicago just made me remember that Burns and Allen adopted their kids from an organization in Chicago - Sandy in 1934 and Ronnie the following year - so they were undoubtedly back and forth a number of times to Chicago around the time of Mary's "resurfacing". Interesting...
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Another followup on Mary Kelly

Postby shimp scrampi » Wed Nov 02, 2005 6:27 am

Thumbed through my copy of "Gracie: A Love Story" just to reconfirm the Mary Kelly anecdotes, and found a couple of other tidbits - Mary Kelly was known as "Pretty Mary Kelly" according to GB, and was also witness, along with George's brother Izzy at B&A's wedding in Cleveland. Not only that, but Mary Kelly also accompanied Gracie to Chicago to pick out the soon-to-be Sandy Burns from The Cradle, a Catholic adoption organization - without George! So, that puts her in California, and possibly living in the Burns home right before Sandy's adoption, that's 1934 but I'm not sure when in '34. But again, this indicates a degree of closeness with Gracie that seems counterintuitive to them being completely cut off from each other for 8 years.
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Re: Another followup on Mary Kelly

Postby LLeff » Wed Nov 02, 2005 8:04 pm

shimp scrampi wrote:So, that puts her in California, and possibly living in the Burns home right before Sandy's adoption, that's 1934 but I'm not sure when in '34. But again, this indicates a degree of closeness with Gracie that seems counterintuitive to them being completely cut off from each other for 8 years.


Unless, purely theorizing, she contacted them about her situation and they said, "Come out and stay with us for a while until you get back on your feet." That seems like something B&A (and Jack) might do for a friend like that.
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Postby Gerry O. » Thu Nov 03, 2005 5:13 am

Two more things about this subject:

1. Just so people don't think that I don't know how to spell, I took the spelling of Mary's last name ("Kelley") directly from the opening cast credits of the "Love Thy Neighbor" film. Being that I've seen so many other sources spell her last name "Kelly", at this point I'm really not sure what the correct spelling is, but at least now you know where I got the second "e" from.

2. This business of various posters playing "detective" and trying to place the "Jack and Mary K. Reunion" in the proper time frame has resulted in a VERY interesting and enjoyable message thread. Thanks to everyone who has contributed various "pieces of the puzzle"!
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Postby shimp scrampi » Thu Nov 03, 2005 5:41 am

Want one more Mary Kelly wrinkle? I finally got to watch the HIGHLY RECOMMENDED 90 min David Frost interview with Jack (available thru the video library), and Jack recounts the story of Mary Livingstone clocking him one in the face right before he goes on stage - as an explanation for his famous cheek-touching gesture. Now, these repeated anecdotes always seem to have several permutations - in this version it's Mary L. hitting him with a cold cream jar after finding him talking to an old flame on the phone. I've also heard fingernail scratches on the face and someone physically in the room with Jack. But in this version, he specifically states he was talking to an old girlfriend on the phone he hadn't talked to in a couple of years and definitely says in his defense, "after all, I almost married this girl" - so potentially some contact with Mary Kelly on the phone after their breakup. But also some aversive conditioning NOT to do that again! I assume Mary L. was all right with Mary K. around the Burns house socializing or in a working relationship with Jack after she wasn't perceived as competition later on. Yeah, it's a lot of conjecture, but fun nonetheless.
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Postby Gerry O. » Thu Nov 03, 2005 6:18 am

Oh, there are SO many good stories about this situation that have made the rounds!

I've also read that the reason that Mary Kelley was abruptly dropped from Jack's radio program in 1940 was that Mary Livingstone wanted her gone.

Even though the very-overweight Mary K. may not have seemed like much competition for Mary L., apparently there was still a certain fondness and chemistry there between Mary K. and Jack. Plus, it wasn't like Mary K. was some no-talent beauty....she was very funny and had a great way of delivering a wisecrack, and perhaps Mary L. saw THAT as serious PROFESSIONAL competition as well!

Anyway, the story goes that since Jack knew that he could no longer use Mary K. on his program, he asked George and Gracie if they could find a regular (or semi-regular) spot for her on THEIR radio program....which they did. Mary K. ended up going over to the Burns & Allen program and playing Gracie's friend "Bubbles Kelly", which apparently she played until her death in 1941.
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And even MORE information

Postby LLeff » Thu Nov 03, 2005 11:39 pm

Thinking that Jack might have tried out the Chicken Sisters bit (which is what Mary Kelly was auditioning for) on the stage shows he was doing at the time, I went to my ever-growing database of Jack's stage work to see what the earliest appearance of the Chicken Sisters was. Fortunately, I have a good lead on stage shows from the 1933-34 timeframe thanks to Jack's own scrapbooking habit (thank you, Jack...thankyouthankyouthankyou!!!).

So the earliest stage show including the bit, at least that's in my database, is January 11-17, 1934 at the Stanley Theatre in Pittsburgh. Now, Jack tended to take the same talent from show to show. I have dates from mid-November 1933 in Baltimore and New York that list a full complement of talent, but no Chicken Sisters. It's possible that the bit was still being tried and wasn't worthy of newspaper mention yet. But the January date fits well with MK's first radio appearance on Jack's show in February 1934.

Also, almost all performers (except for Mary Livingston...then without the "e") changed between the mid-November 1933 shows and the January 1934 shows. So we can guess that December 1933 may have been used to retool the stage show and look for new talent.

If the show was being performed in January, it's pretty safe to assume that the Jack-MK reunion probably occurred in late 1933 and in New York.

And just to tantalize ya...I've got a good photo of Jack onstage doing the Chicken Sisters bit, including Mary Kelly. Been waiting to use it in The Jack Benny Times. Gotta do that one of these days.
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More on Mary Kelly

Postby shimp scrampi » Sun Dec 11, 2005 9:45 am

I've been doing some more reading on Burns and Allen lately, and it is really hard to overstate how important Mary Kelly was to the saga of the Burnses and Jack's story. Mary Kelly pulled a lot of shenanigans on George's behalf that nudged Gracie toward eventually ditching her fiance, Benny Ryan (anyone get confused with all the Bennys, Kellys, Marys and Allens in these stories?).

Moreover, I've been looking at William Carroll's book, "Gracie Allen for President 1940" - that includes a lot of candid pictures from that campaign. Gracie was very apprehensive about the whistlestop publicity tour, and it is clear from the candids how much Mary K was right there at her side supporting her - these two were very tight. George counts it as the saddest thing in Gracie's life that she couldn't help Mary with her drinking.

The book also includes a pretty spectacular picture of Mary K being borne on a float, by 15 men, all in 1860 period costume, to a radio broadcast in Omaha.

(NB - I don't especially recommend the Carroll book unless you're a rabid B&A fan - it's pricey for what it is, not a lot of original content and the photos aren't well-reproduced)
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