The Crimes of the Other Paul Kelly

hey now, what a charmer!

The title of this post derives from the fact that it is not about the most important and most criminal Paul Kelly (and shame on you if you never heard of him). The original “Paul Kelly” (born Paolo Vaccarelli) was founder of the Five Points Gang and Father of American organized crime. We’ll undoubtedly blog about him betimes, for he had show biz connections. But TODAYs Paul Kelly (1899-1956) was actually born Paul Kelly. He was born and raised in Midwood, Brooklyn right near Vitagraph Studios. His father ran a saloon called Kelly’s Kafe. The old man died when he was 7, so young Paul went on the stage in melodramas and vaudeville to help earn money. 1911 was his breakthrough year — he appeared on Broadway in The Confession, and starred in his first film for Vitagraph, Jimmie’s Job. He appeared in dozens of silent movies as a child star, including the Jarr Family series with Harry Davenport. Meanwhile he continued to appear in such Broadway productions as Little Women (1917) and the first adaptation of Booth Tarkington’s Penrod (1918).

As a young man, Kelly’s career continued great guns. You can see him in the films Anne of the Green Gables (1920), and Slide, Kelly, Slide (1927). He had a role in Eddie Cantor’s Special Delivery (1927) but his scenes were deleted. He may have wound up on the cutting room floor due to a scandal. By 1927, Kelly had moved to Hollywood. He became involved with vaudeville and Broadway actress Dorothy Mackaye. Unfortunately, her husband actor Ray Raymond didn’t like that a bit. He called Kelly to have it out with him, and got more than he bargained for. Three sheets to the wind, Kelly came over and smashed Raymond’s head into a wall. Raymond died of his injuries a couple of days later. Kelly and Mackaye tried to cover up the circumstances but no avail. Both were jailed for the incident.

Amazingly this event didn’t end their careers or their relationship. Kelly was back on Broadway by 1930. The pair married in 1931. His film career resumed in 1932. Now normally cast as tough guys and maulers, he has over 150 film and tv credits, including such pictures as Broadway Thru a Keyhole (1933), The President Vanishes (1934), Song and Dance Man  (1936), Torchy Blane in Panama (1938), The Howards of Virginia (1940), Ziegfeld Girl  (1941), Mr. and Mrs. North (1942), The Cat Creeps (1946), and The Painted Hills (1951). His last Broadway play was the original production of Clifford Odets’ The Country Girl (1950).

Mackaye’s legacy is arguably more memorable. In 1932 she wrote the play Women in Prison” (1932), based on her experiences, and in which she starred. In 1933 Warner Bros. produced it as Ladies They Talk About, starring Barbara Stanwyck. In 1942 it was remade as Lady Gangster starring Faye Emerson. Mackaye herself was killed in a car accident in early 1940. Kelly passed away in 1956 from his second heart attack. His last film was Bailout at 43,000 (1957). 

To learn more about vaudeville please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on early film, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.