Nancy Kelly, 73; Actress Lauded for ‘Bad Seed’


Nancy Kelly, an actress best remembered for her award-winning role as the suicidal mother in “The Bad Seed,” has died in her Bel-Air home. She was 73.

Miss Kelly, who had suffered from diabetes, died Jan. 2 of natural causes, according to her daughter, Kelly Caro Rosenberg.

The versatile actress won both a Tony Award and a Sarah Siddons Award for her leading role in “The Bad Seed” on Broadway. She was also nominated for an Academy Award as best actress for the 1956 film version of the play.


Miss Kelly later portrayed the guilt-ridden mother of the deadly malicious child when the stage show toured the country.

She won a second Sarah Siddons Award for her work in a stage version of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

Born in Lowell, Mass., as the daughter of an acting and modeling family, Miss Kelly began modeling as a baby and later played child roles on stage and in silent films made on the East Coast. She had performed in 52 films by the time she moved to Hollywood at age 17 to take on adult roles.

Her mother, silent film actress Nan Kelly, served as her manager and dramatic coach. During the awkward adolescent years, her mother put her on radio, where she would be heard but not seen. Miss Kelly was the first ingenue in the popular “March of Time” radio programs and showed remarkable versatility by putting her deep, throaty voice into male as well as female radio parts.

Past the ugly-duckling stage by 1938 when she was 17, Kelly descended on Hollywood. She quickly impressed critics by playing emotional roles of older heroines such as the weeping mother of the outlaw’s child in “Jesse James.”

Miss Kelly won leading roles in both “A” and “B” films. Her early work included “Submarine Patrol” and “Tailspin” in 1938, and “Stanley and Livingstone” as well as “Jesse James” in 1939. In the 1940s, she was in “Parachute Battalion,” “Tornado,” “Show Business,” “Woman in Bondage,” “Betrayal From the East,” and “Friendly Enemies.”


By the mid-1950s, the aging leading lady switched to character roles--and won her greatest success in “The Bad Seed.”

Miss Kelly was married three times. Her first marriage, to actor Edmund O’Brien, lasted only four months. Her second husband was cameraman Fred H. Jackman, and her third, Warren Caro, was the father of her only child.

In addition to her daughter, she is survived by three granddaughters.