George Edward Kelly

George Edward Kelly


George Edward Kelly (January 16, 1887June 18, 1974) was an American playwright, screenwriter, director, and actor. He began his career in vaudeville as an actor and skit writer. He became best known for his satiric comedies, including The Torch-Bearers (1922) and The Show-Off (1924).


Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he was the brother of Olympic champion sculler John B. Kelly, Sr. and the uncle of actress and later princess Grace Kelly, which makes him the maternal great-uncle of Monaco's current reigning monarch Albert II of Monaco. He died in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

His homosexuality was a closely guarded secret inside the family. The Kellys refused to acknowledge his homosexuality. His niece Grace, however, saw her uncle as a wonderful man and was highly influenced by him to pursue an acting career, teaching her to be wary of the homophobic Hollywood studio system. George maintained a fifty-five-year relationship with his lover William Weagley up until his death. Weagley was seemingly passed off often as George's valet. Although Weagley was not invited to the funeral, he managed to sneak inside and sat in a back pew, where he wept.


Throughout his career, Kelly remained a realistic playwright, unaffected by the experiments of theatrical modernism. Edward Maisel accurately described him as "a simple moralist using the theatre for simple moral purposes." Kelly's plays are often dominated by characters of monstrous egotism, and he casts a harsh light on their shortcomings. Uncompromising in his vision, he scrupulously avoided sentimentality and depictions of romance. Arthur Willis noted "Kelly appears to be anti-love, anti-romantic love, certainly, and distrustful of the tender emotions."

In his first full-length play, The Torchbearers, Kelly satirizes the "Little Theatre" movement, depicting it as made up of narcissistic and undisciplined amateurs. Their leader, Mrs. J. Duro Pampinelli, is a brilliant caricature of self-indulgent dilettantism. In the first act, Kelly shows the troupe incapable of conducting a competent rehearsal; in the second, he depicts with farcical brilliance their public performance collapsing in shambles. In the third act, however, the tone grows more earnest as the players are excoriated for their indulgences. In his greatest popular and commercial success, The Show-Off, Kelly focuses his critique on the figure of Aubrey Piper, a loud, lying, self-deluded businessman with an obnoxious laugh and an obvious toupee. With Craig's Wife (1925), Kelly's satire began to grow more severe and less amusing. Harriet Craig destroys her marriage through her possessiveness and materialism. An unflinching portrait of the middle-class housewife as martinet, "Craig's Wife" became a by-word for domestic obsessiveness.

In his later plays, Kelly grew even more severe and judgmental, and his audiences grew smaller. Behold the Bridegroom (1927) shows a shallow and decadent flapper pine away when she meets a morally upright man who makes her realize her lack of character. Despite a much-praised performance by Judith Anderson in the leading role, the play ran for only 88 performances. Philip Goes Forth (1931) is the story of a young man who is much enamoured of his image of himself as a young playwright. He rebels against his family and moves into a boarding house for artists, only to discover that he has no talent. It enjoyed a run of only 97 performances. Two late plays, Maggie the Magnificent (1929) and The Deep Mrs. Sykes (1929), were very poorly received and were never even published. As a result of the box-office failure of his later works, Kelly moved to Hollywood, and only rarely returned to the theatre. The Fatal Weakness (1946) was his last Broadway play. At the time of his death, four of his plays remained unperformed and have yet to premiere.

Notable actors who appeared in Kelly's plays on Broadway include Alison Skipworth, Josephine Hull, Lee Tracy, Tallulah Bankhead, Spring Byington, Joan Blondell, and Ina Claire.

George Kelly's plays include:

  • The Torch-Bearers (1923), the basis for the 1935 motion picture Doubting Thomas and the 1939 movie Too Busy to Work
  • The Show-off (1924), the basis for the 1926, 1934, and 1946 motion pictures of the same name and the 1930 movie Men Are Like That
  • Craig's Wife (1925), for which he won the Pulitzer Prize; the basis for the 1928 and 1936 motion pictures of the same name and the 1950 movie Harriet Craig
  • Daisy Mayme (1926)
  • Behold, the Bridegroom (1927)
  • The Flattering Word (1929)
  • Maggie the Magnificent (1929)
  • Philip Goes Forth (1931)
  • Reflected Glory (1936)
  • The Deep Mrs. Sykes (1945)
  • The Fatal Weakness (1947)


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