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Who is George Kelly?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

George Kelly is an American playwright, best known for his plays The Show-Off, Craig’s Wife, and The Torch-Bearers. Born in Pennsylvania in 1887, over the next 87 years he wrote eleven plays, won a Pulitzer Prize, and had a number of film adaptations made of his work.

George Kelly is also well-known for his most famous relative, his niece. Grace Kelly was an actress of great renown, starting her career in the theatre with the support of her uncle, and later moving to work for MGM, where she won an Academy Award for her part in The Country Girl, as well as appearing in notable Hitchcock films such as Rear Window and Dial M For Murder. Because of her role in film, Grace Kelly was appointed head of the US delegation to Cannes, where she met Prince Rainier III. The two were soon married, and Grace Kelly became Princess Grace, eventually giving birth to an heir, Albert II, the grand-nephew of George Kelly.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

Although the vogue of the time George Kelly wrote in, throughout the 1920s and 1930s, was towards modernism and more experimental forms of theatre, he tended to stay with traditional structures and styles. His plays were moral plays, with little subtle shading, telling stories simply and with great moral force behind them. The main focus of his work is on egoists, picking them apart and demonstrating the enormous flaws in their character. There is little sentimentality in his plays, little true love or affection, but the plays are rarely overly dark.

The Torch-Bearers, Kelly’s first work, from 1923, picks apart a theatre troupe consisting exclusively of self-obsessed, unprofessional, indulgent actors and an unworkable director. His next work, The Show-Off, from 1924, was by far his most popular work commercially. It follows a businessman who is annoying and unlikable in nearly every way, wearing a toupee, laughing obnoxiously at everything anyone says, lying to everyone he meets, and generally proving a nuisance to everyone he meets.

While the first two plays were fairly farcical, with a relatively light tone, his third piece, Craig’s Wife, abandoned any pretense of gentleness in his critique. Craig’s Wife follows a domestic housewife as she methodically destroys her marriage through her own obsessions. She insists on keeping her house spotless and pristine, in the process driving away her friends, and ultimately driving her doting and protective husband away. The play ends with the woman, Harriet Craig, standing alone in a perfect house. It was made into three distinct movies, in 1928, 1936, and 1950.

Throughout his life George Kelly was a closeted homosexual, keeping up a secret fifty-five year relationship with William Weagley. His sexual orientation was an incredibly closely-guarded secret, and his family, with the exception of his niece Grace, absolutely refused to accept it. Some critics have suggested that his orientation led to his harsh portrayal of women in his plays, which eventually led to a massive loss of popularity in his later plays.

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Discussion Comments


@dega2010: Yes, there was. George Kelly was a power-hitting first baseman who led the National league in number of home runs in 1921. He finished in the top six in that category six different times. He was also the primary RBI man in the midst of John McGraw’s Giant lineup that won 4 straight pennants from the years 1921-1924.

He was 6’4” and was nicknamed “Highpockets”. He was one of the fan favorites in New York and pretty much everywhere else he played.


Wasn't there also a baseball player by the name of George Kelly?

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