On January 20th, 1920 Jackson DeForest Kelley was born to Ernest D. and Clara Casey Kelley in Atlanta, GA. He was born at home, delivered by his uncle, who was a doctor. His dad was a baptist minister, his mother, a housewife. In 1936 Kelley graduated from the Decatur Boys’ High School, in Decatur, GA, at the age of 16. He then found work at a theater as an usher and started to sing in the choir at his dad’s church. He soon realized that he was a good singer and that he enjoyed it, which led to his performing on WSB radio station in Atlanta. Later on, he performed at the Paramount Theater with Lew Forbes and his orchestra. Kelly soon realized that he much enjoyed entertaining and performing so he decided to visit his Uncle Casey, who resided in Long Beach, CA, in order to be nearer the heart of the American entertainment business. He originally planned to stay for only two weeks, but changed his mind. Wishing to pay his own way, he took on meager jobs such as mopping floors and working as an elevator operator.
While sitting in a restaurant one day, Kelley met Ron Hawke, the director of a local theater. Hawke asked Kelley if he had any experience on stage. Since Kelley had previously sung on stage, he told Hawke that yes he did have stage experience. He tried out for Hawke’s play and received a role. Kelley took advantage of this experience to overcome his Georgia accent and perfect his acting abilities. During this same time he captured the attention of a talent scout who said that Kelley had a real talent for acting. This gave Kelley the confidence to continue to pursue acting and he continued to work in the entertainment field on stage and on radio.
In 1942, while working with the Long Beach Theater Group, he landed a role in the play, “The Innocent Young Man”. He worked with a young, female co-star named Carolyn Dowling. Kelley and Dowling began dating in real life, it seemed to DeForest that he had found the woman of his dreams. On March 10th, 1943 however, Kelley and Dowling were forced to put their relationship on hold as the U.S. had officially engaged in World War II and Kelley enlisted in the Army Air Corps. At the beginning of his service he was stationed in New Mexico, later on he was repositioned in Culver City where his acting skills were put to use making training films for the Navy. Finally, on September 7th,1945 Carolyn and DeForest were married, even though DeForest had another four months left on his tour of duty. Kelley was discharged, honorably, from the Army on the 28th day of January, 1946 and he and Carolyn got on with their lives.
A Paramount talent scout, who happened to see one of Kelley’s Navy training movies, offered him work with the studio, Kelley signed on with a three year contract. His first movie, “Fear in the Night”, was low budget but it appealed to audiences. Kelley’s career in acting was at last receiving some recognition.
Kelley spent a number of the following years acting in several movies, mostly Westerns. He usually had roles portraying tough guys(heavies). He made himself accessible for work in television as well. He had several guest appearances on programs such as, “The Lone Ranger”, “Waterfront” and “The Lone Wolf”. Through these appearances, his name and face became known to American audiences. Not wanting to become typecast, he sought out a different type of role and landed a part in the drama, “Where Love has Gone” and an episode of “Alcoa Theater” titled “333 Montgomery Street”, which was written by Gene Roddenberry
Some years went by then Kelley was contacted again by Gene Roddenberry to audition for a role in “Star Trek”. Kelley originally tried out for the part of Spock, but it was soon discovered that he was a better fit for the part of Dr. Leonard McCoy (bones), the role that made him famous.
After “Star Trek”was canceled in 1969, Kelley relaxed a bit. Aside from a few guest star appearances on shows such as “Ironside” and doing the voice for his character on the animated “Star Trek” series, he focused on his home life and spending quality time with his wife. Kelley later returned to the role of Dr. McCoy six more times in each of the six Star Trek movies that were made.
DeForest and Carolyn enjoyed 54 years of wedded bliss until, sadly, DeForest passed away from stomach cancer on the 11th of June, 1999 at 79 years of age. Another 5 years passed, then Carolyn passed away as well, in October of 2004.