Judy Kelly – From the outback to Elstree Studios

Above: It seems every film star once smoked like a chimney. Judy Kelly in a publicity photo of the early 1940s – and a long way from Narrabri, New South Wales. Author’s collection.

Judy Kelly made a name for herself performing on the stage and on screen in England between 1932 and 1949. She is unusual in some respects because her pathway to becoming a recognised actor seems – at first glance – to have been achieved with remarkable ease, when compared to the trials and tribulations of others. She had no professional acting experience in her native Australia and yet by 1949 she had almost fifty film credits behind her and she had emerged as a competent actor.

She was born Julie Aileen Kelly at Narrabri, an inland town of New South Wales, about 500 kilometres north west of Sydney, in 1913. An older brother Owen Arthur had been born in 1911. Judy’s mother Blanche Esse nee Davis belonged to a well connected farming family, from the more prosperous southern area of the state.

At the time of his marriage to Blanche in 1911, Eugene Gerald Kelly, had been appointed a teacher at a one teacher school. Mogil Mogil was remote – a town with a tiny population but supporting two pubs and a butcher, with uncertain school enrolments , uncertain rainfall and a reputation for hitting 114 degrees fahrenheit in the shade in summer (45.5 degrees C). Perhaps the reason they had moved to the relative comfort of Narrabri in 1913 was because remote life was so hard. But by 1916 Blanche had moved again, taking the children with her to the pastoral property of her brother, H. M. Davis, near Robertson, in the green rolling hills of the southern highlands. Here, another daughter, Betty, was born in 1917. Eugene joined the Australian Army in 1916, in the great enlistment surge after Gallipoli, being posted overseas soon after.

Judy and her siblings spent much of their childhood growing up on another Davis family farm at Lockhart, in the Riverina district. Of Judy’s childhood we know little, except that she had adopted the name “Judy” well before she travelled to England, and she may have dabbled in some amateur theatricals while at Wagga Grammar School. Blanche and Eugene were finally divorced – acrimoniously and publicly – in 1923.  (Note 1)

Blanche and Judy leave AustraliaIn April 1932, 19 year old Judy won a “Talkie Quest,” a drawn out competition run by the short-lived Sydney newspaper “The World” in collaboration with the Capital Cinema and British International Pictures (BIP).

Reportedly, 1,200 young women entered the competition, whose judges included director Ken Hall and actor Bert Bailey. The prize was very attractive – it included three months training at Elstree in England and a try-out in films. Judy was described as a teacher by several newspapers, but if that was so she  must have been unqualified, given her age. But most later accounts stated she was a cinema usher.

Above:  Blanche and Judy departing for London. The Home, An Australian Quarterly. Vol. 13 No. 8. August 1, 1932. Via National Library of Australia Trove.

After extraordinary publicity and many farewells, Judy and her mother departed for England on the P&O ship Cathage, arriving on 29 July, 1932. She was set to work for BIP almost immediately and the transition to British film actor all went remarkably well. But not surprisingly, in the British Pathe newsreel made soon after she arrived, she still looked very young and uncomfortable in front of the camera. She acknowledged how hard it was at first, when she told a journalist I have only made one friend. Molly Lamont — fellow Colonials they call us, since she is South African. There is a terribly impersonal atmosphere about a studio. Directors look right through you and murmur: ‘What are we going to call this young woman?'”

Judy claimed her first experience of film was with Molly Lamont, as an extra in Lord Camber’s Ladies (other sources state it was Sleepless Nights), but her first credited role in a film for BIP was in Money Talks. This was a 70 minute BIP quickie comedy, a vehicle for popular vaudeville and radio comedian Julian Rose and produced by the prolific Walter C Mycroft.  Judy had a small role as the daughter of Abe Pilstein (played by Rose). Thereafter, she appeared in a string of mostly program fillers – or B-films, often mysteries and crime dramas such as Crime on the Hill (1933), The Four Masked Men and The Black Abbot (1934). But at the same time, she can also be seen in a few supporting and un-credited roles in quality films, such as Alexander Korda‘s The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) and The Rise of Catherine the Great (1934).

Judy Kelly British!May 1933
Above Left and centre: An early cigarette card photo of  a very young Judy Kelly. The short bio on the card may confuse the casual reader today – reflecting the reality that many people considered Australians of the time to be “British born”. Author’s collection.
At right: A still of Judy from Everyone’s Magazine, May 10, 1933. It is reportedly from the BIF film Their Night Out. In later years she explained she took every role offered to her. Via the National Library of Australia’s Trove.

Judy developed a reputation for working hard. She judged competitions, appeared at openings, modeled clothes and sought out every acting opportunity she could. (Click here for a British Pathe newsreel of Judy judging some laundry sports in 1937). Doubtless this also had something to do with advice from her agent – the well known Herbert de Leon, who also represented Margaret Lockwood, Greer Garson, John Wood and numerous others.

Back in Australia, sometime in March 1933, Judy’s sister Betty managed to accidentally shoot herself in the arm. She was trying to shoot a sting-ray, she said, and the injury , although minor, might delay her plans to travel to England to become an actor like her sister. About a year later, she and older brother Owen finally arrived in England on the SS Barrabool. All three Kelly children settled into life with Blanche in an apartment in London’s Paddington. None of them ever returned to Australia. The contrast between a quiet life in rural New South Wales, and London, the bustling capital of the Empire, must have been stark.

Judy and Betty Kelly
On 21 April, 1934, The Australian Women’s Weekly compared Judy (left), who had now lost a great deal of weight, with a photo of her sister Betty (right), photographed while en-route to England.  Via The National Library of Australia’s Trove. 

It was no wonder Betty thought she, too might become an actor. Judy Kelly was now well established (and was much more at ease in front of the camera) as the following British Pathe newsreels suggest.

But as the 1930s wore on, some of Judy Kelly’s feature films continued to be like her first. British films of the 1930s were often made on a limited budget, sometimes produced to fulfil the exhibitor’s obligations under the Cinematograph Films Act (1927) – which was to show a certain proportion of British films in their programs. But this era of filmmaking doesn’t necessarily deserve the bad reputation it has sometimes been given – the films were a “mixed bag” that included great successes amongst the forgettable and underwhelming. Judy’s repertoire reflected this diverse range of films. It included light romantic comedies, mysteries and even a few jaunty musicals, including Charing Cross Road (1935) with John Mills and Over She Goes (1937) with Sydney-born actor John Wood

Judy Kelly and John Wood Over She Goes
Above: a screen grab of Judy Kelly as Anne Mayhew, with fellow Australian John Wood (1909-1965) as the eligible Lord Harry in the musical Over She Goes. She plays Harry’s gold-digging former fiancee. This rarely screened film can be purchased from networkonair.com. Author’s collection. 

It was Margaret Lockwood who said“The British star who waits for the ideal role… will do a lot of waiting” and one can’t help but feel Judy Kelly might have sometimes felt the same way. Perhaps this explains why from the late 1930s, she was also found performing on the stage, with some success. In 1937, she went on a tour of South Africa, performing in Barre Lyndon‘s crime drama The Amazing Doctor Clitterhouse. The play had been a hit in London, and like so many new plays of the 1930s it was quickly made into a film – by Hollywood in this case. Judy also appeared on stage in light comedies and musicals such as (Australian writer) Eric Coppel‘s Believe it or Not in 1940, Stanley Lupino‘s musical Lady Behave in 1941, Vernon Sylvaine‘s farce Women Aren’t Angels in 1941 and his comedy-thriller Warn that Man in 1943.

Two of Judy Kelly’s stage appearances. Lady Behave was a musical, Warn That Man a thriller. Author’s collection.

One striking feature of Judy Kelly’s story is her consciousness of being an Australian at work in England. She wrote a few articles for popular Australian paper “Smith’s Weekly” that expressed that awareness – including an unusually frank comment about England’s class system; “The English are a curious people—so curious, indeed, that I, an Australian, sometimes feel a foreigner among them…To anyone reared in the Australian democratic tradition, (the) alignment of social forces is inexplicable.”  It was doubtless coincidental, but she appeared in a number of films with fellow Australians busy working in England – amongst them Coral Browne (Charing Cross Road in 1935) Betty Stockfeld and Edward Ashley (Under Proof in 1936), Frank Leighton ( The Last Chance in 1937),  John Wood (Over She Goes in 1937 and Luck of the Navy in 1938), Ian Fleming (The Butler’s Dilemma in 1943) and John Warwick (Dancing with Crime in 1947). She reported that at times she bought her friends Australian presents and sometimes she mixed with other Australians – including Patti Morgan, whose 1949 wedding she attended.

Judy kelly 2

Judy Kelly in a publicity photo c 1945 and looking every bit the movie star. Author’s collection 

Judy Kelly in Tomorrow we Live 1942Like many of the actors profiled on this website, Judy Kelly also made her contribution to British propaganda in several films – including Luck of the Navy (1938) and Tomorrow We Live (1943). This genre of British films is also interesting for the liberal use of refugee actors from Nazi- Europe,  in the case of the latter film – this includes Herbert Lom, Karel Štěpánek and Fritz Wendhausen.

Above: This is a screen grab from Tomorrow We Live, re-titled At Dawn We Die for the US market. Judy plays Germaine from the bar. She looks a little sad because the man she is keen on – Jean Baptiste – has just said “goodnight little cabbage” before dismissing her. Author’s collection.

Her final films are perhaps her most notable. In 1945 she appeared in a small role in the well received British horror film Dead of Night. But it was in John Paddy Carstairs’ film-noir crime thriller Dancing With Crime (1947) that she most demonstrated her ability. Set in a perpetually wet and dark post-war London, she played Toni, a hard drinking dance hostess for a dodgy Dance Hall, really a front for black market operations. Richard Attenborough plays Ted Peters – a salt of the earth taxi driver, while Joy, played by Sheila Sim, is his perpetually worried girlfriend. It’s the sort of film where the characters say cheerful things like “Don’t worry about me Ducks” and “I’m off to see a man about a fortune” between fighting or shooting at each other. In the end, Toni cooperates with the Police Inspector, played by Australian John Warwick, while Ted and Joy are sent off home to enjoy the rest of their lives.

Judy Kelly in Dancing w crime

Here is Judy Kelly as Toni, giving her boss (one of the gangsters, played by Barry K. Barnes) a piece of her mind, in Dancing with Crime (1947). Author’s collection.

In 1949 Judy appeared in Warning to Wantons, where she plays the mother of the insufferable Renee (Anne Vernon), a sixteen year old who is determined to use her feminine guile to manipulate the dopey eligible Count Max (David Tomlinson) on the eve of his wedding, plus any other men she meets. It’s well acted but the plot is so unpalatable it makes tiresome viewing today. It is worth noting that Kelly was only 36 while playing a mother in this, her final film. It was based on a novel with the same title by Australian novelist Mary Mitchell . (Note 2)

  Eric Summer ILN Sept 17 1966   Judy Kelly Birmingham Gazette May 31 1952

Above Left: Eric Summer photographed in 1966. Illustrated London News, 17 September 1966. Copyright ILN Group.
Above Right: Judy Kelly and her baby in 1952. Birmingham Gazette, 31 May 1952. Via British Newspaper Archive.

In April 1946 Judy married Eric Summer, a businessman, lawyer and former British Army colonel. Amongst Summer’s later accomplishments was his Chairmanship of Royston Industries, makers of the first Black box flight recorders. A son was born of the union in 1952.

Betty Kelly did not develop an acting career. But from 1938-1949 she was married to popular English comedian Michael Howard. Judy’s older brother Owen Arthur Kelly served in the British Army in World War II. He married Vera Felix (Kempner) in 1941.

Judy Kelly retired from acting in 1949 and lived much of her later life in the Surrey countryside. Unfortunately this talented actor left no further commentaries about her work or life. She died in London in 1991, aged 77.

 


 

Note 1
Judy’s father, Eugene Gerald Kelly was never mentioned in her biographies. At best, it was inferred her father had been a pastoralist, occasionally it was stated he was dead.  The reason for his disappearance from the family story is hinted at by examination of his colourful wartime military record in the 45th Battalion, Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) – available online in the Australian National Archives. In addition, a clumsy attempt by Eugene to pretend to be dead in 1920, apparently in an effort to avoid paying Blanche child support, was reported by “Truth” newspaper. Clearly Eugene’s relationship with his wife and children fractured irrevocably. It is a testimony to their fortitude that they successfully rebuilt their lives in Britain without further contact.

Note 2
The IMDB lists Judy as appearing in a British film Adam’s Apple/Honeymoon Abroad  in 1928 and in the US in the Jack Benny TV show in 1954. These are different people. There is no record of her travelling to the UK at the age of 15 to play a “Vamp” and the woman in the Jack Benny show was a well known US-born dancer, who had also worked with Bob Hope.

 

Nick Murphy
September 2019

 

Further reading

Texts

  • Kurt Gänzl (1986) British Musical Theatre Vol. 2. Oxford University Press.
  • Brian McFarlane (1997) An Autobiography of British Cinema. Methuen
    (Produced too late to interview Judy Kelly, this wonderful book contains interviews with many of her contemporaries)
  • Robert Murphy (2009) The British Cinema Book. BFI Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Vincent Porter (Ed) (2006) Walter Mycroft: The Time of My Life. The Scarecrow Press.
  • Jeffery Richards (Ed) (1998) The Unknown 1930s. An Alternative History of the British Cinema, 1929-1939. I.B.Taurus
  • J.P. Wearing (2014) The London Stage 1940-1949: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel. Rowman & Littlefield.

Online

  • Ancestry.com

NSW Police Gazettes 1919-1923
UK Shipping records
UK Census records

  • National Library of Australia – Trove

GOSSIP FOR WOMEN. The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld.)  28 Jan 1911  P.10

FAKED OBITUARY. Truth (Brisbane, Qld.) 29 April 1923: P.13.

LONELIEST GIRL IN ENGLAND, The Daily News, (Perth, WA)19 September, 1932. P. 2.

WILL I SUCCEED? JUDY KELLY’S IMPRESSIONS Everyone’s. 23 November 1932.

JUDY KELLY TELLS HOW IT FEELS TO CRASH TALKIES. Everyone’s. 30 November 1932.

THE PICTURE PARADE. Everyone’s. 10 May 1933.

ANOTHER FILM KELLY. Western Mail (Perth, WA) 5 April 1934 P.33

PARIS PRESENTS NEW IDEAS IN FURNISHINGSmith’s Weekly (Sydney, NSW), 4 January,  1936. p.16.

MISS AUSTRALIA, 1937 Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga, NSW) 10 Mar 1937 P.4

YOUNG AUSTRALIANS IMPORTANT IN ELSTREE STUDIO News (Adelaide, SA) 8 Jul 1937 :  P. 12

Eugene Gerald Kelly #2263, Service record, 4/45 Battalion, AIF.

Patti Morgan – from Bondi beach to Beirut

Patti Morgan on the cover of Sydney’s Sunday Sun, 19 May, 1946. She was almost 18, and the world was at her feet. Via the National Library of Australia’s Trove. Photographer unknown.

Patti Morgan was born Patricia Joan Morgan in Sydney in 1928. Her mother was Irene, her father James was a company manager, and the family lived in the comfortable eastern suburb of Vaucluse, Sydney. Their old home has long since been demolished but looking around the suburb today one can still imagine what a sunny life was had by Patti and her younger brother Jim, at 99 Kings Rd, even in the dark days of the early 1940s. Patti attended Sydney Church of England Girls Grammar School, a private girls school that still operates in inner Sydney today.

Throughout her life, Patti’s modelling and acting was well documented by an enthusiastic Australian press. Patti’s appearance – she was 172 centimetres or 5′ 8″ tall, blonde and trim, epitomized the stereotypical sporty outdoors Australian girl. In the end Patti did relatively little acting, although she did become a well known model and TV hostess in England.


Below: A very young Patti Morgan, from the Daily Telegraph, 4 May 1944. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

Patti in 1944She first popped up in publicity in 1944, when she was 16. She was a young singer and dancer with ability and some connections, and she gained a small role in a Red Cross show for US Forces in Australia, singing and taking on the role of cartoon character “Windy City Kitty”. (Kitty was a similar character to Norman Pett’s “Jane” who appeared in the London Daily Mirror during WWII). Despite the publicity, she did not particularly resemble Jack Crowe’s character, drawn for Yank Down Under magazine, nor the many Kittys who were usually drawn  on the noses of USAAF aircraft. Never the less, appearing to enthusiastic service audiences was a great opportunity for a patriotic young woman who had her heart set on a career as a performer, and she seems to have reveled in it.

In May 1945 she entered the Miss Australia contest with the support of the New South Wales Police Boys Clubs. The preliminaries for the contest dragged on for months and in the end she didn’t win, but it didn’t matter – the fund raising events, parades and modelling assignments put Patti firmly in the public eye. Patti’s appearances as a “pin-up” photo model also dates from this time. She gained such popularity that one RAF Lancaster squadron allegedly wrote to her asking her “permission” to paint her image on one of their aircraft. Writer Madeleine Hamilton’s survey of Australian women who became pin-ups at this time includes Australasian Post’s account and Patti’s response. The Australian War Memorial also holds the accompanying photo.


Above left: Patti Morgan (Undated but probably 1945-46) from the Australian War Memorial collection. The record accompanying states Patti’s portrait was painted on one of the Lancaster bombers of 50 Squadron RAAF. (But 50 squadron was a RAF squadron)
Above right: Patti with Sub Lieutenant Geoffrey Ross Downer of HMS Venerable, shortly after their engagement was announced in April 1946. She broke off the engagement in October 1947. The Sunday Telegraph, April 1946, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove.

In April 1946 her engagement to a Royal Navy officer from the British Pacific Fleet (then based in Sydney) was announced. She continued modelling and took up acting classes. In October, newspapers picked up the story that she had been offered a 7 year contract with the Rank film organisation. It was wrong, of course. Rank had offered her an audition if she made her way to London. Somehow, Australians and their journalists remained convinced a film contract could be offered to an untested but beautiful antipodean. Very similar accounts of Mary Maguire and Jocelyn Howarth being offered overseas film work had appeared ten years before.


Patti in July 1946, photographed by Norm Herfort. Source Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales and Courtesy ACP Magazines Ltd. This is part of a large folio of photos of Patti now in the Mitchell library.

In mid March 1947, Patti and her mother headed off for England aboard the MV SelandiaThe Daily Telegraph reported that she took a wardrobe that “included 20 evening gowns, 35 dresses, 15 suits, three dozen pairs of shoes, and a dozen hats.” On arrival in London she may have been tested by Rank, but within a few weeks she announced that she had a contract with Premier Productions, a new company under the leadership of Maurice Ostrer. Ostrer had left a successful career at Gainsborough films after a serious disagreement with J Arthur Rank, regarding the artificial and “lurid tone” of films he believed the public liked. Rank did not approve.

Patti had good reason to be confident about her first film, Idol of Paris. Apart from Ostrer’s involvement, the director was Leslie Arliss who had directed The Wicked Lady and the cast included well known actors Michael Rennie, Margaretta Scott and Miles Malleson. Unfortunately, the completed film, meant to be in the “Gainsborough style,” was a complete critical and popular disaster. The film is impossible to find today, but we know that on release the reviews were universally negative and the box office did not ignite. C. A. Lejeune, the London Observer’s film reviewer, even felt it could be the worst film of 1948, were it not for the fact it made him laugh and laugh it was so silly. “Such stupendous imbecility in a film… (with) such excruciating dialogue, demands a sort of recognition…” he wrote in his 7 March review. Variety’s review dismissed the script as “ill-written and corny” and the film not worthy of export to the US. The film stalled the careers of a number of young actors, including Beryl Baxter and Patti, while it ended Maurice Ostrer’s efforts at independent film production altogether.


Left: Beryl Baxter, Director Leslie Arliss and Patti on the set of “Idol of Paris.” From Pix Magazine, 4 October, 1947. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove  
Right: Patti in a random English publicity shot in 1947 when she was under contract to Premier Productions. Author’s Collection. 

Patti was able to develop a profile through work as a model however, and a new opportunity also beckoned in Britain’s fledgling TV industry. In 1949 she met and married Victor Silvester (Junior) and at the same time, joined Victor Silvester (Senior)’s very popular television show Dancing Club, as the regular hostess.


Left: Victor Silvester Junior with Patti. The Sydney Sun, May 9, 1948. Via the National Library of Australia’s Trove
Middle: Patti on her wedding day – in a dress made by mother Irene. The Northern Whig and Belfast Post, July 29, 1949 via British Library Newspaper Archive Project.
Right: Patti met younger brother Jim again, when HMAS Sydney visited Britain for the Coronation. Here she stokes Jim’s naval beard. The Argus, May 15, 1953. Via the National Library of Australia’s Trove

Although Patti did not find more than a few roles as an extra in British films and the odd role on stage in a production for charity, she was very active throughout the fifties as a mannequin for designers like Norman Hartnell and with her television work. British Pathe newsreels regularly featured Patti, the following being some examples:

In 1957 Patti finally did take a leading role in a film. Booby Trap was a rather silly suspense/crime film that at 70 minutes in length was almost certainly intended as a cinema program filler – a second feature. Here Patti finally did demonstrate her ability as an actress – and she performs well given the limitations of the role as Jackie. Even after ten years in the UK, her voice sometimes still sounds as though it’s straight from Sydney, as in this example!

Patti Morgan as Jackie and Harry Fowler as Sammy in “Booby Trap” (1957). Renown Pictures re-released this film in 2015. 

Patti’s marriage to Victor Silvester ended soon after she made this film. In January 1958 she married Dany Chamoun, the second son of former Lebanese President Camille Chamoun. Thereafter she spent much of her time in Beirut. Her 2001 obituary in the London Daily Telegraph, apparently written by someone who knew her well, states that she set up her own modelling agency and television production company in Beirut. But her businesses and her marriage did not survive Lebanon’s catastrophic civil war – that raged from 1975 to 1990. She moved back to London in about 1980. Dany and his second wife were murdered in 1990.

Patti made several return visits to Australia – briefly in 1962 and for a longer visit in 1972. On the latter occasion, The Sydney Morning Herald claimed “the goddess has returned,”  and indeed she was welcomed by many old friends, spending her month in Sydney near the beach at Bondi, where she had spent so much time in the 1940s.

Patti in Australia in 1972Patti in Sydney in 1972, surrounded by admirers. Source; The Australian Women’s Weekly, August 24, 1972. Photographer unknown. National Library of Australia via Trove.

Patti died in London in 2001, aged only 72. Almost every account of Patti records her good humour, confident sense of self and her resilience. There are numerous press references to the difficult life she coped with while living in war-torn Beirut. Her obituary also states that she struggled with diabetes in later life.

Patti’s daughter Tracy Chamoun was born in 1960 and closely resembles her Australian-born mother in appearance. Fluent in Arabic, French and English, she has been a key voice advocating for liberal democracy in Lebanon. At the time of writing she is Lebanon’s ambassador to Jordan.

Patti signature

Patti’s signature – c 1955. Author’s collection

Note

  1. The Internet Movie database incorrectly credits Patti with roles in several films made in Hollywood in 1947. However, the Patti Morgan who signed with the Hal Roach studio in the US in April 1946 was a US born actress, and a brunette.

 

Nick Murphy
July 2019

 

Further Reading

  • Madeleine Hamilton (2009) Our Girls; Aussie pinups of the 40s and 50s. Arcade Publications
  • Harris M. Lentz (2002) Obituaries in the Performing Arts, 2001: Film, Television, Radio, Theatre, Dance, Music, Cartoons and Pop Culture. McFarland Books
  • Joe Moran (2013) Armchair Nation: An intimate history of Britain in front of the TV. Profile Books
  • James Nott (2015) Going to the Palais: A Social and Cultural History of Dancing and Dance Halls in Britain, 1918-1960. Oxford University Press
  • Michael Brooke: Screen Online; The Definitive guide to Britain’s Film & TV History. Maurice Ostrer
  • The Telegraph, 6 February 2001. Patti Chamoun obituary. Anon
  • Variety, March 1948. Review of the Idol of Paris. At the Internet Archive.
  • Tracy Chamoun website