Remembering DeForest Kelley, born January 20, 1920 and passed away on June 11, 1999.
Jackson DeForest Kelley was famous for his role as Leonard “Bones” McCoy, MD, on Star Trek: The Original Series. He went on to voice the character on The Animated Series and to play the character in the first six Star Trek movies. He also appeared as an aged Admiral McCoy in the Star Trek: The Next Generation pilot episode “Encounter at Farpoint”. Footage of Kelley from “The Trouble with Tribbles” was used in the Deep Space Nine episode “Trials and Tribble-ations”.
Kelley was born in Atlanta, Georgia.
Having always wanted to be a doctor yet thwarted by the Great Depression, Kelley instead went into show business starting as a singer with the Lew Forbes Orchestra and in radio.
In 1937 Kelley went to Long Beach, California, to stay with his uncle for two weeks. Those two weeks became a year. Even after returning to Georgia, he decided that California was where he wanted to be. While living in California, Kelley joined a local theater group. There he met Carolyn Dowling, whom he would marry in 1945.
During the Second World War, Kelley served as a bomber crew member. Towards the end of the war, a talent scout for Paramount Pictures saw Kelley in a Navy training film which led to a screen test and a contract, starring in his first motion picture Fear in the Night. Later that same year, Kelley co-starred with such legendary entertainers as Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in the musical comedy Variety Girl.
Kelley went on to co-star in Canon City. He appeared in smaller, uncredited roles in several films throughout the 1950s, most notably The Men (1950), House of Bamboo (1955) and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956). He did, however, have a larger, supporting role in the 1955 film noir Illegal.
Throughout the late 1950s and the 1960s, he starred or appeared primarily in Westerns. He played Morgan Earp in the acclaimed 1957 John Sturges Western Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Interestingly enough, Kelley had earlier played Ike Clanton on a 1955 episode of You Are There entitled “The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral”. He, of course, revisited the O.K. Corral one more time on Star Trek in the 1968 episode, “Spectre of the Gun”.
Kelley then appeared in such classic Westerns as Sturges’ The Law and Jake Wade (1958), Warlock (1959) and Town Tamer (1965). He also co-starred in a few non-Westerns during this time, including Where Love Has Gone (1964) and the 1965 comedy Marriage on the Rocks.
During this time, he made guest appearances on a number of television series, including Gunsmoke, Perry Mason, Death Valley Days, The Untouchables, and The Fugitive. In a 1962 episode of Bonanza, Kelley played a doctor for the first time. In 1963, Kelley appeared in an episode of The Virginian. This episode, entitled “Duel at Shiloh”, was edited together with another episode to produce a TV special called The Bull of the West, which aired in 1971. Later in 1963, Kelley guest-starred in a second episode of The Virginian, “Man of Violence”. That show marked the second time Kelley played a doctor.
In 1964, Kelley was on the top of writer-producer Gene Roddenberry’s list of actors for the role of the ship’s doctor in “The Cage”, the first Star Trek pilot. However, director Robert Butler suggested veteran actor John Hoyt for the role.
A year later, Kelley made a small appearance in the pilot episode of Roddenberry’s series Police Story. The series was not sold and the pilot was finally aired on television in September, 1967. This Police Story, however, is not to be confused with a later NBC series of the same name, on which Kelley guest-starred in 1973.
The same year, Roddenberry wanted Kelley to replace Hoyt for the second Trek pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”. However, he was again overruled by the director (James Goldstone), who wanted Paul Fix for the role. Finally, in 1966, Roddenberry could cast Kelley as the new chief surgeon, Leonard McCoy for the regular series, starting with “The Corbomite Maneuver”.
He appeared in very few movies after being cast as Dr. McCoy; his only non-Trek feature film following the cancellation of Star Trek was the 1972 horror/science fiction B-movie Night of the Lepus. Kelley did, however, continue working in television, guest-starring on shows like Ironside and Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law.
After Star Trek was resurrected as a motion picture franchise with the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979, Kelley took on few other roles.
A few months prior to making his appearance in “Encounter at Farpoint”, Kelley expressed skepticism concerning Star Trek: The Next Generation. “It’s a mystery to me why they are doing it,” he remarked. “I assume Paramount thinks they can hold onto the Star Trek phenomena. There’s no doubt we can’t go on forever, so they’re trying a way to keep it going. But there’s only one Star Trek, and that’s ours.” A few years later he hosted the short documentary To Boldly Go, a making-of featurette of The Next Generation.
Kelley’s only non-Trek role throughout the 1990s (and his final role before his death) was the voice of Viking I in the direct-to-video animated movie The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars.
Kelley retired from acting in the mid 1990s, and succumbed to stomach cancer on June 11, 1999.
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