Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Jack Kelly - America's Other Maverick

He was born John Augustus Kelly, Jr., on September 16th, 1927, in Astoria, Queens, New York. Though he was born a "city boy," he became a Western hero. "Jackie," as he was called as a child, came from a prominent theatrical family. His mother, Nan Kelly, had been a popular stage actress and a John Robert Powers model.

Kelly's father was a theater ticket broker, and after he moved the family to Hollywood, and went into the real estate business. His sister, Oscar-nominated actress Nancy Kelly, was a prominent movie child star turned leading lady. His other two siblings, Carole and William Clement, also tried showbusiness. It's said that when they were children, his mother would not let them eat meat and would never give them medicine when they were sick. Imagine that.

Jack Kelly made his film debut in an uncredited role in the 1939 biopic The Story of Alexander Graham Bell, opposite Don Ameche and Loretta Young. After appearing in several films and television series, Mr. Kelly landed his first starring role in a television series in 1955 with a one-season effort based on the 1942 feature film Kings Row.

Mr. Kelly played Dr. Parris Mitchell, a young psychiatrist coping with the narrow-minded environment of his small town. The series was one-third of the Warner Bros. The Presents Wheel series was hosted by Gig Young. It rotated at the scheduled hour of 7:30 Eastern on Tuesday with a similar television version of the popular movie Casablanca as well as the new Western series Cheyenne starring Clint Walker. After the series ended in 1956, Jack Kelly went on to appear in Forbidden Planet (1956) and She-Devil (1957), along with guest roles on Fireside Theater, Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, Lux Video Theatre, and Gunsmoke.

Then came Maverick (1957–1962).

James Garner as Bret Maverick with Jack Kelly as Bart Maverick

As an American film and television actor, Jack Kelly is most noted for the role of Bart Maverick in the 1950s television Western series Maverick, which ran on ABC from 1957 to 1962. Though James Garner was originally supposed to be the only Maverick, the studio eventually hired Jack Kelly to play his brother, Bart, starting with the eighth episode.

The show's demanding filming schedule had caused production to lag behind early on. Because of that lag time, the producers decided to give Bret Maverick a brother so as not to run out of episodes long before the end of the season. The producers had realized that it took over a week to shoot a single episode, so Jack Kelly was hired to rotate with James Garner as the series lead, using two separate crews -- while occasionally appearing together.

Bart Maverick first appeared in the episode Hostage. It’s said that the producers were concerned about his being accepted by the viewers. So in that episode, in order to engender audience sympathy for the new character, the script called for him to be tied up and beaten by an evil police officer.

According to series creator Roy Huggins in his Archive of American Television interview, the two brothers were purposely written to be virtual clones, with no apparent differences inherent in the scripts whatsoever. This included being traveling poker players, loving money, professing to be cowards, spouting intriguing words of advice their "Pappy" passed down to them, and carrying a $1,000 bill pinned to the inside of a coat for emergency purposes, but there was one accidental distinction.

James Garner's episodes tended to be more comedic due to his obvious talent in that area, while Jack Kelly's were inclined to be more dramatic. Huggins also noted in the Archive of American Television interview that Jack Kelly, while funnier than James Garner "off-camera", dropped a funny line "like a load of coal" on camera.

At 6 feet 3 inches tall, James Garner was also two inches taller than Jack Kelly. This led to a character in one episode, Seed of Deception, to refer to James Garner as "the big one" and the 6 feet 1 inch Jack Kelly as "the little one".

To get disappointed viewers used to the idea of a second Maverick, James Garner filmed a series of vignettes that aired at the beginning of the Jack Kelly-only episodes, where he would introduce the evening's story. Mr. Kelly did the same in the James Garner-only episode, Black Fire, by appearing in the opening vignette to introduce the story and narrating the remainder of the episode.

While he may not have matched James Garner's popularity on Maverick, Jack Kelly did have his enthusiastic admirers. Possessing an easy-going screen presence, Jack Kelly enjoyed an attentive following among female viewers of the series. And while Jack Kelly developed a following among the show's female fans, not everyone was happy with his addition to the cast.

It was said that the chairman of Kaiser Aluminum, which was the series' main sponsor at the time, became so mad when Jack Kelly was brought in that he was heard to say, "I paid for red apples and I get green apples!"

It's also said that ABC had to make a new deal with Kaiser Aluminum as a result. A deal that supposedly cost the network a small fortune. The episodes featuring the two were audience favorites, with critics frequently citing the chemistry between the Maverick brothers. 

Bret and Bart often found themselves competing for women or money, or working together in some elaborate scheme to get even with someone who had just robbed or swindled one of them. Though it was never said explicitly, Bret appears to be the older, stating once in response to someone mentioning lightning striking twice in the same place, "That's just what my Pappy said when he looked in my brother Bart's crib." Of course, in real life, Jack Kelly was seven months older than James Garner. 

Jack Kelly shared the lead with James Garner in one of the show's most-discussed episodes, Shady Deal at Sunny Acres, on which the first half of the 1973 movie The Sting appears to be based.

In the episode Shady Deal at Sunny Acres, in which Bret spends most of the acclaimed episode apparently relaxing in a rocking chair, calmly whittling and offhandedly assuring the inquisitive and derisively amused townspeople that he's "working on it" while Bart runs a complex sting operation to get even with a crooked banker who'd stolen Bret's deposit of $15,000.

James Garner notes in his memoir, The Garner Files, that he was given the choice of which role to play in that episode. He chose the one where he spent the episode sitting down even though it was a smaller part because he'd been feeling tired and overworked.

Of all the Maverick episodes that James Garner was in, supposedly Shady Deal at Sunny Acres was his favorite episode. This episode of Maverick was also used as the basis for the movie "The Sting," starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman. In his Archive of American Television interview, Roy Huggins contends that the first half of the motion picture The Sting was actually an uncredited restaging of Maverick's Shady Deal at Sunny Acres.

In the episode According to Hoyle, Diane Brewster made her first appearance as roguish Samantha Crawford in Maverick – it was a role she'd first played in an episode of the Western TV series Cheyenne. The episode The Saga of Waco Williams with Wayde Preston and Louise Fletcher actually drew the largest viewership of the series.

While I liked the Jack Kelly episodes more than the James Garner episodes, The Saga of Waco Williams is one of my favorite Maverick episodes. For me, what made this such a great episode was the contrast and comparison in the two completely different ways of looking at life. Brett actually questions whether his way of looking at life is right or not.  

The episode Gun-Shy was an intended spoof of Gunsmoke. In the episode Duel at Sundown, Bart rescues Bret at the climax in which James Garner had a showdown with a young guest star by the name of Clint Eastwood. And yes, in the episode Duel at Sundown, Clint Eastwood played a smart mouth gunslinger, villain, who turned coward. Imagine that!

The pair also co-starred in the famous Pappy episode. James Garner played the brothers' much-quoted father Beauregard "Pappy" Maverick and his regular role of Bret. Aided by trick photography, Bret and Pappy play cards together in one scene while Jack Kelly had a dual role in the episode as well, playing Bart and elderly Uncle Bentley Maverick.

Since James Garner enjoyed seniority on the series, he had the first choice of which part he would play in the two-brother episodes, which delineated the brothers as "Maverick 1" and "Maverick 2" in the scripts, giving him an enormous advantage.

The episode Pappy stands out as a unique episode, with James Garner playing Bret and Bart's father Beau Maverick, an important but previously unseen character always referred to throughout the run of the series as "Pappy".  Bret and Bart were both constantly saying, "As my Pappy used to say" then reeling off some intriguing aphorism like "Work is fine for killing time but it's a shaky way to make a living."

In this particular episode, Pappy, Pappy was brought to life for the only time in the series by James Garner, and Bret also winds up disguising himself as his own grey-haired, mustached, father as part of the plotline. The split-screen sequences with two James Garners in the same shot were singled out by critics as especially interesting. Jack Kelly also plays a dual role, briefly portraying old Beau's brother Bentley, or "Uncle Bent", as Bret calls him.

It is important to note that James Garner's Beau Maverick is not the same character as the Beau Maverick played by Roger Moore later in the series. Roger Moore's Beau is the nephew of James Garner's Beau as well as being Bret and Bart's cousin. Moore's Beau Maverick always referred to "Uncle Beau" instead of calling him "Pappy".

Although the "solo" episodes in which Bart appeared tended to be somewhat more dramatic than the Bret episodes, Kelly displayed his comedic skills in lighter Maverick outings such as Hadley's Hunters and The People's Friend. For me, my favorite Jack Kelly episode is from the second episode of season four called Hadley's Hunters, which features brief crossovers from the Warner Bros. array of Western shows. 

In that episode, as Bart Maverick, he encounters Warner Bros stable of television characters, including Dan Troop (John Russell) and Johnny McKay (Peter Brown) from Lawman, Cheyenne Bodie (Clint Walker) from Cheyenne, Tom Brewster (Will Hutchins) from Sugarfoot, Bronco Layne (Ty Hardin) from Bronco, and Cookie (Ed Byrnes) from 77 Sunset Strip. In that episode, he also walked into the office of Christopher Colt to find it empty. He noticed Colt's gun hung up on the wall, both his pistol, holster, and his satchel covered in cobwebs and dust.

This was an inside joke referring to Colt .45, another Warner Bros. western, recently canceled. And just for the record, while I loved the shows Maverick, Lawman, Cheyenne, and Colt .45 from Warner Bros. back then, I never did care for Sugarfoot or Bronco. While Bronco just never caught my attention, I really thought Sugarfoot's main character was dumb! 

It is said that Jack Kelly's favorite episode was Two Beggars On Horseback, an adventure that depicted a frenzied race between Bret and Bart to cash a check, the only time in the series that Jack Kelly also wore a black hat -- albeit briefly.

As for some trivia on Maverick: Jack Kelly actually appeared in more episodes of Maverick than James Garner did. Jack Kelly appeared in 83 episodes and James Garner only 65.

James Garner left the show following a contract dispute in 1960. In the wake of James Garner's departure, Roger Moore stepped in to play Bret and Bart's cousin Beau Maverick in 14 episodes which he shared the screen with Mr. Kelly in 3 of them. 

Robert Colbert appeared in two episodes as a third brother named Brent. The producers dressed Brent Maverick to look exactly like James Garner's Bret, and they even had him wearing his hat like Bret used to. It was a concept that fell flat on its face. And yes, even though one episode briefly featured Jack Kelly, it was horrible.

As for the basic concept for all of the Maverick characters, the various anti-heroic Mavericks were all dapper professional poker-players roaming the Old West with the benefit of superb scripts. The series had an enormous cultural impact during a time when there were only three television networks and most cities had only three TV channels to choose from.

Jack Kelly wound up being the only Maverick to appear in all five seasons of the series in the wake of James Garner's departure after the third season over a dispute about money and the opportunity to pursue a film career. 

When the series Maverick ended in 1962, Jack Kelly continued acting with roles in a number of films and television shows. That year, 1962, Mr. Kelly played the lead in Red Nightmare, which is also known as The Commies Are Coming, the Commies Are Coming in its 1985 video re-release incarnation.

It was a Cold War film narrated by Jack Webb in which Kelly's character wakes up one morning to discover that America has been taken over by Communists. The point of the film was that Americans should keep watch on their freedoms because our freedoms are precious. It's something Americans shouldn't have to be reminded about -- but sadly do need reminding.

On December 30, 1963, Kelly appeared with Barbara Bain in The Fenton Canaby Story on ABC's Wagon Train. Canaby is a former trail master with a dark secret he refuses to discuss. He is attracted to Lucy Garrison, a young woman with her own questionable past played by Barbara Bain, long before Mission: Impossible. Virginia Gregg plays Grace Lowe, who blames Canaby for her husband's death.

Jack Kelly co-starred in Commandos (1968) opposite Lee Van Cleef, and as a villain dressed almost exactly like Bart Maverick in Young Billy Young (1969) with Robert Mitchum. From 1969 to 1971, Mr. Kelly hosted the NBC daytime game show Sale of the Century but was eventually replaced by Joe Garagiola. He was also briefly a series regular in Get Christie Love (1974) and The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries (1978) and performed many lucrative television commercial voice-overs.

In 1977, Mr.  Kelly appeared as obstreperous villains for a few moments in two Rockford Files episodes starring James Garner. The first appearance was in the season 3 episode, The Becker Connection, and the second was the first show of season 4, Beamer's Last Case as a jealous husband.

In 1978, he briefly appeared as Bart Maverick and was again paired with James Garner in the TV-movie The New Maverick and in James Garner's TV series Bret Maverick (1981). In the later, Mr. Kelly appeared momentarily at the end of the final episode of the show and would have become a regular had it been renewed.

Jack Kelly also showed up on a 1983 episode of The Fall Guy, costumed as Maverick but basically playing himself in a storyline that rounded-up many classic TV cowboys. In 1991, he reprised the role of Bart Maverick one last time in the TV movie The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw, a Kenny Rogers vehicle briefly featuring more than a dozen 1950s television series cowboys. Jack Kelly's brief dialogue consisted almost exclusively of variations on the phrase, "you can't have a real poker game without a Maverick."

Mr. Kelly's acting roles became less frequent in the late 1970s as he became more involved in real estate and local politics. He started buying real estate in Huntington Beach, California in the mid-1960s and moved there permanently in 1971. He formed August II, Inc., to hold the real estate assets in June 1965 in Huntington Beach. His wife, Jo, became a real estate broker and did much of the real estate business's business management, especially while he was involved with Huntington city government.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, Jack Kelly served as a city councilman and mayor in Huntington Beach, campaigning with the slogan "Let Maverick Solve Your Problems."

As for his personal life, Mr. Kelly married actress May Wynn (Donna Lee Hickey) on October 14, 1956. She played opposite of her husband in the films They Rode West, Taming Sutton's Gal, and Hong Kong Affair. They separated in February 1964 and were divorced on October 19, 1964. She stated in court that they had been arguing a lot the last two years and he started staying out all night. 

Following their divorce, he later dated Karen Steele for a short time. Then he married Jo Ann Smith in Las Vegas, Nevada, on October 16, 1969. The following November their daughter Nicole was born.

On April 28, 1992, he suffered a heart attack. Jack Kelly died of a stroke at Humana Hospital in Huntington Beach, California, on November 7, 1992. He was 65 years of age. In addition to his sister Nancy, he was survived by his second wife, Jo, and their daughter, Nicole.

Jo Kelly became an "extra" in film and television productions, she helped others learn the business and wrote a book about it, The Truth about Being an Extra (2006). While Jack Kelly actually started in films on the big screen in 1939 when he appeared as Matt Clay in Young Mr. Lincoln when he was just a boy of 11 in an uncredited part, it was his work from 1957 to 1962 in the 83 episodes of Maverick where he made his mark in the acting world.

These days, the series Maverick can usually be found on the Encore Westerns Channel. So yes, whether Jack Kelly knew it or not, his legacy would be as a 1950s-era television Western hero.

I love watching Maverick, and do whenever I get the chance. I don't care for the Roger Moore episodes, and I don't like that other guy's two episodes. While I like some of the James Garner episodes, I prefer the performances that Jack Kelly put forth in his episodes. To me, Jack Kelly was an underrated actor. And frankly, because of poor scripts and lousy parts, nothing he did on screen in the future would come close to matching his excellence on Maverick.

Today, thanks to the Western Channel, he's becoming popular all over again as he's become available to all of those folks out there like me who appreciate watching great television entertainment like Maverick.

Tom Correa


  1. Thanks, Tom for recognizing Jack Kelly's contributions to Maverick. Most of us don't care that Bart Maverick came second on the series'; he will always be first in our hearts. If anyone doubts his acting abilities and talents, go watch the episodes "Prey of the Cat" and "The Goose-Drownder." The man was superb!

  2. Interesting piece. Thanks for placing the emphasis on Jack Kelly. I'm always happy to see Jack get his due. He certainly deserved (& deserves) it. The more we shine the light on him these days, the more people will come to see how much he contributed to the success of "Maverick."

    ~ Linda Alexander, author, "A Maverick Life: The Jack Kelly Story"

  3. I would like to make a movie about Jack Kelly's character of Bart Maverick one day called, "Maverick Solves Your Problems". It will be a comedy about how Jack Kelly falls asleep at a hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 1960, and wakes up in 1880s New Mexico Territory where he is forced to help out the citizens of a town called Goose Creek. At first, Jack Kelly refuses to help claiming that he's not really Bart Maverick. In the end, he gives in and decides to help. Along with his team of "Hollywood Gunfighters", he cleans up the town and goes to sleep in his hotel room. When he wakes up, he is back in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 1960, as Jack Kelly. Wish me luck, Tom.


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