[October is LGBT History Month and to celebrate, Queerty’s gaying up each day with our 31 Days of Queerstory.]
Classic Hollywood lore is rife with tales of bisexual actresses such as Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo and Tallulah Bankhead, whose lovers allegedly included Gone With The Wind‘s Hattie McDaniel, but it’s rare to hear about an entertainer who defied conventions of the era and lived openly as a lesbian. Such was comic actress Patsy Kelly (1910-81), who began her career as a child on the vaudeville circuit.
By the 1930s she’d become a staple in low-budget comedy shorts as a wisecracking supporting player, usually opposite tragic comedienne Thelma Todd. During the decade when the notorious production code was initiated to protect filmgoers from “immorality” in the movies and when being gay or lesbian was illegal, Kelly gave an interview to Motion Picture magazine in which she essentially came out by saying she lived with fellow actress Wilma Cox and had no intention of ever marrying a man. She also referred to herself as “a dyke” both personally and sometimes publicly.
By the 1940s, Kelly’s career had taken something of a nosedive and she was reduced to working in summer stock. She even reportedly worked as an assistant for the mercurial Bankhead, with whom she claimed to have had an affair.
During the next three decades, Kelly found frequent work on television and occasionally in films, including Freaky Friday opposite Jodie Foster and her best-known role as a chatty satanist in the psychological horror classic Rosemary’s Baby. Kelly would go on to win a Tony Award for her work in the Broadway musical No No Nanette before her death in 1981 following a stroke.
Watch Kelly in a scene with Mia Farrow and Ruth Gordon from Rosemary’s Baby below.