Killing someone is not generally considered a good career move. It is frowned on in the bible and there is no mention of this technique in any of the books of Dale Carnegie, Stephen Covey, or Tony Robbins. For Paul Kelly, however, this act secured a long and successful acting career.
Kelly, born in Brooklyn in 1899 to a family of 10, started acting at age 7 after his bartender father died. In 1911, at the age of 12, Paul became the first child movie star, working at the Vitagraph Studios in Brooklyn. While working on Broadway in 1917 he became friends with Dorothy Mackaye, a young musical comedy performer. Four years later Ray Raymond also met Dorothy when they both appeared in the Broadway musical Blue Eyes. Ray, born in 1888 in San Francisco, was the star of the show. He fell in love with the young bit player, divorced his wife and married Mackaye.
They had a child in 1922 and moved to Los Angeles a few years later. Dorothy and Raymond continued their stage careers. Raymond was very successful on the vaudeville circuit and, as a result, spent a lot of time away from home. Then Paul Kelly moved to L.A. Before long Kelly and Mackaye were seeing a lot of each other. Raymond began to suspect something but Mackaye claimed her relationship with Kelly was merely platonic. “Yes, Paul was my friend. Our friendship was so clean, lovely and beautiful that I didn’t want to give him up.”
In February 1927, Raymond threw Paul Kelly out of his house and forbid Dorothy to see him, but Dorothy continued the relationship. In April, after his show ended in San Francisco, Raymond returned to Los Angeles and confronted Dorothy about her relationship with Kelly. After a bitter fight, Dorothy left, went to Kelly’s place and told him what her husband Ray was saying about him. Kelly, who was heavily intoxicated, called Raymond and accused him of spreading false stories. Raymond, who was also under the influence, invited Kelly to come over. Kelly entered Ray’s house and immediately challenged him to a fight. Raymond refused, saying that he was out of shape and had been drinking. But Kelly, who was much younger, taller and stronger, attacked anyway. The fight was completely one-sided. Kelly knocked Raymond down four times and finally knocked him out with a blow to his left eye. Raymond’s maid, as well as Valerie, Raymond’s 4-year-old daughter, witnessed the fight.
When Dorothy returned hours later, Raymond tried to make light of his injuries. He was found unconscious the next morning. When Dr. Sullivan arrived at Raymond’s home, hours later, he found Raymond in critical condition and sent him to the hospital, where he died.
Mackaye tried to cover up the death. She paid $500 to Dr. Sullivan, who declared that Raymond had died of alcohol-related “nephretic coma.” It was only when newsmen called him did the coroner, Dr. Nance, learn of Raymond’s death and stop the cremation that Mackaye had scheduled. The autopsy revealed that Raymond had numerous bruises, cracked ribs and other damage that led to his fatal hemorrhage. The cause of death was changed to homicide and Kelly was charged with murder. Mackaye was charged with giving false information about Raymond’s death.
At the trial, Dorothy attacked her dead husband, saying he was an alcoholic and that he beat her. But her story of her platonic love was torn to shreds with the introduction of torrid love letters between her and Kelly and the maid’s testimony that Kelly slept over at Raymond’s house on numerous occasions when Raymond was out of town. After this testimony, the prosecutor Robert Kemp shouted to the jury, “Four of the Ten Commandments have been broken in this case. Can he violate the law of God and the law of man and get away with it?”
“No!” declared the jury.
Kelly was convicted and sentenced to one to 10 years in San Quentin. Mackaye was convicted of giving false information and sentenced to one year.
Kelly was paroled after two years and remained unrepentant. “I’m headed straight for the comeback trail … and I’m going to hit it hard.” His timing was perfect. The 1930s was the decade of gangster movies and Kelly’s looks, acting ability and criminal history made him the perfect choice for hard-boiled roles such as gangsters, cops and reporters. He starred in movies such as “The Frame-Up,” “Parole Racket,” and “The Roaring Twenties,” with James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart.
His love for Dorothy remained strong and they married in 1931. He became the stepfather of Raymond’s daughter Valerie, whose name was changed to Mimi Kelly. Jail was also good for Dorothy Mackaye, who wrote a book about her prison experiences. The book was made into two movies, “Ladies They Talk About” in 1933, and “Lady Gangster” in 1942. On Jan. 2, 1940, Dorothy Mackaye flipped her car trying to avoid another vehicle. She seemed to be all right but died from complications a few days later.
Later that year, while starring in the movie “Command Decision,” Kelly fell in love with a bit player named Claire Owen and married her. Kelly’s career continued to flourish. He won the Tony Award in 1948 for his role in “Command Decision” and continued to work into the 1950s. One of his last roles was playing San Quentin warden Clinton Duffy in “Duffy of San Quentin.” Kelly died of a heart attack in 1956. Mimi Kelly, the daughter of both Ray Raymond and his killer Paul Kelly, continued in the family business on both stage and screen. She understudied Mary Martin in South Pacific and was an actress on “The Man With the Badge” and other television shows. She died in 1995.
Paul Drexler is a crime historian and director of Crooks Tour of San Francisco. For more information, visit www.crookstour.com.