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Ella Kelly from Mount Vernon dreamed of Hollywood | History

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MOUNT VERNON – One of the pitfalls of exploring the paths of history in search of nearly forgotten stories is that sometimes you can only get part of a story back. Maybe someone will know more about this interesting fragment of the past this week.

The success of archival research too often depends on the distinctive nature of a name. That’s why I pulled my hair out trying to reconnect the threads of Ella Kelly’s faded story. There’s a reason many show business professionals use a stage name: it can be to sound more distinctive, or it can be to sound less ethnic. Ella Kelly is a simple old Irish name, and frankly thousands of women have shared it.

The Ella Kelly that concerns us emerged from Southern Ohio’s hazy past to become a sort of professional show business activity in New York City at the turn of the 20th century. For reasons that are unclear, possibly family ties, she lived in Mount Vernon for some time in her late teens. Around 1920, she came up with the idea of ​​combining the cutting edge entertainment technology of the time with a progressive political idea inspired by the campaign to give women the right to vote.

Kelly decided she was going to start a film production company run entirely by women. Since another issue that received a lot of attention early in cinema was the presence of risky humor, Kelly decided that her films would eschew any bawdy humor. Thus was born the idea of ​​Kelly’s Klean Komedies.

What she quickly decided, however, was that Mount Vernon did not offer sufficient fundraising potential for film production and, according to a July 15, 1921 article in the Democratic Banner, Kelly moved out. in Columbus to start his business. According to the article, the woman ran the Oakland Hotel in Mount Vernon at the corner of High and Mulberry streets, but sold her stake in the operation before heading to Columbus.

Business documents show Kelly’s company went public in 1921, offering $ 100,000 in stock options, establishing an office at 36 W Gay Street in Columbus. Production got off to a quick start on films such as The Old Maid Model and The Bachelor and His Chicken. Kelly’s hope was that the films could be shown in Columbus and then distributed by Path, one of the original distributors.

An article on the first film that appeared in the Portsmouth Daily Times in July 1921 that mentioned 5-year-old Francis K. Riggs was picked from The Old Maid Model. The play also says intriguingly,

The company is run by Miss Ella Kelly, who has many friends here who will remember her as the Grand Deputy Commander of the Ladies of the Maccabees who made such a wonderful record here in 1913. Her record this year did not been exceeded.

Other newspaper articles suggest that the record was for new memberships in the social club, the female auxiliary of the Knights of the Maccabees.

One of the more intriguing aspects of Kelly’s plan was the announcement in an advertisement in the Columbus Dispatch in September 1921 that every investor would receive a screen test and that every actor hired for a movie would receive shares in it. business. They were bold ideas.

Unfortunately, it seems Kelly had more nerve than knowing. In 1922 she was sued by Ollie M. Campbell, one of her investors, who alleged fraud, stating in her lawsuit that Kelly, by obtaining the subscription to the share, represented a person very experienced in production. moving pictures; that she had produced the official war painting Combats in France; that she had invested $ 54,000 of her own money in the project; that she had insured her life for $ 50,000 in favor of the company, which the plaintiff now claims to be false.

Still, one way or another, the company survived. In June 1923, Kelly was reported in the Mansfield News Journal as being in this town looking for a potential site for a studio with three other members of its board of directors. The article says the company had already made a number of films by this point, including films starring child stars like Baby Main and Bobby Brooks.

However, no one from the period under these names can be found on the Internet Movie Database.

A name mentioned in the article, however, generates search returns. Kelly says actress Mary Carr will be featured in one of the films to be shot in Mansfield if the studio moves there. Mary Carr was a well-known actress of the time who appeared in 154 films from 1914 to 1957, including an appearance as Aunt Em in the now almost forgotten 1925 film version of The Wizard of Oz.

But was she really about to work with Ella Kelly, or was Kelly just talking about celebrity names in the hopes of attracting investors? Another report names the movie Adoption, but no such movie is listed in Carr’s IMDB filmography.

Given the lack of information available elsewhere on these projects, it would appear that the business never really got off the ground. The last reference I could find to Kelly’s Klean Komedies was a 1924 commercial by Broadway producers Lee and Rosalie Stewart in a vaudeville benefit concert program.

The Stewarts were two siblings who rose to prominence on Broadway in the 1920s.

Interestingly, Rosalie worked closely with a playwright named George Edward Kelly. Was he perhaps related to our Ella Kelly? We know that he was the nephew of a very famous personality indeed, the actress Grace Kelly.

The proximity of these Kelly names is very interesting. Still, it was a common last name. It could even be that the Stewarts bought Ella Kelly’s name in hopes of associating it with their productions of George Edward Kelly’s plays, which were popular hits from the early to mid-1920s. promotes Ella Kelly movies, it doesn’t look like they had any success with them.

Either way, 1924 is the last known reference to Kelly’s Klean Komedies. Was an all-female production company too ahead of its time an idea? Kelly was sure she had a head start in trying to clean up the movie business. In 1934, the Hays Code was implemented by the Hollywood film industry to tone down the wild and often obscene comedies of the Roaring Twenties.

Maybe Ella Kelly sensed the change in wind direction but made it move before the rest of the world caught up to her.

It is intriguing to wonder what his films were like. But even if they were ultimately finished, it’s extremely unlikely that anything will survive today. The 1920s film was made with cellulose nitrate, a volatile material that can burn even in the absence of oxygen. What has happened a number of times over the years is that old film cans will catch fire and burn, destroying the reels.

Nitrates that did not burn would sometimes turn into a powder, literally disintegrating. Cellulose acetate began to replace nitrate in the late 1920s, but many early films were never transferred to the new medium, and so many early films are now lost.

All we know about the mysterious Ella Kelly is that while working at the Oakland Hotel in Mount Vernon in 1920, she dreamed of Hollywood. What happened to him later is unknown. It would later be up to Earls of Knox like Paul Lynde and Luke Perry to climb the ladder to Hollywood glory.

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