Grace Kelly's Uncle, Playwright George Kelly
Three years after writing The Torch Bearers, George Kelly won the Pulitzer Prize in 1926 for the play Craig’s Wife, subsequently made into three film versions. An earlier play, The Show Off (1924) had been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
What few people knew at the time was that George was a gay man. He maintained a 55-year relationship with his lover William E. Weagley (sometimes spelled Weagly), who was often referred to as Kelly’s valet.
That Kelly was gay was a closely guarded secret and went unacknowledged by his family – to the point of their not inviting Weagley to Kelly’s funeral in Pennsylvania. Weagley quietly slipped in and took a seat in the back at St. Bridget’s in order to attend the service. Worse, the Philadelphia Kellys, who seldom missed an opportunity to pass moral judgment on others, forced Weagley to eat in the kitchen with the servants when George and William were visiting, thus reinforcing their acknowledgment that William was regarded as nothing more than George’s employee, a valet. While it’s true that William often cooked, typed, and performed secretarial services for George, William was much more than a traveling companion and valet. The couple were loyal, devoted partners who were deeply in love.
When George and William hosted dinner parties at their home in Laguna Beach, California, the two men sat at opposite ends of the table as equal co-hosts and partners. Subsequently, many of the Kelly clan of righteous Irish Catholics refused invitations from George.
George and William met in 1919, when George maintained a suite at NYC’s Concord Hotel. At the time, George was a vaudevillian actor and skit writer, as was his brother Walter. The story goes that William was working as a bellhop at the hotel, and the two became lovers within a short time after meeting. George educated William in the rules of etiquette so that the two could appear in high society as social equals.
Kelly’s play Reflected Glory (1936) was also about theater people, and it was the vehicle for Tallulah Bankhead’s first major NYC role, that of a woman’s difficult choice between marriage and a career.
In a profile published at the peak of Kelly’s fame, it was revealed that George had some quirky habits:
At first he insisted on directing his own plays, and he enacted every role.
He went out very little and often stayed at home for days, because he hated publicity and celebrity.
His writing desk had to be maintained in perfect order. An out of place piece of paper bothered him.
He often worked at writing plays at the typewriter in marathon 18-hour stretches.
He loved to travel, but he hated trains, preferring boats.
He collected watches by the drawer full.
George was an expert at horseback riding, bridge, tennis and golf.
He seldom attended the theater, going out to a play about once a year. He never saw his own plays from the house – he watched them while standing in the wings.
He had a remarkable memory and knew every line of all his plays by heart. Once he jumped into the lead role of his play Behold the Bridegroom (1927) with only five minutes’ notice.