Jackson DeForest Kelley was an American actor known for his iconic roles in Westerns and as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy of the USS Enterprise in the television and film series Star Trek.
Kelley was born in Toccoa, Georgia, the son of Clora and Ernest David Kelley, who was a Baptist minister. DeForest was named after the pioneering electronics engineer Lee De Forest. Kelley was delivered in their home by his uncle, a prominent local physician. He grew up in the Atlanta area and was a 1938 graduate of Decatur Boys High in Decatur, Georgia. As a child, he sang in the church choir, where he discovered that he enjoyed singing and was good at it. Eventually, this led to solos and an appearance on the radio station WSB AM in Atlanta, Georgia. As a result of his radio work, he won an engagement with Lew Forbes and his orchestra at the Paramount Theater. Kelley had an older brother, Ernest Casey Kelley.
Kelley served in World War II as an enlisted man in the United States Army Air Forces between March 10, 1943, and January 28, 1946. After an extended stay at Long Beach, California, Kelley decided to pursue an acting career and relocate to southern California, living for a time with his uncle, Casey. He worked as an usher in a local theater in order to earn enough money for the move. Kelley received encouragement from his mother about this career goal, but his father disliked the idea. While in California, Kelley was spotted by a Paramount Pictures scout while doing a United States Navy training film.
The first movie of Kelley’s acting career was the feature film Fear in the Night. The low-budget movie was a blockbuster hit, bringing him to the attention of a national audience. His next role, in Variety Girl, established him as a leading actor. A few years later, Kelley and his wife, Carolyn, decided to move to New York City. He found work on stage and on live television, but after three years in New York, the Kelleys returned to Hollywood. In California, he received a role in an installment of You Are There, anchored by Walter Cronkite. He played ranch owner Bob Kitteridge in the 1949 episode Legion of Old Timers of the TV series The Lone Ranger. This led to an appearance in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral as Morgan Earp. This role was a source for three movie offers. He also appeared in episodes of the TV series , Boots and Saddles, Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater, Death Valley Days, Lawman and many others. He appeared in a 1962 episode of Route 66, 1800 Days to Justice.