American Vaudeville Museum

All material © 1998-2010 American Museum of Vaudeville, Inc.  Page 13

Walter C. Kelly

The Virginia Judge, as Kelly was billed for most of his three decades in vaudeville, was a consistent audience favorite and Kelly remained a headliner for a quarter of a century.  He invariably wore a large black coat and spoke standing behind a rostrum and enacted all the parts in his monologue.

He patterned his characterization after several judges in Virginia that he had witnessed dispensing summary sentencing to the African Americans who were hauled before the bench.  Unfortunately, Kelly was racist, and, instead of sympathizing with the poor, undereducated defendants who were unrepresented by counsel, Kelly was charmed with the wit and courtroom technique of these Virginia judges playing to the galleries.

A master of dialects, his monologues were fast-paced dialogues between the defendants and the Judge: “Tell me, Jim, how old are you?”  “I’se jest twenty-fo’, Jedge.”  “Well, Jim, you will be just twenty-five when you get out.”

Walter C. Kelly was regarded as the wayward elder son of the ambitious Irish immigrant family that came to be known as the Philadelphia Kellys.  His younger brothers included the playwright, George E. Kelly, Olympic athlete John B. Kelly and several successful businessmen.  Film star Grace Kelly was his niece.