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This Day in Georgia History

January 20, 1920

DeForest Kelley Born

Actor DeForest Kelley was born in Atlanta. As a teenager, Kelley was noticed while singing in his church choir, which led to singing positions on local radio and at the Atlanta Paramount Theater. At age 17, Kelley went California to stay with an uncle for two weeks. He found it irresistible and ended up staying a year. He returned to Georgia briefly, but the lure of California drew him back and soon he took residence there permanently. He performed in Long Beach with a local theater group and did some Navy training films. A Paramount talent scout noticed him in one of these training films, which resulted in a screen test and eventually a contract - one of the last of the old studio contract system. Under contract with Paramount for over two years, Kelley appeared in two films - “Fear in the Night” and “Variety Girl.” After his contracted expired, Kelley returned to Paramount to appear in a number of westerns, usually as the villain. He also was one of the first actors to cross over from movies to television, appearing as a guest star on such television shows as “Gunsmoke” and “Bonanza.” Kelley also acted in a number of television pilots, one of which was finally picked up in 1966 and sealed Kelley’s future - his role of Dr. “Bones” McCoy on “Star Trek.” He went on to do all three seasons of the show (which has been syndicated and rerun countless times), did the voice-over for an animated version of the show, appeared in all six movies featuring the original cast, and made a special appearance in the premiere episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” In all, Kelley appeared in over 400 television episodes during his acting career. In his later years, he was a resident of motion picture industry’s retirement home in Los Angeles. After a long illness, he died at age 79 on June 11, 1999.