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Walter C. Kelly: Monologuist And Admirer Of Thomas A. Edison
Walter C. Kelly as the "Virginian Judge"

Few people remember Walter C. Kelly today, but occasionally you will come across his most famous monologue, "The Virginian Judge", on Victor Records 45180, 45202 and 45250. He also recorded "Negro" and "Irish" stories in dialect.

Here is an example from his Victor "Virginia Judge" record 45202:

Judge: How old are you, Jim?

Jim: I'se just twenty-fo', Judge.

Judge: Well, Jim, you will be just twenty-five when you get out.

This kind of humour is out of fashion now and seems very tame to our more sophisticated ears, but in his day Kelly was very famous indeed. One critic said of him: "He was a humorist of the first water, comparing favorably with Mark Twain and Will Rogers."

He toured the English-speaking world during the first quarter of this century and "originated a series of monologues which, over a period of thirty years, through the medium of the stage, phonograph and radio, are said to have created more continuous laughter throughout the English-speaking world than any other similar document in the field of public entertainment."

He was famous enough that, when he was taking his seat at a concert, John Philip Sousa stopped conducting and had the band play "Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?"

While on the Vaudeville circuit he visited Toronto, so it is quite possible that some of our grandparents heard him in person. While he was in Canada he became acquainted with Stephen Leacock and admired him greatly.

His relatives also made their marks. His brother, George Kelly, wrote plays. "The Show Off", "The Torch Bearers", and "Craig's Wife" (a Pulitzer Prize winner), starred such performers as James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Spencer Tracy, Rosalind Russell and Tallulah Bankhead. Another brother, John, won the Olympic Rowing (sculls) Singles and Doubles on the same day in 1920 - the only person ever to accomplish that feat - and he also held the Canadian Sculls Championship as did his son John, Jr. I suppose John's daughter was even more famous than all the rest. Her name was Grace Kelly.

In Walt Kelly's autobiography, Of Me I Sing, he tells of meeting the great inventor Thomas A. Edison. I quote the story of the meeting in Kelly's own words:

"I can truthfully say that the greatest thrill I have ever experienced occurred many years ago in a swank New York hotel where, at a banquet and entertainment to his employees, I found myself shaking hands with the late Thomas A. Edison. Accustomed though I was to chatting over the footlights nightly to thousands of people, I confess that in the presence of the towering genius I nearly lost my voice. Here before me was a stocky, silver-haired little man who had done more to carry out the creator's command, "Let there be light", than any human who had ever lived, and for some reason, although not as devout as I should be in my religious duties, I felt, in the presence of this great benefactor of mankind, a little closer to God."

Walter Kelly died in 1939 leaving behind him a fitting epitaph. Whether it was used on his tombstone I don't know:

I have bowed to laughing millions,
Had my shares of grief and glories,
And when I bend the knee, to whatever gods there be,
I hope they are fond of stories.