The classic western show Maverick is what first turned James Garner into a major star. But it's also the show that gave us his memorable on-screen co-star, Jack Kelly. Kelly proved that he had the acting chops to lead the successful series not only alongside Garner, but after Garner left the show to become a major movie star. Though he was born a city boy hailing from Astoria in New York City, John Augustus Kelly Jr. would eventually become a wild west icon after playing Garner's brother Bart in Maverick.
Kelly's family moved out to California as a child where he was able to eventually make a name for himself in Hollywood. He appeared in numerous films over the years like Drive a Crooked Road, Where Danger Lives, Bronco Buster, Hong Kong Affair, Cult of the Cobra, Forbidden Planet, To Hell and Back, She Devil, Red Nightmare, Sally and Saint Anne, and even the television series Gunsmoke, The High Chaparral, and The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries. But really, he'll always be best known for starring on the classic western series, Maverick.
Initially, NBC hired only James Garner to star in the series as Bret Maverick, the quick-witted gambler making his way through the wild west. But when the studio discovered that it took a week to shoot just one episode, they wanted to make sure they didn't fall behind schedule as they reached the end of the first season. So they decided to give Bret a brother, Bart Maverick, who made his debut in the eighth episode. The two Mavericks had completely separate crews, shared leading the series by rotating episodes, and would occasionally appear together on screen.
Creator Roy Huggins explained to The Television Academy Foundation that he had always liked Jack Kelly because of how funny he was...apparently he was funnier than his co-star, Garner. But only when the cameras weren't rolling.
"As soon as someone said action," Huggins explained laughing, "Jack Kelly became a different person. He would deliver a funny line like a load of coal. I hate to say that because I loved him, but Maverick was Jim Garner. Jack Kelly was his brother. But you know, the ratings never showed that."
Huggins added that the scripts were actually deliberately written interchangeably and that the writers were instructed to never even write down the name 'Bart' unless the brothers were appearing together. Apparently, the brothers were written exactly the same so that either actor could jump in and film based on availability. But of course, because they are two different people, they developed their own personalities on the show, and fans particularly loved when they appeared together because of their strong chemistry, despite only appearing together frequently.
Garner ended up leaving the TV series after the third season so NBC decided to add more Mavericks to the show. Roger Moore was first introduced as the brothers' cousin, Beau Maverick. Just like before, the two men shared responsibilities leading the show while occasionally appearing together. In the fourth season, Robert Colbert jumped in for Moore to play the new Maverick -- third brother, Brent Maverick. But the fifth and final season ended with Kelly leading the show as Bart, the only remaining Maverick.
Kelly continued acting, reprising the role of Bart in Bret Maverick as well as The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw, his final role. Outside of his acting career, Kelly started getting into real estate and began buying up properties in Huntington Beach, California. He even became the Mayor of Huntington Beach in the 80s using the slogan "Let Maverick Solve Your Problems." He passed away after suffering a heart attack in 1992 and was survived by his second wife, Jo Ann Smith, and his daughter, Nicole.
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