Yes, the papers mourned the death of Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy from Star Trek–but it’s interesting to think of how else DeForest Kelley’s obituaries might have read. Everybody was bummed out when the amiable character actor passed away 14 years ago. He always seemed the least petty of the original Star Trek cast. Fans loved his convention appearances, and a lot of people assumed that he was the guy who kept the cast together while they kept reuniting through the ’80s. But the fun fact is that DeForest Kelley could’ve never been cast as “Bones” McCoy and still claimed an impressive career.
DeForest Kelley had a real intensity as a younger man. That got him cast in plenty of offbeat roles. His first movie was the starring role in the surreal 1947 noir cheapie Fear in the Night. He plays a bank teller who can’t separate his violent dreams from reality. Kelley then concentrated on television until scoring a small role in the very cool 1955 crime thriller House of Bamboo. That appearance helped DeForest get perfectly cast in a series of weird westerns.
You can catch him doing memorable work in movies like Tension at Table Rock (1956), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), and the totally amazing Warlock (1959). He was also a regular in the small-screen westerns that were keeping folks glued to their couches at home. You can be sure that Quentin Tarantino was really bummed out that he couldn’t cast DeForest Kelley amongst the plentiful cameos in Django Unchained.
And then along came Star Trek. Kelley did a few roles after that series, but nothing of note. He also made the unfortunate choice of joining other veteran western stars in 1972’s Night of the Lepus–which is about a giant rabbit invasion. Things worked out by the end of the ’70s, of course, and DeForest Kelley had a pretty good life. He sure had a great attitude about his weird career. And while we should probably showcase one of his weird western roles, we’re going to salute the man with a Star Trek moment. Here he is reminiscing about his favorite fan mail…