Bob Kelly, a make-up artist, wigmaker and founder of the long-running Bob Kelly Wig Creations shop in New York City, died on Monday, April 18 in Nyack, New York. He was 87.
Kelly was born Oct. 2, 1923 in Brooklyn and served as a U.S. Army private during World War II; he was decorated for his service with an AP Theater Service Ribbon and two Bronze Service Stars. Like his grandfather, an Irish national who came to the United States to work as a wigmaker, Kelly began his career as a wigmaker, apprenticing with wigmaker Ira Senz and moving on to make-up artistry in his twenties. He worked first for the Metropolitan Opera House, then for CBS in the early 1950s, doing make-up for The Phil Silvers Show, Your Show of Shows, Captain Kangaroo and others. In 1964, Kelly did hair and make-up for the Beatles’ first U.S. performance on the Ed Sullivan Show.
He opened Bob Kelly Wig Creations in 1950 in midtown Manhattan; the shop ran until 2008, when he and shop supervisor/toupee maker Bill Urban retired. In 1970, Kelly created the theatrical supply business Bob Kelly Cosmetics, a separate company that ran from the shop until disbanding in 2003. Kelly supplied make-up and hair goods to Broadway including South Pacific, West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, Beauty and the Beast and Shrek the Musical. He also provided wigs for Saturday Night Live for 30 years.
Kelly is survived by daughters Barbara Kelly and Tracy Abitanti, sons Sean and Brendan Kelly and three grandchildren. A private service was held April 21 at the Hanneman Funeral Home in Nyack, New York. A full military burial, which is open to the public, is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday, April 22 at the Rockland County Veterans Cemetery in Spring Valley, New York.
A public memorial is in the works, said Barbara Kelly; details will be announced shortly.
For more on Bob Kelly’s career, see Make-Up Artist magazine Issue 80, page 22.