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January 13, 2010 > History: Kelly's Klever Kiddies

History: Kelly's Klever Kiddies

What could be cuter than watching young children sing and dance? Even the worst Scrooge can't help but crack a smile and smother a guffaw or two while watching kids try to remember all the words and steps to a complicated dance routine or dramatic performance. One woman devoted many years to providing such entertainment to the Hayward community.

Carol B. Kelly began her Kelly's Klever Kiddies group in the fall of 1906. For many more years, Mrs. Kelly's group performed at countless civic and social functions around town. As one newspaper reporter wrote during an interview with Mrs. Kelly in 1967, "Hawardites in those days were home and community-centered. Television sets and freeways were not yet draining away potential audiences. Almost any pageant, musical or variety show was guaranteed a big turnout. Audiences were good-natured, relaxed and didn't expect Kelly's Klever Kiddies to display sophistication and professional polish...In fact, they were often delighted by 'all the little mistakes.'"

Carol Brandon was born in 1884 in Centerville to Joaquin and Theresa Brandon. Her father operated Pacific Granite and Marble Works on Mission Boulevard. As a young girl, she learned to play the organ and began a life-long love affair with music. Carol married Tony Kelly in July 1906 at the All Saint's Church chapel. How the two met is lost to history, but Tony Kelly was a native of Hayward (Kelly Street/Kelly Hill area are named after his family), and the couple may have met at church or some other function in town. The population in Hayward was around 2,000 at the time so it's likely they knew of each other for some time before their marriage. Tony, with his brother Frank, operated Kelly Brothers, a men's clothing store and tailor shop, on B Street.

Besides her husband, Carol's big loves were theater and music. She played organ at All Saints Church for almost 50 years. According to a family friend, every Sunday Tony Kelly devoted the entire day to doing whatever Carol wanted after attending mass in the morning. More often than not, Carol wanted to go see a vaudeville show in San Francisco. She and Tony even had the opportunity to meet actress and comedian Marie Dressler after one such performance. Ms. Dressler was so impressed with Carol, her liveliness and sense of humor, that she offered Carol the opportunity to join her as a comedy act. While Carol declined, not wanting to hurt her marriage, she was no doubt flattered by Ms. Dressler's offer.

While Carol enjoyed watching performances, she also loved acting herself. She participated in numerous local amateur productions and even had her own choir. By all accounts, Carol Kelly was a funny and vivacious person who sometimes shared her happiness with others by breaking into spontaneous song. A friend recalled that "There was some kind of Pet Parade in town. In the parade there was a float which had an arch designed with a sort of Spanish motif. Carol Kelly stood on the float and sang the whole length of the parade!"

Carol shared her love of theater and dance with countless young children in town when she started Kelly's Kelver Kiddies. Just a few months after her marriage, Carol decided to open a school to teach children singing, acting and dancing. She never charged for the lessons and children from all over the Hayward area came to take her classes. Carol planned from the beginning that as the children grew older and began to lose some of their cuteness (going through those rough teen years) she would replace them with a new group of younger children. This proved to be a successful formula for her troupe.

She wrote all the plays the children performed, designed the sets and costumes, and played the piano during performances. The children practiced for 4 to 6 weeks for each performance. Her students never got bored because she always kept practice moving along and she helped them learn their parts by acting the parts out herself, giving her the opportunity to act a bit too.

Former student, Carol Bulloch remembered, "If a child talked too much or didn't pay attention [in class], she would scold the child a little, then give the child a quick hug." Another former student, Beatrice Nixon, concurred: "Carol Kelly loved children, but she had no pets in her classes. She treated all children alike. She was so kind to her kids."

That enjoyment by the students and their teacher was reflected in the attendance to all their performances. If Kelly's Klever Kiddies was set to perform, the organization sponsoring the event was sure to have good attendance and make a lot of money. Carol never made any money off the ticket sales; all her hard work was a community service that she had a lot of fun doing.

One of the group's biggest performances every year was at the Farm Products Show, a local fair. The show was held every year in tents around where the Plunge is today. Kelly's Klever Kiddies performed on an outdoor stage that they could not rehearse on prior to their first performance. Everyone, including Mrs. Kelly, had to hold their breath and hope the children would remember all their lines and places.

By all accounts, she taught them well. The children knew how to handle things even if they flubbed a line or the applause got too loud. A favorite story repeated in numerous articles about the group in the 1930s proves their professionalism-"Little three year old Eddie Freitas netted such a roar of laughing approval when he stepped on stage in a top hat and tails as the bridegroom in The Wedding of the Painted Dolls that all other sound was drowned out. With an imperious wave of the hand, Eddie silenced the throng. 'Please,' he piped in a tone more commanding than beseeching, 'I can't hear the music, and I can't dance without music.'"

There is no record of exactly when Carol disbanded Kelly's Klever Kiddies. Over the years she received countless awards for her community service and participated in numerous organizations such as the Lions Club. Tony and Carol Kelly were married for 66 happy years. Tony died in 1967 and Carol passed away a few years later in a convalescent hospital in Castro Valley. While Hayward lost something special with the demise of her troupe, her influence can be seen in the happy faces of her students reflected in numerous photographs in the Historical Society's collection.

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