DeForest Kelley: The One and Only / by Trek fm

An audio version of this Captain’s Log is available.

by Lisa M. Lynch

He’s a beloved fan favorite, and he was also a favorite of his Star Trek co-stars. He was considered a quintessential Southern gentleman, and a selfless, intelligent actor. DeForest Kelley took the character of Dr. McCoy and made him his own. He developed McCoy from the ground up, and when you’re watching Bones be Bones, you’re watching Kelley be Kelley. Dr. McCoy is also a true Southern gentleman because of the man portraying him.


Here are ten things you might not have known about our hero, De Kelley…

Did You Know?

1. De Kelley’s full name was Jackson DeForest Kelley, born in Toccoa, Georgia, on Janurary 20, 1920, to Clara Casey Kelley and the Reverend Ernest D. Kelley, a Baptist minister. Kelley was named for General Stonewall Jackson of Civil War fame (a great deal of Southern boys were named for Civil War heroes), and for Dr. Lee De Forest, an inventor who patented the first vacuum tube for amplifying radio signals. Kelley’s father, impressed with Lee De Forest’s futuristic invention, decided to give the name to his son.

An interesting aside: Comedian Larry ‘Bud’ Melman, who became famous on David Letterman’s talk show, was really named Calvert DeForest. Calvert was related to Lee De Forest. While Calvert and De were not related by blood, they did share a connection by name!


2. Have you ever noticed Dr. McCoy wears a golden ring on the pinky finger of his left hand? Bones wears the ring because Kelley wore the ring. It was his mother Clara’s wedding ring, and it had a small blue stone embedded within it. Kelley had always admired it and, after she died, that was the only one of her possessions he wanted. When Kelley was chosen to be in Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry wanted him to remove it as he didn’t want anyone on the show to be seen wearing 20th-century jewlery. But Kelley insisted: No ring, no deal. So Dr. McCoy got to wear his ring on the starship Enterprise.

3. Everyone remembers De Kelley as the crusty but loveable Dr. McCoy, but before Star Trek Kelley was more apt to play the bad guy in TV and movie Westerns. He starred in a 1959 film with Henry Fonda and Anthony Quinn called Warlock, among many other film roles, and he could be found in shows like Gunsmoke, Bonanza, and Have Gun Will Travel. Interestingly, he even co-starred in two TV shows with Leonard Nimoy before Star Trek: a 1959 episode of 26 Men and a 1963 episode of The Virginian.

4. Kelley’s association with Gene Roddenberry goes back well before Star Trek. He starred in two police dramas—the 1960 Roddenberry pilot 333 Montgomery, and again with Grace Lee Whitney (Yeoman Janice Rand) in the pre-Trek Roddenberry pilot Police Story. Neither pilot was developed into a series.


5. Gene Roddenberry had DeForest Kelley in mind for ship’s doctor for both Trek pilots, “The Cage” and “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” but he was voted down in favor of more experienced actors. Upon the series’ approval Roddenberry finally got his wish, and Kelley’s first episode as Dr. McCoy was in “The Corbomite Maneuver.” Early in the episode, he gets to complain that he is a doctor, not a moon shuttle conductor!

6. Kelley didn’t get top billing along with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy during the first season. He was only listed as “featuring.” By the time the second season came around, producer Robert Justman felt Kelley had become such an important member of the cast, he deserved top billing along with Shatner and Nimoy.

7. When Kelley had first talked to Roddenberry about a gig with Star Trek, he remembered Gene telling him, “…there were two roles in Star Trek he thought I’d be right for. One of them was (Spock) and one of them was what I called ‘High Noon’ (Dr. McCoy). I thought it over and I said, ‘I’ll take High Noon, Gene.’ ‘High Noon’ worked out just fine for me, would you agree?” (From Star Trek Monthly)


8. One of Kelley’s favorite episodes was Season Three’s “The Empath.” The episode was certainly McCoy-heavy, and examined the relationships between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy in detail. In the episode, McCoy is willing to die painfully in order to spare the empath Gem. An especially touching scene involves Spock with an uncharateristically gentle bedside manner, attending to the (only temporarily) dying McCoy.

9. Dr. McCoy never preceeded his famous “I’m a doctor, not a…” with “Dammit Jim!” In fact, there was never any swearing in 1960s Trek. Bones’s salty language made its appearance during the Star Trek movies, but still no “Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor…” It was a “Beam me up, Scotty”-style misquote.

10. According to some novelizations of Star Trek, Dr. Leonard H. McCoy’s middle name was Horatio! That was never verified on screen, but it’s as good a name as any!

Always With Us

De Kelley was the first of The Original Series crew to pass away, dying in 1999 of stomach cancer. Although he’s sorely missed, he was graced with a long and contented life with his first and only wife Caroline, and his casual, friendly off-screen persona translated so well on-screen. The things that endeared him to his co-stars are the same things that continue to endear his fans to Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy.

It just wouldn’t have been the Star Trek we know and love without him!