John Orry Kelly was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1897. He studied art initially, but his dream to become an actor led him across the sea to New York in 1923.
At first, he scratched a living painting nightclub murals and illustrating titles for silent films. He then designed costumes and scenery for Shubert reviews and George White's Scandals. Ethel Barrymore and Katherine Hepburn wore clothes designed by him.
After several unsuccessful jobs, John Kelly proceeded to the West Coast of the United States, and arrived in Hollywood in 1932 at the age of 35.
He joined Warner Brothers Studio and they joined his two last names together so that he became Orry-Kelly and used this name forever afterwards. Cary Grant, an old friend from New York, was a great help in getting him the job at Warner Brothers.
Orry-Kelly is responsible for the wonderful opening scene of "The Gold Diggers of 1933" when a host of Hollywood lovelies run riot across the screen singing and wearing costumes constructed from coins.
Orry-Kelly was a most talented designer of his era. He designed costumes for gangster movies, glamorous costume dramas, tough social realism films and of course, musicals. He received Oscars for several of his films including "Les Girls", "Some Like it Hot", "Gypsy" and shared with Walter Plunkett on "An American in Paris."
Orry-Kelly remained with Warner Brothers till 1943, when he moved to 20th Century Fox. At Fox he worked on Bette Davis movies, and she felt he was the only designer to accurately portray her personality. He then worked freelance for Universal Studios and RKO and finally MGM.
He died in 1964, at the age of 67 still at work.