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The Invisible Man
Michael Bamberger
December 11, 2000
Friends and relatives thought they knew Larry Kelley, Yale's famed Heisman Trophy winner—until he took his own life last summer
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December 11, 2000

The Invisible Man

Friends and relatives thought they knew Larry Kelley, Yale's famed Heisman Trophy winner—until he took his own life last summer

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Then late last year, school administrators heard about the upcoming auction. They didn't know what to make of it. The next thing they knew, their bequeathed trophy had been sold. Their disappointment was deep. They didn't fault Kelley for having a change of heart, but they wondered: Why didn't he call or write to explain what he was going to do?

Those who knew Kelley all his life had an answer: He was doing exactly what he wanted to do, exactly when he wanted to do it. That's how he lived his life, right through his final day.

When Kelley returned to Peddie and Hightstown in 1937, he made extra money by covering Princeton football games for local newspapers. He also wrote a long first-person piece for Look magazine, called "Poison Ivy League," in which he criticized Yale football and other football programs for playing injured athletes and emphasizing winning and gate receipts over other, more important values. The story was widely commented upon. At least one columnist stepped all over the piece and all over Kelley, too. To Kelley, that reaction proved his point: When he won his Heisman, he said that the press can make you, and just as quickly it can break you.

A year or so later Kelley began dating a young woman named Katharine Maria Duncan, from a prominent family in Freehold, N.J. She was an exotic beauty. Women in town were in awe of her height, full lips, high cheekbones, silky dark hair and fabulous figure. Her father, Maj. Charles Miguel Duncan, ran the Freehold Military School, and when he saw his gorgeous daughter with the former Yale football star and bright young Peddie teacher, he thought what everybody else thought: What a couple.

Lawrence Morgan Kelley and Katharine Maria (Quita) Duncan, then a teacher at her father's school, were united in marriage at the Episcopal church in Freehold on the Wednesday after Labor Day in 1939. In marriage Kelley found himself being written up again. The wedding was a front-page story in the Freehold Transcript and warranted a mention in TIME, too.

They looked like a dream, two stars linked in matrimony. He liked her "come-hither" look, says a relative. She was awed by his resume. Nobody worried about the fact that they didn't know each other terribly well. They looked right together.

Their differences soon became apparent. Larry would take Quita to taverns, and he would talk sports with the bartender for hours while she was stuck with an out-of-town relative or friend at a table by the wall. He was accustomed to being the star. He wasn't willing to, and he didn't know how to, let his wife join him on his stage, let alone have it to herself. What's more, she was accustomed to the same treatment that he was, having been doted on by her father the way Kelley was by his mother. The marriage lasted three years.

"He was actually very shy," Quita said recently. When she married a second time it was to a career military man, now a retired Air Force colonel, with whom she lives in South Florida. Her health is poor, and so is her memory of recent events, but she recalled her years with Kelley sue decades ago with apparent effortlessness.

"My mother and father arranged the marriage," she said. "They were trying to do something for him, because he was so poor. I went through with the whole thing for his sake. I felt privileged to help him out. I was never in love with him. He was never in love with me. It was intended to come to an end. We were frank about it. Everyone was in agreement."

Their wedding reception—formal and elegant, as if in a movie—was at her father's military school. All the "best people" of Freehold and Hightstown were there. Kelley's friend Red Becker was not among them. Neither was Red's sister, Ruth. She came on the scene much later. Ruth would be Larry's fourth wife.

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