Rae'Ven Kelly will get more time in season opener of 'I'll Fly Away'


When the highly regarded NBC series "I'll Fly Away" finally won its renewal notice for the fall season last spring, relief broke out in a home in Baltimore's Ashburton neighborhood.

"I got so many calls about the show, especially when it was not on for a time," said Wilma Kelly, a retired U.S. Army Corps of Engineer analyst who lives in Ashburton with her husband, Vernon, a retired systems analyst with the U.S Army Ordnance Center.

Why the local concern? They are the proud grandparents of Rae'Ven Kelly, the 7-year-old actress who plays Adlaine Harper on "I'll Fly Away," the fictional daughter of housekeeper Lily (Regina Taylor). She was seen last season in 17 of the show's 21 episodes.

Rae'Ven came to Baltimore this week to visit her grandparents, and also to do some promotion for the series. Today's noontime newscast on NBC-affiliate WMAR-Channel 2 is scheduled to feature her in a live interview, with host Horace Holmes.

The precocious actress coyly noted in an interview that her longest appearance yet can be seen in the opening episode of "I'll Fly Away" this fall, but declined to give details of the plot.

"Because we want to surprise you," she explained.

At 7, Rae'Ven is a seasoned performer, having appeared in such films as the cable movies "Paris Trout" and "The Nightman," and made several appearances on the series "In the Heat of the Night" (moving from NBC to CBS this fall).

She has also been a model and actress in TV commercials, and has a role in an upcoming film "Touching the Supernatural" -- "my spirit comes out of my body and I levitate" -- and in a music video "Let It Be Earth Day Everyday."

How did such a young career get going?

Rae'Ven's father, Kevin Kelly, grew up with his parents in Ashburton, graduating from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and going on to Carnegie-Mellon University to become a civil engineer. While working in Washington, he met and married Phyllis, in 1984.

With a performing arts degree from South Carolina State College, Mrs. Kelly was working at radio station WMAL-AM and also performing with the Chevy Chase Players.

Rae'Ven came along in 1985. And one day, at the age of 2 months, she was with her mother in a Northern Virginia department store when a photographer shooting ads for a line of infant wear asked to include the girl in the ads.

"That was a little early for me" to push her child into show business, recalled Mrs. Kelly, but she agreed to one photo shoot. Thus a picture of the cute tyke became the first in what is now a bulging scrapbook of glossies -- Rae'Ven continued to model in newspaper advertisements after her mother began working for the Alexandria Gazette.

"For many years, she did basically print," said Mrs. Kelly, but TV commercials and runway modeling followed, too.

"I love to be in front of the camera," said Rae'Ven, and promptly proved it by whirling into a succession of professional poses the moment a Sun photographer arrived.

Like many child stars, Rae'Ven has a tutor when working on the series, which is filmed in and around DeCatur, Ga. The show is set in the 1950s, and stars Sam Waterston as an attorney whose housekeeper (Ms. Taylor) helps sensitize him to the coming civil rights movement.

The young actress acknowledged, "I do miss my friends from school," for she attended first grade in a regular school in the Atlanta area, where she lives with her parents.

Then again, she is also looking forward to attending the Emmy Awards ceremony later this month in Los Angeles.

"I hope we win an Emmy," she said. (The show won 14 nominations for the awards, which will be telecast on Fox stations Aug. 30).

And you can be sure Baltimore grandparents Vernon and Wilma Kelly will be watching the ceremonies in Ashburton, too.

"We're just very proud," said Mr. Kelly, adding that Rae'Ven was also a successful celebrity speaker last November at their church, St. Cecilia's Catholic Church in West Baltimore.

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