Kulp was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the only child of Robert I. Kulp, a traveling salesman, and his wife, Marjorie S. Kulp. The family moved from Mifflintown, Pennsylvania, to Dade County, Florida, prior to 1935.
Kulp obtained her bachelor's degree in journalism from Florida State University in 1943, then known as Florida State College for Women, worked on a master's degree in English and French at the University of Miami, and was a member of Pi Beta Phi Women's Fraternity. In the early 1940s she also was a feature writer for the Miami Beach Tropics newspaper, writing profiles of celebrities such as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Clark Gable.
In 1944 Kulp left the University of Miami to volunteer for United States Naval Reserve service in World War II. As a member of the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), Ltjg. Kulp received several decorations, including the American Campaign Medal, the National Defense Medal, and the Good Conduct Medal. She left the service in 1946.
Kulp married Charles Malcolm Dacus on April 1, 1951 in Dade County, Florida; they divorced in 1961.
Late in life Kulp indicated to author Boze Hadley in a 1989 interview that she was lesbian. "As long as you reproduce my reply word for word, and the question, you may use it... I'd appreciate it if you'd let me phrase the question. There is more than one way. Here's how I would ask it: 'Do you think that opposites attract?' My own reply would be that I'm the other sort – I find that birds of a feather flock together. That answers your question."
Shortly after her marriage, Kulp moved to Hollywood, California to work in a studio publicity department, but director George Cukor convinced her that she should work in front of the camera.
Her film debut as a character actress was in 1951 in The Model and the Marriage Broker. She appeared in subsequent films, including Shane, Sabrina, and A Star is Born. Kulp has an uncredited bit part in a crowd scene as a fan of Donald O'Connor in one of the opening scenes in Anything Goes (1956 film). After working in television on The Bob Cummings Show, she returned to movies in [orever, Darling, The Three Faces of Eve, The Parent Trap (1961 film) and The Aristocats.
Kulp was once described as television's homeliest girl, or as one reviewer put it, possessing the "face of a shriveled balloon, the figure of a string of spaghetti and the voice of a bullfrog in mating season." She was also tall and prim and was widely praised for her comedic skills.
In 1955, Kulp joined the cast of The Bob Cummings Show (a.k.a. Love That Bob) with Bob Cummings, portraying pith-helmeted neighborhood bird-watcher Pamela Livingstone.
In 1956, she appeared in the episode "Johnny Bravo" of Clint Walker's ABC series Cheyenne. She appeared in 1955-1956 as "Anastasia" in three episodes of the NBC sitcom It's a Great Life.
Kulp appeared in one episode of I Love Lucy. In the 1957 episode "Lucy meets the Queen," she showed Lucy and Ethel how to properly curtsy. She also appeared in several episodes of Perry Mason, The Jack Benny Program., 87th Precinct, The Twilight Zone (1959 TV series) and The Outlaws (1960 TV series), and briefly played a drunken waitress with slightly slurred speech in a 1959 episode of Maverick featuring James Garner entitled "Full House." Kulp also played a housekeeper in a pilot for the "The William Bendix Show" which aired as the 1960-1961 season finale of Mister Ed under the episode title "Pine Lake Lodge."
In 1962, she landed her breakout role of Jane Hathaway, the love-starved bird-watching perennial spinster, on The Beverly Hillbillies television series. She remained with the show until its cancellation in 1971. In 1967, she received an Emmy Award nomination for her role.
After The Beverly Hillbillies cancellation in 1971, Kulp appeared in roles on The Brian Keith Show and Sanford and Son. She also appeared in Broadway productions, including Morning's at Seven in 1981.
In 1984, after working with the Democratic State Committee in her home state of Pennsylvania "on a variety of projects" over a period of years, Kulp ran for the United States House of Representatives as a Democrat from Pennsylvania but was unsuccessful. As an opponent of a Republican incumbent, Bud Shuster, in a Republican district in a year in which U.S. President Ronald W. Reagan won a landslide reelection, Kulp was the underdog despite the otherwise favourable climate for liberal Democrats in Pennsylvania as a whole. To her dismay, Hillbillies co-star Buddy Ebsen supported Shuster and even appeared in a radio commercial in which he called Kulp "too liberal". Ebsen claimed that Kulp was exploiting her celebrity status and did not have a grasp of the issues. Shuster defeated Kulp with sixty-seven percent of the vote.
After her political defeat, Kulp worked for Juniata College in Pennsylvania as an Artist in Residence. Later, she taught acting and retired to a farm in Connecticut and later, Palm Springs, California.
Kulp was diagnosed with cancer in 1990 and underwent chemotherapy. By 1991, the cancer had spread, and Kulp died on February 3 at a friend's home in Palm Springs, California. She is interred at Westminster Presbyterian Cemetery in Mifflintown, Pennsylvania.
- 1930 U.S. Federal Census Record, viewed on Ancestry.com on 7 June 2010.
- US Federal Census Record, viewed on Ancestry.com on 7 June 2010.
- Nancy Kulp, 69, Dies; Film and TV Actress, The New York Times, February 5, 1991
- Nancy Kulp; Foil in 'Beverly Hillbillies'
- Marriage license on Ancestry.com, which cites the marriage of Nancy Jane Kulp and Charles Malcolm Dacus as occurring in Dade County, Florida, in 1951. The marriage certificate number is 1315 and is held in Volume 7097.
- Boze Hadleigh, "Hollywood Lesbians" (Barricade Books, 1992)
- The Model and the Marriage Broker at the Internet Movie Database
- ""I Love Lucy" Lucy Meets the Queen (1956)" at the Internet Movie Database
- CAMPAIGN NOTES; Actress in Pennsylvania To Run for Congress, New York Times, 1984-02-02
- Former 'Hillbilly' Loses, New York Times, 1984-11-08
- Kulp Goes From Miss Hathaway to Pennsylvania College Professor,Lakeland Ledger,1985-11-29
- Johns, Howard (2004). Palm Springs Confidential: Playground of the Stars!. Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books. p. 126. ISBN 9781569802694.
- Nancy Kulp (1921 - 1991) - Find A Grave Memorial
- Nancy Kulp at the Internet Movie Database
- Nancy Kulp at the Internet Broadway Database
- Nancy Kulp at Find a Grave
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