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Howard Keel Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (3) | Trade Mark (2) | Trivia (34) | Personal Quotes (19)

Overview (4)

Date of Birth 13 April 1919Gillespie, Illinois, USA
Date of Death 7 November 2004Palm Desert, California, USA  (colon cancer)
Birth NameHarold Clifford Keel
Height 6' 4" (1.93 m)

Mini Bio (1)

He was the Errol Flynn and Clark Gable of "golden age" movie musicals back in the 1950s. With a barrel-chested swagger and cocky, confident air, not to mention his lusty handsomeness and obvious athleticism, 6'4" brawny baritone Howard Keel had MGM's loveliest songbirds swooning helplessly for over a decade in what were some of the finest musical films ever produced.

Born Harold Clifford Keel in Gillespie, IL, in 1919, his childhood was admittedly unhappy, his father being a hard-drinking coal miner and his mother a stern, repressed Methodist homemaker. When Keel was 11 his father died, and the family moved to California. He later earned his living as a car mechanic, then found work during WWII at Douglas Aircraft in Los Angeles. His naturally untrained voice was discovered by the staff of his aircraft company and soon he was performing at various entertainments for the company's clients. He was inspired to sing professionally one day while attending a Hollywood Bowl concert, and quickly advanced through the musical ranks from singing waiter to music festival contest winner to guest recitalist.

Oscar Hammerstein II "discovered" Keel in 1946 during John Raitt's understudy auditions for the role of Billy Bigelow in Broadway's popular musical "Carousel." He was cast on sight and the die was cast. Keel managed to understudy Alfred Drake as Curly in "Oklahoma!" as well, and in 1947 took over the rustic lead in the London production, earning great success. British audiences took to the charismatic singer and he remained there as a concertist while making a non-singing film debut in the British crime drama The Hideout (1948) (aka "Hideout").

MGM was looking for an answer to Warner Bros.' Gordon MacRae when they came upon Keel in England. They made a great pitch for him and he returned to the US, changing his stage moniker to Howard Keel. He became a star with his very first role, playing sharpshooter Frank Butler opposite brassy Betty Hutton's Annie Oakley in the film version of the Broadway musical Annie Get Your Gun (1950). From then on Keel would be showcased in several of MGM's biggest and most classic extravaganzas, with Show Boat (1951), Calamity Jane (1953), Kiss Me Kate (1953) and (his favorite) Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) at the top of the list. Kismet (1955) opposite Ann Blyth would be his last, as the passion for movie musicals ran its course.

The robust musical star also managed to move effortlessly into rugged (if routine) action fare, appearing in such 1960s films as Armored Command (1961), Waco (1966), Red Tomahawk (1967) and The War Wagon (1967), the last one starring John Wayne and featuring Keel as a wisecracking Indian, of all things. In the 1970s Keel kept his singing voice alive by returning full force to his musical roots. Some of his summer stock and touring productions, which included "Camelot," "South Pacific," "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," "Man of La Mancha," and "Show Boat," often reunited him with his former MGM leading ladies, including Kathryn Grayson and Jane Powell. He also worked up a Las Vegas nightclub act Ms. with Grayson in the 1970s.

Keel became an unexpected TV household name when he replaced Jim Davis as the upstanding family patriarch of the nighttime soap drama Dallas (1978) after Davis' untimely death. As Clayton Farlow, Miss Ellie's second husband, he enjoyed a decade of steady work. In later years he continued to appear in concerts. As a result of this renewed fame on TV, Keel landed his first solo recording contract with "And I Love You So" in 1983. Married three times, he died in 2004 of colon cancer, survived by his third wife, three daughters and one son.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

Spouse (3)

Judy Keel (21 December 1970 - 7 November 2004) (his death) (1 child)
Helen Anderson (3 January 1949 - 10 December 1970) (divorced) (3 children)
Rosemary Cooper (17 March 1943 - 1948) (divorced)

Trade Mark (2)

During his UK concert tours in the 1980s and 90s, had a habit of checking his watch (wrist or pocket) during his performances to ensure he was on schedule.
Performing a medley of songs from Oklahoma! in concert and TV appearances

Trivia (34)

From 1971-1992 he was the father-in-law of actor Edward James Olmos through Olmos' marriage to Keel's daughter Kaija Keel.
Worked as a representative for the Douglas Aircraft Corporation in Southern California before embarking on his singing and acting career
Enjoyed golf
(1958-1959) President of Screen Actors Guild (SAG).
During the shooting of Annie Get Your Gun (1950), he broke his leg when his horse fell on him. He was laid up for six weeks.
Portrayed Curly in the original London cast of "Oklahoma", Fred Graham in "Kiss Me Kate" (1953), and Hajj in "Kismet" (1955). Baritone Alfred Drake originated all three roles on Broadway.
Children with Helen: Kaija Keel (born January 14, 1950), Kirstine Keel (born June 21, 1952) and Gunnar Keel (born June 3, 1955).
Esther Williams gave his daughter, Kaija Keel, swimming lessons.
His third wife was 25 years younger than him.
Daughter with third wife, Judy Keel: Leslie Keel, was born September 1, 1974.
Grandfather of Mico Olmos and Bodie Olmos.
Has some Irish heritage. A lot of his distant family reside in Ireland.
The producers of Kiss Me Kate (1953) signed Kathryn Grayson immediately for the femme lead but actually wanted Laurence Olivier in the Petruchio role with plans to dub his singing voice. Director George Sidney, however, was able to promote Keel enough for him to get the part.
Originally scheduled to portray Franklin D. Roosevelt in "Sunrise at Campobello," a case of pneumonia forced him to abandon the role before it got to Broadway. Ralph Bellamy replaced him and won numerous awards, including the Tony. Keel played the role eventually on tour.
First wife, Rosemary Cooper, was an actress and second wife, Helen Anderson, was a dancer. Third wife & widow, Judy Keel, was a one-time flight attendant.
In the 1950s, while he was at MGM, a mistake in the publicity department started the rumor that Howard's birth name was Harold Leek. The rumor soon became regarded as fact, though it annoyed Howard very much. His true birth name was Harry Clifford Keel.
Due to his huge size, many of his petite leading ladies had to stand on boxes to be in the same frame.
Was the original choice to play the lead in Singin' in the Rain (1952). The part went to Gene Kelly instead.
Shares birthday with Ron Perlman.
Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume 7, 2003-2005, pages 294-296. Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale, 2007.
Producers approached Howard Keel for the role of "Jock Ewing" on Dallas (1978) after Jim Davis's death but, out of respect for Davis, Keel turned them down and remained in the role of "Clayton Farlow".
Before he was a successful actor, he also worked as a singing busboy.
His hobbies included: singing, dancing, watching movies, listening to opera, fishing, golfing, spending time with his family.
Was cremated and his ashes scattered at various favorite places including Mere Golf Club, Liverpool John Lennon Airport, and in Tuscany, Italy.
Survived by ten grandchildren and 1 great-granddaughter.
Before he was a successful stage actor and singer, he used to work as a traveling representative.
Remained good friends with Larry Hagman and Patrick Duffy during and after Dallas (1978).
Began his career as a contract player at MGM in 1950.
After his father's death, he and his mother moved to San Diego, California, in 1930.
Had grown up in a strict Christian environment.
Met Judy Keel on a blind date, who never even heard of him. Judy was 26, Howard was 51.
Best known for his role as Clayton Farlow on Dallas (1978).
Best friend of Barbara Bel Geddes and Larry Hagman.

Personal Quotes (19)

[about filming dinner scenes on Dallas (1978)] The continuity girl goes crazy. The poor dear, my gosh! Because you take a bite, you gotta remember when you took the bite, what words, that sort of thing. If you sit down with Patrick Duffy, who plays Bobby, and [Larry Hagman] at a meal like that, it's like sitting down with two of the worst brats in the neighborhood! They pull more shtick at that table. They send the scripts up. It is pandemonium! It's a minor miracle that anything gets done.
[about his heart surgery] One person who has really been an inspiration for me in this is my good friend Barbara Bel Geddes, who underwent coronary bypass surgery herself about three years ago. I've learned some things from Barbara. One thing I learned is that you don't accomplish anything by sitting around the house after something like this - except to get yourself good and bored. I was one of those that encouraged her to come back to the show, and I've never seen Barbara looking happier or more healthy looking than since she returned to Dallas (1978). Seeing her return has been a real inspiration. It shows how you can come back from heart surgery.
[about his choice to go ahead with open heart surgery in January, 1986, despite the risk of losing his job on Dallas (1978)] There is always another part. But there is only one life!
Any time you get in an area that takes a great deal of skill, you'll find that the tendrils are much more sensitive. People talk about actors being temperamental, but that sort of thing is everywhere.
Once somebody said to me, "How can you stand to work in a tent?" Well, people are people wherever you go, and a performance is a performance. It's your job and it's not fair to let an audience down. I will not relax the standards of what I feel should be done.
If I had my ups and downs, that's tough. If everything in life always went smoothly, it would be a bloody bore. You know, people say, "Wait and go to heaven". Well, if heaven's like they claim it is, I don't want to go. I'd get bored. Besides, I think heaven's right here, in your mind. You make your own heaven and hell, I think. All this nonsense about heaven: "Be good so you can go up there." I say be good because you should be good, because you don't want to hurt people.
You should never envy anyone. One day you might be in that person's position and it might not be so nice.
The only way to enjoy golf is to be a masochist. Go out and beat yourself to death.
I'm not a religious man. As a matter of fact, I think religion is one of the biggest evils in this world. Think of the world's wars, almost all of them have started because of religion. I have my own attitude to this life. Hell, you can't look up at the sky and not think there's some superhuman force at work. But I don't know what it is.
When I found out that I could carry a tune, well, I came to realize that I had a gift, that it was a kind of a blessing. And I think if you're given something special, you ought to try and give that something back. If you don't, it's a sin. No question.
[about his work on Dallas (1978)][ I started out a long time ago, and now the younger generation knows who I am. My daughter is a part of that younger generation, and I owe it to her not to act like an old man.
You get your ups and downs but you just don't fall apart. You take another shot at it.
[about his job on Dallas (1978)] When I was offered the role of Farlow, I was thrilled. It meant I could be home every night with my family.
Success can be harder to take than failure in a lot of ways. It brings with it a responsibility. You have to learn that all the highs don't last forever. For every high, there's a corresponding low. It's why young kids often go to pieces. When they get so popular they can't go out of their hotel rooms, that's when they turn to drugs. Success can be very dangerous, very heady.
[about retirement] I'm just having too much fun. As long as I can sing well, I'll keep at it. The minute I feel that the voice is getting down, the minute I feel that I can't cut the mustard, I'll quit.
God has been kind. I haven't got any great talent but everyone has a certain amount and it's what you do with it that counts. I was blessed with a voice and I used it.
[on Kathryn Grayson] She's a beautiful woman. A good friend. Fun to be around.
I had a terrible, rotten childhood. My father made away with himself when I was 11. I had no guidance, my mom was six feet tall, bucktoothed and very tough. I was mean and rebellious and had a terrible temper. I got a job as an auto mechanic, and I would have stayed in that narrow kind of life if I hadn't discovered art. Music changed me completely.
It was a fine cast and lots of fun to make, but they did the damn thing on the cheap. The backdrops had holes in them and it was shot on the worst film stock. - On Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

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