Howard Keel


Actor, Singer
Howard Keel

About

Also Known As
Harry Clifford Leek, Harold Keel
Birth Place
Gillespie, Illinois, USA
Born
April 13, 1919
Died
November 07, 2004
Cause of Death
Colon Cancer

Biography

His operatic singing voice and matinee idol looks won him an offer in 1944 to headline Rodgers and Hammerstein's Broadway hit "Oklahoma!" but Howard Keel stuck with his day job at the Douglas Aircraft Corporation, setting aside ambition to aid the Allied effort through the end of World War II. It was on London's West End that Keel caught the eye of British film producers, for whom he mad...

Photos & Videos

Calamity Jane - Movie Poster
Kismet (1955) - Movie Poster
Pagan Love Song - Publicity Stills

Family & Companions

Helen Anderson
Wife
Dancer. Divorced.
Judy Keel
Wife

Bibliography

"Howard Keel: A Bio-Bibliography"
Bruce R Leiby, Greenwood Press (1995)

Biography

His operatic singing voice and matinee idol looks won him an offer in 1944 to headline Rodgers and Hammerstein's Broadway hit "Oklahoma!" but Howard Keel stuck with his day job at the Douglas Aircraft Corporation, setting aside ambition to aid the Allied effort through the end of World War II. It was on London's West End that Keel caught the eye of British film producers, for whom he made his big screen debut in 1948. Stateside, Keel accepted an MGM contract and lead roles in such Technicolor musicals as "Annie Get Your Gun" (1950), "Show Boat" (1951), and "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" (1954), while proving himself a credible man of action in the British "Floods of Fear" (1958) and "Day of the Triffids" (1962), in which he saved the Earth from an invasion of asparaginous extraterrestrials. Though he rode tall beside John Wayne and Kirk Douglas in Burt Kennedy's "The War Wagon" (1967), film offers thinned out with the demise of the studio system. Supplementing his income with nightclub and summer stock appearances, Keel was on the verge of retiring when the producers of the popular primetime soap opera "Dallas" (NBC, 1978-1991) tapped him to play steel-spined oil baron Clayton Farlow through the end of the series' 13-year run. Capping his career in his seventies by returning to his roots as a singer, Keel released four albums of songs before his death in 2004 robbed the arts of a one-of-a-kind popular entertainer with classical appeal.

Harold Clifton Keel was born on April 13, 1917, in Gillespie, IL. A former navy captain, Keel's father Homer was compelled by hard times to work as a coal miner and a dependence on alcohol drove him to abusive rages. With his father's suicide in 1930, Keel's mother, the former Grace Osterkamp, relocated her two sons to California, settling ultimately in Fallbrook, north of San Diego. A strict Methodist, the woman forbade her sons any form of popular entertainment, even as a diversion from the crushing poverty in which they lived. After graduating from Fallbrook High School, Keel headed for Los Angeles, where the landlady of the apartment he rented overheard him singing and encouraged him to take vocal lessons. Finding an early outlet for his talent as a singing busboy at the Paris Inn in downtown L.A., Keel secured better paying work with the Douglas Aircraft Corporation. His matinee idol looks and plummy basso cantante voice prompted his employers to send him out as a company-wide goodwill ambassador, aiding the war effort by traveling from plant to plant to entertain workers on the assembly line.

Keel made his public performing debut in 1941, singing the role of Samuel the Prophet in a production of Handel's three-act oratorio "Saul." While performing at the Chicago Music Festival during World War II, Keel was discovered by theatrical librettist and producer Oscar Hammerstein II, then scouting actor-singers for the touring companies of his hit musical "Oklahoma!" Though Keel demurred, preferring to serve the war effort under the auspices of Douglas Aircraft, he did join the cast of Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers' "Carousel" after the war as an understudy for star John Raitt and went on to replace Alfred Drake in "Oklahoma!" as the lovelorn cowboy Curly. In 1945, he married Rosemary Cooper, a silent film actress nearly 20 years his senior. Three years later, Keel transferred with "Oklahoma!" to London's West End, where British film producers scouted him for the role of an escaped prison convict who takes a young couple hostage in the thriller "The Small Voice: (1948). Though registering as little more than a blip on the actor's career arc, the British Lion release did mark his first billing as Howard Keel.

With his divorce from Cooper in 1948, Keel married dancer Helen Anderson, a member of the "Oklahoma!" chorus. The couple settled in Los Angeles, where they raised three children born between 1950 and 1955. A contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer led to Keel's casting as the cocksure frontiersman Frank Butler in "Annie Get Your Gun" (1950), George Sidney's big screen adaptation of the hit Broadway musical, in which Keel was partnered with Betty Hutton as Annie Oakley. At 6'4," the almost impossibly handsome Keel was made for Technicolor and the ever-widening aspect ratio of the silver screen. He won plumb roles in several opulent MGM super-productions, as riverboat gambler Gaylord Ravenal opposite Ava Gardner in Sidney's "Show Boat" (1951), as Fred Graham in Sidney's "Kiss Me Kate" (1953), a meta-musical take on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew; and as timberman Adam Pontipee in Stanley Donen's "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" (1954). Despite the fact that all of these films garnered multiple Academy Award nominations, Keel was never recognized by the academy for his commanding screen presence.

As an MGM contract player, Keel was pressed into service, often against his better judgment, in non-musical programmers or as second male leads in minor musicals. In the Technicolor "Texas Carnival" (1951), he played second banana to rubber-faced comic Red Skelton, with whom he sparred for the love of leading lady Esther Williams, and took on Robert Taylor for the affection of Ava Gardner in John Farrow's "Ride, Vaquero!" (1953). On loan to Warner Brothers, Keel played the larger-than-life Buffalo Bill Cody to Doris Day's "Calamity Jane" (1953) and back at Metro he commanded lead roles in Mervyn LeRoy's Cinemascope musical adventure "Rose Marie" (1954), as a Royal Canadian Mounted Police captain in pursuit of renegade fur trapper Fernando Lamas, and in Vincente Minnelli's "Kismet" (1955), an adaptation of the hit Broadway musical, with Keel well-cast as an impoverished poet who masquerades as a magician in a lush Arabian nights setting chockablock with such dubious Hollywood Muslims as Jack Elam and Mike Mazurki.

With the dissolution of his MGM contract, Keel entered a period of free agency, traveling back to England to star in Charles Crichton's "Floods of Fear" (1958), playing a wrongly-convicted and often shirtless man holding a clutch of captives prisoner in a house half-deluged by flood waters. Growing barrel-chested as he advanced into middle age, Keel stayed bundled in cable-knit sweaters throughout Steve Sekely's "Day of the Triffids" (1962), as a merchant mariner who lucks out of being blinded by a freak meteor shower and finds himself an unlikely hero with the resultant growth of alien life forms bent on ankling humanity. A run of unimpressive Westerns followed, with the actor shouldering his way through the aggregate mediocrity of "Waco" (1967), "Red Tomahawk" (1967), and "Arizona Uprising" (1968). More fun was a supporting role in Burt Kennedy's "The War Wagon" (1967), which cast Keel as a sardonic Native American who joins the gang of leads John Wayne and Kirk Douglas in pulling off an armored stagecoach robbery.

Divorced from Helen Anderson in 1970, the 51-year-old Keel married 26-year-old actress Judy Magamoll, who bore him a third child, a daughter, in 1974. Less in demand for feature film work, Keel augmented his income with nightclub and summer stock appearances and guest spots on network television series. His hair grown white and often sporting a mustache, Keel brought a senatorial bearing to his performances as he reached retirement age. On the cusp of relocating his family to Oklahoma with the intention of going into private business, Keel was tapped by the producers of the CBS primetime soap opera "Dallas" (1978-1991) to serve as a replacement for series regular Jim Davis, who succumbed to cancer in 1981. While playing oil baron Clayton Farlow, love interest and later husband for Barbara Bel Geddes' widowed matriarch Miss Ellie Ewing, the reinvigorated actor popped up on such hit shows as "Fantasy Island" (ABC, 1977-1984), "The Love Boat" (ABC, 1977-1986) and "Murder, She Wrote" (CBS, 1984-1996), all of which courted older viewers with a guest cast roster of classic Hollywood actors and actresses.

Admitting in later years that he preferred singing to acting, Keel dabbled in record production, releasing four albums of songs between 1984 and 1988. The recordings did better in the United Kingdom than in the United States, with And I Love You So charting at no. 6 in the U.K. In 1994, Keel and his wife moved to Palm Desert, CA, where he participated in charity events. He also gave the loan of his name to the Howard Keel Golf Classic held annually in Cheshire, England, whose proceeds went to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. His final big screen appearance was in Larry Holden's independent feature film "My Father's House" (2002). Diagnosed with colon cancer in October 2004, Keel died a mere six weeks later on Nov. 7, 2004, at the age of 85.

By Richard Harland Smith

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

That's Entertainment! III (1994)
Hart to Hart: Home Is Where the Hart Is (1994)
Arizona Bushwhackers (1968)
Lee Travis
Red Tomahawk (1967)
Capt. Tom York
The War Wagon (1967)
Levi Walking Bear
Waco (1966)
Waco
The Man From Button Willow (1965)
The Day of the Triffids (1962)
Bill Masen
Armored Command (1961)
Colonel Devlin
The Big Fisherman (1959)
Simon-Peter
Floods of Fear (1958)
Jupiter's Darling (1955)
Hannibal
Kismet (1955)
Poet
Deep in My Heart (1954)
[performer in] "My Maryland"
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
Adam
Rose Marie (1954)
Mike Malone
Desperate Search (1953)
Vince Heldon
Ride, Vaquero! (1953)
King Cameron
Fast Company (1953)
Rick Grayton
Kiss Me Kate (1953)
Fred Graham "Petruchio"
Calamity Jane (1953)
Wild Bill Hickok
Lovely To Look At (1952)
Tony Naylor
Texas Carnival (1951)
Slim Shelby
Show Boat (1951)
Gaylord Ravenal
Three Guys Named Mike (1951)
Mike Jamison
Callaway Went Thataway (1951)
"Smoky" Callaway/"Stretch" Barnes
Across the Wide Missouri (1951)
Narrator, Chip Mitchell as an adult
Annie Get Your Gun (1950)
Frank Butler
Pagan Love Song (1950)
Hazard Endicott
The Small Voice (1948)

Cast (Special)

The Golden Globe's 50th Anniversary Celebration (1994)
The 48th Annual Golden Globe Awards (1991)
Presenter
The 1990 Miss Universe Pageant (1990)
Judge
Bob Hope's Tropical Comedy Special From Tahiti (1987)
The 58th Annual Academy Awards Presentation (1986)
Performer
Irving Berlin's America (1986)
Polar Bear! (1985)
Narration
Hollywood Melody (1962)
Guest

Music (Special)

Bob Hope's Tropical Comedy Special From Tahiti (1987)
Song Performer

Cast (Short)

THE HOAXSTERS (1952)
Narrator

Life Events

1933

Moved to Southern California at age 16 (date approximate)

1947

Recreated the role of Curly when he opened the London stage production of "Oklahoma"

1948

Made feature film debut in a non-singing supporting role in the British crime drama, "The Small Voice"

1950

Signed by MGM; became instant star as the male lead of "Annie Get Your Gun"

1951

First film opposite Kathryn Grayson, "Show Boat"

1951

Provided the offscreen narration for the Western saga, "Across the Wide Missouri", starring Clark Gable

1952

First leading role in a non-musical, "Desperate Search"

1954

Made best-remembered film, "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

1955

Last musical starring roles, and last musicals for MGM, "Jupiter's Darling" and "Kismet"

1958

Went to Britain to play the leading role in the action drama, "Floods of Fear"

1967

Last leading role, "Red Tomahawk"

1968

Last feature film appearance for over 20 years, "Arizona Bushwhackers"

1977

Teamed with Jane Powell on record-breaking national theater tour of "South Pacific"

1978

Reprised screen role of eldest brother Adam in a touring stage version of "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers", opposite original screen co-star Jane Powell

1983

Recorded first solo album, "And I Love You So"

1994

Was one of the hosts of the feature compilation documentary, "That's Entertainment III", revisiting the MGM musical from the coming of sound through the late 1950s

Photo Collections

Calamity Jane - Movie Poster
Calamity Jane - Movie Poster
Kismet (1955) - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for MGM's Kismet (1955). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Pagan Love Song - Publicity Stills
Here are a few photos taken to help publicize MGM's Pagan Love Song (1950), starring Esther Williams, Howard Keel, and Rita Moreno.
Kiss Me Kate - Publicity Stills for 3-D showings
Here are some Publicity Stills for 3-D showings of Kiss Me Kate (1953). The studio art department configured these stills to emphasize the depth in 3-D showings of the film.
Kiss Me Kate - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's Kiss Me Kate (1953). Look for composer Cole Porter, director George Sidney, and stars Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Ann Miller, and others.
Annie Get Your Gun - Publicity Stills
Here are a few Publicity Stills from Annie Get Your Gun (1950), starring Betty Hutton and Howard Keel. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
Show Boat (1951) - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for MGM's Show Boat (1951). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Lovely to Look At - Scene Stills
Here are some scene stills from MGM's Lovely to Look At (1952), starring Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Ann Miller, and Red Skelton.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers - Publicity Stills
Here are a number of Publicity Stills from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
Annie Get Your Gun - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Annie Get Your Gun (1950). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.

Videos

Movie Clip

Callaway Went Thataway (1951) - What Would You Say To A Martini? Now in Hollywood, reluctantly convinced to pretend he’s the missing old-time singing cowboy who’s become a TV star, Howard Keel as Shep, impersonating “Smoky Callaway,” escorted by his de facto agents (Fred MacMurray, Dorothy McGuire) blunders with MGM celebrities (Elizabeth Taylor, Clark Gable) at Mocambo, then with the sponsor and wife (Fay Roope, Natalie Schaefer) in Callaway Went Thataway, 1951.
Callaway Went Thataway (1951) - Open, All In A Day's Work Opening as it becomes apparent that Howard Keel is on TV, the dapper singing cowboy (the girl he rescues is not credited), known as “Smoky Callaway,” with more gags about sponsorship coming, in the Norman Panama/Melvin Frank MGM comedy, generally seen as a spoof on Hopalong Cassidy, Callaway Went Thataway, 1951, starring Fred MacMurray and Dorothy McGuire.
Callaway Went Thataway (1951) - There Is No Smoky Callaway We’ve just met Fred MacMurray as TV ad-man Mike Frye, who introduces Dorothy McGuire as his partner, and through exposition we find out that the old movie singing cowboy they’ve turned into a TV star is missing, Jesse White as his old agent, in Callaway Went Thataway, 1951.
Callaway Went Thataway (1951) - He Died With His Regiment Unable to find washed-up singing cowboy Callaway, who they’ve made a TV star using his old movie serials, Hollywood advertising partners Mike and Deb (Fred MacMurray, Dorothy McGuire) track down the real cowboy (Howard Keel, who also plays Callaway), who wrote to complain because he’s a dead-ringer for the guy, in MGM’s Callaway Went Thataway, 1951.
Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954) - Wonderful, Wonderful Day Jane Powell’s first solo song, as Millie, spontaneously married to Oregon backwoodsman Adam Pontipee (Howard Keel), for now having no idea he has brothers, composed by Gene de Paul and Johnny Mercer, direction by Stanley Donen, in MGM’s Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, 1954.
Jupiter's Darling (1955) - -- Never Trust A Woman Curious Roman Amytis (Esther Williams) has pretty much caused herself to be captured by conqueror Hannibal of Carthage (Howard Keel), who offers a tune by Burton Lane and Harold Adamson as he considers whether to rely on her intelligence, George Sidney directing, in MGM’s Jupiter’s Darling,1955.
Texas Carnival (1951) - Young Folks Should Get Married Howard Keel, as ranch foreman Slim, because he has true feelings for Debbie (Esther Williams), isn’t letting on that he knows she’s not the richest gal in Texas, for-whom everyone has mistaken her, prompting the tune by Harry Warren and Dorothy Fields, in MGM’s Texas Carnival, 1951.
Kismet (1955) - Rise And Pray Unlikely these days that Baghdad would be presented in these mystical, romantic tones, the opening of the 1955 MGM musical based on 1953 Broadway show rather than the 1944 MGM fantasy, introducing Howard Keel as the Poet and Ann Blyth as daughter Marsinah, from Kismet.
Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954) - Sobbin' Women Adam (Howard Keel) counsels his brothers with an improbable historical reference via Gene De Paul and Johnny Mercer's "Sobbin' Women," which in turn was based on the satirical Stephen Vincent Benèt story from which the musical was written, in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, 1954.
Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954) - Bless Your Beautiful Hide Cocky Oregonian Adam (Howard Keel) expresses romantic aspirations with Gene De Paul and Johnny Mercer's "Bless Your Beautiful Hide," before meeting his co-star and bride to be Jane Powell, early in Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, 1954.
Calamity Jane (1953) - Deadwood Stage Full throttle opening, original tune by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster, Chubby Johnson is the driver and Howard Keel appears as Wild Bill but all are spectators to the star, Doris Day in the title role in the 1953 Warner Bros. hit Calamity Jane.
Kiss Me Kate (1953) - Wunderbar Backstage on the anniversary of their divorce, musical Shakespeare co-stars Fred (Howard Keel) and Lilli (Kathryn Grayson) improvise Cole Porter's original Wunderbar, in MGM's Kiss Me Kate, 1953.

Trailer

Deep in My Heart -- (Original Trailer) Jose Ferrer stars in Deep in My Heart (1954), MGM's all-star biography of Broadway songsmith Sigmund Romberg.
Annie Get Your Gun - (Original Trailer) Betty Hutton stars as Annie Oakley in the film version of Irving Berlin's musical Annie Get Your Gun (1950).
War Wagon, The - (Original Trailer) John Wayne and Kirk Douglas plan to steal a half million in gold from a greedy mine owner. Trouble is, it's in The War Wagon (1967).
Calamity Jane - (Original Trailer) Doris Day sings the Oscar-winning song "Secret Love" in the Western musical Calamity Jane (1953).
Texas Carnival - (Original Trailer) Esther Williams is far from the water at the Texas Carnival (1951) in this MGM Technicolor musical co-starring Red Skelton.
Lovely to Look At - (Original Trailer) Original trailer for MGM's All-star musical comedy, Lovely To Look At, 1952, with Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson, Red Skelton and Ann Miller, a remake of the 1936 hit Roberta.
Three Guys Named Mike - (Original Trailer) Stewardess Jane Wyman can't decide between Three Guys Named Mike (1951), co-starring Van Johnson and Howard Keel.
Across The Wide Missouri - (Original Trailer) Clark Gable plays a fur trapper forced to marry a woman from the Blackfoot Indian tribe in Across the Wide Missouri (1951).
Pagan Love Song - (Original Trailer) Esther Williams is an American girl mistaken for a Tahitian native in MGM's Technicolor musical Pagan Love Song (1950).
Kiss Me Kate - (Original Trailer) Feuding co-stars reunite for a musical version of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew in Kiss Me Kate (1953), directed by George Sidney and starring Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel.
Rose Marie (1954) - (Original Trailer) A trapper's daughter is torn between the Mountie who wants to civilize her and a dashing prospector in the widescreen color musical Rose Marie (1954).
Ride, Vaquero! - (Black-and-white Trailer) Robert Taylor had one of his darkest roles as a brutal outlaw smitten by love for the married Ava Gardner in Ride, Vaquero! (1953).

Family

Leslie Keel
Daughter
Mother Judy Keel.

Companions

Helen Anderson
Wife
Dancer. Divorced.
Judy Keel
Wife

Bibliography

"Howard Keel: A Bio-Bibliography"
Bruce R Leiby, Greenwood Press (1995)