Family & Companions
Former speakeasy dancer, chorine and Broadway lead who married musical star Al Jolson and moved with him to Hollywood, where she starred in some of the classic musicals of the 1930s. Keeler made her film debut as an aspiring showgirl in "42nd Street" (1933), opposite newcomer Dick Powell. She would be paired with the singing Powell in seven Warner Bros. extravaganzas, most of them distinguished by their elaborate, surrealistic, Busby Berkeley-designed dance routines. Keeler was sometimes the decorative centerpiece of Berkeley's bizarre numbers; buffs are unlikely to forget the jigsaw puzzle of Keeler's face in "Dames" (1934), assembled to the haunting strains of "I Only Have Eyes for You."
Although Keeler later claimed "I couldn't act. I had that terrible singing voice, and now I can see I wasn't the greatest tap dancer in the world, either," her sincere and spirited portrayals of sweet, mostly working-class, ingenues trying to get a break touched a chord in audiences during the height of the Depression. Although as a dancer she wasn't as graceful or expressive as Ginger Rogers or as speedy and technically proficient as Ann Miller or Eleanor Powell, it should be noted that Keeler essentially began as a buck-and-wing dancer. Buck dancing was done without taps on the bottoms of one's shoes and aimed primarily at a percussive effect, with less concern for the movements of the upper body; certainly Keeler's duet with James Cagney in the "Shanghai Lil" number in "Footlight Parade" (1933) is very fun to watch and listen to. Also notable was Keeler's duet with Lee Dixon to "Too Marvelous for Words" in one of her last musicals, "Ready, Willing and Able" (1937), performed on the keys of a giant typewriter.
Keeler retired from the screen in 1941 and, after occasional TV appearances in the 50s and 60s, made one of the most heralded show business comebacks, charming Broadway in the 1971 revival of the musical "No, No, Nanette." She was married to Jolson from 1928 to 1940 and made only one musical film with him, "Go Into Your Dance" (1935).
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Short)
Family moved to New York's Lower East Side when Keeler was three (date approximate)
Danced in Texas Guinan's El Fey speakeasy at age 13 (date approximate)
New York stage debut in chorus of "The Rise of Rosie O'Reilly"
First major Broadway stage role in "Bye, Bye Bonnie"
Appeared on Broadway in "Whoopee"
Al Jolson was instrumental in getting Keeler a featured role in Ziegfeld's "Show Girl" on Broadway; Jolson strolled down aisle of theater singing "Liza" while Keeler tap danced; he received no billing and no salary
Film debut, "42nd Street"; was also her first film collaboration with choreographer and dance director Busby Berkeley and the first of seven joint appearances opposite singer Dick Powell
Last of four consecutive musicals with musical numbers supervised by Busby Berkeley, "Dames"
Last film in which she co-starred with Dick Powell, "Colleen"
Last film at Warner Brothers, "Ready, Willing and Able"
Replaced Katharine Hepburn as one of the two female leads (the other being Anne Shirley) in "Mother Carey's Chickens", her last film for three years and her first non-musical film
Returned to stage in "Hold onto Your Hats" at the Grand Opera House, Chicago
Final film before first retirement, "Sweethearts of the Campus"
Retired from stage and film
Returned to film in "The Phynx"
Made Broadway comeback in a revival of the 1920s stage musical, "No, No Nanette"
Suffered a stroke and was operated on for an aneurysm of the brain, was comatose for two months (date approximate)
Final film, "Beverly Hills Brats"