Ruby Keeler


Actor, Dancer
Ruby Keeler

About

Also Known As
Ethel Hilda Keeler
Birth Place
Halifax, Nova Scotia, CA
Born
August 25, 1909
Died
February 28, 1993
Cause of Death
Cancer

Biography

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 distin...

Photos & Videos

Footlight Parade - Lobby Cards
Gold Diggers of 1933 - Publicity Stills
Dames - Lobby Cards

Family & Companions

Al Jolson
Husband
Actor, singer, entertainer. Married September 21, 1928 in Pittsburgh PA, separated 1939, divorced December 28, 1940; met while Keeler was dancer at Texas Guinan's El Fey Club in New York; starred together in the Warner Brothers musical film, "Go Into Your Dance" (1935).
John H Lowe
Husband
Real estate broker. Second husband; married 27 years; deceased.

Biography

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).

Life Events

1911

Family moved to New York's Lower East Side when Keeler was three (date approximate)

1922

Danced in Texas Guinan's El Fey speakeasy at age 13 (date approximate)

1923

New York stage debut in chorus of "The Rise of Rosie O'Reilly"

1927

First major Broadway stage role in "Bye, Bye Bonnie"

1928

Appeared on Broadway in "Whoopee"

1929

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

1933

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

1934

Last of four consecutive musicals with musical numbers supervised by Busby Berkeley, "Dames"

1936

Last film in which she co-starred with Dick Powell, "Colleen"

1937

Last film at Warner Brothers, "Ready, Willing and Able"

1938

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

1940

Returned to stage in "Hold onto Your Hats" at the Grand Opera House, Chicago

1941

Final film before first retirement, "Sweethearts of the Campus"

1941

Retired from stage and film

1970

Returned to film in "The Phynx"

1971

Made Broadway comeback in a revival of the 1920s stage musical, "No, No Nanette"

1975

Suffered a stroke and was operated on for an aneurysm of the brain, was comatose for two months (date approximate)

1989

Final film, "Beverly Hills Brats"

Photo Collections

Footlight Parade - Lobby Cards
Here are several Lobby Cards from Footlight Parade (1933). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Gold Diggers of 1933 - Publicity Stills
Here are some photos taken to publicize the "We're In the Money" sequence from Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933).
Dames - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from the Warner Bros. musical Dames (1934). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.

Videos

Movie Clip

42nd Street (1933) -- Title Song Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell sing about "naughty, gaudy, bawdy, sporty 42nd Street" (1933) in Busby Berkeley's lavish closing number.
Dames (1934) - We're Thirteenth Cousins Kooky moral-crusader zillionaire Ounce (Hugh Herbert) and aide (Johnny Arthur) advise cousin Hemingway (Guy Kibbee) that his daughter (Ruby Keeler) must avoid cousin Jimmy (Dick Powell) if they want that inheritance, which she isn’t, song by Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal, early in Dames, 1934.
42nd Street (1933) -- Musical Comedy with Dancing! Brilliant Broadway grit, as temperamental director Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) works his chorus line to collapse, Bebe Daniels as Dorothy with the Harry Warren/Al Dubin song, Guy Kibbee her clownish sugar-daddy and financier, in Warner Bros.' 42nd Street (1933).
42nd Street (1933) -- Shuffle Off To Buffalo Dramatic climax, Warner Baxter as director Julian Marsh gives the seminal pep talk to understudy Peggy (Ruby Keeler), who comes back a star, with the Al Dubin/Harry Warren song and the Busby Berkeley number, in 42nd Street, 1933.
Gold Diggers Of 1933 (1933) - I Hate Starving In Bed Broadway in a slump and the girls suffering, Carol (Joan Blondell), Trixie (Aline MacMahon) and Polly (Ruby Keeler) improvising when Fay (Ginger Rogers ) shows up with a glimmer of good news, wisecracking in Warner Bros. style, in the first in the series, Gold Diggers Of 1933, 1933.
Dames (1934) - Feed Him To The Lions! Moralist Hemingway (Guy Kibbee) has been blackmailed into backing the show nephew Jimmy (Dick Powell) and Mabel (Joan Blondell) are putting on, unaware that his daughter (Ruby Keeler) is trying out under an assumed name, having no luck trying to back out, in Warner Bros.’ Dames, 1934.
Dames (1934) - I Only Have Eyes For You A portion of the sizable Busby Berkeley number introducing the Harry Warren and Al Dubin standard written for the film, Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler the enraptured couple, worth noting this is all supposed to be happening on a musical theater stage, in Warner Bros.’ Dames, 1934.
Gold Diggers of 1933 - Shadow Waltz Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler lead off in Busby Berkeley's famous neon-violins number "Shadow Waltz" by Al Dubin and Harry Warren, the penultimate event in Warner Bros. Gold Diggers of 1933.
Footlight Parade (1933) - These Are Cats Not Elephants! Foreshadowing Andrew Lloyd Webber, dance director Francis (Frank McHugh) gets schooled by producer Chester (James Cagney) on the cat number, office helper Bea (Ruby Keeler) checking in, herself pursued by singer Scotty (Dick Powell), in Warner Bros.' Footlight Parade, 1933.
Footlight Parade (1933) - Sittin' On A Backyard Fence Emergency lead Bea (Ruby Keeler) rehearsing in the cat-suit, the first Busby Berkeley number, Billy Barty as the mouse, song by Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal, singer Scotty (Dick Powell) still pursuing the star, in Warner Bros.' Footlight Parade, 1933.
Footlight Parade (1933) - Dust Off The Straitjacket First scene for supreme Broadway theatrical girl-Friday Nan (Joan Blondell), dealing with everybody including thinker Hobart Cavanaugh, then her producer boss Chester (James Cagney) and office gal Bea (Ruby Keeler), in Warner Bros.' Footlight Parade, 1933.
Footlight Parade (1933) - By A Waterfall Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler started this, with vocals from the Sammy Fain-Irving Kahal tune, joining for the climax of the Busby Berkeley aqua-musical number, producer James Cagney and adoring assistant Joan Blondell checking to see how it goes over, in Warner Bros.’ Footlight Parade, 1933.

Trailer

Go Into Your Dance - (Original Trailer) Real-life husband and wife Al Jolson and Ruby Keeler star in the musical melodrama Go Into Your Dance (1935).
Flirtation Walk - (Original Trailer) 42nd Street stars Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler head a musical salute to West Point in Flirtation Walk (1934).
Shipmates Forever - (Original Trailer) An admiral's son (Dick Powell) gives up the Navy for a career as a song-and-dance man in the musical Shipmates Forever (1935).
Gold Diggers of 1933 - (Original Trailer) Three chorus girls fight to keep their show going in order to rich bachelors in Gold Diggers of 1933 starring Joan Blondell.
Footlight Parade - (Original Trailer) A producer fights labor problems, financiers and his greedy ex-wife to put on a show in Footlight Parade (1933) starring James Cagney.
Mother Carey's Chickens - (Original Trailer) Fay Bainter is a widow with four children who fights to keep her home in Mother Carey's Chickens (1938).
Ready, Willing and Able - (Original Trailer) Ruby Keeler is already a star and British to boot in the Warner Brothers musical Ready, Willing and Able (1937).
42nd Street - (Original Trailer) Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell star in 42nd Street (1933) featuring the dazzling choreography of Busby Berkeley.
Colleen - (Original Trailer) Dick Powell plays an eccentric millionaire who hires a gold digger (Ruby Keeler) to run his business in the musical Colleen (1936).
Dames - (Original Trailer) A reformer's daughter wins the lead in a scandalous Broadway show in Busby Berkeley's musical Dames (1934).

Family

Al Jolson Jr
Son
Adopted with Al Jolson; Keeler awarded custody after divorce from Jolson; survived her.
Kathleen Keeler
Daughter
Broadway company manager. Company manager for "Catskills on Broadway" (1992); survived her.
John Lowe Jr
Son
Son of John Lowe; survived her.

Companions

Al Jolson
Husband
Actor, singer, entertainer. Married September 21, 1928 in Pittsburgh PA, separated 1939, divorced December 28, 1940; met while Keeler was dancer at Texas Guinan's El Fey Club in New York; starred together in the Warner Brothers musical film, "Go Into Your Dance" (1935).
John H Lowe
Husband
Real estate broker. Second husband; married 27 years; deceased.

Bibliography