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...
Gillespie, Illinois, USA
|Across the Wide Missouri||Voice||Chip Mitchell as an Adult (as Narrator)||6|
|Pagan Love Song||Actor||Hazard Endicott||7|
|Show Boat||Actor||Gaylord Revenal||7|
|Annie Get Your Gun||Actor||Frank Butler||7|
|Three Guys Named Mike||Actor||Mike Jamison||7|
|An Old-Fashioned Christmas||Actor||n/a||7|
|Hart to Hart: Home Is Where the Hart Is||Actor||Capt. Jack||7|
|The Big Fisherman||1958||Actor||Simon Peter||19587|
|Red Tomahawk||1966||Actor||Capt Tom York||19667|
|Roberta||1958 1957 - 1958||Actor||John Kent||19587|
|Arizona Bushwhackers||1968||Actor||Lee Travis||19687|
|Seven Brides For Seven Brothers||1954||Actor||Adam Pontipee||19547|
|Polar Bear!||1984 1983 - 1984||Narrator||Narration||1|
|The Day of the Triffids||1963||Actor||Bill Masen||19637|
|Floods of Fear||1957||Actor||Donavan||19577|
|Armored Command||1961||Actor||Colonel Devlin||19617|
|Rose Marie||1954||Actor||Mike Malone||19547|
|Kiss Me Kate||1953||Actor||Fred Grahame/Petruchio||19537|
|Calamity Jane||1953||Actor||Wild Bill Hickok||19537|
|Lovely to Look At||1951||Actor||n/a||19517|
|The War Wagon||1966||Actor||Levi Walking Bear||19667|
|Callaway Went Thataway||1951||Actor||n/a||19517|
|Bob Hope's Tropical Comedy Special From Tahiti||1986 1985 - 1986||Actor||n/a||19867|
|That's Entertainment! III||1994||Actor||Host||19947|
|The 1990 Miss Universe Pageant||1989 1988 - 1989||Actor||Judge||19897|
|Hart to Hart: Home Is Where the Hart Is||Actor||Captain Jack||7|
|That's Entertainment! III||1994||Actor||Song Performer||19947|
|Irving Berlin's America||Actor||n/a||7|
|I Love Melvin||1953||Actor||Guest Star||19537|
|The 48th Annual Golden Globe Awards||1990 1989 - 1990||Actor||Presenter||19907|
|The Golden Globe's 50th Anniversary Celebration||1993 1992 - 1993||Actor||n/a||19937|
|Dallas||1990 1976 - 1990||Actor||Clayton Farlow||19907|
|The 58th Annual Academy Awards Presentation||1985 1984 - 1985||Actor||n/a||19857|
|Deep in My Heart||1953||Actor||Guest Star||19537|
|Murder, She Wrote||1995 1983 - 1995||Actor||Larry Thorson||19957|
|Walker, Texas Ranger||2000 1991 - 2000||Actor||D L Dade||20007|
|Bob Hope's Tropical Comedy Special From Tahiti||1986 1985 - 1986||Song Performer||("Some Enchanted Evening" "Far Away Places" "A Slow Boat to China" "On Moonlight Bay")||1|
|Last leading role, "Red Tomahawk"|
|Moved to Southern California at age 16 (date approximate)|
|Toured the nightclub circuit, sometimes teaming up with his co-star from three MGM musicals of the 1950s, Kathryn Grayson|
|Recorded first solo album, "And I Love You So"|
|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|
|Joined the cast of the CBS primetime serial drama, "Dallas", which had premiered in 1978; played Clayton Farlow|
|Toured in stage productions of musicals and comedies including "Camelot", "Man of La Mancha", "Paint Your Wagon", "I Do! I Do!", "Plaza Suite", "Gigi", "Show Boat", "Kismet", "The Most Happy Fella" and "The Fantasticks"|
|Made feature film debut in a non-singing supporting role in the British crime drama, "The Small Voice"|
|First film opposite Kathryn Grayson, "Show Boat"|
|Last musical starring roles, and last musicals for MGM, "Jupiter's Darling" and "Kismet"|
|Recreated the role of Curly when he opened the London stage production of "Oklahoma"|
|Worked as a singing busboy in a Los Angeles cafe|
|Made best-remembered film, "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"|
|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|
|First leading role in a non-musical, "Desperate Search"|
|Last feature film appearance for over 20 years, "Arizona Bushwhackers"|
|Starred on the London stage in the musical "Ambassador"; later brought the role to Broadway (date approximate)|
|Began singing career with the American Music Theatre in Pasadena, California|
|Worked for Douglas Aircraft as a manufacturing representative travelling among various company plants; work included singing; won a first prize award at the Mississippi Valley while on the road; also won an award at the Chicago Music Festival|
|Chosen by Oscar Hammerstein II to perform on Broadway in "Carousel"; succeeded John Raitt in the leading role of Billy Bigelow; also took over the leading role of Curly in "Oklahoma"|
|Signed by MGM; became instant star as the male lead of "Annie Get Your Gun"|
|Went to Britain to play the leading role in the action drama, "Floods of Fear"|
|Provided the offscreen narration for the Western saga, "Across the Wide Missouri", starring Clark Gable|
|Teamed with Jane Powell on record-breaking national theater tour of "South Pacific"|
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
|Leslie Keel||Daughter||mother Judy Keel|
|President, Screen Actors Guild (1958-59)|
From classic movie palaces to the state-of-the-art IMAX screens.