Howard Keel (April 13, 1919 – November 7, 2004) was an American actor and singer. He starred in many film musicals of the 1950s.
Early years of Howard Keel
Howard Keel was born Harold Clifford Keel in Gillespie, Illinois, to Navyman-turned-coalminer Homer Keel and his wife, Grace Osterkamp Keel. (It is often erroneously stated — by the MGM publicity department of the 1950s — that Keel’s birth name was Harold Leek).
Young Harold spent his childhood in poverty. One of his teachers, Miss Rosa Burke, noticed one day that he was not eating his lunch. From that day forward, Miss Burke would pack two lunches – one for herself and one for Harold. When he became famous and would perform near Gillespie, Burke always received tickets to attend his performances.
After his father’s death in 1930, Keel and his mother moved to California, where he graduated from Fallbrook High School at the age of 17 and took various odd jobs until finally settling at Douglas Aircraft Company, where he became a traveling representative.
Career and personal life of Howard Keel
At the age of 20, Keel was overheard singing by his landlady, Mom Rider, and was encouraged to take vocal lessons. One of Keel’s musical heroes was the great baritone Lawrence Tibbett; Howard would later remark that learning that his own voice was a basso cantante was one of the greatest disappointments of his life. Nevertheless, his first public performance occurred in the summer of 1941, when he played the role of Samuel the Prophet in Handel’s oratorio Saul (singing a duet with bass-baritone George London).
In 1943, Keel met and married his first wife, actress Rosemary Cooper. In 1945, Keel briefly understudied for John Raitt in the Broadway hit Carousel before being assigned to Oklahoma!, written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. When performing this play during this period, Keel accomplished a feat that has never been duplicated: he performed the leads in both shows on the same day.
In 1947, Oklahoma! became the first American postwar musical to travel to London, England, and Harold joined the production. On the opening night, 30 April, at the Drury Lane Theatre, the capacity audience (which included the future Queen Elizabeth II) demanded fourteen encores. Keel was hailed as the next great star, becoming the toast of London’s West End.
During the London run, his marriage to Rosemary ended in divorce, and Keel fell in love with a young member of the show’s chorus, dancer Helen Anderson. They married in January 1949 and, a year later, Harold — now called Howard — became a first-time father to a daughter, Kaija.
While living in London, Keel made his film debut as Howard Keel at the British Lion studio in Elstree, in The Small Voice (1948), released in the US as Hideout, in which he played an escaped convict holding up a playwright and his wife in their English country cottage.
Additional Broadway credits include Saratoga, No Strings, and Ambassador. He appeared at The Muny in St. Louis, MO as General Waverly in White Christmas (2000), Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady (1996); Emile de Becque in South Pacific (1992), and Adam in Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1978).
Howard Keel was a devout Methodist.
MGM years of Howard Keel
From London’s West End, Howard ended up at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer making his film musical debut as Frank Butler in the movie version of Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun (1950).
Howard’s MGM career was to become a frustrating business. MGM never seemed to know quite how to use him and, besides his plum film roles in Show Boat (1951), Kiss Me Kate (1953), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), and Kismet (1955), he was forced into a series of unremarkable musicals and B-films. On loan at Warner Brothers, Keel played Wild Bill Hickok in Calamity Jane (1953), a highly popular Oscar-winning musical starring Doris Day in one of her most famous screen roles. The film was Warner Brothers’ answer to Annie Get Your Gun, and included the smash hit song Secret Love.
There were two more children born to Howard and Helen, daughter Kirstine in 1952 and son Gunnar in 1955. Soon after, Howard was released from his contract and returned to his first love: the stage.
1960s and early 1970s for Howard Keel
As America’s taste in entertainment evolved, finding jobs became more difficult for Keel. The 1960s held limited prospect for career advancement, and consisted primarily of nightclub work, B-Westerns and summer stock. Due to his declining career, Keel began to drink heavily, and his marriage to Helen crumbled. They divorced in 1970.
1970 turned out to be more fortuitous for Howard. He went on a blind date with airline stewardess Judy Magamoll, who was 25 years his junior and had never even heard of him. Years later, Howard would call the relationship love at first sight, but the age difference bothered him tremendously. For Judy, however, it was not a problem, and with the aid of Robert Frost’s poem “What Fifty Said” , she convinced him to proceed with the relationship. They were married in December 1970 and his drinking problem soon ceased thereafter. He resumed his routine of nightclub, cabaret and summer stock jobs with his new wife at his side, and, in 1971-72, appeared briefly in the West End and Broadway productions of the musical, Ambassador, which flopped.
Then, in 1974, Howard became a father for the fourth time, to daughter Leslie Grace.
The Love Boat, Dallas, and Howard Keel’s revived career
Howard Keel continued to tour, his wife and daughter in tow, but by 1980 he had endured enough career struggle; he moved his family to Oklahoma, intending to join an oil company. They had barely settled there when Howard was called back to California to appear with Jane Powell on an episode of The Love Boat. While there, he was told that the producers of the smash hit television series Dallas wanted to confer with him. After several cameo appearances, Keel joined the show permanently as the dignified (if hot-tempered) oil baron Clayton Farlow, and his acting career was highly successful once again.
With renewed fame, Keel commenced his first solo recording career at age 64, as well as a wildly successful concert career in the UK. He released an album in 1984 called With Love, which sold poorly, thus indicating that though the American public were happy to see him as a supporting actor on hit TV show, they were not prepared for a full resumption of his previous stardom. In January 1986, he underwent double heart bypass surgery.
After Dallas he continued to sing, maintaining his voice remarkably well. In 1994, he and Judy moved to Palm Desert, CA. The Keels were always active in charity events, helping their community and were well loved amongst the residents. Howard and Judy attended the annual Howard Keel Golf Classic at Mere Golf Club in Cheshire, England, which raised money for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). He attended for many years, up until the year of his death.
Death of Howard Keel
Howard Keel died at his home in Palm Desert on November 7, 2004, six weeks after being diagnosed with colon cancer. He is survived by Judy, his wife of 34 years, his four children, ten grandchildren and a great-granddaughter. He was cremated and his ashes scattered at various favorite places including Mere Golf Club, Liverpool John Lennon Airport, and in Tuscany, Italy.
Family of Howard Keel
Howard Keel had four children, three with second wife Helen Anderson — two daughters, Katija Liane (born January 14, 1950) and Kirstine Elizabeth (born June 21, 1952), and a son, Gunnar Louis (born June 3, 1955) — and one with his third wife Judy — a daughter, Leslie Grace (born September 1, 1974).
Howard Keel movies
|1948||The Small Voice||Boke||as Harold Keel|
|1950||Annie Get Your Gun||Frank Butler|
Pagan Love Song
|1951||Three Guys Named Mike||Mike Jamison|
Across the Wide Missouri
|Callaway Went Thataway||Stretch Barnes/ Smoky Callaway||Alternate title: The Star Said No|
|1952||Desperate Search||Vince Heldon|
|Lovely to Look At||Tony Naylor|
|The Hoaxters||Narrator||Short Subject|
|1953||Fast Company||Rick Grayton|
|Ride, Vaquero!||King Cameron|
|Calamity Jane||Wild Bill Hickok|
|Kiss Me Kate||Fred Graham / — Petruchio’|
|1954||Rose Marie||Capt. Mike Malone|
|Seven Brides for Seven Brothers||Adam Pontipee|
|Deep in My Heart||Specialty in — My Maryland’|
|1959||Floods of Fear||Donovan|
|The Big Fisherman||Simon Peter|
|1961||Armored Command||Col. Devlin|
|1962||The Day of the Triffids||Bill Masen|
|1967||Red Tomahawk||Capt. Tom York|
|The War Wagon||Levi Walking Bear|
|1968||Arizona Bushwhackers||Lee Travis|
|1994||That’s Entertainment! III||Himself|
|2002||My Father’s House||Roy Mardis|
|1957||Zane Grey Theater||Will Gorman||1 episode — Gift from a Gunman|
|1958||Roberta||John Kent||TV Movie|
|1961||Tales of Wells Fargo||Justin Brox||1 episode — Casket 7.3|
|1963||Death Valley Days||Diamond Jim Brady||1 episode — Diamond Jim Brady|
|1964||Kiss Me Kate||Fred Graham||TV Movie|
|1965||Run for Your Life||Hardie Rankin||1 episode — The Time of the Sharks|
|1967||The Red Skelton Show||Police Officer McGoogle||1 episode — A Christmas Urchin|
|1969||Here’s Lucy||1 episode — Lucy’s Safari|
|Insight||1 episode — Is the 11:59 Late This Year?|
|1976||The Quest||Shanghai Pierce||1 episode — Seventy-Two Hours|
|1981-1983||The Love Boat||Duncan Harlow||2 episodes|
Long Time No See/The Bear Essence/Kisses and Makeup
Maid for Each Other/Lost and Found/Then There Were Two
|1981-1991||Dallas||Clayton Farlow||208 episodes|
|1982||Fantasy Island||Guest Star||1 episode — The Big Bet/Nancy and the Thunderbirds|
|1984||Entertainment Express||1 episode — Episode #2.2|
|1991||Good Sports||Sonny Gordon||1 episode — The Return of Nick|
|Murder, She Wrote||Larry Thorson||1 episode — A Killing in Vegas|
|1994||Hart to Hart: Home Is Where the Hart Is||Capt. Quentin — Jack — Jackson||TV Movie|
|1995||Walker Texas Ranger||Daniel Lamont||1 episode — Blue Movies|
Courtesy of Wikipedia.