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Howard Keel biography


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

Howard Keel photograph

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.

Oklahoma! poster

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 “€œWhat 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.

Recording career

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 €œWith 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

1948The Small VoiceBokeas Harold Keel
1950Annie Get Your GunFrank Butler

Pagan Love Song
Hazard Endicott  
1951Three Guys Named MikeMike Jamison

Show Boat
Gaylord Ravenal  

Across the Wide Missouri

Texas Carnival
Slim Shelby  
Callaway Went ThatawayStretch Barnes/ Smoky CallawayAlternate title: The Star Said No
1952Desperate SearchVince Heldon
Lovely to Look AtTony Naylor 
The HoaxtersNarratorShort Subject
1953Fast CompanyRick Grayton
Ride, Vaquero!King Cameron 
Calamity JaneWild Bill Hickok 
Kiss Me KateFred Graham / — €˜Petruchio’ 
1954Rose MarieCapt. Mike Malone
Seven Brides for Seven BrothersAdam Pontipee 
Deep in My HeartSpecialty in — €˜My Maryland’ 
1955Jupiter’s DarlingHannibal
KismetThe Poet 
1959Floods of FearDonovan
The Big FishermanSimon Peter 
1961Armored CommandCol. Devlin 
1962The Day of the TriffidsBill Masen 
1966Waco— €˜Waco’ 
1967Red TomahawkCapt. Tom York 
The War WagonLevi Walking Bear 
1968Arizona BushwhackersLee Travis 
1994That’s Entertainment! IIIHimself 
2002My Father’s HouseRoy Mardis 
1957Zane Grey TheaterWill Gorman1 episode — €“ Gift from a Gunman
1958RobertaJohn KentTV Movie
1961Tales of Wells FargoJustin Brox1 episode — €“ Casket 7.3
1963Death Valley DaysDiamond Jim Brady1 episode — €“ Diamond Jim Brady
1964Kiss Me KateFred GrahamTV Movie
1965Run for Your LifeHardie Rankin1 episode — €“ The Time of the Sharks
1967The Red Skelton ShowPolice Officer McGoogle1 episode — €“ A Christmas Urchin
1969Here’s Lucy 1 episode — €“ Lucy’s Safari
Insight 1 episode — €“ Is the 11:59 Late This Year?
1976The QuestShanghai Pierce1 episode — €“ Seventy-Two Hours
1981-1983The Love BoatDuncan Harlow2 episodes
Long Time No See/The Bear Essence/Kisses and Makeup
Maid for Each Other/Lost and Found/Then There Were Two
1981-1991DallasClayton Farlow208 episodes
1982Fantasy IslandGuest Star1 episode — €“ The Big Bet/Nancy and the Thunderbirds
1984Entertainment Express 1 episode — €“ Episode #2.2
1991Good SportsSonny Gordon1 episode — €“ The Return of Nick
Murder, She WroteLarry Thorson1 episode — €“ A Killing in Vegas
1994Hart to Hart: Home Is Where the Hart IsCapt. Quentin — €œJack — € JacksonTV Movie
1995Walker Texas RangerDaniel Lamont1 episode — €“ Blue Movies

Courtesy of Wikipedia.


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