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Place of Death
Palm Desert, California
Cause of Death
Claim to Fame
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
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Profile Bio Text
He was the John Wayne, Errol Flynn and Clark Gable of movie musicals. With his barrel-chested swagger and cocky, confident air, not to mention his lusty handsomeness and obvious athleticism, 6`3" brawny baritone Howard Keel had MGM`s finest songbirds swooning helplessly for over a decade in what would be the finest musicals cinema ever produced. Born Harold Clifford Keel in Gillespie, IL, in 1919, his childhood was admittedly unhappy, his father being a hard-drinking coal miner and his mother a stern, repressed Methodist homemaker. When Keel was 11 his father died, and the family moved to California. He later earned his living as a car mechanic, then found work during WWII at Douglas Aircraft in Los Angeles. His naturally untrained voice was discovered by the staff of his aircraft company and soon he was performing at various entertainments for the company`s clients. He was inspired to sing professionally one day while attending a Hollywood Bowl concert. He quickly advanced through the musical ranks from singing waiter to music festival contest winner to guest recitalist. In 1946 Oscar Hammerstein II "discovered" him during John Raitt`s understudy auditions for the role of Billy Bigelow in Broadway`s "Carousel." He was cast on sight and the die was cast. Keel managed to understudy Alfred Drake as Curly in "Oklahoma!" as well, and in 1947 took over the rustic lead in the London production, with great success. British audiences took to the charismatic singer and he remained there as a concertist while making his non-singing film debut in the British crime drama The Small Voice (1948) (aka "Hideout"). MGM, which was looking for an answer to Warner Bros.` Gordon MacRae, clamored for him, and he returned to the US. Changing his stage moniker to Howard Keel, he became a star with his first role, as sharpshooter Frank Butler opposite Betty Hutton`s Annie Oakley in the popular tunefest Annie Get Your Gun (1950). From then on he would be showcased in many of MGM`s biggest and most classic extravaganzas, such as Show Boat (1951), Calamity Jane (1953), Kiss Me Kate (1953) and (his favorite) Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) at the top of the list. Kismet (1955) opposite Ann Blyth would be his last, as the passion for movie musicals ran its course. The robust Keel moved effortlessly into rugged (if routine) action fare and appeared in such films as Armored Command (1961), Waco (1966), Red Tomahawk (1967) and The War Wagon (1967), the last one starring John Wayne and featuring Keel as a wisecracking Indian, of all things. In the 1970s he kept his singing voice alive by returning full force to his musical roots. Some of his summer stock and tour productions, which included "Camelot," "South Pacific," "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," "Man of La Mancha," and "Show Boat," reunited him often with such former MGM leading ladies as Kathryn Grayson and Jane Powell. He also worked up a Las Vegas nightclub act with Grayson in the 1970s. Keel became an unexpected TV household name when he replaced Jim Davis as the upstanding family patriarch of the nighttime soap drama "Dallas" (1978) after Davis` untimely death. As Clayton Farlow, Miss Ellie`s second husband, he enjoyed a decade of steady work. In later years he continued to appear in concerts. As a result of this renewed fame, he landed his first solo recording contract with "And I Love You So" in 1983. Married three times, he died in 2004 of colon cancer, survived by his third wife, three daughters and one son.
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Full Name at Birth
Harold Clifford Keel
Only Make Believe: My Life in Show Business  (New York: Barricade Books, Inc)
Howard Keel: A Bio-Bibliography  (Bruce R. Leiby)
Harry Clifford Keel (April 13, 1919 – November 7, 2004), known professionally as Howard Keel, was an American actor and singer. He starred in many film musicals of the 1950s. He is best known to modern audiences for his starring role in the CBS television series Dallas from 1981 to 1991, as Clayton Farlow, opposite Barbara Bel Geddes's character. But to an earlier generation, with his rich bass-baritone singing voice, he was known as the star of some of the most famous MGM film musicals ever made.
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