Harold Clifford Keel (April 13, 1919 – November 7, 2004), known professionally as Howard Keel, was an American actor and singer with a rich bass-baritone singing voice. He starred in a number of MGM musicals in the 1950s and in the CBS television series Dallas from 1981–1991.
Year Title Role Notes
1948 The Small Voice Boke Alternate title: The Hideout
1950 Annie Get Your Gun Frank Butler
1950 Pagan Love Song Hazard Endicott
1951 Three Guys Named Mike Mike Jamison
1951 Show Boat Gaylord Ravenal
1951 Texas Carnival Slim Shelby
1951 Across the Wide Missouri Narrator Voice, Uncredited
1951 Callaway Went Thataway Stretch Barnes / Smoky Callaway Alternate title: The Star Said No
1952 Lovely to Look At Tony Naylor
1952 Desperate Search Vince Heldon
1952 The Hoaxters Narrator Documentary
1953 Fast Company Rick Grayton
1953 Ride, Vaquero! King Cameron
1953 Calamity Jane Wild Bill Hickok
1953 Kiss Me Kate Fred Graham / “Petruchio”
1954 Rose Marie Capt. Mike Malone
1954 Hét menyasszony hét fivérnek – Seven Brides for Seven Brothers Adam Pontipee
1954 Deep in My Heart Specialty in ‘My Maryland’
1955 Jupiter’s Darling Hannibal
1955 Kismet The Poet
1959 Floods of Fear Donovan
1959 The Big Fisherman Simon Peter
1961 Armored Command Col. Devlin
1962 The Day of the Triffids Bill Masen
1965 The Man from Button Willow Vocalist (opening and closing credits) Uncredited
1966 Waco Waco
1967 Red Tomahawk Capt. Tom York
1967 The War Wagon Levi Walking Bear
1968 Arizona Bushwhackers Lee Travis
1994 That’s Entertainment! III Himself
2002 My Father’s House Roy Mardis (final film role)
Year Title Role Notes
1957 Zane Grey Theater Will Gorman Episode: “Gift from a Gunman”
1957 The Polly Bergen Show Himself Episode: “December 7, 1957”
1958 Roberta John Kent Television film
1961 Tales of Wells Fargo Justin Brox Episode: “Casket 7.3”
1963 Death Valley Days Diamond Jim Brady Episode: “Diamond Jim Brady”
1965 Run for Your Life Hardie Rankin Episode: “The Time of the Sharks”
1967 The Red Skelton Show Police Officer McGoogle Episode: “A Christmas Urchin”
1969 Here’s Lucy Mr. Livingston Episode: “Lucy’s Safari”
1969 Insight Himself Episode: “Is the 11:59 Late This Year?”
1976 The Quest Shanghai Pierce Episode: “Seventy-Two Hours”
1981 The Love Boat Duncan Harlow Episode: “Maid for Each Other/Lost and Found/Then There Were Two”
1981–1991 Dallas Clayton Farlow 234 episodes
1982 Fantasy Island Colonel Episode: “The Big Bet/Nancy and the Thunderbirds”
1983 The Love Boat Kyle Cummings Episode: “Long Time No See/The Bear Essence/Kisses and Makeup”
1984 Entertainment Express Himself Episode: “Episode #2.2”
1984 Live from Her Majesty’s Himself Episode: “April 15, 1984”
1986 Great Performances Himself Episode: “Irving Berlin’s America”
1991 Good Sports Sonny Gordon Episode: “The Return of Nick”
1991 Murder, She Wrote Larry Thorson Episode: “A Killing in Vegas”
1994 Hart to Hart: Home Is Where the Hart Is Captain Quentin “Jack” Jackson Television film
1995 Walker, Texas Ranger D.L. Dade Episode: “Blue Movies”
Oklahoma! (1945–46; 1947)
Carousel (1946; 1957; 1962; 1966)
South Pacific (1957; 1965; 1978; 1992)
Mister Roberts (1959)
No Strings (1962–63)
Show Boat (1963)
Kiss Me, Kate (1964)
On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1967)
The Fantasticks (1968)
The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1971–72; 1973)
The Most Happy Fella (1971)
Man of La Mancha (1972)
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1978)
Paint Your Wagon (1979)
I Do! I Do! (1980)
My Fair Lady (1996)
White Christmas (2000)
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Keel was born in Gillespie, Illinois, United States, to Navyman-turned-coalminer Homer Keel (1885-1930), and his wife, Grace Margaret (née Osterkamp) Keel (1887-1971). It was falsely stated—by the MGM publicity department of the 1950s—that Keel’s birth name was Harold Leek. Harry had an elder brother, Frederick William Keel (1913-1982); they were so poor that a teacher would often provide Keel with lunch. After his father’s death in 1930, Keel and his mother moved to California, where he graduated from Fallbrook High School at age 17. He worked various odd jobs until settling at Douglas Aircraft Company as a traveling representative.
At age 20, Keel was overheard singing by his landlady, Mom Rider, and was encouraged to take vocal lessons. One of his music heroes was the great baritone Lawrence Tibbett. Keel later remarked 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 1945, he briefly understudied for John Raitt in the Broadway hit Carousel before being assigned to Oklahoma!, both written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. While performing in Oklahoma, Keel accomplished a feat that has never been duplicated on Broadway; he once 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 Keel joined the production.On April 30, 1947, at the Drury Lane Theatre, the capacity audience (which included the future Queen Elizabeth II) demanded fourteen encores.
Keel made his film debut as Harold Keel at the British Lion studio in Elstree, in The Small Voice (1948), released in the United States as The Hideout. He played an escaped convict holding a playwright and his wife hostage in their English country cottage. Additional Broadway credits include Saratoga, No Strings, and Ambassador. He appeared at The Muny in St. Louis as Adam in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1978); Emile de Becque in South Pacific (1992); Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady (1996); and as General Waverly in White Christmas (2000).
From London’s West End, Keel went to Hollywood in 1949 where he was engaged by the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film studio. He made his musical film debut as Frank Butler in the film version of Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun (1950), co-starring with Betty Hutton. The film was a big hit and established Keel as a star.
MGM put him opposite Esther Williams in Pagan Love Song (1950) which was successful, although not as profitable as most Esther William films because it went over budget. Keel had a third hit in a row with the comedy Three Guys Named Mike (1951), supporting Van Johnson and Jane Wyman.
Even more popular was Show Boat (1951), where Keel played the male lead opposite Kathryn Grayson and Ava Gardner. Keel was reunited with Williams in Texas Carnival (1952). He had his first flop at MGM with the comedy Callaway Went Thataway (1952) co-starring Fred MacMurray and Dorothy McGuire. A reunion with Grayson, Lovely to Look At (1952), based on the stage musical Roberta was popular but lost money.
MGM tried him in an adventure film, Desperate Search (1953) which was poorly received. So too was the comedy Fast Company (1953). More popular was a Western with Gardner and Robert Taylor, Ride, Vaquero! (1953).
Warner Bros borrowed Keel to play Wild Bill Hickock opposite Doris Day in Calamity Jane (1953), another hit. Back at MGM he and Grayson made a third musical together, Kiss Me Kate (1953), which again was liked by the public but unprofitable. The same went for Rose Marie (1954) which Keel made with Ann Blyth. However Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) with Jane Powell was a huge success and made MGM over $3 million in profit.
Keel was one of many guest stars in Deep in My Heart (1954). He and Williams made a third film together, Jupiter’s Darling (1955) which lost MGM over $2 million – the first Williams movie to lose money. Kismet (1955) with Blyth also lost over two million dollars, and Keel was released from his MGM contract.
He returned to his first love, the stage. In 1957, he was in a short-lived revival of Carousel. Keel’s next film was made in Britain, the thriller Floods of Fear (1959). He returned to Hollywood to play Simon-Peter in a Biblical epic, The Big Fisherman (1960). In 1959-60 he was in a short-lived Broadway musical Saratoga.Keel went to Europe to make a low budget war film, Armored Command (1961). In England, he starred in The Day of the Triffids (1962). As America’s taste in entertainment changed, finding jobs became more difficult for Keel. The 1960s held limited prospects for career advancement and consisted primarily of nightclub work, B-Westerns and summer stock. He did Carousel in 1962 and 1966. He replaced Richard Kiley on Broadway in No Strings (1962). Keel starred in Westerns for A. C. Lyles, Waco (1966), Red Tomahawk (1966) and Arizona Bushwhackers (1968). He had a supporting part in a John Wayne Western, The War Wagon (1967).
In early 1970, Keel met Judy Magamoll, who was twenty five years his junior and knew nothing about his stardom. Years later, Keel called 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 their relationship. He resumed his routine of nightclub, cabaret and summer stock jobs with his new wife at his side. From 1971 to 1972, Keel appeared briefly in the West End and Broadway productions of the musical Ambassador, which flopped. In 1974, Keel became a father for the fourth time with the birth of his daughter, Leslie Grace. In January 1986, he underwent double heart bypass surgery.
Keel continued to tour with his wife and daughter in tow, but by 1980 had decided to make his life change. He moved his family to Oklahoma with the intention of joining an oil company. The family had barely settled down when Keel 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 television series Dallas wanted to speak with him. In 1981, after several guest appearances, Keel joined the show permanently as the dignified but hot-tempered oil baron Clayton Farlow. Starting with an appearance on the fourth season, the character had been meant as a semi-replacement patriarch for the series’ Jock Ewing played by Jim Davis, who had recently died. However, Clayton was such a hit among viewers that he was made a series regular and stayed on until its end in 1991. Not only did Dallas revive his acting career, it breathed new life to his recording endeavors.
With renewed fame, Keel commenced his first solo recording career, at age 64, as well as a successful concert career in the UK. He released an album in 1984, With Love, which sold poorly. However, his album And I Love You So reached #6 in the UK Albums Chart in 1984. The follow up album, Reminiscing – The Howard Keel Collection peaked at #20 in the UK Albums Chart, spending twelve weeks in that listing in 1985 and 1986.
In 1988, the album Just for You reached #51 in the UK Albums Chart.In 1994, Keel and Judy moved to Palm Desert, California. The Keels were active in community charity events, and 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). Keel attended the event for many years until 2004.
He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on 8 February 1960. It is located at 6253 Hollywood Boulevard.
A Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him in 1996.
He was a member of the Grand Order of Water Rats.
Personal life and death
In 1943, Keel met and married actress Rosemary Cooper. They were divorced in 1948, during the London run of Oklahoma. Keel met Helen Anderson, a member of the show’s chorus, and they married in January 1949. Keel and Helen were separated in 1969 and divorced in 1970. Keel married airline flight attendant Judy Magamoll in December 1970. Keel had four children: three with second wife, Helen Anderson (two daughters, Katija Liane (born 1950) and Kirstine Elizabeth (born 1952)), and a son, (Gunnar Louis (born 1955)); one by his third wife of 34 years, Judy (a daughter, Leslie Grace (born 1974)); and ten grandchildren, including actor Bodie Olmos.
Keel died at his Palm Desert home on November 7, 2004, six weeks after being diagnosed with colon cancer. He was cremated and his ashes scattered at three favorite places: Mere Golf Club, Cheshire, England; John Lennon Airport, Liverpool, England; and Tuscany, Italy.
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