Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Ruby Keeler, born Ethel Hilda Keeler, (1910-1993), was an actress, singer, and dancer most famous for starring with Dick Powell in a string of successful early musicals at Warner Brothers. Ruby Keeler was among the first tap dancing stars in motion pictures.
Keeler was born in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1910. When she was three years old, her family moved to New York City. She was only 14 when she started working at a nightclub. She was noticed by Broadway producer Charles B. Dillingham, who gave her a role in Bye Bye Bonnie, which ran for six months. She then appeared in Lucky and The Sidewalks of New York. In the latter show, she was seen by Flo Ziegfeld, who sent her bunch of roses and a note, "May I make you a star?" Keeler would appear in Ziegfield's Whoopee! in 1928.
Keeler married Al Jolson, the famous singer. They met in Los Angeles, where she had been sent by Loew's theaters to assist in the publicity campaign for The Jazz Singer. The couple were married in Pittsburgh on September 21, 1928 while she toured with Whoopee!; she was 19 and he was 42. They moved to California.
In 1929, Keeler traveled to New York to star in Show Girl. In 1933, producer Darryl F. Zanuck cast Keeler in the Warner Bros. musical 42nd Street appearing opposite Dick Powell. (For a clip, click here). The film was a huge success. As a result of her performance in 42nd Street, Jack L. Warner gave Keeler a long-term contract and cast her in such hits as Gold Diggers of 1933 and Dames (1934).
Keeler and Jolson were divorced in 1940. Keeler remarried in 1941 and left show business that year. In 1971, she came out of retirement to star in the hugely successful Broadway revival of No, No, Nanette. The production was directed by Keeler's 42nd Street director, Busby Berkeley.
Keeler died of cancer in Rancho Mirage, California at the age of 82. She has a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. For more about Keeler, click here.