Howard Keel

Howard Keel

from the trailer for Annie Get Your Gun (1950)
Born Harry Clifford Keel
(1919-04-13)April 13, 1919
Gillespie, Illinois, U.S.
Died November 7, 2004(2004-11-07) (aged 85)
Palm Desert, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor/Singer
Years active 1943–2002
Notable work Show Boat, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Dallas
  • Rosemary Cooper
  • (1943–1948)
  • Helen Anderson
  • (1949–1970)
  • Judy Keel
  • (1970–2004; his death)
Children 4

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.

Early life

Keel was born Harry Clifford Keel[1] 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 Harry spent his childhood in poverty. One of his teachers, Miss Rosa Burke, noticed one day that he had no lunch. From that day forward, Miss Burke would pack two lunches – one for herself and one for Harry. 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 age 17. He worked various odd jobs until settling at Douglas Aircraft Company as a traveling representative.

Career and personal life

At the age of 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 1943 Keel met and married his first wife, actress Rosemary Cooper. 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 the opening night, April 30, 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) celebrated the birth of his daughter, Kaija. While living in London, Keel made his film debut as Harold[2] Keel at the British Lion studio in Elstree, in The Small Voice (1948), released in the US 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).

MGM years

From London's West End, Keel went to Hollywood in 1950 where he was engaged by the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film studio. He made his musical film debut as Frank Butler in the movie version of Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun for MGM.

His career at MGM brought him plum film roles in Show Boat (1951), Kiss Me Kate (1953), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), and Kismet (1955). On loan to Warner Bros., he played Wild Bill Hickok in Calamity Jane (1953), a popular Oscar-winning musical starring Doris Day. The film was Warner's answer to Annie Get Your Gun. There were two more children born to Howard and Helen: daughter Kirstine in 1952, and son Gunnar in 1955. Soon after, Keel was released from his MGM contract after making 18 films for the studio in five years. He returned to his first love, the stage.


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. Due to his declining career, Keel began to drink heavily, and his marriage to Helen crumbled. They separated in 1969 and divorced in 1970.

In early 1970, Keel went on a blind date with airline stewardess Judy Magamoll, who was 25 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. They married in December 1970, and Keel's drinking problem soon ceased thereafter. He resumed his routine of nightclub, cabaret and summer stock jobs with his new wife at his side. In 1971-72, 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 a career/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 cameo appearances, Keel joined the show permanently as the dignified and hot-tempered oil baron Clayton Farlow. Starting with an appearance on the fourth season, the character had been meant as a semi-replacement patriarch from 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. Dallas did more than just help his acting career become highly successful once again. It also renewed his recording career.

Recording career

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.[3] The follow up album, Reminiscing – The Howard Keel Collection peaked at #20 in the UK chart, spending twelve weeks in that listing in 1985 and 1986.[3]

In 1988 the album Just for You reached #51 in the UK Albums Chart.[3] 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 up until the year of his death.


He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on 8 February 1960. It is located at 6253 Hollywood Blvd.

A Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him in 1996.[4]

He was a member of the Grand Order of Water Rats.

Family and death

Keel had four children: three with second wife, Helen Anderson: two daughters, Kaija 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 the actor Bodie Olmos. Keel died at his Palm Desert home on November 7, 2004, six weeks after a bout with colon cancer. He was cremated and his ashes scattered at three favorite places: Mere Golf Club, Cheshire, England; Liverpool, England's John Lennon Airport; and Tuscany, Italy.


Year Title Role Notes
1948 The Small Voice Boke Credited as Harold Keel
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 Across the Wide Missouri Narrator Voice, Uncredited
1951 Texas Carnival Slim Shelby
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 Short Subject
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 Seven Brides for Seven Brothers Adam Pontipee
1954 Deep in My Heart Specialty in 'My Maryland'
1955 Jupiter's Darling Hannibal
1955 Kismet Haji
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 behind the 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 (Last appearance)
Year Title Role Notes
1957 Zane Grey Theater Will Gorman 1 episode: "Gift from a Gunman"
1957 The Polly Bergen Show Himself 1 episode: "December 7, 1957"
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"
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 Mr. Livington 1 episode: "Lucy's Safari"
1969 Insight Himself 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
1981–1991 Dallas Clayton Farlow 234 episodes
1982 Fantasy Island Guest Star 1 episode: "The Big Bet/Nancy and the Thunderbirds"
1984 Entertainment Express Himself 1 episode: "Episode #2.2"
1984 Live from Her Majesty's Himself 1 episode: "April 15, 1984"
1986 Great Performances Himself 1 episode: "Irving Berlin's America"
1991 Good Sports Sonny Gordon 1 episode: "The Return of Nick"
1991 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"

Stage work


  1. Keel himself said that his original name was Harry, NOT Harold.
  2. film credit - The Small Voice
  3. 1 2 3 Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 297. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  4. Palm Springs Walk of Stars by date dedicated


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