Monday, March 10, 2014
PAST OBITS: RUBY KEELER
Ruby Keeler, the innocent-faced tap-dancing sweetheart of nine Warner Brothers musicals in the 1930's, died yesterday morning at her home in Palm Springs, Calif. She was 82 years old.
The cause of death was cancer, said her daughter Kathleen Lowe.
In seven of those musicals, including "42d Street," "Gold Diggers of 1933" and "Footlight Parade," Miss Keeler was teamed with Dick Powell, and they became one of the most popular screen couples of the early 1930's. Among the songs she introduced were "Shuffle Off to Buffalo," "42d Street," "Honeymoon Hotel," "She's a Latin From Manhattan" and "Too Marvelous for Words."
In 1971, 30 years after she had retired from show business, Miss Keeler starred on Broadway in a revival of the 1925 musical "No, No, Nanette." The show, which ran for 871 performances, was among the season's surprise hits and won warm critical notices for its star, whose return to show business at the age of 60 was hailed one of the most remarkable show business comebacks in years.
Miss Keeler was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Aug. 25, 1910, and moved to New York City with her family when she was 4. At the age of 13, after receiving three months of dance instruction, she got her first job in the chorus of the George M. Cohan show "The Rise of Rosie O'Reilly." For the next three years she worked in New York nightclubs, and in 1926, she was discovered at a dance contest by Earl Lindsay, a stage director who cast her in the Broadway revue "Bye, Bye, Bonnie."
At her next Broadway appearance, in the musical "Lucky," she was spotted by Florenz Ziegfeld, who offered her a role in the musical "Whoopee," starring Eddie Cantor. But before rehearsals began, she went to Los Angeles for a brief stage engagement. There she met Al Jolson, whom she married in 1928. Although signed to star in the Ziegfeld extravaganza "Show Girl," she dropped out of the show during tryouts to join Jolson on the West Coast. Five years later she made her film debut in the movie musical "42d Street."
In the film, which is regarded as the quintessential backstage musical, Miss Keeler played Peggy Sawyer, a smiling young member of the chorus line who takes over for the leading lady on opening night, saves the show, and finds happiness with Billy Lawler (Mr. Powell). Among the numbers she sang were "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" and the title song. Busby Berkeley's Style.
The film introduced the elaborately choreographed routines of Busby Berkeley in which dozens of toe-tapping, high-kicking dancers were arranged in fantastic kaleidoscopic designs. After its success, the same formula was applied to "Gold Diggers of 1933" and "Footlight Parade," which also teamed Miss Keeler with Powell, and again had choreography by Berkeley and songs by Harry Warren and Al Dubin.
Miss Keeler went on to star in six more films for Warners before leaving the studio at Jolson's insistence. The films included "Dames" and "Flirtation Walk" (both 1934), "Go Into Your Dance" (her only film with Jolson) and "Shipmates Forever" (both 1935), "Colleen" (1936) and "Ready, Willing and Able" (1937).
"Mother Carey's Chickens" (1938), under a new contract with RKO, was a failure. She made her last film, "Sweetheart of the Campus," in 1941.
In 1940, her marriage to Jolson ended, and she retained custody of their 5-year-old adopted son, Al Jr. The next year, she married John Homer Lowe, a real estate broker in Pasadena, Calif., and retired. They had three daughters and a son.
Shortly after her husband's death in 1969, the producer Harry Rigby called Miss Keeler and invited her to return to Broadway in "No, No, Nanette." Her name had been suggested, he said, by Berkeley, the show's production supervisor, who was then 74. Miss Keeler ended up staying with the show for its full two-year run and then touring with it for two more years.
In 1974, Miss Keeler had a brain aneurysm. She later became spokeswoman for the National Stroke Association, which established the Ruby Keeler Fellowship Memorial.
In addition to her daughter Ms. Lowe and her son Al Jolson Jr., she is survived by another son, John Lowe Jr., and two other daughters, Theresa Hall and Christine Pratt...