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February 27, 1899
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Died||March 26, 1960
New York City, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Fern Andra (1932-1934) (divorced)
Blanche Yurka (1922-1926) (divorced)
Ethel Clayton (1928-?) (divorced)
Hildegarde Pabst (?-1960) (his death)
Ian Keith (February 27, 1899 – March 26, 1960) was an American actor.
Life and career
Born Keith Ross in Boston, Massachusetts, Ian Keith was a veteran character actor of the legitimate theater, and appeared in a variety of colorful roles in silent features of the 1920s. His stage training made him a natural choice for the new "talking pictures"; he played John Wilkes Booth in D. W. Griffith's first talkie, Abraham Lincoln. Keith had a major role in director Raoul Walsh's 1930 western The Big Trail. In 1932, Cecil B. DeMille cast him in The Sign of the Cross. This established him as a dependable supporting player, and he went on to play dozens of roles—including Octavian (Augustus) in Cleopatra—in major and minor screen fare for the next three decades.
Ian Keith's tall frame (6' 2"), dark, handsome features (usually clean-shaven), and his resonant voice served him well. He became one of DeMille's favorites, appearing in many of the producer's epic films. He handled costume roles and modern-day professional types with equal aplomb. In the 1940s he became even busier, working primarily in "B" features and westerns and alternating between playing good guys (a chief of detectives in The Payoff, a friendly hypnotist in Mr. Hex, a blowhard politician in She Gets Her Man) and bad guys (a murder suspect in The Chinese Cat, a crooked lawyer in Bowery Champs, a swindler in Singing on the Trail). He appeared in a supporting role to Tyrone Power in Nightmare Alley (1947) as a former vaudevillian turned carny who has succumbed to alcoholism. He also had a definite flair for comedy, and his florid portrayal of the comic-strip ham actor "Vitamin Flintheart" in Dick Tracy vs. Cueball was so amusing that he repeated the role in two more films.
His authoritative stature also lent himself to tough-guy military roles, such as Admiral Burns in Ray Harryhausen's 1955 sci-fi epic, "It Came From Beneath The Sea"
He also appeared on many television episodes in the 1950s. In 1955, he was seen on screen in his only Shakespeare role, when he made a cameo appearance as the Ghost opposite Richard Burton's Hamlet in a sequence from the Edwin Booth biopic Prince of Players. Cecil B. DeMille brought him back to the big screen for The Ten Commandments (1956); Keith played Ramses I.
Keith died on March 26, 1960, and was cremated in New York City.
- Fern Andra (m. in 1932 and again in 1934, when the legality of the first ceremony was questioned; divorced; in 1938 Andra married again)
- Blanche Yurka
- Ethel Clayton
- Hildegarde Pabst
- Ian Keith at the Internet Broadway Database
- Ian Keith at the Internet Movie Database
- Ian Keith at Find a Grave
- Ian Keith photo gallery at NYP Library