Publicity photo, 1935
|Born||Ethel Hilda Keeler
August 25, 1910
Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada
|Died||February 28, 1993 (aged 82)
Rancho Mirage, California, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||John Homer Lowe (1941–1969; his death; four children)
Al Jolson (1928–1939; divorced; 1 adopted child)
Ruby Keeler (born Ethel Hilda Keeler; August 25, 1910 – February 28, 1993) was a Canadian-born American actress, dancer and singer most famous for her on-screen coupling with Dick Powell in a string of successful early musicals at Warner Brothers, particularly 42nd Street (1933). From 1928 to 1940, she was married to singer Al Jolson. She retired from show business in the 1940s but made a widely publicized comeback on Broadway in 1971.
Keeler was born in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada, to an Irish Catholic family, one of six siblings. Two sisters, Helen and Gertrude, had brief performing careers. Her father was a truck driver, and when she was three years old, her family packed up and moved to New York City where he knew he could get better pay. But it was not enough: there were six children, and although Keeler was interested in taking dance lessons, the family could not afford to send her.
Keeler attended St. Catherine of Siena parochial school on New York's East Side, and one period each week a dance teacher would come and teach all styles of dance. The teacher saw potential in Keeler and spoke to her mother about Ruby taking lessons at her studio. Though her mother declined, apologizing for the lack of money, the teacher wanted to work with her so badly that she asked her mother if she would bring her to class lessons on Saturdays, and she agreed.
During the classes, a girl she danced with told her about auditions for chorus girls. The law required professional chorus girls to be at least 16 years old; although they were only 13, they decided to lie about their ages at the audition. It was a tap audition, and there were a lot of other talented girls there. The stage was covered except for a wooden apron at the front. When it was Ruby's turn to dance, she asked the dance director, Julian Mitchell, if she could dance on the wooden part so that her taps could be heard. He did not answer, so she went ahead, walked up to the front of the stage, and started her routine. The director said, "who said you could dance up there?" She replied, "I asked you!" and she got a job in George M. Cohan's The Rise of Rosie O'Reilly (1923), in which she made forty-five dollars a week to help her family.
Early dance career
She was only fourteen when she was hired by Nils Granlund, the publicity manager for Loews Theaters, who also served as the stageshow producer for Texas Guinan at Larry Fay's El Fay nightclub, a Speakeasy frequented by gangsters. She was noticed by Broadway producer Charles B. Dillingham, who gave her a role in Bye, Bye, Bonnie (produced by L. Lawrence Weber), which ran for six months. She then appeared in Lucky and as Mamie in The Sidewalks of New York, also produced by Dillingham. In the later show, she was seen by Flo Ziegfeld, who sent her bunch of roses and a note, "May I make you a star?". She would appear in Ziegfeld's Whoopee! (before being replaced before the opening by Ethel Shutta) in 1928, the same year she married Al Jolson.
The two met in Los Angeles (not at Texas Guinan's as he would claim), where Nils Granlund had sent her to assist in Loew's marketing campaign for The Jazz Singer. Jolson was smitten and immediately proposed. The couple married September 21, 1928, in Port Chester, New York, in a private ceremony. The two sailed the following morning for a brief honeymoon before she began her tour with Whoopee! The marriage (during which they adopted a son) was reportedly a rocky one. They moved to California, which took her away from the limelight. In 1929, at the urging of Ziegfeld, Jolson agreed to Keeler's returning to Broadway to star in Show Girl.
In 1933, producer Darryl F. Zanuck cast Keeler in the Warner Bros. musical 42nd Street opposite Dick Powell and Bebe Daniels. The film was a huge success due to Busby Berkeley's lavish innovative choreography. Following 42nd Street, Jack Warner gave Keeler a long-term contract and cast her in Gold Diggers of 1933, Footlight Parade, Dames and Colleen. Keeler and Jolson starred together in Go Into Your Dance. They are satirized in Frank Tashlin's 1937 cartoon The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos. Jolson and Keeler appeared on Broadway one last time together, for the unsuccessful show Hold On To Your Hats in 1940.
After a difficult marriage, Keeler and Jolson were divorced in 1940. In 1941, she married John Homer Lowe and left show business the same year. Keeler and Lowe had four children. Lowe died of cancer in 1969.
In 1963, Keeler appeared in The Greatest Show on Earth, Jack Palance's television series based on the earlier Charlton Heston circus film of the same name, and made a brief cameo in the 1970 film The Phynx along with many other guest stars. In 1972, Keeler was acclaimed as a star again in the successful Broadway revival of the 1920s musical No, No, Nanette along with fellow Irish-Americans Helen Gallagher and Patsy Kelly. The production was "Supervised by" Keeler's 42nd Street director, Busby Berkeley, adapted and directed by Burt Shevelove and choreographed by Donald Saddler, who won the Tony Award for his musical staging. Ruby Keeler starred in the musical for two seasons on Broadway, followed by two additional years touring in the show.
Family members in acting
Keeler had two nephews who also worked in the film business. Joey D. Vieira, also known as Donald Keeler, is best remembered for portraying chubby, beanie-wearing farm boy, Sylvester "Porky" Brockway on TV's Lassie (retitled Jeff's Collie in syndicated reruns and on DVD) from 1954 to 1957. Vieira's brother, Ken Weatherwax, played Pugsley Addams on the 1960s TV series The Addams Family. Her son John Lowe had a career as a Broadway stage manager for a number of productions beginning with "No, No, Nanette" in 1970.  The Making of "No, No, Nanette" by Donald Dunn; Citadel Press, 1972
- The Rise of Rosie O'Reilly (1923)
- Bye, Bye, Bonnie (1927)
- Lucky (1927)
- Sidewalks of New York (1927)
- Whoopee! (1928) (replaced by Ethel Shutta prior to opening)
- Show Girl (1929)
- Hold On to Your Hats (1940) (replaced by Martha Raye prior to opening)
- No, No, Nanette (1971)
- "Ruby Keeler, tap dancing actress, is dead at 82" New York Times (March 3, 1993)
- Charles Foster, Once Upon a Time in Paradise, Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2003, p. 167.
- Frank, Rusty, ed. (1995). TAP! The Greatest Tap Dance Stars and Their Stories 1900-1955. Da Capo Press. p. 358. ISBN 0-306-80635-5. Retrieved 14 November 2010.
- Granlund, Nils T., Blondes, Brunettes, and Bullets, David McKay, New York City, 1957, p. 125.
- Charles Foster, Once Upon a Time in Paradise, Toronto: Dundurn Press, p. 169.
- New York Times, "Jolson Secretly Weds Ruby Keeler, Actress", September 22, 1928, p. 1
- "Jolson Takes Third Bride". Reading Eagle. 22 September 1928. Retrieved 14 November 2010.
- Charles Foster, Once Upon a Time in Paradise, Toronto: Dundurn Press, pp. 171-76
- She was believed to be 19 years old and he 42 years old. However at Shadow Waltz Keeler's younger sister Margie Keeler-Weatherwax is quoted as saying "Al was the same age as our father [Ralph Hecter Keeler] when Ruby met him ... Poppa was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1882. Al was 46 when he married Ruby, and she was 18."
- Lamparski, Richard (1982). Whatever Became Of ...? Eighth Series. New York: Crown Publishers. pp. 230–1. ISBN 0-517-54855-0.
- Broadway Internet Database for "No, No, Nanette" (1971)
- Palm Springs Walk of Stars by date dedicated
- Frank, Rusty E. and Hines, Gregory. Tap! The Greatest Tap Dance Stars and their Stories 1900-1955. Da Capo Press, Inc. ISBN 0-306-80635-5.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ruby Keeler.|
- Ruby Keeler at the Internet Movie Database
- Ruby Keeler at the Internet Broadway Database
- Ruby Keeler at the TCM Movie Database
- Ruby Keeler at AllMovie
- Ruby Keeler at Virtual History
- Ruby Keeler at Find a Grave