Kathleen Key

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Kathleen Key
Kathleen Key Stars of the Photoplay.jpg
Born Kitty Lanahan
(1903-04-01)April 1, 1903
Buffalo, New York, U.S.
Died December 22, 1954(1954-12-22) (aged 51)
Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Other names Kathleen Keys
Ethel Payton
Occupation Actress
Years active 1920-1936

Kathleen Key (born Kitty Lanahan, April 1, 1903 – December 22, 1954) was an American actress who achieved a brief period of fame during the silent era. She is best remembered for playing Tirzah in the 1925 film Ben-Hur. Key was a great-great granddaughter of Francis Scott Key.

Early life and career[edit]

Born in Buffalo, New York, Key made her debut in the film The Jackeroo of Coolabong, playing a lead role. From that point on to the end of the 1920s, Kathleen Key, sometimes credited as Kathleen Keys, starred in several films, but never really reached stardom, and was never given much credit for the roles she had, although there were some exceptions.

In 1922, she was featured in Omar Khayyam (which was not released until 1925 as A Lover's Oath)[1] and played a vampire in Where's My Wandering Boy Tonight. The same year she signed to play with Charles Buck Jones in Vamoos for Fox Film. In this role she wore the dress once worn by Sara Sothern in the stage production of Smilin' Through at the Majestic Theater in Los Angeles, California.

Key spent a year in Australia as a leading woman in productions of Snow Baker around this time. Prior to making Vamoos, Kathleen starred with John Gilbert in St. Elmo, also for Fox. She was cast as an innocent young thing rather than playing her frequent vampire part.

In 1923, as her career slowly progressed, she was selected one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars. In 1929, Key appeared in The Phantom of the North,[2] which appeared to be her last film. However, she made three, very small and uncredited roles in 1930, 1935, and 1936, as a dance hall girl in Klondike Annie. After these minuscule appearances, Key retired from film altogether.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

In the early 1930s, Key had a well-known love affair with silent-film actor Buster Keaton, who was married at the time. As told in Keaton's biography, the actor attempted to call off the relationship, but Key flew into a jealous rage and ransacked his MGM dressing room, which caused her to be virtually blacklisted afterward by the movie industry. It is also stated that Keaton refused to give Key a monetary loan. Sidney Skolsky, a Daily News columnist, sent Keaton a joking telegram, reading: "Congratulations. Hear you are off Key."[3]


After her retirement in 1936, Keys spent the rest of her days in moderate comfort at the Motion Picture Country House in Woodland Hills, California, where she died at the age of 51, from undisclosed causes, in 1954. Her interment was located at Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery.[4]


Year Title Role Notes
1920 The Jackeroo of Coolabong Edith MacDonald
The Rookie's Return Gloria
1921 The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse Georgette Uncredited
The Fighting Breed Enid MacDonald
1922 Where's My Wandering Boy Tonight? Veronica Tyler
West of Chicago Señoria Gonzales
Bells of San Juan Florrie Engel
The Beautiful and Damned Rachel
1923 Hell's Hole Mabel Grant
The Rendezvous Varvara
North of Hudson Bay Estelle McDonald Alternative title: North of the Yukon
Reno Yvette, the governess
The Man from Brodney's Neenah
1924 The Trouble Shooter Nancy Brewster
The Sea Hawk Andalusian Slave Girl
Revelation Madonna
1925 A Lover's Oath Sherin
The Big Parade Miss Apperson Uncredited
Ben Hur Tirzah Alternative title: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
1926 Under Western Skies Milly Leewis
The Flaming Frontier Lucretia
Money Talks Vamp
College Days Louise
The Desert's Toll Muriel Cooper
1927 Hey! Hey! Cowboy Emily Decker
Irish Hearts Clarice
1928 Golf Widows Ethel Dixon
1929 The Family Picnic Cleo of Paris
The Phantom of the North Colette Alternative title: Phantoms of the North
1930 Sweeping Against the Winds Rosalie Lawrence
1935 Thunder in the Night Guest Uncredited
1936 Klondike Annie Dance Hall Girl Uncredited
One Rainy Afternoon Bit Role Uncredited
Alternative title: Matinee Scandal
(final film role)


  1. ^ Kadivar, Darius (March 3, 2003). "Khayyam Mania!!!: Hollywood's depiction of the great Persian Poet's life". Retrieved 2014-05-01. 
  2. ^ "The Phantom of the North (1929) - Overview - TCM.com". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2017-07-15. 
  3. ^ Meade, Marion. Buster Keaton: Cut to the Chase. HarperCollins. p. 202. 
  4. ^ "Kathleen Key (1903-1954)". www.findagrave.com. Retrieved 2017-07-15. 

Other sources[edit]

  • The Los Angeles Times, "In Race to Reign at Legion's Fete", November 9, 1921, Page III 1.
  • The Los Angeles Times, "Dancers Versatile", January 16, 1922, Page 19.
  • The Los Angeles Times, "Stops Vamping Awhile", July 28, 1922, Page I 14.

External links[edit]