Howard Keel Biography

Harry Clifford Leek, 13 April 1919, Gillespie, Illinois, USA, d. 7 November 2004, Palm Desert, California, USA. By reversing the spelling of his name, the much more saleable Keel became a household name in the early 50s. He was a hugely popular singer in films and on the musical stage, with a rich, graceful and powerful baritone voice together with commanding presence.

After starting his career as a singing waiter in Los Angeles, Keel became an ‘in-house entertainer’ for the huge Douglas aircraft manufacturing company. In 1945, he appeared in Carousel on the west coast and then travelled to the UK to appear in the London production of Oklahoma! At this time he was known as Harold Keel, having reversed the spelling of his last name. He subsequently changed his first name and after making a non-singing appearance in the movie The Small Voice (1948), he returned to the USA where he landed the role of Frank Butler in Annie Get Your Gun (1950). He continued to make films, mostly musicals, including Show Boat (1951), Calamity Jane and Kiss Me Kate (both 1953), Rose Marie and Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (both 1954) and Kismet (1955).

By the 60s Keel was touring the USA in revivals of popular shows, and appearing in non-musical low-budget western movies. In 1981 his acting career received a massive boost when he started to appear in the long-running television soap opera Dallas, staying with the show for 11 years in the role of Clayton Farlow (the husband of matriarch Miss Ellie). This revived interest in his singing, particularly in the UK where he had received his first major success in the 50s. In 1983 he recorded his first solo album. In 1993, with tongue firmly in his cheek, Keel announced his farewell tour of the UK, but subsequently returned ‘by public demand’ for encores. He retained his magnificent voice until the end, dying from cancer of the colon in November 2004.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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