Howard Keel Howard Keel, born Harry Clifford Leek (April 13, 1919 - November 7, 2004) was an American actor who starred in many of the classic film musicals of the 1950s. Born in Gillespie, Illinois, to Navyman-turned-coalminer Homer Keel and his wife, Grace Osterkamp Keel, young Harry spent his childhood in poverty. After his father's death in 1930, he and his mother moved to California, where he graduated from high school at the age of 17 and took various odd-jobs until finally settling at Douglas Aircraft Company, where he became a traveling representative.
At the age of twenty, he was overheard singing by his landlady, Mom Rider, and was encouraged to take vocal lessons. One of his musical heros was the great baritone Lawrence Tibbett and Howard would later say that finding out that his own voice was a basso cantante was one of the greatest disappointments of his life. Nevertheless, his first public performance came in the summer of 1941 when he played the role of Samuel the Prophet in the Handel's oratorio Saul and David (singing a duet with bass-baritone George London).
Just a couple years after this, in 1943, Harold met and married his first wife, actress Rosemary Cooper. In 1945 Harold briefly understudied for John Raitt in the Broadway hit Carousel, before being assigned to Oklahoma! by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. It was during this time, he accomplished a feat that has never been duplicated. He performed the leads in both shows on the same day.
In 1947, Oklahoma! became the first American musical to travel to London, England, and Harold went with it. Opening night at the Drury Lane Theatre, the capacity audience (which included the Queen) demanded fourteen encores. Harold Keel was hailed as the next great star and was the toast of the West End.
During the London run, the marriage of Harold and Rosemary ended in divorce, and Harold fell in love with a young member of the show's chorus, dancer Helen Anderson. They would marry in January, 1949 and, a year later, Harold - now called Howard - became a father for the first time to daughter Kaija.
From London's West End, Howard ended up at MGM making his film musical debut as Frank Butler in Annie Get Your Gun.
Howard's MGM career was to be a frustrating business. MGM never seemed to know quite what to do with him and, outside of plum roles in the films Show Boat, Kiss Me, Kate and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, he was forced into a stream of worthless musicals and B-films. There were two more children born to Howard and Helen, daughter Kirstine in 1952 and son Gunnar in 1955. Soon after, Howard was released from his contract and returned to his first love, the stage.
Sadly, as America's taste in entertainment changed, finding jobs became harder and harder for Howard. The 1960s held little chance for career advancement with a round of nightclub work, b-Westerns and summer stock. Under the strain, Howard began to drink heavily and his marriage to Helen crumbled. They would divorce in 1970.
But 1970 proved to be fortuitous for Howard after all. He was set up on a blind date with airline stewardess Judy Magamoll who was twenty-five years his junior and had never even heard of him. Years later Howard would say it was love at first sight, but the age difference bothered him tremendously. For Judy, however, it wasn't a problem and, with the aid of Robert Frost's poem "What 50 Said", she convinced him to try the relationship. They were married December 1970 and his drinking problem soon ceased. He resumed his routine of nightclub, cabaret and summer stock jobs with his new wife at his side, and, in 1972, appeared briefly on Broadway in the flop show Ambassador.
Then, in 1974 at the age of fifty-five, Howard became a father for the fourth time to daughter Leslie Grace. Howard continued to tour, his wife and daughter in tow, but by 1980 he had had enough of struggling to find work and he moved his family to Oklahoma, intending to join an oil company. They had barely gotten settled when Howard was called back to California to appear with Jane Powell on an episode of The Love Boat. While he was there, he was told that the producers of the smash hit soap opera Dallas wanted to talk to him. After several cameo appearances, Howard joined the show permanantly as the dignified, if hot tempered, oil baron Clayton Farlow and his career reached heights it had never seen before.
With his renewed fame, Howard began his first solo recording career at age sixty-four, as well as a wildly successful concert career in the UK.
Even after Dallas he continued to sing, and kept his voice in remarkable shape. In 1994, he and Judy moved to Palm Desert, CA. The Keels were always active in charity events, helping their community and were well loved amongst the residents. In particular, Howard and Judy attended the annual Howard Keel Golf Classic at Mere Golf Club in Cheshire, England, which raised money for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). He attended for many years, up until the year of his death.
Howard passed away at his home on November 7, 2004, six weeks after being diagnosed with colon cancer. He is survived by Judy, his wife of thirty-four years, his four children, ten grandchildren and a great-granddaughter. He was cremated and his ashes scattered at various favorite places including Mere Golf Club, Liverpool John Lennon Airport, and in Tuscany, Italy.
Howard Keel is the father of production director Leslie Keel and the grandfather of actors Mico Olmos and Bodie Olmos.