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, post-war, to travel to London, England, and Harold went with it. Opening night , 30th April, 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 married in January 1949 and, a year later, Harold - now called Howard - became a father for the first time to daughter Kaija. While living in London, Keel made his film debut as Howard Keel at the British Lion studio in Elstree, in The Small Voice (1948), released in the US as Hideout, playing an escaped convict, holding up a playwright and his wife in their English country cottage. Additional Broadway credits include Saratoga, No Strings, and Ambasador. He appeared at The Muny in St. Louis, MO as General Waverly in White Christmas (2000), Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady (1996); Emile de Becque in South Pacific (1992), and Adam in Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1978). 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. On loan-out at Warner Bros., he played Wild Bill Hickok in Calamity Jane, a highly popular, Oscar-winning musical filmed in 1953, starring Doris Day in one of her most famous screen roles. This was Warner's answer to Annie Get Your Gun, and the film that produced the smash hit number, "Secret Love". 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 divorced 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.
They were married in December 1970 and his drinking problem soon ceased. 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 settled there 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 television series Dallas wanted to talk to him. After several cameo appearances, Howard joined the show permanently 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.
He released an album in 1984 called "With Love", that sold poorly, thus indicating that though the American public were happy to see him as a supporting actor on hit TV show, they were not prepared for a full resumption of his previous stardom. 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 died at his home in Palm Desert 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. Read more on Last.fm.
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