Ruby Keeler

Ruby Keeler

A native of Dartmouth (Halifax?), Nova Scotia, Ruby Keeler (b. 25 August 1910; d. Rancho Mirage, CA, 23 February 1993) was one of the first great performers in the early days of the Broadway and Hollywood musical. When she was three years old, her family moved to New York and lived on the Lower East Side. Née Ethel Hilda Keeler, Ruby was discovered by producer Charles B. Dillingham at the El Fay speakeasy in New York and was signed up to dance in a show called Bye Bye Bonnie. She made her Broadway debut in 1923 in the ensemble of George M. Cohan’s musical comedy, The Rise of Rosie O’Reilly. By 1929, Keeler had been featured in musical comedies by George and Ira Gershwin (Show Girl) and Jerome Kern (Lucky). After marrying Al Jolson in 1928 (they divorced in 1940), Keeler went to Hollywood, where she entered the limelight partnered with Dick Powell in such early Warner Brothers film musicals as 42nd Street and Go Into Your Dance,

After an appearance in the musical film Six Hits and a Miss in 1942, Keeler retired from show business for some twenty years. In 1964, she made a number of television appearances, as an actor, singer, and dancer.

Ruby Keeler returned to Broadway after a forty-two-year absence at the suggestion of Busby Berkeley. In 1971 she played the role of Sue Smith in the award-winning revival of No, No, Nanette, a musical comedy by Vincent Youmans, Irving Caesar and Otto Harbach originally staged in 1925. At the age of sixty-one, Keeler received this praise from Clive Barnes of The New York Times for her performance: “Miss Keeler … dances like a trouper and wears indomitability shyly like a badge of service. She is just enormously likable.”