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Howard Keel

Red Collar Rat


Howard Keel (Harold Clifford Leek) who was born in Illinois, USA, had, in his own words a terrible, rotten childhood. His father, a former naval officer became a coal miner and a drunk and died when Howard was eleven years old. His mother a strict Methodist forbade him to go to any form of entertainment, and beat him severely.

However, in his twenties, whilst working as a mechanic, he went to a recital by the famous baritone Laurence Tibbett. The effect was so great that he took singing lesson in the evenings. His first job was as a singing waiter in Los Angeles earning $15 a week plus two meals a day. With a natural rich and powerful quality of voice he was soon summoned to audition for Oscar Hammerstein II for the part of Curly in the touring production of 'Oklahama'. His subsequent career, as the major male lead, reads like a Who's Who of the great musicals - 'Oklahoma' and 'Carousel' on Broadway and London, and with MGM 'Annie Get Your Gun', 'Kismet', Showboat, Kiss Me Kate and Calamity Jane. His personal favourite was 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers'. He said in an interview, in 1993, "It was lots of fun to make and had a fine cast, but they did the damn thing on the cheap. The backdrops had holes in them, and it was only due to the cinematographer who worked a miracle and made that junk like a Grandma Moses painting".

By the beginning of the 1960's the old-style musical was fading so Keel moved into to straight acting, including a part in the film 'The Day of the Triffids'. He continued to make a lucrative living but missed the glamour of Hollywood. He developed a drink problem, which saw the end of his second marriage to Helen Anderson. Happily he was saved by two lucky breaks. The first was meeting a 25-year-old air hostess, Judy Magamoll, who knew nothing of the Howard Keel legend. They were married and the 66-year-old Keel was about to retire when he was offered the part of Miss Ellie?s husband, Clayton Farlow in the smash hit soap 'Dallas'.

"My life changed enormously" he said, "from being out of it I was suddenly a star. I started making solo albums for the first time in my career". These sold in substantial numbers and on his concert tours he became a 'sex-symbol', albeit to the over-sixties. 'A thousand corsets creaked in time to his lilting melodies', said one report of his London concert in 1984.

Howard Keel was initiated into the Water Rats (Register No. 789) in November 1994.

He is survived by beloved wife Judy and his 4 children.

Secretary to the Trustees, John Adrian
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