Happy 107th Birthday, Ruby Keeler!
Actress, singer and dancer Ruby Keeler was born Ethel Ruby Keeler 107 years ago in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Here are 10 RK Did-You-Knows:
- Her father was a truck driver who moved his wife and six kids to New York City when Ruby was three years old in search of better pay.
- Ruby’s family couldn’t afford dance classes for the aspiring hoofer, but she took occasional lessons at the parochial school she attended.
- When she was 13, Keeler lied about her age (the law required chorus girls be at least 16) and attended a cattle call audition for a Broadway producer. She was hired for the chorus in George M. Cohan‘s The Rise of Rosie O’Reilly (1923). A year later, she was working in the chorus at a Tex Guinan speakeasy called El Fay.
- After appearing in a few more Broadway shows, Keeler married Al Jolson and moved west to Hollywood with him. Though the marriage lasted eleven years, it was not a happy one and Keeler was hesitant to discuss it in later years. When a biopic was made about Jolson’s life in 1946, Keeler refused permission to use her name in the movie.
- Her first credited movie role was in 42nd Street (1933), in which she played a young Broadway chorus girl who gets her big break with the star of the show breaks a leg (literally).
- Keeler’s greatest success in pictures came in a string of Busby Berkeley musicals in which she starred opposite boyish crooner Dick Powell.
- Keeler retired from show business in the 1940s, but made a triumphant return to the Broadway stage in 1971 in a revival of the play No, No, Nanette. The production ran for 861 performances.
- Keeler was one of several Canadian actresses who were stars in Hollywood in the 1920s and 1930s, including Mary Pickford, Marie Dressler and Norma Shearer.
- Keeler’s movie career was brief; she starred in just eleven feature-length motion pictures from 1933 to 1941. She later made the occasional cameo appearance in movies and on television, but these were few and far between.
- Keeler’s nephew was Ken Weatherwax, who played Pugsley on the 1960s sitcom The Addams Family.
Happy 104th Birthday, Gene Kelly!
Gene Kelly was born 104 years ago today in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which seems apt, given that he was something of a blue-collar hoofer. As Kelly once put it, “Fred Astaire represented the aristocracy, I represented the proletariat.” Here are 10 GK Did-You-Knows:
- Kelly’s father was of Irish descent, and his mother was Irish and German.
- Kelly’s father was Al Jolson‘s road manager in the 1920s.
- He attended Penn State University for a while before graduating from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in economics.
- At Pitt, Kelly was a member of the Phi Kappa Theta fraternity.
- He and his younger brother, Fred, had a dance act in vaudeville. Fred eventually replaced Gene as Harry the Hoofer in the 1939 Broadway production of The Time of Your Life.
- While Kelly was starring in Pal Joey on Broadway, he signed a contract with producer David O. Selznick. Selznick, after struggling to find a suitable role for Kelly, sold his contract to MGM.
- Kelly was fighting a high fever while filming the iconic rain scene in Singin’ in the Rain.
- The first two of Kelly’s three wives were dancers.
- He was a dance consultant for Madonna‘s 1993 Girlie Show tour.
- Kelly was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Bill Clinton in 1994.
Happy birthday, Gene Kelly, wherever you may be!
Happy 117th Birthday, Colleen Moore!
Actress Colleen Moore was born Kathleen Morrison 117 years ago today (or was it 114 years—there’s some debate about that) in Port Huron, Michigan. She was one of the biggest stars of the silent era and made flappers safe for the average American. Here are 10 CM Did-You-Knows:
- Her childhood was a happy one and her parents happy together, much in contrast to that other actress who was famous for portraying flappers, Clara Bow.
- She was fascinated with motion pictures from childhood and dreamed even as a child of being a movie star.
- When she was a teenager, her uncle, who was editor of The Chicago Tribune, arranged with D. W. Griffith, with whom he was acquainted, for his niece to be given a shot in Hollywood. Griffith agreed, giving Moore five small roles in her first year in Hollywood.
- Moore had one blue eye and one brown one.
- She was one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars of 1922.
- Moore was one of the women most responsible for popularizing the then-controversial bobbed haircut for women.
- There were two stockbrokers among her four husbands, and Moore was quite savvy in investing her money. As a result, she was very comfortable financially throughout her life and even wrote an investment guide to advise and encourage women to become investors.
- Moore’s hobby was building extravagant doll houses, the eighth of which became known as “The Enchanted Castle,” took a decade to build, employed dozens of craftsmen, toured the world to raise money for charity, and is now on public display at the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago.
- She claimed to have discovered actress Loretta Young and even to have suggested she change her name from Gretchen to Loretta.
- After appearing in just a few talking pictures, Moore retired from motion pictures in 1934. She later was a partner in the investment firm Merrill Lynch.
Happy birthday, Colleen Moore, wherever you may be!
Happy 120th Birthday, Alan Mowbray!
Character actor Alan Mowbray was born Ernest Allen in London, England, 120 years ago today. Here are 10 Did-You-Knows about the veddy, veddy British Mowbray:
- After serving in the British Army during World War I, Mowbray was awarded the Military Medal and the French Croix de Guerre for bravery.
- After beginning his acting career in touring productions in the English provinces and later appearing in London’s West End, Mowbray moved to New York City. Once there, his money quickly ran out and with nowhere to stay, he lived for a time in Central Park.
- Before long, Mowbray was hired to tour with the Theatre Guild. His Broadway debut was in a 1926 play called Sport of Kings.
- In 1929, Dinner Is Served, an original comedy that Mowbray wrote, directed and starred in, opened on Broadway at the Cort Theatre. It closed after just four performances. In December of that year, Mowbray opened in The Amorous Antic. After that, he would not again appear on Broadway until 1963, when he was cast in Enter Laughing.
- His stiff-upper-lip manner and posh accent were Mowbray’s ticket to Hollywood, where, with the advent of talkies, theatrical actors who spoke well were in demand. He made his motion picture debut in 1931 opposite Frank Fay, Laura La Plante and Joan Blondell in God’s Gift to Women. He played a butler.
- He played George Washington in three different pictures: Alexander Hamilton (1931), Where Do We Go From Here? (1945), and in an uncredited role, The Phantom President (1932).
- Mowbray was a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild.
- Over a thirty-year career in movies, he appeared in more than 130 feature-length motion pictures. He also was very active on television, where he amassed more than 50 credits in nearly twenty years of work.
- Mowbray became the father-in-law of fellow character actor Douglas Dumbrille, who, at the age of 69, married Mowbray’s 28-year-old daughter (ick!).
- He appeared in movies opposite a trio of actors portraying Sherlock Holmes: Clive Brook in Sherlock Holmes (1932), Reginald Owen in A Study in Scarlet (1933) and Basil Rathbone in Terror by Night (1946).
Happy birthday, Alan Mowbray, wherever you may be!
Happy 123rd Birthday, Mae West!
Actress, singer, playwright, screenwriter, comedian and sex symbol Mae West was born Mary Jane West 123 years ago today in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Here are 10 MW Did-You-Knows:
Happy birthday, Mae West, wherever you may be!
You think that money is everything,
And yet it's anybody's Spring.
Go make a fortune, become a king
And still it's anybody's Spring.
And if you flash a bank roll
Do you suppose the brook would care?
Or that a rose would say
"There goes a millionaire"?
It's more than diamonds around a ring
Because it's anybody's Spring.
You may be born with the silver spoon
And yet it's anybody's moon.
You couldn't buy a ticket
To hear the first robin sing.
It's free because
It's anybody's Spring
—It's Anybody's Spring
Music: Jimmy Van Heusen; Lyrics: Johnny Burke, 1944