Ruby keeler -Ethel Hilda Keeler was her real name- (Nova Scotia, Canada, August 25, 1909 – Rancho Mirage, California, February 28, 1993) was the first star of the musical cinema, at the dawn of talkies, a myth in the 30s, with a series of lighthearted films and musicals with which viewers battled the Great Depression of 29.
At the age of four, he moved with his family to New York, where he studied singing and dancing. It would be a colleague who talks to him about some tests to be part of a female choir. Ruby was only thirteen, and the law required her to be 16 in order to work, but she hid her age on the test. It was a tap dance test and she is hired to work on the play ‘The Rise of Rosie O’Reilly’, with a salary of 45 dollars a week. Keeler became one of the first tap dance stars with a style based on typical Irish dancing.
The legendary musical producer Florenz Ziegfeld sees Ruby Keeler perform on stage and immediately hires her to act in the musical comedy ‘Whoopee!’. It’s 1928, becoming part of the famous ‘Ziegfeld girls’. She had previously married the famous singer and actor Al Jolson whom she had met in Los Angeles, where she was participating in the advertising campaign for ‘The jazz singer’, the first talking movie, starring Jolson. She was 19 and he was 42, and the marriage was difficult.
In 1933, producer Darryl F. Zanuck cast her in the Warner Bros. musical film. ’42nd street’by Lloyd Bacon, in which he stars alongside Dick Powell and Bebe Daniels. The film was a huge success thanks to the innovative and luxurious choreography of Busby Berkeley. As a result of his performance Jack Warner offers Keeler a contract to work on hits like ‘Vampiresas 1933’, ‘Parade of footlights’ or ‘Music and women’. Keeler achieves immense popularity and his name goes around the world.
After various marital problems, Keeler and Jolson divorced in 1940. Keeler remarried in 1941, with John Homer Lowe. He was not interested in being a movie star, so, happy with his second marriage, Keeler left show business in 1941, at the height of his success, and dedicated himself to raising his five children. Lowe died of cancer in 1969. In 1963, Keeler reappeared in Jack Palance’s television series ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’, and in 1970 he made a brief cameo in the film ‘The Phynx’.
In 1971, Keeler came out of retirement again to shine in the revival of the Broadway hit “No, No, Nanette,” opposite Helen Gallagher and Patsy Kelly, which had 871 performances. The production was directed by ’42nd Street’ choreographer Busby Berkeley. The great popularity of the work brought a renewed interest in the 1920s and 1930s, particularly art deco, tap dancing, and Depression-era songs.
Ruby Keeler will always be remembered as a key character in Warner’s 1930s musical cinema, where she usually played the naive showgirl who was seen as a star on opening night. The actress passed away from kidney cancer in Rancho Mirage, California on February 28, 1993, surrounded by her children. He was 83 years old.