Ruby Keeler (1909-1993)

Ruby Keeler
Ruby Keeler
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Ruby Keeler was a Canadian actress, singer, and dancer who rose to fame in 1933 with a starring role in the movie musical '42nd Street'. She worked in numerous musicals with Dick Powell and in her heyday was claimed to be the world's fastest tap dancer.

From 1928 for 12 years she was married to legendary singer Al Jolson. She then retired for almost 30 years, until making a spectacular comeback in "No No Nanette" on Broadway in 1971.


Ruby Keeler was born Ethel Hilda Keeler in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada on August 25, 1909, one of six children. When she was three she and her family moved to Yorkville, on the east side of New York City where her father, an ice delivery driver, could get better paid work. Ruby went to the local Catholic school and began dancing at local community functions. Her talent was so obvious that her parents who were ballroom dancing enthusiasts themselves, enrolled her in the Professional Children's School.

Early Dancing Career

When Ruby was twelve she continued her dancing education by enrolling in the 'Jack Blue School of Rhythm and Taps' and within a year she started appearing as a singer and dancer in local clubs after lying about her age at her audition. She was soon appearing at 2 or 3 clubs a night and she became the family breadwinner.

As a result of her club work she was offered a dancing job in the show 'The Rise of Rosie O'Reilly'. It was enough to get her noticed and the following year she was given a role in 'Bye Bye Bonnie' by Broadway power broker Charles B. Dillingham. After a successful run of six months she appeared in other shows produced by Dillingham, 'Lucky' and 'The Sidewalks of New York'. Her rise continued with a role in Flo Ziegfeld's 'Whoopee!' in 1928. Also in 1928, on September 21, two years after meeting him, she married the charismatic star, Al Jolson. Her life was about to change dramatically.

In 1929, after a brief sojourn in Hollywood, Ruby returned to Broadway to star in 'Show Girl'. She was soon under contract to Warner Bros., the same studio as Jolson, and in 1933 she was chosen to appear in Warners' new musical '42nd Street' opposite Dick Powell and Bebe Daniels.

42nd Street

The film was a huge success and included a show-stopping title-song finale choreographed by Busby Berkeley, in which Ruby dances on top of a taxi amidst swaying Manhattan skyscrapers.

As a result of the success of 42nd Street, Ruby was given a long-term contract by Jack Warner and she played starring roles over the next few years in a number of Warners musicals such as 'Gold Diggers of 1933' and 'Footlight Parade', both in 1933, 'Dames', the following year, 'Colleen' in 1936 and 'Ready, Willing and Able' in 1937. Most of her movies also starred Dick Powell. She also starred with her husband in 'Go Into Your Dance' in 1935.

In 1940 she played opposite Jolson on Broadway for one month in the unsuccessful 'Hold On To Your Hats' which proved to be Jolson's final stage show.

Ruby's final movie was a 'B' movie musical, 'Broadway Ahead' in 1941. After her second marriage in 1941, she retired from moviemaking to raise her family.

Later Career

She was persuaded out of retirement during the 1950's and 1960's to do some TV work in such shows as 'The Jackie Gleason Show' in 1954 and 'The Greatest Show on Earth' in 1964 but it was in 1971 that she really made a spectacular comeback, returning to Broadway to star in 'No No Nanette' and appearing in a run of 861 performances. The show's Production Supervisor was no less than Busby Berkeley and Ruby received glowing reviews.


Al Jolson was the most famous entertainer in America when he first saw Ruby on stage in 'The Rise of Rosie O'Reilly' in 1926.. They started dating and got married in September, 1928 but Ruby's relationship with Jolson was a flawed one. He was 24 years her senior and was egocentric and over-controlling with his young wife. They adopted a son, Al Junior, but the marriage was stormy and ended in 1940.

The following year Ruby married John Lowe, a real estate agent whom she met whilst playing golf. They had four children together and Ruby retired from movies to raise her family.

Ruby Keeler died on February 28, 1993, in her Rancho Mirage, California home after a long battle with cancer.

Ruby Keeler Academy Awards

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Ruby Keeler Filmography

42nd Street
Gold Diggers of 1933
Footlight Parade
Flirtation Walk
Casino de Paree
Shipmates Forever
Ready, Willing and Able
Mother Carey's Chickens
Broadway Ahead