There are some actors that you can't keep your eyes off of, and Boston born Keith is one of them. He began his acting career early and by 1921 was a featured player on Broadway. He would appear 18 times on the New York stage in drawing room comedies, dramas, adventures and Shakespeare. He was appearing in the Tony Award nominated The Andersonville Trial at the time of his death.
Ian Keith had over 100 screen credits to his name from the silent film era to the Golden Age of live television drama. Despite his good looks and talent, although he was a busy actor, Ian Keith never became a star. I have read that a proclivity toward the bottle and a fondness for the ladies held back his career interests. Although this seems like SOP for the Hollywoodites, perhaps a rumoured dalliance with Mrs. Raoul Walsh while filming that director's The Big Trail was less than judicious.
Three of Ian Keith's wives were actresses, silent star Fern Andra, Ethel Clayton and the imposingly talented Blanche Yurka. He was married to his fourth wife Hildegarde Pabst at the time of his passing.
Ian Keith's versatility and natural charisma is a pleasure to behold in many pictures. The parts may be small, but the talent is large. If I were a collector of actor trading cards, I would trade three of anybody to get an Ian Keith.
My favourite of Ian Keith's portrayals is the broken Pete in Edmund Goulding's 1947 classic Nightmare Alley. Pete played the psychic con with wife Joan Blondell and it drove him to the depths of despair and degradation. Pete is a warning to ambitious Stanton Carlisle played by Tyrone Power. Pete is absolutely and terrifyingly heartbreaking.
Straight out of the comic strip unto the big screen it's that world renowned ACTOR, dupe of villains and stalwart companion of the law, Vitamin Flintheart. Ian Keith appeared in two Dick Tracy movies playing the hammy master of loquaciousness with great over-the-top Barrymore-esque elan. My favourite of the two is John Rawlins' 1947 masterpiece (and, no, I don't use the word lightly) Dick Tracy's Dilemma. A must-see.
Lewis Milestone's 1927 Oscar winner Two Arabian Knights can be rightfully called a "romp". The adventures of two soldiers played by William Boyd and Louis Wolheim had me chuckling from beginning to end. Romance, in the form of Miss Astor, makes its presence felt and the necessary obstacle is provided by the villain played by Ian Keith. He's one of those cold, selfish, fearless yet philosophical types. I imagine him a cousin of Rupert of Hentzau.
Yes, indeed. If there is a fellow on screen that you can't tear your eyes from, that fellow is Ian Keith.