Thursday, March 10, 2011

Three from Ian Keith

Ian Keith
February 27, 1899 - March 26, 1960

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.

" Dr. Bates "
The Andersonville Trial
Henry Miller's Theatre, 1960

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. 

" Pete Krumbein "
Ian Keith, Tyrone Power
Nightmare Alley

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.

" Vitamin Flintheart "
Dick Tracy vs. Cueball and Dick Tracy's Dilemma

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.

" Shevket Ben Ali "
Ian Keith, Mary Astor, William Boyd
Two Arabian Knights

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.


  1. I like your idea of the trading cards. There are so many Bit Actors that I have a blog about them! Keith was amazing when you look at his filmography. So many parts in big movies. Queen Christina and Cleopatra in the 1930s, The Sea Hawk in 1940, a LOAD of teleplays after TV was popular, and The Ten Commandments in 1956 was his last film. Thanks for a great article.

  2. This is such a great post, and I'm with Allen, I love the idea of character actor trading cards.

  3. Patricia, Ian Keith is a big favorite of mine as well! It was great to see a tribute to him here. Your explanation of his possible difficulty getting roles in movies is probably quite right. Same thing, different reason, happened to Cliff Robertson. He made some big honcho mad, I don't know why, and didn't get work for quite a while.

    I did a review on Nightmare Alley on my blog a while back, and gave a lot of praise to Ian Keith for his performance as Pete. He should have at least been nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Great role for him.

    Wonderful review!

  4. WOW, I never heard of him. Great post. Talk about forgotten actors! I always learn something from your posts!!!

  5. Allen, thanks for the compliment. I get a kick out of your blog and recommend folks check it out.

  6. Jacqueline, it was your post about "The Strange Bargain" that got me thinking along the lines of trading cards. I get idea, but no gumption.

  7. ClassicBecky, you are so right about that Oscar nomination. Sometimes a performance is so fine, so seamless that perhaps at the time those with the power tend to overlook it. Awards or no awards, we're lucky the work remains for us to discover and enjoy.

  8. Thanks, Lobosco. One of the great things about classic movies is that we will never be done discovering something or somebody "new".

  9. You'd only include the Wallace Ford if you had a double, right?

  10. Of course, novabreeze. You know me!

  11. As Lobosco said, you do a great job of covering supporting performers I've seen, but know little about. I love learning about classic film.

  12. Thanks for the kind words. It's that kind of talk that pushes me.

  13. Shoot, I thought for sure I'd have something with Ian Keith, but unfortunately, no. I'd have gladly taken the swap to get my hands on a rare James Gleason ... Wallace Ford is out of stock, but I have seen him on a few British tobacco issues.

    Love the character actor coverage, thank you!

  14. Well, Cliff, we still have to keep on searching for our holy grail.

  15. tI am Allyn Joslyn's daughter. Posted on your excellent blog about him. Please review. Would love more talk with you



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