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Howard Keel. Photo by Scott Suchman.
Howard Keel

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Born in Gillespie, Illinois, Howard Keel grew up during the Great Depression. In 1937, he was parking cars for such Paramount glitterati as Cary Grant and Fred MacMurray. He took singing lessons, sang in operas at the American Music Theatre in Pasadena, and supported himself working in public relations for the Douglas Aircraft Company. Keel won second prize in the Chicago Music Festival and was soon introduced to Oscar Hammerstein II. After remaining in his defense job until the end of World War II, Keel began his show business career, replacing the vacationing John Raitt in Carousel on Broadway. That fall, he learned the part of Curly for Oklahoma!, which was playing across the street. He would then alternate playing both parts.

In 1947, Keel opened Oklahoma! in London to a staggering 14 encores. He became the darling of the British theater and played 18 months in the show. Keel played a series of roles in Hollywood films including Annie Get Your Gun (1950) and Show Boat (1951). More films followed in the 1950s with Ride Vaquero, Calamity Jane, Kiss Me Kate and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

Keel toured for years as a concert star, appeared in and directed touring musicals and frequented television specials both in the United States and in England. He was about to retire when the producers of Dallas asked Keel to portray the role of Clayton Farlow, which he did for more than 10 years. Keel appears annually at the Shell/Howard Keel Golf Classic.