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Ruby Keeler

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I'm curious about how Ruby Keeler got to be the first big star in musicals.   I've seen 42'nd Street a few times and never been very impressed by her tap dancing or singing voice, though it was probably better than what had been seen in musicals before.  Was she really the best there was back in the early 30's?  Flo Ziegfeld made her a star of sorts on Broadway, but if you had nice legs and a pretty face (which she did), you could impress Ziegfeld.  I strongly suspect her stardom could be attributed mainly to husband Al Jolson, who used his influence with the studio to get her in (though wiki states she was cast by Warner Bros. producer Darryl F Zanuck).  If you've seen The Jolson Story, Al married Julie Benson (meant to be Keeler) when she was doing a Broadway show for Ziegfeld.  According to the script, Benson wanted a country home in the east and had no desire to go to Hollywood, but it was Jolson who talked her into it.  He could be quite pushy, and always seemed to get his way.  I wonder how closely this portrayal parallels the relationship between Keeler and Jolson.  Can anyone shed some light on this?  Cheers!     

Edited by Lover-o-Classics
to revise a couple of lines
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For some reason Ruby Keeler gets bashed a lot on these message boards. We've seen other threads on this site about her so-called lack of talent. 

Personally I find her quite charming. Actresses come in all shapes and sizes. Not everyone needs to be like Betty Grable or Bette Davis.

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First of all, I would urge you to not take anything in The Jolson Story as factual (a delightful movie but mostly a fantasy -- if they told the truth about Jolson no one would have wanted to see the movie). 

Ruby Keeler was not a great singer (she was always trying to get the writers to give more of the singing to Dick Powell) and a clunky dancer. But at that moment in time, at the depths of the Depression, the audience adored her because she was plucky and strong and still very sweet and innocent (unlike naughty co-stars Ginger and Joan who had clearly been around). Girls could aspire to be her without losing their respectability and boys could dream about taking her home to mom for dinner -- and then making out with her afterwards. It's noticeable how her career faded as the world changed and we moved from the Depression into the WWII era -- where Betty Grable replaced her as the girl next door.

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2 hours ago, Lover-o-Classics said:

I'm curious about how Ruby Keeler got to be the first big star in musicals.   I've seen 42'nd Street a few times and never been very impressed by her tap dancing or singing voice, though it was probably better than what had been seen in musicals before.  Was she really the best there was back in the early 30's?  Flo Ziegfeld made her a star of sorts on Broadway, but if you had nice legs and a pretty face (which she did), you could impress Ziegfeld.  I strongly suspect her stardom could be attributed mainly to husband Al Jolson, who used his influence with the studio to get her in (though wiki states she was cast by Warner Bros. producer Darryl F Zanuck).  If you've seen The Jolson Story, Al married Julie Benson (meant to be Keeler) when she was doing a Broadway show for Ziegfeld.  According to the script, Benson wanted a country home in the east and had no desire to go to Hollywood, but it was Jolson who talked her into it.  He could be quite pushy, and always seemed to get his way.  I wonder how closely this portrayal parallels the relationship between Keeler and Jolson.  Can anyone shed some light on this?  Cheers!     

Wow!  I agree!  I found her dancing to be halting-for lack of a better word.  It seemed like she was trying to hard to impress.  I love the movie 42nd street but it is difficult to watch her clomp through some of her dancing.

 

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I do like Ruby Keebler. She is pretty underrated in film culture. I think she gets a bum rap. In my opinion, she was quite adorable and easy to relate to. I definitely with TopBilled; not every actress was Bette Davis or Kate Hepburn; not every dancer was Ann Miller or Cyd Charisse.

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Ruby Keeler was not the best singer and she did not tap like Ann Miller, but she COULD TAP dance.  If you really want to see her best dancing, see her with James Cagney

 

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I thank you all for your comments.  I think it's helped me see things in a bit different light.  I have seen 42'nd Street a few times, and Footlight Parade and Dames, and have always found Ruby Keeler quite charming and appealing on screen, as some of you have pointed out.  It's her singing and dancing I was questioning.   By later standards it isn't that good, but I think to be fair you need to judge her talent by 1933 standards.  Nobody had ever seen or heard of Eleanor Powell or Ann Miller back then, and if you compare her dancing to what had been seen before, particularly in Broadway Melody of 1929, it was actually quite good.  So I could see her being popular.  I'd still like to know more about her relationship with Jolson, and what influence he had on her.  Yes, there are many historical inaccuracies in The Jolson Story, but I think it does portray the spirit of the man, and how much influence he could exert on people.  But... maybe she was the best in the business back then.  Thanks again.

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I think she's awful.  I always get a snack or go to the bathroom when she dances in Gold Diggers of 1933.  It could just be that I don't enjoy watching her "style" of dancing.  I don't find it interesting to watch at all.  

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I've always thought of Ruby Keeler as a triple non-threat. She couldn't sing, dance or act. But I wait for the lines in (I think) 42nd Street (they were all the same) where she she responds to "you're going out a youngster, but you're coming back a star". With "Who, me?". And when Ginger Rogers says something like "I can't carry a show, but you've got a great little trooper who can". Of course Ginger could carry the show. She could dance rings around Ruby. But Ruby non-talent is totally charming.

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Posted (edited)

Ruby appeared to be a rather heavy-footed hoofer who really bent her knees a lot and got down into the floor vs Eleanor who held herself up higher and even when vertical, tended to lean back a lot, including with her head. Ruby did wear those heavy, flat black tap shoes in her 42nd St solo in her black outfit and those shoes aren't exactly dainty looking and they produce a louder and heavier sound when you tap and flap. Ruby did look cute in the white "kitten heel" tap shoes, as seen in the photo above.

Eleanor usually wore medium / kitten to high heels for her tap numbers as did Ginger (t-strap shoes were popular choices for her). I was always amazed at how Ann Miller could tap in regular pumps (high heels) without a strap or elastic over the top to hold her foot in.

Edited by StarstruckKidTurnedPro

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If I understand correctly, Ruby Keeler’s  tap style is called “buck and wing”, in which the dancer is closer to the floor, knees are bent, includes stomping , shuffling, the rhythmic footwork is the focus. This originated out of the old time minstrel shows. Eleanor Powell was trained in ballet, we see her upright carriage and lighting fast footwork, interspersed with ballet moves, especially when she does those incredible spins. She is more of the  “ ballroom tap” style.  Whatever the tap style, this is not easy and requires tremendous skill and practice.   Thankfully, both stars have left behind  incredible work to dazzle and entertain us. 

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2 hours ago, starryeyzze said:

If I understand correctly, Ruby Keeler’s  tap style is called “buck and wing”, in which the dancer is closer to the floor, knees are bent, includes stomping , shuffling, the rhythmic footwork is the focus. This originated out of the old time minstrel shows. Eleanor Powell was trained in ballet, we see her upright carriage and lighting fast foot, interspersed with ballet moves, especially when she does those incredible spins. She is more of the  “ ballroom tap” style.  Whatever the tap style, this is not easy and requires tremendous skill and practice.   Thankfully, both stars have left behind  incredible work to dazzle and entertain us. 

Excellent post.

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