Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Halifax to Hollywood

"Movies". October 1933. Cover portrait of Ruby Keeler illustrated by Lt. James Lunnon.

Transcription of cover story feature article in Movies magazine, October, 1933.

"News About Broadway and Hollywood."
October, 1933
Vol. IV, No. 4
Alavania Publications


Ruby Keeler's Love Life

By Dr. Abbuh Wretlaw

Lucky at cards and lucky in love! A fortune teller once prophesied that Ruby would make good on the stage and screen—the cards were right!

A little bit of a girl with a great big slice of luck—that's Ruby Keeler. She loves her husband; she loves her work; and she loves life! She says she is lucky!

Maybe it's the luck of the Irish. Anyway, here she is, married to Al Jolson, with plenty of money and all that money brings, and with no particular desire to shine on the screen; but she's shining just the same. And they are both immensely devoted to each other.

Ruby Keeler didn't seek the studios; they sought her. Since her marriage to Jolson some three years ago she had settled down very comfortably to be the wife of a famous and prosperous comedian. They went in for domesticity in a big way. No more night clubs; no more photos of Ruby in the papers. That was all right with her. She knew that she had been one of the swellest of all tap-dancers back in the days when she was one of Texas Guinan's girls; but that belonged to the past. "Get thee behind me, show business!" said Miss Keeler (or rather Mrs. Jolson); or words to that effect.

And then Warner Bros. came to her and told her that they were about to film "42nd Street" as a big musical picture, and they wanted her very badly for one of the leading roles. The girl who was a hoofer on the Strand Roof and in Texas Guinan's night club gang was now in demand.

At first Ruby Keeler refused to even consider the idea. She wasn't interested because she was happily married; and she was not an actress, she told them. And Al didn't want her to return to the stage or the screen anyway. And she didn't care anything about it.

But the studio people insisted. As to acting—"just be yourself," they said. "That's why we've come after you. You are spontaneous; you are yourself!"

They talked money, too, and they kept on talking it until Ruby, still half-unwilling, signed on the dotted line. It was only for one picture anyway, and the little girl who was born Ethel Hilda Keeler might soon be forgotten!

So "42nd Street" was made and released and what follows is well known. The process of "just being yourself" turned out pretty well in Ruby's case; and a long-term contract was dangled before her.

Now, as a rule, a screen contract doesn't dangle long. When one considers the number of people in Hollywood and on Broadway and, for that matter, scattered all over the country who are working and hoping and praying for just such an offer, it is the irony of fate, or something, to have a case like this of Miss Keeler's. For she wasn't anxious at all. She let the contract dangle for quite a while; and probably if Al Jolson had not encouraged her to accept the offer she would simply have gone back into retirement, perfectly contented and happy.

But Mrs. Jolson, who had been, if anything, opposed to his pretty young wife's going into the cast of "42nd Street," had suffered a change of mind. It was Al who definitely encouraged her to sign the new contract, whose first result is "Gold Diggers of 1933," in which Ruby appears with Warren William, Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, Ginger Rogers, Aline MacMahon, Guy Kibbee and other players.

Of course Ruby has enjoyed the success that has come to her as a motion picture actress. The best part of it is that it has come quite unexpectedly. For Ruby might be described as a most amazingly philosophical pessimist so far as her own qualifications are concerned. She is absolutely cheerful about it.

"I hadn't any confidence in myself while we were making '42nd Street'," she says. "I was afraid even to see the picture afterwards. Of course I felt better about 'Gold Diggers,' but I've still got my fingers crossed—if that will do any good. I do know 'Footlight Parade' will be a successful venture."

And then this very charming young person explained, rather surprisingly, why she thinks pessimism may sometimes be a winning philosophy.

"You know, I play tennis and golf, and I remember the case of a young English girl a few years ago who beat [Suzanne] Lenglen. I don't recall the girl's name, but she said at the time that she thought she had won the match because she honestly didn't expect to win it. She thought Lenglen was unbeatable, so when the game began she was perfectly relaxed and wasn't nervous and strained at all, she did a lot better than she had thought she would. I believe that worked with me. I thought '42nd Street' would be my one and only feature picture; my tap-dancing might be all right, but as an actress—goodness! So I just went ahead pretty calmly, and it turned out all right."

But she still doesn't take her screen career very seriously. If it came to an end tomorrow she wouldn't grieve; for she has everything she wants.

But "42nd Street," "Gold Diggers of 1933" and "Footlight Parade" mean that Ruby Keeler will not retire again just yet. To him—or her—that hath shall be given. The girl who was born in Halifax has landed permanently in Hollywood, and she now loves it! Date of birth, you ask? August 25, 1909, in the Province of Nova Scotia.

"News About Broadway and Hollywood."
October, 1933
Vol. IV, No. 4
Alavania Publications


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