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Howard Keel

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Howard Keel, born Harold Clifford Keel (April 13, 1919 – November 7, 2004) was an American actor who starred in many of the classic film musicals of the 1950s.
Born in Gillespie, Illinois, to Navyman-turned-coalminer Homer Keel and his wife, Grace Osterkamp Keel, young Harry spent his childhood in poverty. After his father’s death in 1930, he and his mother moved to California, where he graduated from Fallbrook High School at the age of 17 and took various odd-jobs until finally settling at Douglas Aircraft Company, where he became a traveling representative.

At the age of twenty, he was overheard singing by his landlady, Mom Rider, and was encouraged to take vocal lessons. One of his musical heroes was the great baritone Lawrence Tibbett and Howard would later say that finding out that his own voice was a basso cantante was one of the greatest disappointments of his life. Nevertheless, his first public performance came in the summer of 1941 when he played the role of Samuel the Prophet in Handel’s oratorio Saul and David (singing a duet with bass-baritone George London).

Just a couple years after this, in 1943, Harold met and married his first wife, actress Rosemary Cooper. In 1945 Harold briefly understudied for John Raitt in the Broadway hit Carousel, before being assigned to Oklahoma! by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. It was during this time, he accomplished a feat that has never been duplicated. He performed the leads in both shows on the same day.

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