Ruby Keeler (DHM 1988.046.006)

Ethel Ruby (Ruby) Keeler was born in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia on August 25, 1909. Ruby made her mark on history as an actor, dancer and singer on Broadway and in Hollywood during its Golden Age.

Ruby was born to Ralph and Nellie (nee Lahey) Keeler who resided at 13 Oak Street. Her father was an employee of the Ropeworks factory in Dartmouth. His job was not able to support his family of eight, so the Keeler’s moved to New York for Ralph to find a better job. In a newspaper article, Ruby herself remarked that her family was poor and struggled financially in New York. Despite this, her parents must have seen a spark in young Ruby and found a way to pay for dance lessons. So, when she was thirteen and a friend told her about an open call for dancers she jumped on the opportunity to earn $45 a week. She got the part and later said it was the only audition she ever had. The roles seemed to flood in after that.

Ruby’s biggest role was in the 1933 musical 42nd Street where she played Peggy Sawyer. This lead to a long-term contract with Warner Brothers Studios. Under the studio system of the Golden Age of Hollywood, this contract meant she had to perform in only Warner Bros. pictures. She starred in eight of their pictures from 1933-1937. Most often musicals.

In 1928, at the age of nineteen she married fellow performer Al Jolson. They were married for eleven years and divorced in 1939. She continued to act on stage and on screen until 1940 when she retired following her divorce from Jolson. Her last film was Sweetheart of the Campus. About the movie, she is quoted as saying, “it was so bad I had no regrets about quitting”. She married developer John Lowe in 1941 and they had four children.

She returned to the Broadway stage in 1971 to star in a revival of No, No, Nanette. She starred in the musical for two years and at the end of her stint remarked to the Associated Press, “at my stage of life, you can’t just go on and on, every day in a show… There are things I want to do, just sit and watch, and be with my family.” Ruby Keeler died on February 28, 1993 in California at the age of 83.