Brian Keith

Active - 1924 - 1997  |   Born - Nov 14, 1921 in Bayonne, New Jersey, United States  |   Died - Jun 24, 1997   |   Genres - Drama, Western, Comedy, Adventure, Action

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Biography by Hal Erickson

The son of actor Robert Keith (1896-1966), Brian Keith made his first film appearance in 1924's Pied Piper Malone, when he was well-below the age of consent. During the war years, Keith served in the Marines, winning a Navy Air Medal; after cessation of hostilities, he began his acting career in earnest. At first billing himself as Robert Keith Jr., he made his 1946 Broadway debut in Heyday, then enjoyed a longer run as Mannion in Mister Roberts (1948), which featured his father as "Doc." His film career proper began in 1952; for the rest of the decade, Keith played good guys, irascible sidekicks and cold-blooded heavies with equal aplomb. Beginning with Ten Who Dared (1959), Keith became an unofficial "regular" in Disney Films, his performances alternately subtle (The Parent Trap) and bombastic. Of his 1970s film efforts, Keith was seen to best advantage as Teddy Roosevelt in The Wind and the Lion (1975). In television since the medium was born, Keith has starred in several weekly series, including The Crusader (1955-56), The Little People (aka The Brian Keith Show, 1972-74) and Lew Archer (1975). His longest-running and perhaps best-known TV endeavors were Family Affair (1966-71), in which he played the uncharacteristically subdued "Uncle Bill" and the detective series Hardcastle & McCormick (1983-86). His most fascinating TV project was the 13-week The Westerner (1960), created by Sam Peckinpah, in which he played an illiterate cowpoke with an itchy trigger finger. Keith's personal favorite of all his roles is not to be found in his film or TV output; it is the title character in Hugh Leonard's stage play Da. Plagued by emphysema and lung cancer while apparently still reeling emotionally from the suicide of his daughter Daisy, 75-year-old Brian Keith was found dead of a gunshot wound by family members in his Malibu home. Police ruled the death a suicide. Just prior to his death, Keith had completed a supporting role in the TNT miniseries Rough Riders.

Movie Highlights

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  • Born to thespian parents.
  • Appeared in silent films as a child actor.
  • Acted in radio plays at an early age.
  • Served as a Marine aerial gunner in World War II.
  • Made stage debut in 1946 in the production Heyday.
  • Made a riveting appearance as a jealous, obsessive, abusive husband in the 1963 debut of the classic drama series The Fugitive.
  • Best known, though, on TV in a very different role, that of a bachelor who raises a nephew and two nieces, in Family Affair, a sitcom that debuted in 1966. He received three Emmy nominations for the role.
  • Died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1997.
  • Awarded the 2,365th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2008.