Robert Emmett Keane: The American Englishman

New York born Robert Emmett Keane (1883-1981) started out in vaudeville. This review of a 1913 performance at Keith’s Union Square describes him doing songs and patter as “The American Englishman”. From 1916 through 1920 he was partnered onstage and off with his wife Muriel Window, with whom he’d appeared in The Passing Show of 1914. In 1916  they played the London Hippodrome together.

Keane’s Broadway progress seems to have broken up his stage partnership with Window though. He was in His Little Widows (1917) with Carter de Haven; The Grass Widow (1917-18); Head Over Heels (1918), In 1920 he divorced Window and appeared in An Innocent idea (1920) with Claire Whitney; she became his second wife the following year. In 1923 they steamed to Europe for an extended honeymoon. From 1924 through 1934 he appeared in eight more Broadway shows, the most successful was the musical Sweet Adeline (1929-30).

In 1929, Keane and Whitney performed a vaudeville sketch called Gossip as a Vitaphone short; it was Keane’s first film, though Whitney had been appearing in movies for over a dozen years. This was followed by another Vitaphone short featuring the pair of them, Room 909. From 1930 through 1956, Keane was a bit player in close to 200 Hollywood movies, He’s usually quite far down in the credits, ranging from walk-ons to, like, tenth in the billing. One of his first features, in which he had a bigger part than usual, was Laugh and Grow Rich (1930) by Gregory La Cava and Douglas MacLean, with Dorothy Lee, Edna May Oliver, Hugh Herbert and Maude Fealy. He appears in three Laurel and Hardy films: A-Haunting We Will Go (1942), The Dancing Masters (1943), and Jitterbugs (1943), as well as Hello, Sucker (1941) with Hugh Herbert; In the Navy (1941) with Abbott and Costello; My Favorite Blonde (1942) with Bob Hope; Crazy House (1943) with Olsen and Johnson; The Meanest Man in the World (1943) with Jack Benny; Scared Stiff (1945) with Jack Haley; Undercover Maisie (1947); Blondie’s Hero (1950); and The Good Humor Man (1950) with Jack Carson. Other relevant and notable stuff: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939); Little Nellie Kelly (1940); Lillian Russell (1940); Tin Pan Alley (1940); The Devil and Miss Jones (1941); and Jolson Sings Again (1950).

Keane’s last movie was a crime drama called When Gangland Strikes (1956). After this he did a little TV work in 1958, some episodes of The Gale Storm Show and How to Marry a Millionaire.

For more about  the history of vaudeville please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous; for more on classic comedy please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube