Tom Keene: Fickle in the Saddle

One gets the impression that actor Tom Keene (George Duryea, 1896-1963) was too smart for his own good. A grad of Columbia and Carnegie Tech (which later became Carnegie Mellon), he began as a stage actor, initially under his given name, one of three professional handles he employed throughout his career. In 1919 he married Grace Stafford, who later earned her greatest fame as the voice of Woody Woodpecker. It wasn’t until 1928, when he was 34 years old that he broke into films, in the very last days of silents. He started out at the very top, third billed in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Godless Girl, with Lina Basquette, Marie Prevost, Noah Beery, and Eddie Quillan.

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In short order, Keene’s rugged nature had him specializing in westerns, although he appeared in all sorts of films in the early years. He continued to be billed as George Duryea through Pardon My Gun (1930). He then switched to the name Tom Keene for the 1930 remake of Tol’able David. Under this name he was a star of dozens of B movie westerns through 1942. While this name was well-enough known, and he worked constantly throughout those years for the minor studios, it is thought that his reluctance to play the same character from film to film may have prevented him from reaching a Tom Mix/ Gene Autry level of stardom. He switched up his costume, his character name, and his character’s personality, probably out of his natural desire as an actor to play a lot of parts. But that’s not how top B movie stars roll, I’m afraid.

By 1944 he had changed his name again to Richard Powers, and at this stage he became simply a supporting player, and then just a bit player. In the ’50s television was a boon that brought him much work, including employment as a regular on a show called Corky and White Shadow (1956) which starred Buddy Ebsen. His last film role — believe it or not — was in Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) in which he played an army officer.