Brian Keith: Wikis


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Brian Keith
Born Robert Alba Keith
November 14, 1921(1921-11-14)
Bayonne, New Jersey, U.S.
Died June 24, 1997 (aged 75)
Malibu, California, U.S.
Other name(s) Robert Keith Jr.
Occupation actor
Spouse(s) Frances Helm (div. 1955)
Judy Landon (m. 1955)
Victoria Young (m. 1970–1997) «start: (1970)–end+1: (1998)»"Marriage: Victoria Young to Brian Keith" Location: (linkback:

Brian Keith (November 14, 1921 – June 24, 1997) was an American film, television, and stage actor, who in his four decade-long career gained recognition for his work in movies such as the 1961 Disney film, The Parent Trap, the 1966 movie, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming, and the 1975 movie, The Wind and the Lion. On television, two of his best known roles were that of a widowed uncle turned bachelor, Bill Davis, in the 1960s sitcom, Family Affair, and the title character of a tough judge, in the 1980s drama, Hardcastle and McCormick. He also starred in his own sitcom which featured actresses Shelley Fabares and Victoria Young, his real-life ex-wife.


Early life

Keith was born Robert Alba Keith[1] in Bayonne, New Jersey, to actor Robert Keith and stage actress Helena Shipman, a native of Aberdeen, Washington.[2] His parents divorced, and he moved to Hollywood and started his acting career, at the tender age of 2. He made his acting debut in the silent film Pied Piper Malone (1924) at the age of 3. His mother continued to perform on stage and radio, while Robert's grandmother Apker helped to raise him in Long Island, New York. She taught young Brian to read books over his age level. Prior to learning to read, he spent a lot of hours back stage while his parents performed, being quiet for hours. Helena fondly recalled keeping little Brian in the dressing room in one of her dressingroom drawers. He remained calm and was quiet and would sleep through the entire show. From 1927 through 1929, Keith's stepmother was Peg Entwistle, a well-known Broadway actress who committed suicide by jumping from the "H" of the famous Hollywood sign in 1932.

Military service

After graduation from East Rockaway High School in 1939, in East Rockaway, New York, he joined the United States Marine Corps (1942–1945). He served during World War II as an air gunner and received an Air Medal.

Acting career

After the war, Keith became a stage actor, branching out into films and then television. A strong and capable actor, Keith spent many years playing second leads and gruff sidekicks. He returned to the box office in 1953, after having spent eight years in the military, with Arrowhead, co-starring Charlton Heston. He guest starred in Harbor Command, Wendell Corey's 1950s drama about the United States Coast Guard and starred in his own first series, Crusader, as the fictional journalist Matt Anders, who tries to free captive peoples from communist countries. He won much acclaim for his starring role in Sam Peckinpah's short-lived The Westerner (1960).

He is also fondly remembered for his role as the father of twins in the 1961 film The Parent Trap, co-starring Hayley Mills and Maureen O'Hara. His performance as Theodore Roosevelt in The Wind and the Lion (1975) is also particularly well-remembered and regarded, being considered among the best portrayals of an American president on film. Keith later portrayed Roosevelt's predecessor, William McKinley, in Rough Riders (1997), his final film.

Gruff, but likable character actor

In 1952, he made his debut on 3 episodes of Tales of Tomorrow. These three episodes had led him to other roles such as Police Story, a 1950s anthology show, Eye Witness, The United States Steel Hour, Robert Montgomery Presents, The Motorola Television Hour, Campbell Playhouse, 2 episodes of The Mask, The Pepsi-Cola Playhouse, The Elgin Hour, The Adventures of Ellery Queen, 3 episodes of Studio 57, Jane Wyman Presents: The Fireside Theatre, The Ford Television Theatre, Wire Service, Climax!, Zane Grey Theater, Rawhide, Laramie, The Untouchables, The Americans, Outlaws, The Virginian, The Fugitive, 2 episodes of Wagon Train, 5 episodes of 77 Sunset Strip, 2 episodes of Major Dad, Touched By An Angel, Walker, Texas Ranger, among many others. His final guest-starring role was on 3 episodes of Spider-Man.

Television roles


Family Affair

The movies Keith led in the box office, including, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966), led him to his biggest break in 1966, the role of Uncle Bill Davis on CBS's popular television situation comedy Family Affair. This role earned him three Emmy Award nominations for Best Actor in A Comedy Series. The show made him a household name. It was also the answer to such successful 1960s and 1970s sitcoms that dealt with widowhood and/or many single parent issues such as: The Andy Griffith Show, My Three Sons, The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, Here's Lucy, Julia, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family and Sanford And Son. When CBS requested that he pose for Christmas publicity shots connected with Family Affair, Keith refused on the basis that this was exploitative of the holiday. During its first season in 1966, the show was an immediate hit, ranking #15 in the Nielsen Ratings, and became an overnight sensation.

Also starring on the show was an already established British character actor, Sebastian Cabot, as Mr. Giles French. The show also brought in several unfamiliar actresses and/or actors (who became Brian Keith lifelong fans): Kathy Garver as older niece Catherine "Cissy" Patterson-Davis, the late Anissa Jones as Ava Elizabeth "Buffy" Patterson-Davis and Johnny Whitaker as Jonathan "Jody" Patterson-Davis. Most of the relative newcomers got along well with the veteran star, esp. Garver, to whom Keith became a "second uncle", both on and off the set.

Keith was offered the role of Deke Thornton in The Wild Bunch also by Sam Peckinpah, but he turned it down because of Family Affair. This led to a dispute between the two friends.

By the end of its 5th season in 1971, Family Affair was still the most popular show, but CBS decided to end the show, after 138 episodes. The reason for the cancellation was because of the infamous rural purge -- which cancelled all Southern shows to make room for adult-oriented sitcoms such as the already #1 sitcom, All in the Family.

Kathy Garver said of the show where it was meant to be an over 40 program where Brian played a bachelor when instead he played the role of bachelor uncle, "But originally, it was supposed to be a grown-up show, and Brian Keith was supposed to be this bachelor with his manny or his valet, at that time, Mr. French, and the shows were supposed to revolve around him on different dates, and the kids were supposed to be on the background." Garver and Keith stayed in touch until Keith's death.

Brian Keith's friendship with Johnny Whitaker's family began in the mid-1960s, when Whitaker was guest-starring in one of Keith's mentor's movies, which eventually led him to a co-starring role on Family Affair. He said, "I had done The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966) with Brian Keith; and he and I got along real well. We never had any scenes together in The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming. But his hotel room was right down the hall from mine, and he would always come right after work, and say, 'Can Johnny Whitaker come out to play?' And so, we did, and at the time he had 1 daughter, 1 on the way and had just adopted another child, I believe, cause he love kids and was feeling homesick and saw me in the play, you know?" Whitaker said of the show Family Affair was supposed to have another child actor that Keith's character had wanted to come to fruition, "So, the original role of Jody was set for a 10-year-old boy. Cissy was supposed to be a 16-year-old girl, and Buffy was a 6-year-old girl. So, Jody was the middle child, and when Brian had suggested that they take a look at this little kid, that he just was on a series with, you know, but, he was sick, and he said 'Oh you're a handful of teams.'" The last thing Johnny said was about Brian being exhausted from all the hard work, coming through an apartment on the set, "Take a look a him, just for a next-door neighbor or something, but he's got a lot of talent and he was cute, and all this, so I went on the set, I was one of the only 6-year-old boys, but they had Anissa & Pamela [voice of Lucy], as I remember and lots of other shows, and a couple of other girls, and they just had me talk and read some lines with them, and then, when Anissa and I got together, the producers said, 'You know what? This is it! Magic for television twins." Years after the show's cancellation, both Keith and Whitaker each had successful careers, but had not kept in touch. The death of Keith's daughter Daisy in 1997 drew both Keith and Whitaker close while Keith was battling cancer. According to a 1997 interview on Entertainment Tonight with Brian Keith, he said Whitaker looked his name up in the phone book and called his home, which questioned Whitaker, which almost led to a misunderstanding with each other, but had enjoyed a wonderful reunion together [over the phone], for the last time, before Keith took his own life.

In 2007, a decade after Keith's passing, Whitaker and co-star Kathy Garver were both invited to the TV Land Awards to pay respects to Keith. Posthumously, Keith was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where Garver was one of the presenters.

Hardcastle & McCormick

Keith once again returned to series television in 1983 with, Hardcastle and McCormick, the latter in the role of a cranky retired judge named Milton C. Hardcastle. Familiar actor Daniel Hugh Kelly co-starred as ex-con Mark McCormick in the ABC crime drama with elements of comedy. The chemistry of Keith & Kelly were both a hit in the 1980s. Keith continued playing the role until its cancellation in 1986.

Other roles

Keith went on to star as the pediatrician Dr. Sean Jamison in the NBC sitcom The Brian Keith Show, filmed in California but set in Hawaii and also known as The Little People. Co-star Shelley Fabares played his daughter, Dr. Anne Jamison. Michael Gray played Ronnie Collins, a student doctor in the first season. Nancy Kulp and Roger Bowen appeared in the second season. Keith's third and last wife, the former Victoria Young, appeared in the role of Nurse Puni.

Keith had lead roles in Archer, and his final TV role, Heartland.

Keith also starred in the role of Steven "The Fox" Halliday in the six-part television miniseries, The Zoo Gang, about a group of former underground freedom fighters from World War II. The show also starred Sir John Mills, Lilli Palmer, and Barry Morse.

Keith spoke fluent Russian, which led to his casting as a Russian in two roles: the Soviet Premier in World War III with Rock Hudson; and as a Soviet scientist in Meteor with Natalie Wood. In The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming, where he played the unexcitable police chief of an island where a Soviet submarine runs aground, however, his character had to have Russian translated to him by Alan Arkin's character. In his last film, Keith played President William McKinley in Rough Riders (1997). Director John Milius dedicated Rough Riders to "Brian Keith, Actor, Marine, Raconteur."

On June 26, 2008, the Hollywood Walk of Fame installed a star in Brian Keith's honor on the world famous sidewalk in California.

Personal life

Keith married three times, first to Frances Helm; then, in 1955, to actress Judy Landon; and finally, in 1970, to Hawaiian actress Victoria Young (née Leialoha), who later appeared on The Brian Keith Show (1972–1974) as Nurse Puni. Keith fathered four children with Judy Landon (Barbara, Betty, Mimi, and Rory) and together they adopted three others. Daisy Keith, one of his children with Victoria Young, became an actress and appeared with her father in the short-lived series Heartland in 1989.

He attended the funeral of longtime friend Michael Landon in 1991.

Illness and suicide

During the later part of his life, Keith suffered from emphysema and lung cancer despite having quit smoking ten years earlier (he appeared in an endorsement campaign for Camel cigarettes in 1955). He was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound[3] in Malibu, California on June 24, 1997, two months after his daughter Daisy committed suicide. It was also reported that he had financial problems and suffered from depression throughout his final days. Keith's family were joined by many mourners at a private funeral, including Family Affair co-stars Johnny Whitaker and Kathy Garver, and Hardcastle & McCormick co-star Daniel Hugh Kelly.

His remains are buried next to those of his daughter Daisy at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.


Brian: “In other can't be a misogynist and expect women to appreciate you.” (Source:

Brian: “It was the craziest thing I've ever seen. You like to see two teams compete like that, but you like to see your team execute better down the stretch. Give credit to Chapel Hill, they made a great 3-point shot to get us into overtime, and I wasn't sure how we were going to pull it out. We had people on both sides fouling out of the game, but we hung in there and somehow pulled this out.” (Source:

Brian who said in 1968 about starring his own movies: "I've made I don't know how many pictures. Forty, I guess. I've seen only about a half dozen of them. We made Reflections in a Golden Eye in Rome last spring. I really enjoyed working with Liz and Brando and that great director, John Huston. But the kind of picture I enjoy seeing is something like The Parent Trap. That was a charming thing with Hayley Mills playing my twin daughters. I saw that four times. I even took my wife's parents to see it. I like it so much I forgot I was in it, as a matter of fact." (Source:

Brian on trying to live a long life: "If I live to be a hundred--and I hope I do--I won't have time to read all the books I want to read, or talk to the people I want to know. Not party talk. That's a waste of time. Real talk." (Source:

Brian on his handsomeness: “What for? I don't go to the Daisy or any of that. We don't give parties under a striped awning out over the lawn for two hundred people, four of whom we like." (Source:

Brian who said in 1969 on playing the role of an on-screen uncle, as he played the role of a real-life father: "This is the type of show I love, because it reminds me of what happiness I have with my wife and our children." (Source:

Brian who said in 1984 about leaving Family Affair, to spend time with his family in Hawaii, before casting as Hardcastle: "I get tired of sitting home and doin' nothing. If I'm doing something eight months of the year, I don't mind loafing the other four. But, lately, I've been finding fewer and fewer movies I'd like to do. And when that happens, I get hard to live with. Then this thing came along. I read it. I liked it. This character Hardcastle: I figured I could live with him for five years if I had to. There was something going on there. You don't get a helluva lot of character in series TV. They're more likely to star the car." (Source:

Brian who became very antsy about the car that was needed in every script: "I don't pay any attention. The stunt people take care of all that. All I do is get in and out of the Coyote [the car Skid drove, which required anyone riding in it to enter and exit through the window], which is no mean trick. You can't get into the S.O.B. without bending yourself into a pretzel. Me, I'd rather drive a pickup." (Source:

Brian on beating out 3 others actors for the role of Hardcastle: "I never heard of these guys. Of course, I can be talking to 40 Academy Award winners and never know the difference. People in Muncie, Indiana, probably know more about them than I do. But I figure what the hell, if they're smart enough to hire me, they must have something." (Source:

Brian: “The only attraction is the time. I work just 70 days a year on the show. I can still make two, three movies a year if I want to... If it were Bonanza , walking around the Ponderosa, tied up nearly all year, no-o-o chance. That's a fate worse than death." (Source:






  1. ^
  2. ^ Van Gelder, Lawrence. "Brian Keith, Hardy Actor, 75; Played Dads and Desperadoes", The New York Times, June 25, 1997. Accessed December 12, 2007. "Mr. Keith, whose full name was Robert Alba Keith Jr., was born in Bayonne, N.J."
  3. ^ Rice, Lynette; Johnson, Tricia (August 16, 2002). "On The Air".,,335194,00.html. Retrieved June 17, 2009. 

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