Robert “Brian” Alba Keith was born November 14, 1921 in Bayonne, New Jersey.
His parents were both stage actors and when they divorced, the 2 year old moved to Hollywood with his mother.
At the age of 3, his mother brought him to an audition for the silent film “Pied Piper Malone.” He actually landed a small child role.
Then as his mother continued to perform on stage and radio while traveling, she realized her child needed a better environment to grow up. He would spend hours backstage while she performed, as his mother once recalled:
“I kept little Brian in the dressing room in one of her drawers. He remained calm and quiet and would sleep through the entire show.”
Thus, his mother sent Brian to live on Long Island with his grandmother.
In 1927, Brian’s father Robert remarried Peg Entwistle, a well-known Broadway actress. The couple divorced in 1929, and in 1932, Peg committed suicide by jumping from the “H” of the famous Hollywood sign.
While growing up with his grandmother, Brian learned how to read books well over his age level.
World War II
Brian had graduated from high school in 1939, and when the war broke out, he joined the United States Marine Corps. He served as an aircraft radio gunner, sitting in the rear cockpit of a two-man Douglas SBD Dauntless divebomber. For his service, Brian received an Air Medal.
After the war, Brian became a stage actor himself.
Then in 1952, he made his debut on three episodes of Tales of Tomorrow. These three episodes soon led Brian 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, The Pepsi-Cola Playhouse, The Elgin Hour, The Adventures of Ellery Queen, and Jane Wyman Presents: The Fireside Theatre.
By 1955, Brian Keith was starring in his own series, Crusader, as the fictional journalist Matt Anders, who tries to free captive peoples from communist countries.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Keith also had guest roles on The Ford Television Theatre, Wire Service, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Climax!, Zane Grey Theater, Rawhide, Laramie, The Untouchables, The Americans, Outlaws, The Virginian, The Fugitive, two episodes of Wagon Train, five episodes of 77 Sunset Strip, among many others.
In 1960, Brian won acclaim for his starring role in Sam Peckinpah’s short-lived series The Westerner.
The following year, Brian appeared as the father of twins in the 1961 hit film The Parent Trap, co-starring Hayley Mills and Maureen O’Hara.
In 1966, Brian co-starred with Steve McQueen as traveling gunsmith Jonas Cord in the western Nevada Smith.
In 1968, as widower Jake Iverson, he co-starred with Doris Day in the comedy, “With Six You Get Eggroll.”
Then in 1966, Brian Keith landed the role of Uncle Bill Davis on CBS’s popular television situation comedy Family Affair.
The show made Brian a household name and earned him three Emmy Award nominations for Best Actor in a Comedy Series.
Brian Keith went on to star as the pediatrician Dr. Sean Jamison in the NBC sitcom The Brian Keith Show, filmed in Hawaii on an estate at the foot of Diamond Head and also known as The Little People.
The series was canceled after just two seasons in 1974.
In the 1975 film the Wind and the Lion, Brian played President Theodore Roosevelt.
He spoke fluent Russian, which led to his casting as a Soviet scientist in the 1979 film “Meteor” with Natalie Wood.
Then in 1982, Brian also appeared as a Russian in the short lived 1982 television series “World War III” that stared Rock Hudson as President of the United States.
In 1983, Brian once again returned to television in his own series Hardcastle and McCormick, as a cranky retired judge named Milton C. Hardcastle. The show lasted three seasons before being canceled in 1986.
Brian began suffering from emphysema and lung cancer despite having quit smoking 10 years earlier (he appeared in an endorsement campaign for Camel cigarettes in 1955).
Then Brian Keith played President William McKinley in the 1997 film Rough Riders.
However, on June 24, 1997, Brian Keith was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his home, only two months after his daughter Daisy committed suicide.
It was soon reported that he had financial problems and suffered from depression throughout his final days.
Brian Keith’s family was 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.
Director John Milius then dedicated the film Rough Riders to “Brian Keith, Actor, Marine, Raconteur.”
Brian is buried next to his daughter Daisy at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.
On June 26, 2008, Brian Keith received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Now WE know em
Brian was quoted as saying:
“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: PhotoplayMagazine.com)