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Brian Keith (born Robert Alba Keith,[1] November 14, 1921 – June 24, 1997) was an American film, television and stage actor who in his six-decade-long career gained recognition for his work in movies such as the Disney family film The Parent Trap (1961), the comedy The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966), and the adventure saga The Wind and the Lion (1975), in which he portrayed President Theodore Roosevelt.

Brian Keith
Brian Keith - still.jpg
Keith in Dino, 1957
Robert Alba Keith

(1921-11-14)November 14, 1921
DiedJune 24, 1997(1997-06-24) (aged 75)
Cause of deathSuicide by gunshot
Resting placeWestwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery
Other namesRobert Keith, Jr.
EducationEast Rockaway High School
Years active1924–1997
Frances Helm (m. 1948–1954)

Judy Landon (m. 1954–1969)

Victoria Young (m. 1970)
Parent(s)Robert Keith
Helena Shipman

On television two of his best-known roles were those of bachelor-uncle-turned-reluctant-parent Bill Davis in the 1960s sitcom Family Affair, and a tough retired judge in the 1980s light hearted crime drama, Hardcastle and McCormick. He also starred in The Brian Keith Show, which aired on NBC from 1972–74, where he portrayed a pediatrician who operated a free clinic on Oahu, and in the CBS comedy series Heartland.


Early lifeEdit

Robert Alba Keith was born in Bayonne, New Jersey, on November 14, 1921, to actor Robert Keith and stage actress Helena Shipman, a native of Aberdeen, Washington. Some sources also list his full name as Brian Robert Keith.[2] He was Roman Catholic.[3]

Keith's parents divorced, and he moved to Hollywood and started his acting career at the age of two. He made his acting debut in the silent film Pied Piper Malone (1924), at the age of three.[citation needed]

His mother continued to perform on stage and radio, while his grandmother Apker helped to raise him on Long Island, New York, just 37 miles east of where he was born.[1] She taught young Keith to read books over his age level. Prior to learning to read, he spent a lot of time backstage while his parents performed, keeping quiet for hours. Helena fondly recalled keeping her little son in the dressing room in one of her dressing room drawers. He remained calm and quiet, and would sleep through the entire show.[citation needed]

From 1927-29, 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. After graduating from East Rockaway High School in 1939, in East Rockaway, New York, Keith joined the United States Marine Corps (1942–1945). He served during World War II as an air gunner (he was a radio-gunner in the rear cockpit of a two-man Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber in a U.S. Marine squadron) and received an Air Medal.[citation needed]


Keith and Spike in The Westerner (1960)

After the war, Keith became a stage actor, branching out into films and then television. In 1952, he made his debut on three episodes of Tales of Tomorrow, which led him to other roles in shows 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. In 1955, Keith starred in his own series, Crusader, as the fictional journalist Matt Anders, who tries to free captive peoples from communist countries.This series aired on CBS for two seasons from October 7, 1955 to December 28, 1956.

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, and five episodes of 77 Sunset Strip, among many others.

In 1960, he won acclaim for his starring role in Sam Peckinpah's extremely hard-bitten, adult, and short-lived series The Westerner (1960). The following year, Keith appeared as the father of twins in the film The Parent Trap (1961), costarring Hayley Mills and Maureen O'Hara. In 1966, Keith costarred with Steve McQueen as traveling gunsmith Jonas Cord in the western film Nevada Smith. In 1968, as widower Jake Iverson, he costarred with Doris Day in the comedy, With Six You Get Eggroll.

Family AffairEdit

Keith (center right) with Sebastian Cabot (top) and the other costars of Family Affair

In 1966, Keith landed 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.[4] The show made him a household name. It was in the vein of such successful 1960s and 1970s sitcoms that dealt with widowhood and/or many single-parent issues 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. During its first season in 1966, Family Affair was an immediate hit, ranking #15 in the Nielsen ratings.[5] By the end of its fifth season, in 1971, Family Affair still had high ratings but was canceled after 138 episodes.

Kathy Garver, who co-starred as Keith's teenaged niece, Cissy, on Family Affair, indicated that Keith said: "I'm a cultural Irishman, don't you know, I'm a cultural Irishman." Garver explained: "But he went through many manifestations and changes of character, during the five years that we shot. At first, he was up and then his second year, he was going through a divorce and then, the third year, he met somebody else; and he became more anecdotal and told stories that he loved kids, and he was very outspoken about those that he did not like. So, he was a very interesting character and it was Brian and Sebastian Cabot [who played Mr. French] had such a different style of acting and that's another reason I think that Family Affair was so popular and stayed as it did. Both excellent actors, both coming from very different methods and styles of acting with Sebastian was more from the classical style and he would take home his script and he would dutifully look at every single word and have it to perfection, and then Brian would come in and say, 'Oh what do we have today? Let me see the scene, uh-huh, uh-huh, let's go!' So he was very improvisational, motion of the moment. And those two different styles really worked out each other, very well."[6]

Other rolesEdit

Keith went on to star as pediatrician Dr. Sean Jamison in the NBC sitcom The Brian Keith Show (also known as The Little People), filmed on an estate at the foot of Diamond Head, Hawaii. The series was cancelled in 1974 after two seasons.

Keith also starred in the role of Steven "The Fox" Halliday in the six-part television miniseries, The Zoo Gang (1974), about a group of former underground French Resistance fighters from World War II. The show also starred Sir John Mills, Lilli Palmer, and Barry Morse.

In the film The Wind and the Lion (1975), Keith played President Theodore Roosevelt.

Keith spoke fluent Russian, which led to his casting as a Russian in two roles: as a Soviet scientist in the film Meteor (1979) with Natalie Wood, and as the Soviet Premier in the NBC miniseries World War III (1982) with Rock Hudson. Decades earlier, in the comedy film The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966), he had 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.

Keith once again returned to series television in 1983, with Hardcastle and McCormick, in the role of a cranky retired judge named Milton C. Hardcastle. Daniel Hugh Kelly costarred as ex-con Mark McCormick in this ABC crime drama with elements of comedy. The chemistry of Keith and Kelly was a hit, and the series lasted three years until its cancellation in 1986.[2]

Keith made a guest appearance in the Evening Shade, season 1 episode "Chip Off The Old Brick" (1991), as the loud-mouthed father of Herman Stiles (played by actor Michael Jeter).

Keith performed the role of Mullibok on the "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine", season 1 episode entitled "Progress" (1993), in which an elderly farmer resists forceable relocation by Bajoran authorities.

Keith guest starred in an episode of the TV series "The Marshal" titled "The Bounty Hunter" (1995) in which he played then Wichita Kansas Police Chief Rick Stone under the stage name of "Chief Skoblow". The Wichita Police Department cooperated with the Canadian TV production company by providing details of Chief Stone's actual police dress uniform for Keith to wear during the episode.

In his last film Keith played President William McKinley in the film Rough Riders (1997). Director John Milius dedicated the film to "Brian Keith, Actor, Marine, Raconteur."[7]

Personal lifeEdit

Keith married three times, first to Frances Helm; then, in 1954, to actress Judy Landon (who made a guest appearance on Family Affair); and finally, in 1970, to Hawaiian actress Victoria Young (née Leialoha), who later appeared on The Brian Keith Show as Nurse Puni.

Keith fathered two children with Landon (Michael and Mimi), and together they adopted three others (Barbra, Betty, and Rory). He fathered two children with Young (David and Daisy). Daisy became an actress and appeared with her father in the short-lived series Heartland, in 1989.[8]


During the latter part of his life, Keith suffered from emphysema and lung cancer, despite having quit smoking ten years earlier. He had appeared in an endorsement campaign for Camel cigarettes in 1955. On June 24, 1997, he was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound[9] in his home in Malibu, California, 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.[8]

Maureen O'Hara stated in an interview not long after Keith died that she believed he did not commit suicide. She stated that he had a large gun collection, and enjoyed cleaning them and showing them to people. She believed he might have been cleaning the gun or looking at it when it went off, and that his death was an accident and definitely not a suicide. She had just visited him and said he was in good spirits. She also stated that he would not have committed suicide owing to his Catholic beliefs.[10]

Keith's family was joined by many mourners at a private funeral, including Family Affair co stars Kathy Garver and Johnny Whitaker, and Hardcastle and McCormick co star Daniel Hugh Kelly. Keith's ashes were interred next to those of his daughter Daisy at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.[11] This is the same cemetery where Keith's Family Affair co-star, Sebastian Cabot is buried.


On June 26, 2008, Brian Keith received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[12]





Heyday (1946)

"Mr. Roberts" as First Mate (Circa 1950 as Robert Keith, Jr.) N.B. Robert Keith, Sr. was the Doctor in it.

Video GamesEdit


  1. ^ a b Keith, Victoria Y. (2014). "About Us". Retrieved 2015-08-29.
  2. ^ a b Van Gelder, Lawrence (June 25, 1997). "Brian Keith, Hardy Actor, 75; Played Dads and Desperadoes". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-08-29.
  3. ^ Hays, Matthew. "It's a Family Affair". Montreal Mirror. Archived from the original on 2012-06-30. Retrieved 2015-08-29. I was surprised at Brian, who was Catholic, ...
  4. ^ "Brian Keith Biography". TV Guide. Retrieved 2015-08-29.
  5. ^ Mavis, Paul (December 1, 2007). "Family Affair-Season Four". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2015-08-29.
  6. ^ "OSB Episode 120". On Screen & Beyond. July 11, 2010. Retrieved 2015-08-29.
  7. ^ "Brian Keith: Inducted to the Walk of Fame on June 26, 2008 with 1 star". Hollywood Walk of Fame. June 26, 2008. Retrieved 2015-08-29.
  8. ^ a b Simon, Stephanie (June 25, 1997). "Brian Keith - Hollywood Star Walk". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2015-08-29.
  9. ^ Simon, Stephanie (June 25, 1997). "Actor Brian Keith Found Dead in Apparent Suicide". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2015-08-29.
  10. ^ "Maureen O'Hara Discusses Her Life in Film". CNN Transcripts. CNN. October 28, 2000. Retrieved May 26, 2017.
  11. ^ "Brian Keith-Daisy Keith grave plaques". Seeing-Stars. Retrieved May 26, 2017.
  12. ^ "Brian Keith Honored At The Hollywood Walk of Fame". Getty Images. June 28, 2008. Retrieved 2015-08-29.
  13. ^ "Set Up for Death". Suspense. 1949.

External linksEdit