Obituary: Brian Keith

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The Independent Online
Brian Keith was a burly veteran of over 100 films, in which he appeared with such stars as Doris Day, Burt Lancaster, Charlton Heston, Roger Moore, Elizabeth Taylor and Gene Tierney.

Keith's parents were both actors. His father, Robert Keith, starred in such films as The Wild One (1953), Young at Heart (1954), Love Me or Leave Me (1955) and Guys and Dolls (1955), but Brian, despite having appeared in a silent film at the age of three, initially had no acting ambitions.

During the Second World War he served with the US Marine Corps as a machine gunner. After his release from the service, he finally succumbed to family tradition; his first adult screen role was with Charlton Heston in Arrowhead (1953). For the rest of the 1950s he darted from studio to studio, appearing in such action films as Alaska Seas (1954), The Violent Men (1955), Run of the Arrow (1957) and Fort Dobbs (1958).

In the television series The Westerner (1960) Keith played Dave Blassingame, a stony-faced adventurer roaming the Mexican border accompanied by a mongrel called Brown. That same dog had played the title role in the Disney film Old Yeller three years earlier.

Coincidentally, the Disney organisation offered Keith his next film; in The Parent Trap (1961), he and Maureen O'Hara were the divorced parents of twins, both played by Hayley Mills. The plot concerned the siblings' efforts (successful, of course) to reunite their parents. After The Parent Trap Keith suddenly found himself playing more sympathetic roles; in Disney's Those Calloways (1965) he played a likeable eccentric who, with the help of his adoring family, battles to save a lake on which he intends to make a bird sanctuary.

Television producers too saw him in a different light, and he was starred in the sitcom Family Affair (1966-71), in which he played a carefree, wealthy bachelor whose life is suddenly complicated when three lovable young orphans are thrust upon him. His next sitcom, The Little People (later The Brian Keith Show), was filmed in Hawaii. The story of a father and daughter team of paediatricians running a clinic on a tropical island, it ran from 1972 until 1974. Thereafter, Keith regarded Hawaii as his adopted state and visited there as often as possible.

He made a personal success as President Teddy Roosevelt in the film The Wind and the Lion (1975) and appeared with Roger Moore in the James Bond film Moonraker (1979). He acted with Burt Reynolds in Hooper (1978), directed by Hal Needham. In 1981 he appeared in Sharkey's Machine, directed by Reynolds himself. Keith played an army officer, involved in an adulterous affair with Elizabeth Taylor, in John Huston's disastrous film Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967). Two years later, Keith appeared in another cinematic flop, Krakatoa, East of Java; the quality of which can best be summed up by the fact that Krakatoa is actually west of Java.

After the failure of the Peter Ustinov comedy Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (1981), Keith joked, "I only did the picture because it had a long title, and I seem to specialise in those" (he had previously appeared in The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming, 1966, With Six You Get Egg Roll, 1968, and Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came, 1970).

Brian Keith's most recent film appearances were in Young Guns (1988) and Welcome Home (1989).

Robert Brian Keith, actor: born Bayonne, New Jersey 14 November 1921; married first Frances Helm, second Judith London, third Victoria Young; died Los Angeles, California 24 June 1997.