Charles Keating: Actor who made his name as Rex Mottram in ‘Brideshead Revisited’ before becoming a villainous star of US soaps

 

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The Independent Online

The British stage and screen actor Charles Keating had one of his best television roles as Rex Mottram in Granada’s sumptuous production of Brideshead Revisited, before making a name for himself in American daytime soaps.

In Evelyn Waugh’s story of the Roman Catholic, aristocratic Marchmain family’s demise between the wars, witnessed by Charles Ryder (Jeremy Irons), Keating portrayed the obnoxiously loud, unsophisticated side of the rich Canadian business executive who had become an MP in the British Parliament. (Waugh is believed to have based him on Brendan Bracken, a pushy Canadian-born Conservative politician.)

The moustached Mottram, who thinks money can buy anything, is first seen accompanying Julia Flyte (Diana Quick) to one of Charles’s lunch parties in his rooms at Oxford University. 

After Charles leaves for Paris, Keating’s character provides him with an important link to the Marchmain family and Sebastian Flyte, the fellow Oxford undergraduate who had befriended Charles and become an important part of his life before descending into alcoholism. Here, Keating delivers Mottram’s matter-of-fact criticisms of the family and betrays his character’s acquisitive nature at dinner with Charles.

Although Julia treats him with disdain, the Protestant Mottram plans to convert to Catholicism so that they can marry, but the wedding takes place in the Church of England after the discovery that he divorced a previous wife in Canada. This loveless marriage also ends in divorce, following the still birth of the couple’s baby and Julia’s affair with Charles.

Keating, who regarded himself first and foremost as a stage actor, spent much of the rest of his career in the United States. He was said to be amused by the celebrity he attained by appearing in four daytime soap operas. For his role in Another World as Carl Hutchins (1983-85, 1991-99), whose exploits include manipulating, swindling, kidnapping and bombing, he won the 1996 Daytime Emmy Award as Outstanding Lead Actor. Sometimes he would persuade the writers to add literate touches, such as having his character emerge from a bookshop, reading poetry.

Keating was born in Ealing, west London, to Irish Catholic parents – James, an engineer and heavyweight boxer, and Margaret (née Shevlin), who worked in fashion retail. After attending Wandsworth Technical College, he moved with his family to Canada, then to the US, where he worked as a hairdresser in Buffalo, New York.

He was given the chance to act at the Buffalo Studio Theatre, where he made his stage début in 1959. While touring with the Cleveland Play House’s repertory company, he met the actress Mary Chobody. They married in 1964 while he was serving in the US Army’s Special Services, based in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and directing plays for its entertainment division.

Keating later acted at the Charles Playhouse, Boston (1967), where his roles included Laertes in Hamlet. With the Minneapolis Theatre Company, directed by the legendary Tyrone Guthrie, he appeared in Broadway productions of The House of Atreus (1968-69, as Pylades) and The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (1969, as Manuele Giri). Keating also worked with the director at the Guthrie Theatre, Minneapolis (1968-70).

Guthrie then invited him to return to Britain to act and direct at the newly built Crucible Theatre, Sheffield (1971-72), which was designed in the “thrust stage” style pioneered by Guthrie, with the audience on three sides. Keating’s acting roles included Thomas Cromwell in A Man for All Seasons.

Staying on in his homeland to join the Royal Shakespeare Company (1973-75), he played Oliver in As You Like It (1973), Edmund in King Lear (1974) and Cloten in Cymbeline (1974) in Stratford-upon-Avon – and made his London début as Consul Casimir in The Marquis of Keith (Aldwych Theatre, 1975). He also took the part of  Lord Ross in Richard II with the RSC in a production at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York (1974). This was followed by roles such as Orsino in Twelfth Night and Mark Antony in Julius Caesar during two seasons at the Chichester Festival Theatre (1976-77).

By then, Keating was getting noticed by television casting directors. He was a regular as James Elliot QC in Crown Court (1972-79), Nigel Priestman in the crime mystery Life and Death of Penelope (1976) and Ernest Simpson, former husband of Wallis, in Edward & Mrs Simpson (1978).

However, work on American television led him to set up home again in the US. He had one-off parts in dramas such as Hotel (1985), Miami Vice (1987), Sex and the City (1998) and Xena: Warrior Princess (2000). His other daytime soap roles were as evil psychiatrist Dr Damon Lazarre in All My Children (1987-88), scheming Niles Mason in As the World Turns (1989-90) and the old family retainer James Richfield in Port Charles (2001-03). He was also in the films The Bodyguard (1992) and The Thomas Crown Affair (1999).

Keating’s Broadway stage portrayal of the newly widowed McLeavy in a revival of Joe Orton’s Loot (Music Box Theatre, 1986) earned him a Tony Awards Best Actor nomination.

Over the years, the black hair of Keating’s Brideshead days turned silver and was often  long and sometimes worn in a ponytail. He died after a three-year battle with lung cancer.

ANTHONY HAYWARD  

Charles Patrick Keating, actor and director: born London 22 October 1941; married 1964 Mary Chobody (two sons); died Weston, Connecticut 8 August 2014.

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