Kathleen Key (
April 1, 1903- December 22, 1954) was an American actresswho achieved a brief period of fame during the silent era. She is probably best remembered for playing "Tirzah" in the 1925 film Ben-Hur. Kathleen was the great-great granddaughter of Francis Scott Key, composer of the Star Spangled Banner.
Born Kitty Lanahan in
Buffalo, New York, she first debuted in films in 1920 in the film "The Jackeroo of Coolabong", playing a lead role. From that point on to the end of the 1920s, Kathleen Key, sometimes credited as Kathleen Keys, starred in several films, but never really reached stardom, and was never given much credit for the roles she had, although there were some exceptions.
Rise to fame
In the early '20s, Kathleen had a well-known love affair with silent-film
actor Buster Keaton, who was married at the time. As told in Keaton's biography, the actor attempted to call off the relationship, but Key flew into a jealous rage and ransacked his MGMdressing room, which caused her to be virtually blacklisted afterward by the movie industry. It is also stated that Keaton refused to give Key a monetary loan. A telegram, sent by one of Keaton's friends who had heard about the argument, comically read: "Congratulations. Hear you are off Key."
In 1922 Miss Key was featured in "Omar Khayyam" and played a vampire in "Where's My Wandering Boy Tonight". The same year she signed to play with Charles
Buck Jonesin "Vamoos" for Fox Film. In this role she wore the dress once worn by Sara Sothernin the stage production of "Smilin Through" at the Majestic Theater in Los Angeles, California. The actress spent a year in Australiaas a leading woman in productions of Snow Baker around this time. Prior to making "Vamoos", Kathleen starred with John Gilbert in "St. Elmo", also for Fox. She was cast as an "innocent young thing" rather than playing her frequent vampire part. In 1923, as Kathleen's career slowly progressed, she was selected one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars. In 1929, Key appeared in "The Phantom of the North", which appeared to be her last film. However, she made three, very small and uncredited roles in 1930, 1935, and 1936, as a dance hall girl in Klondike Annie. After these minuscule appearances, it seems the actress retired from film altogether.
In 1941, Key was unable to pay a fine she received for drunk driving, which proved that the actress was down on her luck following retirement. The sultry, exotic-looking actress spent the rest of her days in moderate comfort at the
Motion Picture Country Housein Woodland Hills, California, where she died at the age of 51 in 1954.
* "The Jackeroo of Coolabong" (1920)
* "The Rookie's Return" (1920)
* "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" (1921)
* "Where's My Wandering Boy Tonight?" (1922)
* "West of Chicago" (1922)
* "Bells of San Juan" (1922)
* "The Beautiful and Damned" (1922)
* "Hell's Hole" (1923)
* "The Rendezvous" (1923)
North of Hudson Bay" (1923)
* "Reno" (1923)
* "The Man from Brodney's" (1923)
* "The Trouble Shooter" (1924)
* "The Sea Hawk" (1924)
* "Revelation" (1924)
* "A Lover's Oath" (1925)
The Big Parade" (1925)
* "Ben Hur" (1925)
* "Under Western Skies" (1926)
* "The Flaming Frontier" (1926)
* "Money Talks" (1926)
* "College Days" (1926)
* "The Desert's Toll" (1926)
* "Hey! Hey! Cowboy" (1927)
* "Irish Hearts" (1927)
* "Golf Widows" (1928)
* "The Family Picnic" (1929)
The Phantom of the North" (1929)
* "Sweeping Against the Winds" (1930)
* "Thunder in the Night" (1935) (uncredited)
* "Klondike Annie" (1936) (uncredited)
Los Angeles Times, "In Race to Reign at Legion's Fete", November 9, 1921, Page III 1.
*Los Angeles Times, "Dancers Versatile", January 16, 1922, Page 19.
*Los Angeles Times, "Stops Vamping Awhile", July 28, 1922, Page I 14.
* [http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0450748/ Kathleen Key] at the
Internet Movie Database
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.
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