(From Rusty Frank's book "Tap")
Ruby Keeler was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on August 25, 1910. Three years later, her family packed up for New York City. She began dancing at an early age, and by the time she was thirteen, she was in the chorus of a George M. Cohan show, The Rise of Rosie O’Reilly (1923). From Broadway she moved into the reigning nightclubs of the 1920s, including “incendiary-blond” Texas Guinan's infamous speak-easy, the El Fey Club, and the glamorous and sophisticated Silver Slipper. In 1923, she moved back onto the Broadway stage in such shows as Bye, Bye, Bonnie (1927) and The Sidewalks of New York (1927).
In 1928, Ruby Keeler went to Los Angeles to make a Fox short about dancing and to appear in theater prologues. When her train pulled into Union Station, she was spotted by Al Jolson, who was there to meet fellow passenger Fanny Brice. He asked to be introduced to Miss Keeler, whom he had seen onstage in New York City. On September 21, 1928, Ruby Keeler became the third Mrs. Al Jolson. They moved from Broadway to Hollywood, where Jolson had become involved with Warner Bros. Studio after his smash hit, the most successful early talking motion picture, The Jazz Singer (1927).
Ruby Keeler was not anxious to be a movie star, unlike so many of her coworkers. She was happy to live a quiet home life. But everlasting fame was thrust upon her with the role of Peggy Sawyer, the ingenue in the upcoming “All Talking, All Singing, All Dancing” musical comedy/drama 42nd Street (1933) and when she tapped in the great finale, she won all America. With release of 42nd Street, Ruby Keeler became the first tap dancing star of motion pictures.
Ruby Keeler was a Buck dancer, and quite an accomplished one at that. The shoes, as well as the style, were quite different from tap: Buck dancers’ soles were wooden, and the concern was more with the rhythm than the look; they danced primarily in one place onstage, and always on the balls of their feet, confining dance movement to below the waist.
Throughout the 1930s, Ruby Keeler continued to star in a series of successful Warner Bros. musical films, dancing with some of the finest tap dancers under contract with the studio. Her films included Gold Digger of 1933, Dames (1934), Footlight Parade (1933, tap partner, James Cagney), Flirtation Walk (1934), Go Into Your Dance (1935, costarring with her husband, Al Jolson), Colleen (1935, tap partner, Paul Draper), and Ready, Willing and Able (1937, tap partner, Lee Dixon). It was also during her contract with Warner Bros. that she first met and worked with the legendary Busby Berkeley, the kaleidoscope mind of choreography. And though she was not really a tap dancer, and not the most accomplished actress or singer, nonetheless, Ruby Keeler will always be remembered with great warmth and affection as the first tap dancing star of the silver screen.
Miss Keeler made her comeback in 1971(age 61) on Broadway, starring in the hit musical "No, No, Nanette". Her previous performance on Broadway was in a musical comedy, "Show Girl" in 1929. After years of absence, Miss Keeler and the musical "No, No Nanette" are credited for the return of tap dancing to the Broadway stage.