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Book Review: Too Marvelous For Words: The Life and Career of Ruby Keeler

Bear Manor Media will often publish books that are two-fold. Within the massive text, we are offered a full biography followed by a detailed filmography. Such is the case with this new book on Ruby Keeler, one of the most appealing performers of Hollywood’s golden era.

Author Ed Harbur offers a great deal of fascinating detail in the biographical section. We see how Ruby Keeler’s innate ability as a dancer was evident during her childhood, and how she entered the profession and rose to stardom without ever compromising her principles. Keeler’s challenging relationship with superstar Al Jolson, her later happy marriage, and her success on stage and in films is examined in an interesting and entertaining manner.

Jolson’s ego, his possessiveness and his petty jealousies are presented but the writer cleverly offers only information and does not make editorial judgments on anyone’s character. He provides enough details so the reader can respond accordingly, which is the mark of a good author.

The fact that Keeler was a devoted wife and mother is given a great deal of attention, showing how she was able to remain grounded despite her successful career. Opportunities that were lost – such as a shot at perhaps taking Ginger Rogers’ place as Fred Astaire’s on-screen dancing partner – help shape the narrative and balance out the many successes Ruby Keeler enjoyed.

Ms. Keeler continued to make appearances right up until early 1993 when her fatigue led to a visit to her doctor, which ultimately revealed a cancerous tumor on one of her kidneys. Making the decision not to operate, as it would be too dangerous, Ruby Keeler died in late February of that year.

The filmography section provides plot information, historical background, a keen critical assessment by the author, and period reviews for each movie. We learn a great deal about such fine films as “42nd Street,” “Dames,” and “Footlight Parade,” among other noted classics. Taking up the bulk of the book, it is filled with information that is enlightening and informative for each movie.

Finally, this book is filled with many wonderful photographs from throughout Ruby Keeler’s life an career, many of them exclusive to this book.

“Too Marvelous For Words” is highly recommended for fans of classic screen musicals, especially those who admire Ruby Keeler’s work. This book fills a need, and author Ed Harbur has done an excellent job putting it together.

The book is available here

James L. Neibaur
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