Back to prior page            Go to next page

Tom Keene
Richard Powers
George Duryea

Real name: George Duryea

1896 - 1963

(From Old Corral image collection)

If there was one actor who had many cinema 'lives' and permutations, it was George Duryea ... who became Tom Keene ... who became Richard Powers ... and who returned to being Tom Keene.

His filmwork was on and off, and his days as a western hero were likewise.

Most sources have him born in/near Rochester, New York or Smokey/Smoky Hollow, New York. Some e-mails from Duryea family members advised that his home town was really Oakland (Livingston County), New York (which is about 100 miles from Rochester). Keene's Hollywood biographies also mention that he attended Carnegie Tech and/or Columbia University. Recent information shows that Keene reported his birth location as in/near Perry (Wyoming County), New York. The driving distance between Perry, New York and Oakland, New York is about 17 miles, so that seems reasonable.

He got the acting bug and wound up on the Broadway stage, and the story goes that Cecil B. deMille saw him and signed him for a role in a Pathe film which he was shooting.

While details of his early life are cloudy, we do know that young George Duryea wound up in Hollywood in the late 1920s in a lead role in deMille's THE GODLESS GIRL. Over the next couple of years, he appeared in other films at a variety of studios and production units ... but stardom was elusive. Among George Duryea's credits are a couple of early sound westerns - there was the terrible PARDON MY GUN (Pathe, 1930) and THE DUDE WRANGLER (KBS, 1930) which is among the lost/missing B oaters.

In the early 1930s, RKO studios decided to bring out a low-budget western series to compete with similar fare that was being churned out by the major studios as well as the Poverty Row production outfits. Duryea was hired as the lead ... and his name was changed to Tom Keene. (On a later webpage, there's info on the Tom Keene Cigar company and whether that influenced the name change.)

A dozen were made with the first being THE SUNDOWN TRAIL (RKO, 1931) and the last was CROSSFIRE (RKO, 1933). Sandwiched in between were several fine oaters, and two of my favorites are:  SCARLET RIVER (RKO, 1933), in which Keene portrays a Hollywood movie cowboy; and THE SADDLE BUSTER (RKO, 1932), which uses bronc riding and a rodeo setting as the background for the film.

There was no character continuity in the RKO series - Keene played different roles in each. And, as you can see from the various stills below, Keene did not have a consistent range uniform (other than the gunbelt buckled in the back). He even alternated between black and white hats and rode several different horses.

(Courtesy of Ed Tabor)

Above is the title lobby card for Keene's THE CHEYENNE KID (RKO, 1933). Note the spelling error with Roscoe Ates' name.

(From Old Corral image collection)

Above - a publicity still showing Keene and the eerie atmosphere of GHOST VALLEY (RKO, 1932).

(From Old Corral image collection)

Above is Tom Keene on "Flash" during his early 1930s RKO oaters. This horse appeared to be black or a very dark brown and had a small, white splotch on the face. Keene rode this steed In SUNDOWN TRAIL (RKO, 1931), FREIGHTERS OF DESTINY (RKO, 1931), BEYOND THE ROCKIES (RKO, 1932), GHOST VALLEY (RKO, 1932) and COME ON DANGER! (RKO, 1932). And he often called this horse "Flash".

(Courtesy of Minard Coons)

Above - Keene also rode a paint during his early 1930s RKO series. You can spot Keene on this horse in SON OF THE BORDER (RKO, 1933), SCARLET RIVER (RKO, 1933) and his last at RKO, CROSSFIRE (RKO, 1933).

(From Old Corral image collection)

In BEYOND THE ROCKIES (RKO, 1932), Tom Keene battles rustlers and is assisted by three helpers. The quartet of heroes are, from left to right, Ernie Adams, Julian Rivero, Tom Keene, and Hank Bell (and they called themselves "the roamin' rovers"). They even serenade us with some tunes around a campfire and at the ranch.

(From Old Corral image collection)

Above - young Billy Butts, Keene and stuntman Yakima Canutt in SCARLET RIVER (RKO, 1933). Keene's style was to have the gunbelt buckled in the back. This was a good 'un about making a western, and Keene was the movie hero. Canutt was on the side of the law for a change, portraying a film company wrangler as well as Keene's stunt double.

Keene's last RKO oater, CROSSFIRE, was released in the Summer of 1933. And then Keene's time as RKO's resident range rider came to an end. Tradepaper articles from late 1933 - early 1934 note that Tom didn't want to be typecast as a B-western hero and opted to move on, hopefully to more dramatic film roles or the legitimate stage. As to RKO, they were without a B-western series for 3+ years (RKO did continue to release an occasional higher grade western starring the likes of Richard Dix and Harry Carey during those years). It was late 1936 when muscular George O'Brien came on board as RKO's new series western lead.

A couple years after his RKO exit, Keene was at Paramount in several pretty good westerns, DRIFT FENCE (Paramount, 1936) and DESERT GOLD (Paramount, 1936), both of which starred Buster Crabbe.

In between RKO and Paramount, Keene got his chance at a heavy dramatic role. He starred in King Vidor's OUR DAILY BREAD (United Artists, 1934), a depression era saga that received critical acclaim but failed at the box office.

(Courtesy of Boyd Magers)

Above - Tom Keene and the mustached Buster Crabbe in a lobby card from DRIFT FENCE (Paramount, 1936). The leading lady is Cecil B. DeMille's adopted daughter Katherine DeMille (real name: Katherine Lester; 1911-1995) who was married to actor Anthony Quinn for nearly thirty years.

(From Old Corral image collection)
 Keene then went to work for lowly independent Crescent Pictures, and during 1936-1937, a series of eight historical dramas were released. These were not westerns, but outdoorsy adventures which used storylines based on real events such as Mexico during the days of Pancho Villa for UNDER STRANGE FLAGS (Crescent, 1937).

A very young Rita Hayworth, then billed as Rita Cansino, was in REBELLION (Crescent, 1937) and OLD LOUISIANA (Crescent, 1937). Several years later, both of these films were re-released with Hayworth listed as the star.

In the photo left, Keene is in his conservation officer uniform romancing Peggy Keys in RAW TIMBER (Crescent, 1937), which is probably the last of his eight films for Crescent.

(From Old Corral image collection)

Above, a photo of title lobby card for OLD LOUISIANA (Crescent, 1937) with Keene wrestling with Robert Fiske. The female lead is Rita Cansino who a few years later would become Rita Hayworth.

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Back to prior page            Go to next page