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George Duryea
Tom Keene
Richard Powers

Real name: George Duryea

1896 - 1963

(From Old Corral 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.

Some sources have him born in/near Rochester, New York. E-mails from Duryea family members advised that his home town was really Oakland, New York (which is about 60 miles from Rochester). Hollywood biographies are always suspect - those have Keene born in Smokey/Smoky Hollow, Sleepy Hollow and even New York City ... and that he attended Carnegie Tech and/or Columbia University.

However, 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. The September, 1934 issue of Modern Screen magazine had a lengthy article on Keene titled "DO HARDSHIPS HELP A FELLOW ?" and for Keene, the answer was "YES". Quote from the article about his birth and childhood:

"Tom was born in a one-room shack in Perry, New York, and the family was desperately poor. He lost his mother when he was five and his father a year later. The two orphans, Tom and his elder brother, were taken by two aunts to be raised, the brother going to live with Tom's favorite aunt."

The 1900 census has John and Mary Duryea and sons James Albert and George residing in Wyoming County, New York. But there is confusion with the census takers worksheet - unsure if the town location is Castile or Perry, New York (Castile is a few miles from Perry). The October 5, 1904 issue of the Wyoming (New York) County Times newspaper reported that "Mr. James Duryea, formerly of Perry, died last week and was buried at Genesee (New York)." I have not found any info on the passing of their mother Mary.

On a later webpage, you'll find lots of (confusing) details on Keene's early years in New York. And we're still trying to pin down his real birth place.

After the death of their parents, youngsters George and brother James Albert lived with family members for several years. Details of Keene's early life are cloudy but we do know from local newspapers that he was a "chore boy" on a farm belonging to relatives. And scuttlebutt is that he ran away once or several times, and headed west. His September, 1918 World War I draft registration as well as newspaper articles confirm that he was employed as a shipfitter and living in Seattle, Washington. He was about 20-21 years old, and brings into question whether he attended Carnegie Tech, Columbia University ... or any college.

The play "Abie's Irish Rose" was a hit and ran on Broadway for about five years (from 1922-1927). I found nothing on George Duryea in the Broadway version of the play. However, tradepapers confirm that he starred as "Abie" in one of the touring companies. The May 26, 1926 issue of Variety had more news about the play - companies were being formed for Australia, New Zealand, and other locales and Duryea was chosen for the overseas tour. Also selected was Grace Stafford (real name: Grace Boyle) who would become Mrs. Duryea a couple years later. In mid 1927, the "Abie's Irish Rose" cast and crew returned to the United States via ship. (Grace divorced Keene in 1940. She married cartoonist Walter Lantz and became the later voice of Woody Woodpecker. Gracie Lantz passed away in 1992.)

After "Abie", his next stop was the male lead in a reform school melodrama for Cecil B. De Mille at Pathe. From the November 30, 1927 Film Daily tradepaper: "George Duryea, who played the role of Abie in 'Abie's Irish Rose,' has been signed by De Mille for the male lead in 'The Godless Girl'." And over the next couple of years, he appeared in more features at Pathe as well as films at various studios and production companies. But stardom was elusive. Among his 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 decided to bring out a low-budget western series to compete with similar fare that was being churned out by major studios as well as Poverty Row companies. 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 which may have 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.

There was no character continuity in the series - Tom played different roles in each. And, as you can see from the various images below, he didn't 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 collection)

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

(From Old Corral collection)

In BEYOND THE ROCKIES (RKO, 1932), Tom Keene (on trusty steed "Flash") battles rustlers and is assisted by three helpers. The quartet of heroes are, from left to right, Ernie Adams, Julian Rivero, 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 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.

(From Old Corral 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), COME ON DANGER! (RKO, 1932). and THE CHEYENNE KID (RKO, 1933). And he often called this horse "Flash".

Footnote on Tom's RKO horses: in THE CHEYENNE KID (RKO, 1933), Keene rides Flash and the paint horse. Flash is shot out from under Tom. Then outlaw Al Bridge arrives with an un-saddled paint hoss ... and fails in his attempt to steal Tom's saddle. After a fist fight, the paint becomes Tom's mount. And to add a bit of confusion, he also rides a white horse which belongs to Roscoe Ates.

(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), THE CHEYENNE KID (RKO, 1933), and his last at RKO, CROSSFIRE (RKO, 1933).

Keene's last RKO oater, CROSSFIRE, was released in the Summer of 1933. And then his time as RKO's resident range rider came to an end. Hollywood magazines and tradepapers circa late 1933 - early 1934 reported that Tom felt that doing westerns was limiting his career, and he exited Hollywood for the legitimate stage and dramatic training. After about a year absence, he was back in Hollywood as the star of King Vidor's OUR DAILY BREAD (United Artists, 1934), a depression era saga that received critical acclaim but failed at the box office. As to RKO, they were without a B-western series for three+ years (RKO did continue to release an occasional higher grade western starring the likes of Richard Dix and Harry Carey during that period). It was late 1936 when muscular George O'Brien came on board as RKO's new series western star.

Then he was at Paramount in several pretty good westerns, DRIFT FENCE (Paramount, 1936) and DESERT GOLD (Paramount, 1936), both of which starred Buster Crabbe. A few years earlier, he did SUNSET PASS (Paramount, 1933) with Randolph Scott.

(Courtesy of Boyd Magers)

Above - Tom Keene and the mustached Buster Crabbe in a lobby card from DRIFT FENCE (Paramount, 1936). The leading lady was 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 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 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 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)

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