Yes, she was a movie star, once so popular that she received billing above James Cagney (at least in the coming attractions for Footlight Parade).
She had come to Hollywood with then husband, Al Jolson. The union did not end well.
There she is above with pre-tough guy Dick Powell, her co-star of the early 30s when she was billed as a dancer by the name of Ruby Keeler. That’s Ruby (right) with Powell and Joan Blondell, who costarred in 1934’s Dames. It was choreographed by, who else?, Busby Berkeley.
Some things about Ruby (born Ethel Keeler) you may or may not know:
— She was a native Canadian, born in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1909. But she entered show biz in New York, becoming a dancer on Broadway before the age of 16. For a while there, she was the sole support of her down-at-the-heels family. Ruby was a sixth grade dropout from a Catholic school.
— Her marriage of about a dozen years to Al Jolson (it began in 1928) was something of a train wreck. She was 18 or so when they wed, he was 42 or so. It was Ruby’s first of two marriages. It was like being married to ‘an institution,’ she complained. At the end, Keeler couldn’t stand the guy. When the great Al’s biopic (The Jolson Story) was being made in the mid-40’s, Ruby wanted nothing to do with the production. (She was played in the movie by Evelyn Keyes.) “I don’t like him,” said Ruby at the time. But, as stated above, it was Al who brought her to Hollywood, and probably was responsible for negotiating her Warner Bros. contract.
— Actually Ruby was a pretty decent dancer, a fast “tapper.” But, as she later admitted: It’s really amazing. I couldn’t act. I had that terrible singing voice, and now I can see I wasn’t the greatest tap dancer in the world, either. I was all personality and no talent.
— After the Jolson divorce, Ruby stepped out of the show biz spotlight for some three decades, re-emerging triumphantly in the 1971 Broadway production of No No Nanette — directed by, who else?, Busby Berkeley.
Ruby Keller — the most famous ‘no-talent’ of classic Hollywood?