HOME | FAMILY TREES | RECOLLECTIONS | SPOTLIGHT ON SOLVAY | ETC. | READ ABOUT IT | NAME DROPPING
 

Dennis O'Keefe was good-looking, no doubt, but he had the kind of good looks that made him seem like one of the guys you'd grown up with. In a room full of celebrities, he'd always seem the most approachable.

O'Keefe was born Edward Vance Flanagan in Fort Madison, Iowa, in 1908. His parents were vaudeville performers, and as a child he was part of their act. He wanted to write, and tried his hand at movie scripts, but to earn money, he called himself Bud Flanagan and broke into movies as an extra in 1930. His father, Edward Flanagan, had been in many silent films.

Seven years went by before Bud Flanagan became Dennis O'Keefe and his name appeared inthe credits. The movie was "The Bad Man of Brimstone" (1937), a Western with Wallace Beery and Virginia Bruce.

After that he was busy in movies for many years, and became a familiar face and name to millions of Americans. O'Keefe may not have become an "A" level star, but he came close, and perhaps his best known film was "Brewster's Millions" in 1945, though the title that catches most eyes when they scan his resume is "Getting Gertie's Garter," from the same year. (Those who have seen it insist it is a very funny film; Marie McDonald and Barry Sullivan co-star.)

Like most of the actors who had success in movies in the 1930s and '40s, O'Keefe was trying to come to grips with television by the time I met them. His first series attempt failed, but he was anxious to try again, and put forth a few ideas for a program that might be the hit he needed.

However, that hit would never materialize. O'Keefe made only two television appearances after our interview — on "The Red Skelton Hour" in 1963 and "Petticoat Junction" in 1966. In-between he starred in one little-seen movie, "Deadline for Murder" (1964).

Just when he was diagnosed with lung cancer, I don't know, but Dennis O'Keefe passed away on August 31, 1968 in Santa Monica, California. He was 60 years old.

He had been married briefly to Louise Stanley (1937-38), then married Steffi Duna in 1940, and they remained together until his death, and had two children.


Akron Beacon Journal, July 15, 1962
WANTED: A fool-proof idea for a successful television series. Idea must be guaranteed to keep that series on the air for several years. Contact your nearest actor.

Go up to any performer with such an idea and he’s sure to become your buddy. Heck, you can get him acting friendly just by asking about his next TV show.

Except for a few very successful and wealthy movie stars — such as Rock Hudson, Doris Day and Cary Grant — most actors are still looking for their gold mine, These days, thar's gold in them thar TV series, but only if they remain on the air for at least three years. Five would be much better.

With at least 100 filmed episodes in the can, you can negotiate to sell them again and again to stations who will use them to fill timeslots at all hours of the day. Just ask Desi Arnaz. He’s learned that America’s televisions stations — indeed, stations in several other countries, as well — never outgrow their need for “I Love Lucy.”

JUST ASK actor Dennis O’Keefe how much he’d like to have that kind of TV series. He’ll just smile. It will be a greedy smile.
O’Keefe won’t try to hide his feelings, though he’ll substitute the word “security” for “greed.”

No matter how much money some actors may make during the prime of their lives, they never know when they’ll stop receiving offers to work. Movie actors once had some security through contracts with studios, and might be kept busy in several films each year.

Things have changed. For O’Keefe and dozens of other veteran actors and actresses, studio contracts are a thing of the past, and they depend on television for most of their income.

Now O’Keefe is concerned about where his next $10,000 is coming from. He wouldn’t be so concerned if he had his own series.

“I HAD MY OWN program two years ago,” he recalled during an interview in Cleveland, where he was co-host of “The Mike Douglas Show,” “but it ran just 32 shows. We’ve had a few offers to sell those programs to syndication, but not enough offers to make it worthwhile.”

“The Dennis O’Keefe Show” had the actor playing a widower with a ten-year-old son (Ricky Kelman) and a stern housekeeper (Hope Emerson). His character was a syndicated newspaper columnist.

O’Keefe claimed he’d actually lose money on the deal unless he was guaranteed a certain number of stations would buy the series.

“It’s difficult to wrap up a multi-station deal unless you have about 200 old episodes to sell,” he went on.

THERE IS another tactic that can be used, and O’Keefe’s partners are trying it. That angle would be to include “The Dennis O’Keefe Show” with three or four other series (such as “Bringing up Buddy,” “The Hathaways” and “Shotgun Slade”) in a package that might be titled “Time for One-Season Wonders,” as a way to accumulate enough episodes to interest a lot of stations.

In this way, O’Keefe’s partners could offer 200 half-hour episodes that would allow stations to fill those 30 minutes between “Concentration” and “Truth of Consequences.”

But what the actor would most like to do is find a series that will run several years, then return to haunt children and grandchildren for generations after that.

“I’d like to do an E. G. Marshall bit,” O’Keefe said of the star of “The Defenders.” “I’d be mature, but no decrepit. Someone with energy, but not a buffoon.”

O’KEEFE ISN'T interested in playing a lawyer, however. This actor has a weakness for newspapermen.

Granted, that didn’t work out well for him on “The Dennis O’Keefe Show.” He was interested in portraying different newspapermen as they get their Big Story, but admitted he’s been told that idea has already been run into the ground.
Now he wants to play a city editor.

“We’ll have some other regulars . . . a reporter, a cub reporter, and a girl. She won’t be a reporter. She’ll be the publisher’s secretary.”

SUCH IDEAS seldom sound exciting, and this one certainly doesn’t, not with its hint of sexism, but O’Keefe knows it’s not the idea that makes a show a success, it’s the execution.

“The days of shows such as ‘Hawaiian Eye’ and ‘Surfside Six’ are numbered,” he predicted. “Today’s successful programs are anthology series that present their material in a semi-documentary manner. “Naked City” and “The Defenders,” for example.

“These shows use a regular case as a springboard to feature stories with guest performers. In most of these shows, the regular stars have roles secondary to their guests.”

THIS TREND, he said, will put an end to the fantasy of a super-detective or super-lawyer who carries a whole show with his brilliance and cunning.”

And so O’Keefe plans to throw the spotlight away from the regulars on his next show.

“We’ll deal with stories that are usually buried inside a newspaper,” he said. “As city editor, I’ll notice an item on Page 14 about a local man who is being sent back to Italy because he entered the country illegally. From there, the story shift to the man and we deal with his problems. The newspaper enters the picture, of course, because we find a way to keep him in the country.”

YOU'VE GOT to give O'Keefe credit for spunk. When he portrayed a newspaper man in “The Dennis O’Keefe Show,” he got clobbered by the press. Newspaper people simply didn’t like the way they were being shown on television.

“This time I’ll have an advisor,” O’Keefe explained. “The advisor will be a long-time newspaper reporter and editor. However, a lot of the criticism of my law how was unjust. I remember the show where I was assigned to escort a teenage girl around the town for a whole week. She was a contest winner.

“Anyway, she falls in love with me and we had some embarrassing moments, especially with her boy friend, and the whole thing was done for the sake of comedy. But all critics had to say was that no real newspaper man would get caught in such a situation. Well, naturally, we exaggerated, but that’s how you do comedy. My business is pleasing the people as a whole, not a specialized group.”

AMIABLE O'KEEFE was a hit with the crew of “The Mike Douglas Show” because he’s down-to-earth and not prone to play Hollywood. It’s a reputation he has enjoyed since he broke into show business as a movie extra in 1928. For several years he was the only extra ever to rise through the ranks to stardom.

Now 54, O’Keefe is an actor equally at home in comedy and drama, and he’s adept at combining the two elements in any role. He said those two elements — plus realism — would e present inn his next TV series.

My conversation with him always drifted back to television. There are only a handful of successful movie stars these days; television is the most obvious alternate choice for anyone looking for a big payday.

“When you speak of television,” he said, “you have to speak of a series. It’s the only way to work in that business.”

 
HOME CONTACT