Dennis O’Keefe (Who’s Who at MGM, 1937) 🇺🇸

January 09, 2022

Dennis O’Keefe walked into the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios to make a test for a small bit in Rosalie. Instead of this, he found he had been catapulted into one of the most important leads of the year, in Bad Man of Brimstone,” and was hailed as Hollywood’s newest discovery in romantic leading men.

The how and why of this are interesting. The young actor, son of a famous vaudeville star, played a bit in Saratoga, and Clark Gable and Director Jack Conway noticed him. They called the attention of studio executives to him, and Dennis was given a test, then placed in stock.

“That’s My Man”

Harry Rapf was looking for a leading man with Wallace Beery and Virginia Bruce in the epic of pioneer days, and couldn’t find the right combination of virility, dramatic acting and romantic appeal. When he went with Pete Smith to view one of the latter’s shorts in a studio projection room, O’Keefe’s test happened to be running.

“That’s my man,” decreed Rapf.

He was born at Fort Madison, Iowa, March 29, while his parents, Edward and Charlotte Flanagan, were on a vaudeville tour. His father teamed with Neely Edwards in the famous “Off and On” act.

He was raised in vaudeville theatres where his parents played and schooled all over the country until Flanagan and Edwards were signed to come to Hollywood to create the “Hall Room Boys” comedies. Then he went to Hollywood schools.

Eleven years ago the elder Flanagan died. Finishing high school, the youngster went into vaudeville, wrote some screen stories, and returned to Hollywood to play bits and seek fame.

Father Rapf’s Friend

Gable and Conway didn’t know his history, but sensed the background and experience of the young player. After Rapf had given him the lead in “Bad Man of Brimstone,” he discovered the boy’s identity. The elder Flanagan was a close friend of the producer years ago.

Dennis was given the screen name of O’Keefe. He lives in the San Fernando Valley, on a small ranch, and raises Great Dane dogs. He is an athlete, an expert hunter, has written “Don’t Pull Your Punches,” produced by Warner’s, and other stories, under the name of Jonathan Ricks, his favorite play is “The Guardsman” with Lunt and Fontanne. On the stage he has appeared in “Once In a Lifetime,” “The Broken Wing, The Family Upstairs” and Bad Girl.” In vaudeville he carried on with his father's old act A Lesson In Golf” for some years, until his mother asked him to quit and essay pictures.

His mother, who was a singing violinist in vaudeville, and his sister Hortense, live in Hollywood.

He is 6 feet, 2 inches in height, with blonde hair and blue eyes, and weighs 175 pounds.

Opposite Virginia Bruce

His first lead, in “Bad Man of Brimstone,” saw him opposite Virginia Bruce.

O’Keefe is one of the most widely traveled actors in Hollywood. With his parents he has been in every city in America that boasted a vaudeville theatre during the palmy days of the Varieties.

His father’s former partner, Neely Edwards, is now in pictures in Hollywood, and they are close friends. O’Keefe often gathers with the group of vaudevillians now in pictures, including John T. Murray and Vivian Oakland, Harry Sharrock, Sophie Tucker, Brosius and Brown, Guy Kibbee, Claude Gillingwater, and the others who have found Hollywood a new career with the demise of the “two a day.”

Source: Who’s Who at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1937