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Remembering Fred Keller

Photo courtesy of New Phoenix Theatre

Many thanks to Tony Chase for his touching article about Fred Keller, above, who died this month.

When I was working in “the old BET” in what was then the Jackson Building, in 1990, I was planning to direct The Dresser, Ronald Harwood’s play about an aging, provincial actor (“Sir,” a version of Donald Wolfitt) struggling to perform King Lear during World War Two. Fred tracked me down and asked me who I had in mind for Si”—because “I’m your man.” He then cast the principal roles around himself.

I was young and proud so rehearsals were often a battle of wills but I knew I was suddenly working with a great actor; secretly, I felt very privileged, and learned an enormous amount. Fred approached the material with humor and empathy, wit and pathos, and relentless energy. His performance was magnificent and unforgettable.

At the heart of the play is the sad fact that actors live on stage and glimpse a cruel mortality when they spy the end of their careers. In The Dresser, Sir is reminded that films provide a kind of antidote to an actor’s death. Fred delivered Sir’s response with particular relish: “They haven’t built a camera big enough to hold me.” Nor a stage, Fred.

“Remember thee?” Always.

> Bob Waterhouse, New Phoenix Theatre

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