Kathleen Key was a silent starlet whose temper destroyed her career.
She was born Kitty Lanahan on April 1, 1903 in Buffalo, New York. Her great-great grandfather was Francis Scott Key who composed The Star Spangled Banner. When she was a baby her family moved to ranch in Southern California. In 1920 she made her acting debut opposite Snowy Baker in the Australian film The Jackeroo of Coolabong. Then producer Thomas Ince offered her a contract. Kathleen was given supporting roles in The Rookie’s Return and The Beautiful And The Damned. The lovely brunette was chosen as one of the Wampas Baby Stars of 1923. She was signed by MGM and cast as Tirzah in the drama Ben Hur. Her performance got rave reviews and she seemed destined for stardom. Kathleen appeared in several westerns including The Flaming Frontier, Under Western Skies, and The Desert’s Toll. Off screen she became known for having a fiery temper.
In an interview she said “I think I’m a little bit crazy. Not much, you understand, but just a little nutty in the head.” She was briefly engaged to Ottavio Prochet, an Italian doctor. Then she began a passionate affair with married actor Buster Keaton. When he ended their romance in 1931 she beat him up and ransacked his dressing room. Kathleen was arrested and the bad publicity destroyed her career. Her final role was a bit part in the 1936 film One Rainy Afternoon. By this time she was suffering from alcoholism and nearly bankrupt. She was arrested in November of 1938 for public intoxication. Three years later she was arrested for drunk driving. Eventually was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and moved into the Motion Picture Country House. On December 22, 1954 she died from a hepatic coma at the age of fifty-one. Kathleen was buried at Valhalla Memorial Park in North Hollywood, California.