Leo Keiler, Movie Owner
And Civic Leader, Dies
Leo F. Keiler, Paducah business leader and for many years an outstanding civic leader, died at 11 p.m. Sunday at Western Baptist Hospital. He was 70.
Born and reared in Paducah, Mr. Keiler was the administrator of several family estates with holdings running into millions of dollars scattered over the United States. The holdings include real estate and negotiable stocks and bonds.
Although he was best known as a moving picture theater operator, the enterprise contributed only part of the Keiler fortune. Mr. Keiler maintained theaters only in Paducah and Murray at the time of his death. He sold his 50 per cent interest in the string of 26 Kentucky theaters in 1929. The movie houses were purchased by Warner Brothers of Hollywood, Calif.
Mr. Keiler was born March 3, 1888, the son of John W. and Blanche Friedman Keiler. He was educated in the city's public schools and played on the first Paducah High School football team. He maintained throughout his life a great interest in the local high school football team.
After graduating from the old Paducah High School he attended Notre Dame Prep School where he played football and pitched for the school's baseball team. He later was graduated from the Prep School of Princeton University.
He enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania but left the school before graduating to become coach of the Paducah High School football team. He coached the team for several years. His father, a distillery operator, began the custom of presenting jackets to members of the football team—a custom Mr. Keiler followed for the next 25 years. Both he and his father paid for the jackets they presented each year.
Mr. Keiler's interest in the local football team was reflected in 1924 when his family donated to the city board of education the land for a football stadium behind old Augusta Tilghman High School. The completed stadium was named Keiler Field in honor of the land donors.
The family also donated Keiler Park and Joseph L. Friedman Settlement House to the city.
Mr. Keiler broke into the motion picture theater business by a roundabout way.
He was traveling throughout the South selling the products of his father's distillery when a customer told him about operating a moving picture theater as a profitable sideline.
Mr. Keiler called his father by telephone that night and asked him to refrain from leasing the Arcade Theater, which the elder Keiler owned, until he returned from his current selling trip. The theater had just been vacated by a previous operator who had gone broke.
Young Leo opened the theater soon after he returned from New Orleans and almost suffered the same fate as his predecessor.
There were two other moving picture theaters being operated here at the time, the Little Theater and the Kory. Mr. Keiler persuaded their owners to join him in forming a single firm and the Columbia Amusement Company was organized in 1923 with Mr. Keiler as general manager.
One of the other theater owners, Rankin Kirkland, still lives in Paducah and still owns his interest in the Columbia Amusement Company.
After combining the three theaters under single management, the company leased from Mr. Keiler's father the Old Opera House which was renamed the Orpheum Theater and used for the showing of motion pictures and traveling stage shows.
During the early 1930's Mr. Keiler became interested in the production of movies and stage shows. He bought interests in Edgar Selwyn's motion picture "Strike Up the Band" and in the dramatic stage show, "March Down"
Shortly after that he formed a partnership with Sol Lesser, produce of the famous "Tarzan" movies and they purchased the movie rights to some of Harold Bell Wright's most famous books with the intention of producing them.
As Mr. Wright's fame spread, however, the offer of other movie producers for the book rights became more interesting than the production angle and the partners sold out for $125,000. Before breaking up their partnership they produced the famous movie "Stage Door Canteen." They also produced the "Baby Peggy" series which were very popular in their day.
During the early 1930's, Mr. Keiler and Col. Fred Levy of Louisville acquired more than 30 moving pictures theaters in Kentucky and Illinois. They owned theaters in every major city west of and including Louisville. This was the string of movie houses they sold to Warner Brother's in the late 1920's.
Mr. Keiler loved the theater business and often said that he would always own one, referring to a theater house. He gave them up as a financial venture when he and Col. Levy sold their 26 theaters.
Several of Mr. Keiler's relatives, including his father and his uncle, the late Joseph L. Friedman, had accumulated substantial wealth. Mr. Keiler was appointed administrator of both their estates.
Under Mr. Keiler's management the holdings of each estate grew and prospered. They now include oil stock in Texas and apartment houses in Los Angeles and extensive real estate holdings in downtown Paducah.
Mr. Keiler was a tireless worker for the advancement of Paducah and was president of the Board of Trade during the era of its greatest industrial growth. The Greater Paducah Association, which succeeded the Board of Trade, was founded in the basement of his home on West Broadway. He arranged the meeting with saw its inception.
Mr. Keiler was very devoted to his mother who died in 1955. He made it a point to write her a letter every day and if he went out of town on business or pleasure, he always left pre-dated letters for his secretary to mail so his mother would receive a letter from him each day.
He like punctuality in his business dealings and he tried to visit personally with each person who called at his office. His experience as a salesman caused him to hold in disdain important people who refused to receive anyone who called at their offices.
Although he was not an active member of any church, Mr. Keiler contributed generously to the budgets of some 28 churches in Paducah representing all colors and creeds. His choice of church was Temple Israel.
He also was a member of one of the Paducah Elks Lodge and at different times since 1911, a member of the Paducah Rotary Club.
Mr. Keiler had been in declining health the past two or three years. He had confined to his hospital bed since May 13 following a severe heart attack.
Survivors include his wife, Mrs. Irene B. Keiler; one son, John Keiler II of Paducah; a daughter, Mrs. Blanche Prinsmetal of Los Angeles, Calif.; one sister, Mrs. Tom May of Los Angeles; and six grandchildren.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Roth Funeral Chapel with Rabbi Max Kaufman officiating. Burial will be in Temple Israel Cemetery at Lone Oak.
Active pallbearers will be Bernard Palmer, Glenn Schrader, William Roetteia, Arthur Melton, Roy Smith, and Rudell Butler.
Honorary pallbearers will be Stanley D. Petter, Dewy Payne, Irving P. Bright, William M. Carson, Dr. Warren P. Sights, Dr. W. P. Hall, Ramsey Martin, James G. Wheeler, Melvin H. Cornillaud, Hermon A. Toof, Fred B. Lack, James R. Smith, Robert H. Overstreet, Rankin R. Kirkland, Tomas A. Paxton, Hardy Roberts, Dallam Hart, Joe Rosenfield, Edwin J. Paxton, Sr., Frank Lancaster, Kimball E. Spears and Jesse Weil.
Friends may call at Roth's Chapel.
The Paducah Sun-Democrat
Monday, June 30, 1958, p. 1
Irene Daube Bergerman Keiler
1896–1989 (m. 1916)
Sponsored by Ancestry