When John Agar died on April 7, 2002, we lost one of the good guys. He fought crooked sheriffs, tarantulas, Japs at Iwo, Indians at Fort Apache, brains from planet Arous, and even King Kong. At the height of his career, he stood alongside John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, and Robert Ryan taking direction from John Ford and Raoul Walsh. When things started to slide, he found himself in the backwaters of Texas battling bargain monsters for Larry Buchanan. but no matter what the circumstance or the budget, John Agar always gave his best.
John was born to a wealthy Chicago family and was often the date to Hollywood’s most glamorous actresses of the ’40s. A date with Shirley Temple led to marriage and a contract with David O. Selznick. John always said he was “thrown into the deep end of the pool” when he was cast in both Fort Apache and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon in 1948. John Ford rode him mercilessly (treatment that co-star John Wayne could sympathize with), but young Agar gave a good account of himself. So good, Wayne asked for him for 1949′s Sands of Iwo Jima, directed by Alan Dwan. But by John’s own account, things were moving too fast. He was enjoying the high life and when his marriage to Shirley Temple fell apart, so did a good deal of his A-movie reputation. But John soldiered on, working under contract to Universal in Westerns like Star in the Dust to all those great science-fiction flicks. He also happily re-married, this time to beautiful Loretta, and they remained together until the end of her life.
Like many contract actors, John Agar was out of the studio system by the late ’50s, but found steady work on television in Lawman, The Virginian, and Wagon Train and dozens of police dramas like Police Story. He even traveled to the Philippines to appear in the odd Cavalry Command directed by Eddie Romero of Mad Doctor of Blood Island fame. By the ’60s, John was a regular member of A. C. Lyles’ stock company and played good roles in Waco, Johnny Reno, Young Fury and Stage to Thunder Rock. It always seemed that if John wasn’t blasting monsters like The Invisible Raiders, he was shooting it out with outlaws on a backlot street. Old friend John Wayne contacted John for a mini-reunion in The Undefeated (1969) and that started a pattern of John popping up in Duke’s productions like Big Jake and Chisum.
Later in his life, John went to work for the Brunswick Company, promoting bowling for senior citizens. He enjoyed his work enormously, saying that he was able to “meet and greet folks who’d been fans since the ’40s.” It was during this time that Famous Monsters magazine published a premature obituary for John. John laughed about that, saying he got more fan mail than ever from people who were sorry about his passing! It was through this gaff that John discovered he had legions of new fans and for years attended as many conventions and fan gatherings as he could. He was never shy about his admiration for Wayne or director Jack Arnold or his admission that his career took a left turn when he was on the verge or stardom. There was never a hint of bitterness, just a hearty laugh and a “I’ve had a really great life.”
John Agar was a nice man, and a star in the truest sense of the word.