As many learned during the 1940's and 1950's Hollywood Fairy Tales don't always end "Happily Ever After". Even for Cinderella and her Prince Charming aka: America's Sweetheart Shirley Temple and handsome new leading man John Agar.
This is the story of an up and coming "A" list leading man who became a "B" picture regular, a 1950's Science Fiction staple and then fell into "D" quality movies, but enjoyed the ride.
I don't resent being identified with B science fiction movies at all, Why should I? Even though they were not considered top of the line, for those people that like sci-fi, I guess they were fun. My whole feeling about working as an actor is, if I give anybody any enjoyment, I'm doing my job, and that's what counts.A quote by John Agar from the webpage "Monster Shack", but without specific reference to source. This quote can also be found on Wikipedia referencing "Monster Shack" as its source.
Even if you go to what is called "The Official John Agar Website" his early life prior to meeting Shirley Temple is only a few short lines:
John was born in Chicago, Illinois on January 31st 1921. he is the oldest of four children born to John Agar Sr. and Lillian Rogers Agar.
He attended Harvard School for Boys in Chicago, Illinois and graduated from Pawling Prep in Pawling, New York He served his country for three years as a physical training instructor with the U.S. Army Air Corps. Upon his discharge he signed a seven year contract with David O. Selznick.
What is not mentioned is that his father John George Agar, Sr. had a very successful Meat Making Company. As for "The Harvard School for Boys".I can add that Edgar Rice Burroughs is considered one of its famous students, but apparently the future actor was a footnote. The school was founded in 1865 and closed in 1962. The school building apparently still stands today,
After the "Harvard School" John Agar would attend "Lake Forest Academy" in Lake Forest a suburb of Chicago. This school is still considered a highly selective, prestigious college, preparatory boarding and day school for grades 9 through 12.
After "Lake Forest Academy" it appears he left the state to attend the "Trinity-Pawling" School in the aforementioned Pawling, New York. This was an all boys boarding school for preparation for College. Why he went there over other schools in his home state I could not find and there is confusion about who sent him there. However, it is fact that John Agar never went beyond this school in his education.
According to Wikipedia John Agar::
and his family moved from Chicago to Los Angeles in 1942, after his father’s death.However according to "Torgo the White's Rolodex" :
His father died in 1935, and the family later moved to Los Angeles.More confusion over the move to Los Angeles comes from "Monster Shack" with this entry:
John packed up and continued his education at New York's prestigious Trinity-Pawling prep school. Unfortunately for John, the United States was plunged into World War Two in 1941. Due to the crisis at hand, 20-year old John left his studies and enlisted in the Army Air Force.Most of the sources and obituaries I read seem to imply that John graduated from "Trinity-Pawling" and then the family moved to Los Angeles. I could not find any year for the death of his father except as mentioned on the "Torgo the White's Rolodex" website, but again most information puts it about the time as the families move to California. Which would contradict the website's date of death. Just as other websites and sources of biographical information contradict "Monster Shack" which implies Agar did not graduate "Trinity-Pawling" as he "left his studies and enlisted in the Army Air Force".
Consider, which could still be true, if his father died in 1935 John was only 14 and that would have meant his mother took over his education and apparently the Meat Packing Business an unusual move for a women during the depression. There is no information on what happened to the business after John's father passed away, or if at the time of the California move the family still owned it. There are other contradictions in John Agar's early years and it appears we may be dealing with writers just taking what other had said as fact without further research.
All of the sources do agree that John Agar joined the Army Air Force and after boot camp was stationed in Riverside, California for his entire enlistment as a physical fitness instructor. This definitely was in 1942. So it might also be probable that his mother and his three other siblings moved to Los Angeles after he became stationed in Riverside. Riverside is located outside of Los Angeles County and at the time would have been nothing but undeveloped farm land. Los Angeles would be the nearest major city to the North with the even father away San Diego to the South.
At one time according to most biographies a high school friend of Agar's sister needed an adult to escort her to a party her employer was giving. His sister suggested her brother stationed in Riverside. Sergeant John Agar found himself escorting 15 year old Shirley Temple to a party being given by Producer David O. Selznick. Of course depending upon which source about John Agar you read this took place either in 1944, or 1945 with Temple either being 15, or having just turned 16. However, this gets a little more confusing when we look at the biography's about Shirley Temple.
Shirley Temple was born April 23, 1928 in Santa Monica, California. Her parents were of English, German and Dutch ancestry. Her strong willed mother was Gertrude Amelia "Kreiger" Temple and her father was George Francis Temple who worked at a bank. In September of 1931 Shirley's mother enrolled her in the "Meglin's Dance School" in Los Angeles. At the age of three Shirley Temple was now part of Ethel Meglin's troupe of child performers ranging from 2 to 16 known as "Meglin's Kiddies". Also at this time Shirley's mother started putting her hair in ringlets patterned after a style being worn by actress Mary Pickford in the movies and a trademark look was born
Shirley Temple moved into movies in "The Frolic of Youth" two-reeler series playing Mary Lou Rodgers and this series would lead to her motion picture career. The following link is to one of those 19 minute two-reeler entries:
As the story goes song writer Jay Gorney saw Shirley Temple walking out of the theater dancing and suggested to her mother that she try out for a movie entitled "Stand Up and Cheer". The young girl won the part on December 7, 1933 and the rest was Depression Era history. Her contract was for $150 a week with Fox Pictures for an expected two weeks work which became a one year contract at the same pay with a five year pick up option. Temple's mother was hired at $25 a week as her daughter's hairdresser and personal coach.
Events surprised the studio when suddenly Fox had a major star on their hands as Depression Era families saw the solid wholesomeness of the little dancer, singer and actress. On July 18, 1934 her contract was raised to $1,000 a week and her mother's salary to $250.In 1935 Fox merged with another film company 20th Century to form 20th Century Fox. From that year through 1938 Temple was in a series of money making movies that are considered classic today including "Hedi","Curly Top" and "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm". Shirley Temple was also recording song hits like "Animal Crackers in My Soup" and "The Good Ship Lollipop" and while others were struggling. She was selling records as well as making movies. According to the polls Shirley had became the number one box office favorite and "America's Sweetheart" over the likes of Joan Crawford and Katherine Hepburn. While living in a fantasy world that she had no idea was unlike other Americans at the time.
In 1939 MGM asked Daryl F. Zanuck to let Temple play Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz" and Zanuck declined. A contract actress too old for the role name Judy Garland became the girl in the Ruby Slippers. Zanuck had Temple play the lead in "Susannah of the Mounties" which would be her final hit motion picture. Anyone remember it?
To add to this things were about to change drastically for the 11 year old girl. In that same 1939 Shirley Temple dropped to number five favorite by audiences and her decline as a movie actress began. In 1940 at the age of 12 she had two consecutive movie flops and her parents bought out her contract.
Shirley was sent to the "Westlake School for Girls", The private girls school was located at the time in what is now downtown Los Angeles. Temple would initially have trouble relating to the other girls as the realization of her world versus their's sunk in. However, she would soon turn this around and happily, according to her, spend the next five years at the school. We know the one of her new friends would be John Agar's sister who obviously was attending this same private school.
This is the link to "The Official Shirley Temple" Website.
Once again we have a little confusion on the year Shirley Temple and John Agar met for that David O. Selznick party, because sources about Shirley Temple mention the year as 1943. Which meant depending on who was reporting the story that first meeting happened in any of three years 1943, 1944 or 1945. Basing this meeting on 1928 when she was born. Shirley Temple was either 15, 16, or 17 at the time. However, it appears that the actual year had to be 1943 as John Agar was still in the service when the two were married in 1945.
According to Shirley Temple Black's obituary in "The New York Times" concerning her final year in private school:
By then she was a strong-willed, chain-smoking 17-year-old. Determined to be the first in her Westlake class to become engaged, she had accepted a ring from a 24-year-old Army Air Corps sergeant, John Agar Jr., a few days before her 17th birthday. They were married on Sept. 19, 1945.
This quote does not seem to fit the image of that "Fairy Princess/America's Sweetheart" American's still had about Shirley Temple. What it does show is possibly a head strong young girl attempting to break away from her "image" meeting a handsome young Army Air Force Sergeant and the two rushing into a marriage neither was prepared for.
Our next bit of minor confusion comes from David O. Selznick's wedding present to the couple. He truly liked Shirley as a daughter and would give her anything. So he hired John Agar as an actor even though John had no previous interest in acting, or even one lesson. Selznick added acting lessons at his studios expense and a movie contract. The confusion is over the length of that first contract. Some sources say it was for seven years and others for only five. In my opinion it seems strange for Selznick to offer an untried actor either length.
Reflecting the length of time to learn his new profession we have a period of over two and a half years from his wedding to the release of John Agar's first motion picture the John Ford classic "Fort Apache" March 27, 1948 featuring his wife.
As the above poster indicates the film was "Introducing John Agar" who played the role of Ward Bond's son Lt. Michael Shannon "Mickey" O'Rourke. The poster also shows the drawing power still of Shirley Temple as she has third billing afer John Wayne and Henry Fonda. It also reflects the appeal of one of John Ford's regulars Pedro Armendariz who is billed fourth/ Additionally the poster indicates that Merian C. Cooper, the creator of the 1933 "King Kong", was both John Ford's main co-producer and a
great drinking buddy.
The screenplay for "Fort Apache" was based upon a short story by writer James Warner Bellah popuiar for writing Westerns and Calvary short stories and novels, The story was entitled "Massacre" and was loosely based upon George Armstrong Custer's last stand, but transposed to Arizona. In fact two more of Bellah writings would be turned into motion pictures by the Ford/Cooper team "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" and "Rio Grande" making his writings the source for all three of Ford's Calvary Trilogy.
The basic story has Henry Fonda as Lt. Col. Owen Thursday arriving at his new command "Fort Apache" with his daughter Miss Philadelphia Thursday who falls for the handsome Lt. O'Rourke. Playing Thursday's second in command Capt. Kirby York was John Wayne. Wayne would play Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke, no relation, in the third of Ford's Trilogy "Rio Grande" opposite Maureen O'Hara. Thursday is obsessed with redeeming himself with the Army even at the expense of his command and of course the Apache's. The film ends with a Custer's Last Stand like battle sequence and as with George Armstrong Custer Thursday going down in history as a hero.
Prior to the release of the film on January 30, 1948 Shirley Temple Agar gave birth to Linda Susan Agar.
Still teenage Shirley with Susan. Young teen brides were very common at the end of World War 2 and marriages to returning serviceman would lead to "The Baby Boom" and the "Boomers".
One learns not to trust Filmography's, but look at release dates. Three of John Agar's filmography's on different sources have "The Sands of Iwo Jima" as John Agar's next film. Followed by "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" and two other films from 1949. There is no question 1949 was a major and critical year for the actor, but his film work and their releases have a different chronology and I will follow that rather than the apparent pack.
John Agar's next film moved him from being "Introduced" into third co-starring billing behind Robert Young and Shirley Temple Agar. "Adventure in Baltimore" released April 19, 1949 was a perfect Hollywood Fairy Tale film for the Created Image of this young couple.
In the motion picture the year is 1905 and Shirley is attending an exclusive girls school. Her father is a minister played by Robert Young and her boyfriend is played by John. Shirley's Dinah Sheldon does the scandalous thing of wearing only ONE petticoat instead of the required FIVE at her school. Next she starts campaigning, against both her father and boyfriends wishes, for women's rights. A series of comic misunderstandings follow.
"Adventure in Baltimore" was a typical lighthearted family motion picture of the period. Which American's wanted to see after enduring World War 2, but it still lost $875,000 in 1949 dollars for RKO Pictures.
Appearing without Shirley, but opposite Joanne Dru and John Wayne. John Agar again had third billing in the next film of the John Ford Calvary Trilogy "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon". Once more co-produced by Merian C. Cooper.
The motion picture had a double release date. The first showing was in Kansas City, Kansas on July 26, 1949 and then it was released nationwide on October 22, 1949. The story tells of the final days in the Army of Captain Nathan Brittles a part John Ford did not want to give to John Wayne until he saw Howard Hawks' "Red River"and realized the kid could really act. It is a sad film in many ways as the audience compares Brittles life and loss of his wife to the romance of young officer Lt. Flint Cohill played by John Agar and the lovely Army Brat Olivia Dandridge played by Joanne Dru.
Unlike "Fort Apache" this film is set in South Dakota. Although the backdrops as with the other are John Ford's favorite location Monument Valley, Utah. The story has both Cheyenne and Arapaho tribe members breaking free of the reservation just after "The Little Big Horn" defeat of Custer. Brittles has been given his retirement watch and though the day is not ended. He is considered out of the army. Both young Lieutenants Cohill and Pennell, Harry Carey, Jr, have been given the assignment to bring the Indians back and Brittles intercepts them and assists in his last official action. This is a great film and John Agar was at his best and most promising.
Another of those double release dates was a film noir that didn't do very well under its Los Angeles premier name "I Married a Communist" on October 7, 1949. The film would be pulled and not re-released until June 3, 1950 under the new title "The Women on Pier 13". Once more Agar had third billing behind Laraine Day and Robert Ryan. Another indication of how bad this script was came from getting a director for the motion picture in the first place. RKO head Howard Hughes offered it to 12 directors to see if they would do it as a "test of their patriotism". They all flatly turned it down. Finally British director Robert Stevenson became the 13th man to see the screenplay and he accepted the director's chair.
Basically Robert Ryan was once involved with a communist cell in New York. Now in Los Angeles he is approached by another communist cell. John Agar is his brother-in-law that the communist cell wants Ryan to indoctrinate. The film was not very popular and lost RKO $650,000.
Receiving co-star billing with John Wayne. Released December 14, 1949 "The Sands of Iwo Jima" would earn Wayne a nomination as Best Actor in a hard hitting study of Sergeant John M. Stryker of the United States Marine Corps. Stryker is despised by Agar's PFC Peter Conway the son of an officer Stryker idolizes. By the end of the film Conway has come to a change of heart and mind set, but it takes the death of Stryker on "The Sands of Iwo Jima" to finally bring that around. The film was a flag waver of the period, but not in the normal way. The story pulls no punches about Stryker's background and alcoholism.
The problem here for John Agar was that before this classic film's release on December 5, 1949 the courts recognized Shirley Temples divorce from the actor. She was given full custody of Susan and the right to use her maiden name again. While the public had still been participating in their fairy tale romance. The truth about 1949 was that Prince Charming John Agar had been arrested for DUI once, was drinking heavily and apparently according to Temple seeing other women. The divorce was officially finalized on December 5, 1950.
Before I continue with John Agar's story I want to give my reader a brief look at what the rest of Shirley Temple's life was after the divorce as a comparison to Agar's career.
Sometime during January 1950, a few weeks after her divorce degree, Shirley met businessman Charles Alden Black. The two would be married 11 days after her divorce to John Agar was deemed finalized on December 16, 1950.
Charles Alden Black was an interesting person who during World World 2 served in the Navy as an Intelligence Officer. After the war he attended Stanford University in California to get his MBA. Afterwards Black became an executive for both Dole Pineapple and the agricultural company Castle and Cook while living in Hawaii. During the Korean War he returned to active duty in Naval Intelligence and at the end of that Police Action was serving as a Lt. Commander.
At some point in time Linda Susan Agar was adopted by Charles at her request and became Linda Susan Black. I could not locate the circumstances behind this request, or anything about her relationship with her father John Agar. Shirley Temple Black would have two more children Charles Alden Black, Jr, and Lori Black. Lori would play bass for the San Francisco Punk Band "Clown Valley" and after they split up she joined "The Melvins", Her stage name was"Lorax".
Shirley Temple Black had a short lived television show "Shirley Temple's Storybook" from January to December 1958. The show never was on at the same time and couldn't pick up a following. In 1960 she tried television again with "The Shirley Temple Show", but against the likes of Walt Disney and other established programming it didn't have a chance. So she entered Republican Politics.
Shirley attempted to run for Congress in California's 11th District, but failed. However, Henry Kissinger liked what he saw and spoke to President Richard M. Nixon. This resulted in Temple Black being appointed the United States representative to the 24th United Nations General Assembly by President Nixon. Her political career expanded when she became Ambassador to Ghana for two years 1974 to July 1976 appointed by President Ford. From July 1976 until January 21, 1977 Shirley became the first female Chief of Protocol of the United States and arranged the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter. President George H.W. Bush would appoint her Ambassador to Czechoslovakia from 1989 to 1992.
During all of this Shirley Temple Black had contracted Breast Cancer and had a mastectomy. Her next action was unthinkable at the time, but she went on National Television and Radio to tell about it/ She became one of the first women to speak out about this type of cancer in a public forum.
Shirley's husband Charles Alden Black died at the age of 86 on August 4, 2005. Shirley Temple Black passed away at the age of 85 on February 10, 2014 from complications caused by her lifelong habit of smoking. During her whole life she hid her smoking from the public as it did not fit her image. Today in both remastered black and white and colorization the films she made as a young girl are still available and still sell.
Linda Susan Black at her wedding to Roberto Falaschi
Returning to John Agar and his career from the point of his divorce. That divorce again from "America's Sweetheart" caused repercussions for the young actor within the Hollywood community. Basically any chance at "A" pictures were cut off and some of the major studios would have nothing to do with him. In 1950 the "Studio System" was still in full control and an actor's future was in their hands.
Agar would make another 56 movies and 13 television appearances between 1950 and 2005. Along with a 1993 documentary short on "The Making of the Sands of Iwo Jima". All were considered "B" motion pictures, but a small group of 14 Science Fiction films would become his legacy. John Agar was also known for some very good low budget Westerns. Making him a solid "B" Picture actor that could be counted upon to deliver a good performance no matter the fact of a non-existent budget, ort even a guaranteed on time pay check.
The first film John Agar made after his separation from Shirley was released November 16, 1950 one month before the divorce was finalized. It was a low budget World War 2 motion picture entitled "Breakthrough" about an Army Unit starting on D-Day. The film ran 91 minutes and thirty of that was stock footage taken during the War by the United States, the U.K. and Germany. It was an independent film released through Warner Brothers who had no control on the casting.
On May 16, 1951 John Agar married model/actress Loretta Grace Barnett Combs. When you look up her filmography there are only two films listed. The first is 1941's "Citizen Kane" were she is an uncredited dancer, The second is 1955's "The Revenge of the Creature" were she is listed as an uncredited women on the boat. I could find no more details about her, but she would be married to John Agar until her death at age 77 on January 22, 2000. Loretta and John have two sons Martin Agar and John G. Agar III.
However, on June 2, 1951 Warner Brothers did release their only other film with the actor. A Western in which he received third billing behind Kirk Douglas and Virginia Mayo, Walter Brennan had fourth star billing. "Along the Great Divide" would establish Agar in Westerns that were not always this well cast and directed by someone of the caliber of "One Eyed" Raul Walsh.
Walter Brennan was in one of his bad guy roles similar to "Old Man Clanton" in John Ford's "My Darling Clementine". Agar is one of the deputies of Marshall Len Merrick played by Douglas. They are escorting Brennan to jail. About half way through the picture John Agar is killed off and may have contributed to why Warner's ok'd him for the role. This was the last film John Agar would ever make for a major studio.
On October 18, 1951 the movie "The Magic Carpet" was released. It starred Lucille Ball as an Arabian Princes, John Agar played Abdullah al Husan / Dr. Ramoth / The Scarlet Falcon. While Raymond Burr was the Grand Vizier Boreg al Buzzar. Love those names, but basically this film has comic overtones with Lucy as the Princess and Agar as the handsome commoner standing up against Raymond Burr's evil vizier. A very low budget "Thief of Bagdad"?
Five forgettable movies later and what could possibly be described as John Agar's first science fiction film was released in December 1954. The title was "Rocket Man" and it was a harmless comedy of the period about a little boy who finds a top secret ray gun that forces people to tell the truth and as a result helps a young couple realize they love each other. The picture is notable for both the cast and one of the writers though.
Along with Agar as one half of the couple was a young starlet named Anne Francis who would always be associated with the 1956 Sci-Fi classic "Forbidden Planet" and her co-star "Robby the Robot". Another in the cast which her filmography leaves off was Beverly Garland. Garland would appear in both "It Conquered the World" and "Not of this Earth", create a very solid 1950's television resume and become a small Hotel Magnate and Business Women. As to the films writers one of the two was comedian Lenny Bruce prior to the start of his shocking, for the 1950's, night club appearances and use of language and drugs.
Another forgotten film later and on March 23, 1955 in Denver, Colorado at a special movie premier a movie was shown that unknown to John Agar was to be his real introduction into 1950's Science Fiction history.This was another double release date film as the General Audience release would be May 13, 1955.
Universal International Pictures had a major 3-D hit the previous year with "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" and the idea of a sequel was soon to follow. Also in 3-D and the only motion picture released that way in 1955 as the craze was over. "The Revenge of the Creature" takes off were the first ended.
John Agar played Professor Clete Ferguson who captures the Gill-man and brings him back to civilization for study. The film co-starred Lori Nelson and John Bromfield. The only carry over from the original film was Nester Paiva as Lucas the boat captain that takes the new group into the Black Lagoon. The movie was successful and a third film "The Creature Walks Among Us" was released the following year in which the Gill-man was turned into a land creature. Universal had plans for a fourth film and the original theatrical production of the second sequel ended with a "Question Mark" on the screen instead of the traditional words "The End". The film did poorly and a third sequel was never made. In his first movie role playing a dumb lab assistant to Agar's straight man was Clint Eastwood. In his one scene Eastwood is looking for a missing lab mouse that is hiding in his pocket.
Another Western from Universal Pictures was released on July 1, 1955 called "The Lonesome Trial". This was typical "B" Western fare now being turned out by even the major studios during the first half of the 1950's. The Hollywood studios were still running scared of The House Committee on Un-American Activities and used both Westerns and Biblical films to show their anti-Communist feelings. The thinking being what was more American than a Western and who could find any Communist philosophy in the bible.
IMDb described the movie:
Returning to the western town of Tyrone after two years in the Indian wars, Johnny Rush (John Agar)learns that Hal Brecker (Earle Lyon), whose followers include Dandy Dayton (Wayne Morris)and Larry Baker (Richard Bartlett), has grabbed all the ranch land in the area. Dan Wells (Edgar Buchanan), whose daughter Patricia (Margia Dean)Johnny hopes to marry, refuses to resist, and Johnny puts up a one-man fight against the land-grabbers. Baker ambushes Johnny, who is believed dead, but who is nursed to health by Charley (Douglas Fowley) and Conaga (Ian MacDonald). Hos shooting arm disable, Johnny masters the bow-and-arrow and sets out against the Brecker gang.
Just to give my readers a feeling of the kind of movies Universal Studio's was putting John Agar in and what he was taking to keep working in the motion picture business was "Hold Back Tomorrow".
Wikipedia describes the plot as follows:
A death row inmate has one final request before his impending hanging: he wants to spend the night with a woman. The police bring him a suicidal prostitute. After a night of lovemaking, the two are married by the prison chaplain. Just before going to the gallows, he describes a dream he had where the rope breaks during the hanging, the death bell rings, and he is freed. As he prays for his miracle the death bell tolls and the film fades to black.When you consider the direction John Agar's career was going before his divorce to Shirley Temple. Agar's situation at the time of "Hold Back Tomorrow" illustrated how the Studio System worked toward actors they black balled. Universal Studios was not part of that system and was expanding into the new medium of television at that time. While the major's still looked at TV as a passing fad like 3-D. In fact like the fledgling American International Pictures Universal Studios was discovering the financial advantages to youthful audiences with their Science Fiction films such as "This Island Earth", "It, Came from Outer Space" and John Agar's next picture.
"Tarantula" was released December 14, 1955 and would reach Science Fiction Cult Status. That status would be reflected 18 years after the film's release in the opening song "Science Fiction Double Feature" from Richard O'Brien's "The Rocky Horror Picture Show". The 1975 motion picture version of O'Brien's original stage production of "Rocky Horror" reached Cult Status.So you have a Cult Film reference inside of a Cult Film. This can be confirmed as I write this article during Friday and Saturday Midnight Screening of "Rocky" around the country. Assuring that watches of the one will always know that "Leo G. Carroll was over a barrel when Tarantula took to the hills" for along time to come yet/
"Tarantula" should have been just another science fiction/horror film of the mid-1950's, but it had an excellent script, cast and director that approached their film as if it was an "A" list feature and it still shows today 60 years later.
On the date that the motion picture "Tarantula" was released by Universal Pictures. Still on television was a highly intelligent series called "Science Fiction Theater" that I watched regularly. One of there episodes was entitled "No Food for Thought" and had been shown April 22, 1955 the year the motion was released eight months later. The plot of the television episode is described on IMDb by Jay Phelps as:
A Nobel Prize-winning doctor working in rural Arizona is visited by the county health officer after the unusual death of one of his assistants. The secretive scientist is developing a synthetic nutrient that, they learned too late, has an unfortunate side effect: creatures using it become highly susceptible to deadly viruses.
What is of note is the director of this television episode was Jack Arnold who was also the director on "Tarantula". In his director's chair Arnold's other works included "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" and "It Came from Outer Space". He would add in 1957 Richard Matheson's "The Incredible Shrinking Man". The "Science Fiction Theater" was one of those television programs being filmed at Universal Studios I mentioned. Arnold adapted the TV story for Universal Pictures and Robert M. Fresco and Martin Berekeley wrote the screenplay. Robert M. Fresco was also the author of the original "Science Fiction Theater" television story and script.
For those who might be interested here is a link to that original television program.
You might note "Science Fiction Theater" was filmed in color which was more expensive as television programming at the time only needed to be in black and white for the current TV sets. It wouldn't be until September 12, 1959 that NBC would televised the first program in color which was also the first episode of the TV Western "Bonanza". NBC had an another motive here as the only Color television sets available for sale were made by their parent company and it was a sales ploy to get people to buy them. As each opposite of the show had the title "Bonanza In Color".
The plot for "Tarantula" shows Professor Gerald Deemer, Leo G. Carroll, as the Arizona scientist experimenting with the nutrient. He is visited by a local doctor Matt Hastings, played by John Agar, who brings Deemer his new lab assistant Stephanie Clayton, played by Mara Corday, whom Hastings met in town. One of Deemer's assistants who has gone mad as a result of an injunction of the nutrient causes a fire releasing a lab experiment a "Tarantula". The creature grows to great proportions and must be stopped. A side story has Professor Deemer also injected with the nutrient by his assistant at the time of the fire. For the second time Nester Paiva was back working with John Agar this time as the town Sheriff.
"Variety" had this to say about the film upon its release:
A tarantula as big as a barn puts the horror into this well-made program science-fictioner and it is quite credibly staged and played, bringing off the far-fetched premise with a maximum of believably.With only two actual Science Fiction films "The Revenge of the Creature" and "Tarantula" under his belt John Agar had no idea he would obtain "Cult Status" by being forever associated with 1950's and 1960's Science Fiction films. Some were very good and others extremely bad low budget entries, but together they form the bulk of John Agar's legacy. Not to say his "B" Westerns, Television appearances and other dramatic performances should be forgotten. However, as his Science Fiction career is the basis of my article I am now just going to look at each of these entries instead of his complete work.
The posters for "The Mole People" released in December 1956 screamed: "Terrifying Monsters from a Lost Age". The "Terrifying Monsters" were down right laughable in this 77 minute Universal Studios entry. Actually the cast was not too bad. Nester Paiva was back as Prof. Etienne Lafarge, playing the High Priest in the underground lost city was British actor Alan Napier who would play Alfred on the Adam West/Burt Ward "Batman" television series, Hugh Beaumont played Dr.Jud Bellamin and would be best known as the father on television's "Leave It to Beaver". The problem was the script and those Mole People.
The plot has a hollow Earth where the remains of the Mesopotamian civilization now lives, but as a dying race, These Sumerian albinos as their skin and eyes have become in the dark have as slaves the Mole People. At the end of the movie they revolt against there masters and an Earthquake destroys everyone.
In July of 1957 John Agar would co-star with Gloria Talbot in "The Daughter of Dr. Jekyll". The film has a 71 minute running time and this quote from film critic Andrew Sarris illustrates one plot problem as the:
scenario is so atrocious that it takes forty minutes to establish that the daughter of Dr. Jekyll is indeed the daughter of Dr. Jekyll.John Agar is the fiance of Gloria Talbot who is being convinced she is committing a series of grisly murders as a monstrous creature. The producers had a double used as Talbot's "Hyde" so that there was no resemblance to the actress. Needless to say she isn't a killer. This was a solid "C" movie as would be Agar's next film.
John Agar's next film was "The Brain from Planet Arous". The film was released October 1, 1957 and even with poor reviews the film has obtained cult status and been parodied in many other motion pictures over the years and some television shows.
Basically you have a criminal brain from Planet Arous being chased by a good brain from Planet Arous. The bad brain possesses John Agar while the good brain a dog that his character likes so that the good brain can be near the bad one to stop it. Agar gives an over the top performance and it works.
The following link is to the movie should my readers be inclined to watch it.
April 1958 saw John Agar starring in a Bert I. Gordon film whose working title was "I Was A Teenage Doll" which sure would not have fit the 37 year old actor. One of the kings of the low budget films Gordon was ripping off the very successful Universal Studios film from a year before "The Incredible Shrinking Man" with "Attack of the Puppet People". Known in the U.K. as "Six Inches Tall" and also as "The Fantastic Puppet People". Anyway you name this "C-" film it is anything but "Fantastic" and the"Attack" such as it is comes during the final few minutes.
A lonely doll maker has invented a process to shrink people to doll size. Agar becomes his latest acquisition and eventually is able to escape with the girl Sally and restore themselves to their normal size.Upsetting the doll maker.
Although released on May 15, 1959 by United Artists "Invisible Invaders"was the fourth film made by "Premium Pictures" a company that knew how to take a almost non-existent budget and turn it into a pretty good film by having a good script and solid "B" Picture cast.
Peter Dendle wrote in the 2001 edition of "The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia":
Though clearly a product of its own time and a low budget, Invisible Invaders is engaging and fast-paced, riddled with genuinely inspired twists alongside breathtaking implausibilities.John Agar worked alongside old horror pro John Carrdadine also looking to keep in the business and pay the rent, The film is really worth a look and reflected the imagination of the 1950's writers with a budget that Roger Corman would have refused.
In March 1962 John Agar made a Science Fiction/Horror film that keeps a solid two star rating called "The Hand of Death"/ The attached link is to the trailer which should give my reader the quality of the film and the acting required from Agar.
Also released in the United States during March of 1962 was the Danish/American co-production "Journey to the Seventh Planet". However, the motion picture was made over a year earlier in Denmark. The film was from a script by Ib Melchior and was produced by his partner Sid Pink. This motion picture was part of a two picture deal Ib Melchior, who was born in Denmark, made with a Danish Film Company. The other movie was "Reptilicus".
Adding to the confusion over these two films was that "Reptilicus" was actually made earlier than "Journey to the Seventh Planet" and released in Denmark on February 20, 1961, but was not released in the United States until January 20, 1963 after extensive changes to the original motion picture by AIP. Although John Agar was not in the film I wanted to mention its history just to put the other film in proper prospective with his film work.
The plot of "Journey to the Seventh Planet" has a group of United Nations Astronauts arriving on the planet Uranus and each finding it reminds them of events in their past including the loves they have known. There is actually an evil brain reading their minds and recreating everything each astronaut wants. The film is suggestive of a short story in Ray Bradbury's "The Martian Chronicles" and tackles ideas that would be better explored later on in the Russian original version of "Solaris".
As with "Reptilicus" there is a Danish version and an American version. Two separate scripts were written and shot for each film.
Advance four years to April 15,1966 and one of the movies that appeared in the first season of "Mystery Science 3000" in 1989. The film is "Women of the Prehistoric Planet" and the cast besides John Agar included, Google these names if you do not recognize them as they are actors some from 1950's Television still attempting to work, Wendell Corey, Keith Larson, Merry Anders and Paul Gilbert. Also in the cast was Stuart Margolin who would become known for James Garner's "The Rockford Files" TV series years later. Margolin would win an Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in 1979 and 1980 for his role as Evelyn "Angel" Martin . A definite step up from this film.
Read the tag line on the poster as there are no women on the planet. Let alone women fighting. The one alien women the crew finds in not from the planet, but a rescue ship that apparently crashed there. The one redeeming (?) quality for this movie is that its deals with race relations.
There is a reference taken from "Classic Science Fiction Movies" on November 4, 2012 in Wikipedia that does not give a specific name to the critic that wrote it though:
... a blatant social commentary on race relations (from a mid-60s point of view). Even though the screenplay tries to preach fairness, some of the subtle signals send contradictory messages. The crew members of the Cosmos are portrayed as superior. The Centaurians as inferior. The crew are clearly all-white. They dress in tidy white uniforms with snappy cravats. They are in control, follow orders, and are concerned for others. The Centaurians are "rustic," (and all played by asians) Their outfits are sleeveless. Their men are hotheads and trouble makers. (their women are nice, though). Even the "progressive" notion of Tang being the mixed-race son of a "white" and a Centaurian, is undermined by his apparent comfort at being a cave man. Subtle signal: "They" are savages at heart
In 1966 John Agar appeared in "The Curse of the Swamp Creature" released directly to television by American International Television and filmed in 16 mm by Texas Producer Larry Buchanan. Buchanan was making remakes of early 1950's American International Pictures films under other names. Example: Roger Corman's "The Day the World Ended" became Buchanan's "In the Year 2889". A title Buchanan borrowed from a short story by Jules Verne and his son Michael, but still used the original AIP screenplay.
This film Buchanan claimed to be his original work, but anyone familiar with AIP's "Voodoo Women" from March 1, 1957 would say otherwise. John Agar is the hero of the tale named Barry Rodgers who get involved with a madman attempting to make a "Fishman" in the Texas Swamps to take revenge on the world. I once made the mistake of actually watching this film.
Speaking of Larry Buchanan's 16 mm remakes of Roger Corman films for AIP television we have "Zontar, the Thing from Venus" also made and released in 1966. Can you say "It, Conquered the World" from July 15, 1956?
The movie has "Tony Huston" a local Texas actor not to be confused with John Huston's son in the Lee Van Cleef role and Agar in the Peter Graves role. As I am comparing the two films on the left is Buchanan's "Zontar" and on the right is Roger Corman's Venus invader created by the great Paul Blaisdell.
The film is considered the best of the Larry Buchanan remakes and to be fair to him. His total budget was $22,000, but it also illustrates the level John Agar had fallen to since 1948's "Fort Apache",
In November 1967 John Agar appeared in another made in Texas film, but not by Buchanan. This is the story of a NASA experiment going wrong were cosmic rays has mutated an alligator into an Ogre like creature that is killing off local college students. The only image from this film I could find is this one of the DVD case.
John Agar had the 13th credited role as "A City Official" in 1976's "King Kong", but along with a variety of old pro's appeared in "The Naked Monster" released April 22, 2005 as his last film appearance. This is a great bad movie and a parody of 1950's horror films. What really makes it are some of the names in the cast along with Agar.
Kenneth Tobey who starred in "The Things from Another World", "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms", "It Came from Beneath the Sea" and lived next door to me for several years.
Forrest J. Ackerman (4E) the founder of "Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine".
Robert Clarke "Beyond the Time Barrier" and "The Hideous Sun Demon".
Robert O. Cornthwaite who played Dr. Carrington in "The Thing from Another World".
Robert Shayne from the original "Invaders from Mars","The Neanderthal Man" "The Indestructible Man"
Lori Nelson "The Revenge of the Creature", "The Day the World Ended".
This article is about John Agar and I will stop here with these six examples of the many faces you would recognize in "The Naked Monster", if you have never seen the film find it. It is a fitting last appearance for John Agar surrounded, if only on film with so many of his fellow actors from some classic and not so 1950's Science Fiction Films.
After "Along the Great Divide" John Agar appeared in 12 more Westerns a few in the lead, but mostly in smaller parts. In 1969, 1970 and 1971 he appeared in one movie a year. All were starring John Wayne and if you didn't know Agar by sight you would have missed him. In "The Undefeated" starring Wayne and Rock Huston his billing was 17th, in "Chisum" the billing was slightly better at 15th and for "Big Jake: he moved up to 11th.
Back in 1967 he played gangster Dion O'Bannion who is killed off at the start of Roger Corman's big budgeted "The St. Valentine's Day Massacre" he was 13th billed in the credits. The point of all of this was John Agar was working in the industry he loved and every part was a role he worked hard at no matter how small.
On April 7, 2002 John Agar passed away from complications from emphysema. His is buried in Riverside National Cemetery next to his wife Loretta.
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