John Agar (John George Agar Jr.) (January 31, 1921 – April 7, 2002) was an American film and television actor. He is best known for starring alongside John Wayne in the films Sands of Iwo Jima, Fort Apache, and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. In his later career he was the star of B movies, such as Tarantula, The Mole People, The Brain from Planet Arous, Revenge of the Creature, Flesh and the Spur and Hand of Death. He was the first husband of Shirley Temple.
Agar’s career suffered in the wake of his divorce, but he developed a niche playing leading men in low-budget science fiction, Western, and horror movies in the 1950s and 1960s. John Wayne gave him several supporting roles in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In later years he worked extensively in television.
John Agar Early life and Military Service
Agar was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Lillian (née Rogers) and John George Agar Sr., a meat packer. He was educated at the Harvard School for Boys in Chicago and Lake Forest Academy in Lake Forest, Illinois. He graduated from Trinity-Pawling Preparatory School in Pawling, New York, but did not attend college. He and his family moved from Chicago to Los Angeles in 1942, after his father’s death.
During World War II, Agar joined the Navy Air Corps, had basic training in Texas, and instructed in physical training at March Field in Riverside, California. He later transferred to the United States Army Air Corps. He was a sergeant at the time he left the AAF in 1946.
After his marriage with Temple, her boss at the time, David O. Selznick, signed Agar to a five-year acting contract starting at $150 a week, including acting lessons.
Agar made his film debut as Temple’s love interest in Fort Apache (1948), a John Ford western for RKO starring John Wayne and Henry Fonda. It was a financial and critical success.
Agar was reunited with Temple for his second film, a suffragette drama Adventure in Baltimore (1949), also for RKO, which was a huge flop.
RKO used him in The Woman on Pier 13 (1950), an anti-communist drama that was a pet project of Howard Hughes. It was Agar’s first movie without Temple, and he was billed after Robert Ryan and Laraine Day. It was another flop.
More successful was a reunion with Wayne and Ford, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), in which Agar played the romantic lead. It was a sizeable hit and has come to be regarded as a classic.
Even more popular was the World War II film Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) where Agar supported John Wayne. Made by Republic Pictures, it was a sizeable hit, earning Wayne an Oscar nomination and getting Agar some good reviews.
Warner Bros put Agar in a war film, Breakthrough (1950) which relied extensively on pre-existing war footage. It was a reasonable success at the box office.
Warner Bros used him in Along the Great Divide (1951), supporting Kirk Douglas. He made a low budget “Eastern” for Sam Katzman with Lucille Ball, The Magic Carpet (1951).
Agar was third billed in Woman of the North Country (1952), a Western for Republic, and so starred in Man of Conflict (1953), an independent drama with Edward Arnold.
Agar had support roles in Bait (1954), a Hugo Haas drama with Cleo Moore; The Rocket Man (1954), a Charles Coburn comedy co-written by Lenny Bruce; and Shield for Murder (1954), a film noir starring and co-directed by Edmond O’Brien.
Agar returned to leading roles in The Golden Mistress (1954), an adventure film directed by Abner Biberman.
In 1954 Agar signed a seven-year contract with Universal. He began the association with Revenge of the Creature (1955), the popular first sequel to Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954); it was produced by William Alland and directed by Jack Arnold.
He was borrowed by Lippert Pictures for The Lonesome Trail (1955), then, at Universal, made a second film for Haas with Cleo Moore, Hold Back Tomorrow (1955).
Agar made another science fiction film, Tarantula (1955), made by Alland and Arnold, which was popular and became a cult favorite.
Universal starred him in a Western, Star in the Dust (1956), produced by Albert Zugsmith. A new company, American International Pictures, borrowed Agar for a Western, Flesh and the Spur (1956). Then he went back to Universal for The Mole People (1956), produced by Alland.
Agar supported Audie Murphy in a comedy Joe Butterfly (1957) then his contract with Universal ended.
Agar remained in demand for low budget science fiction, horror and Western films. He starred in The Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957) for Edgar G. Ulmer at Allied Artists, then made The Brain from Planet Arous (1957) for Howco International.
Agar starred in some low budget Westerns for Fox, Ride a Violent Mile (1958) and Frontier Gun (1958). He went to the Philippines to make Cavalry Command (1958) and did two for AIP, Jet Attack (1958) and Attack of the Puppet People (1958).
Agar did Invisible Invaders (1958) for director Edward L. Cahn who had made Jet Attack.
Agar could be seen in Journey to the Seventh Planet (1962), The Young and The Brave (1963), Of Love and Desire (1963), Law of the Lawless (1963), Stage to Thunder Rock (1965), Young Fury (1965), Johnny Reno (1966), Women of the Prehistoric Planet (1967), and Waco (1966).
Agar made some films for Larry Buchanan at AIP, Curse of the Swamp Creature (1966), Zontar, the Thing from Venus (1966) and Hell Raiders (1968). He had the lead in Night Fright (1967).
Agar had small parts in some studio films like The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967), and three with John Wayne: The Undefeated (1969), Chisum (1970), and Big Jake (1971).
Agar’s last prominent roles were small roles in King Kong (1976) and Miracle Mile (1988).
John Agar Personal life
Agar’s sister was a schoolmate of Shirley Temple. In 1944 Agar escorted Temple to a party held by her boss at the time, David O. Selznick. The two were married in 1945. Agar and Temple had a daughter together, Linda Susan Agar, born 1948 (who was later known as Susan Black, taking the surname of her stepfather, Charles Alden Black). However, the marriage foundered, in part because of Agar’s drinking (he had been arrested for drunk driving) and in part because of pressures of their high public profile. Temple sued for divorce on the grounds of mental cruelty in 1949. The two were divorced on December 7, 1950. After the divorce, Agar had little contact with his daughter with Temple.
Agar remarried in 1951 to model Loretta Barnett Combs (1922–2000). They tried to elope but officials refused to marry them for an hour because Agar had been drinking. They remained married for 49 years until her death in 2000. They had two sons, Martin Agar and John G. Agar, III.
In 1950 Agar was fined for reckless driving. In 1951 he was sentenced to five months in jail for drunk driving, and released on probation after 60 days. In 1953 Agar was again arrested for drunk driving, and sentenced to 120 days in prison. In 1960 he was again arrested for drunk driving.
Agar supported Barry Goldwater in the 1964 United States presidential election, and Ronald Reagan in 1980.
Agar died on April 7, 2002, in Burbank, California from complications from emphysema. He was 81. He was buried beside his wife at Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, California. He was survived by his three children, four grandchildren, and two brothers.
As for being associated with science fiction B movies, Agar said, “I don’t resent being identified with B science fiction movies at all”, Agar later said. “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.”
The Seattle band The Young Fresh Fellows recorded the song “The New John Agar” on the Topsy Turvy album in 1985.
The television series Mystery Science Theater 3000 has made fun of several of Agar’s films, including The Mole People, Women of the Prehistoric Planet and Revenge of the Creature.
John Agar Movies
Fort Apache (1948) – Lieutenant Michael O’Rourke
Adventure in Baltimore (1949) – Tom Wade
I Married a Communist (1949) – Don Lowry
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) – Lieutenant Flint Cohill
Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) – PFC Peter Conway
Breakthrough (1950) – Lieutenant Joe Mallory
Along the Great Divide (1951) – Billy Shear
The Magic Carpet (1951) – Abdullah al Husan / Dr. Ramoth / The Scarlet Falcon
Woman of the North Country (1952) – David Powell
Man of Conflict (1953) – Ray Compton
Bait (1954) – Ray Brighton
The Rocket Man (1954) – Tom Baxter
Shield for Murder (1954) – Mark Brewster
The Golden Mistress (1954) – Bill Buchanan
Revenge of the Creature (1955) – Professor Clete Ferguson
The Lonesome Trail (1955) – Johnny Rush
Hold Back Tomorrow (1955) – Joe Cardos
Tarantula (1955) (1955) – “Doctor Matt Hastings
Star in the Dust (1956) – Sheriff Bill Jorden
Flesh and the Spur (1956) – ‘Luke’ Random / Matt Random
The Mole People (1956) – Dr. Roger Bentley
Joe Butterfly (1957) – Sergeant Dick Mason
Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957) – George Hastings
The Brain from Planet Arous (1957) – Steve March
Ride a Violent Mile (1957) – Jeff Dunning
The Day of the Trumpet (1958) – Sgt. Judd Norcutt
Jet Attack (1958) – Capt. Tom Arnett
Attack of the Puppet People (1958) – Bob Westley
Frontier Gun (1958) – Jim Crayle
Invisible Invaders (1959) – Major Bruce Jay
Raymie (1960) – Ike
Fall Girl (1961) – Joe McElroy
Hand of Death (1962) – Alex Marsh
Journey to the Seventh Planet (1962) – Capt. Don Graham
The Young and The Brave (1963) – Intelligence officer
Cavalry Command/PHL: “The Day of the Trumpet” (1963) – Sergeant Norcutt
Of Love and Desire (1963) – Gus Cole
Law of the Lawless (1964) – Pete Stone
Stage to Thunder Rock (1964) – Dan Carrouthers
Young Fury (1965) – Dawson
Combat (episode The Mockingbird 1966) – Captain Thorpe
Johnny Reno (1966) – Ed Tomkins
Women of the Prehistoric Planet (1966) – Dr. Farrell
Waco (1966) – George Gates
Curse of the Swamp Creature (1966, TV Movie) – Barry Rogers
Zontar, The Thing from Venus (1966) – Dr. Curt Taylor
St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967) – Dion O’Banion
Night Fright (1967) – Sheriff Clint Crawford
Hell Raiders (1968) – Maj. Ronald Paxton
The Undefeated (1969) – Christian
Chisum (1970) – Amos Patton
Big Jake (1971) – Bert Ryan
How’s Your Love Life? (1971) – Police Lt. Rafferty
King Kong (1976) – City Official
Mr. No Legs (1979) – Police Capt. Hathaway
Divided We Fall (1982) – Yankee Officer
Attack of the B-Movie Monster (1985) – Dr. Ferguson
Perfect Victims (1988) – Neighbor walking his dog
Miracle Mile (1989) – Ivan Peters
Nightbreed (1990) – Decker’s Victim
Fear (1990, TV Movie) – Leonard Scott Levy
The Perfect Bride (1991, TV Movie) – Gramps
Invasion of Privacy – (1992, TV Movie) – Old Convict
Body Bags (1993, TV Movie) – Dr. Lang
The Pandora Directive (1996) – Thomas Malloy
The Naked Monster (2005) – Dr. Clete Ferguson (final film role)
John Agar Television
- Perry Mason (1959) – episode – The Case of the Caretaker’s Cat – murderer Kenneth Baxter
- Rawhide (1959) – episode – Incident at the Buffalo Smokehouse – Lon Grant
- Destination Space (1959) – unsold pilot
- Rawhide (1960) – episode – Incident of the Slavemaster – Mike Anderson
- Bat Masterson (1961) – episode – Farmer with a Badge – Sam Phelps
- Ripcord (1961) – episode – Chuting Stars – U.S. Navy Warrant Officer Frank Pierson
- Lawman (1962) – episode – The Witness – Jim Martin
- Death Valley Days (1963) – episode – Pioneer Doctor – Dr. Charles Edwards
- The Virginian (1964) – episode – Another’s Footsteps – Tom Anders
- Branded (1965) – episode – $10,000 for Durango – The Sheriff
- Combat! (1966) – episode – The Mockingbird – Capt. Thorpe
- Family Affair (1967) – episode – What Did You Do in the West, Uncle? – Gabe
- Hondo (1967) – episode – Hondo and the Judas – Frank James
- The Virginian – episode – The Mustangers – Joe Williams
- Charlie’s Angels (1976) – episode – Target: Angels – Col. Blaylock
- Highway to Heaven (1984) – episode – The Return of the Masked Rider – Morton Clay
- The Making of Sands of Iwo Jima (1993) – Video Documentary Short – Himself