Actor John Agar Dies at 81

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LOS ANGELES (AP) – John Agar, the Air Force sergeant who married Shirley Temple and became an actor, mostly in Westerns and war movies, until alcoholism damaged both his marriage and his career, has died. He was 81.

Agar, who lived in the North Hollywood area, died Sunday at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, hospital secretary Linda Willeford said Monday night.

Agar was serving as a physical training instructor at March Field at Riverside, Calif., in 1945 when a friend arranged for him to escort Temple to a Hollywood party given by her boss, David O. Selznick.

Agar was 24, the child star 16. A romance ensued and against her mother’s wishes, the pair became engaged. They were married later that year at a Selznick-produced wedding attended by Hollywood celebrities and California Governor Earl Warren.

Temple wrote in her 1988 biography “Child Star” that Agar complained on their wedding night that she wasn’t a virgin, as she had said. She explained that proof of her virginity had been removed surgically by her doctor three days before.

Then at a dinner in the newlyweds’ honor, Agar danced with a tall model, ending with a long, passionate kiss. Temple wrote that on the way home Agar remarked, “Always wanted to marry a long-legged model, not someone like you.”

At 6-feet-2 with strikingly good looks, Agar was often asked why he didn’t turn to acting. “No, thank you,” he replied. “One star in the family is enough.” To Temple’s surprise, Selznick signed him to a $150-a-week acting contract and sent Agar to drama school.

The pair appeared together in two films, “Fort Apache” and “Adventure in Baltimore,” and she gave birth to a daughter, Susan, in 1948. Troubled by Agar’s excessive drinking and many flirtations, Shirley filed for divorce in 1949.

Agar continued acting in Westerns such as “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” and “Along the Great Divide,” and war movies “Sands of Iwo Jima” and “Breakthrough.”

His divorce from Temple and his alcoholism, which led to arrests for drunk driving, lowered his appeal. He later made quickie movies with titles such as “Revenge of the Creature,” “Tarantula,” “The Mole People,” “Daughter of Dr. Jekyll” and “Journey to the Seventh Planet.”

John Wayne had appeared with him in “Fort Apache” and “Sands of Iwo Jima,” and tried to revive Agar’s career by casting him in “The Undefeated,” “Chisum” and “Big Jake.” Agar’s last major film was the 1976 remake of “King Kong.” In later years he sold insurance and real estate.

Agar was born into an old-line Chicago meat packing family on Jan. 31, 1921. He was expected to follow in the family business until the marriage to Temple, and his entry into acting.

After the divorce, Agar appeared at the Las Vegas courthouse in 1951 for a license to marry fashion model Loretta Combs. The clerk believing Agar was intoxicated, suggested the couple think it over and return in a couple of hours. They did, and were married, only after the judge made Agar swear he was sober.

Agar eventually joined Alcoholics Anonymous. “Yes, I drank too much, and I drank at the wrong time,” he admitted in 1987. “Heck, I drank no more than John Wayne or Ward Bond or Spencer Tracy or Alan Ladd or Robert Walker. But it got me into a lot more trouble.”

By BOB THOMAS, Associated Press Writer

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