BURBANK, CA--John Agar, who first became famous for marrying former child star Shirley Temple, and who later became a film star in his own right, died here April 7th of emphysema. He was 81. MSTies will recall his performances as stalwart space hero Doc Farrell in episode 104- WOMEN OF THE PREHISTORIC PLANET, as determined ichthyologist Dr. Clete Ferguson in episode 801-REVENGE OF THE CREATURE and as bombastic archeologist Dr. Roger Bentley in episode 803-THE MOLE PEOPLE.
Born in Chicago, Agar was the oldest of four children of a meatpacker. His father died in 1935, and the family later moved to Los Angeles. During World War II, Agar joined the Army Air Corps and spent most of his military career as a physical training instructor at March Field at Riverside, Calif.
He was 24 years old in 1945 when he attended a party at the Beverly Hills home of Shirley Temple, then a 16-year-old ingenue who attended school with Agar's sister. He arranged to escort Temple to a Hollywood party given by her boss, legendary studio head David O. Selznick. Both Temple and Selznick took notice of the handsome young GI: Temple became romantically involved with him (against her mother's wishes) and Selznick offered Agar a movie contract--one that included acting lessons.
Agar married Temple later that year, at a lavish Selznick-produced affair attended by most of Hollywood's elite. But the marriage was a stormy one that marked the beginning of Agar's struggle with alcohol. The couple had one child, a daughter, but divorced after four years.
But by this time Agar's film career was beginning in earnest. In 1948, he made his film debut as a young lieutenant in John Ford's "Fort Apache," starring John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Temple. The following year, he again co-starred with Temple in the strained comedy "Adventure in Baltimore." But westerns and war movies were Agar's forte at first: He appeared with Wayne again in two 1949 films, "Sands of Iwo Jima" and "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon."
But Agar's private life was in a shambles. The moviegoing public turned against him following the divorce from Temple, and that bad publicity was compounded after several arrests for drunk driving. The career that had started so promising with "A"-level John Ford films, began to deteriorate.
Even his second marriage, in 1951, to fashion model Loretta Combs, was tainted by Agar's drinking problem: The clerk at the Las Vegas courthouse where he was attempting to get a marriage license sent the couple home so that Agar could sober up. The marriage, however, was a success. The couple remained together until she died in 2000.
Beginning in the mid-1950s, the studio began casting him in the newly popular science fiction genre: "Revenge of the Creature" and "Tarantula," (both 1955) were very successful at the box office. But Agar soon found himself trapped in the B-movie world. For the next 15 years he worked steadily in both westerns--films such as "Flesh and the Spur" (1957), "Frontier Gun" (1958), "Stage to Thunder Rock" (1964), and "Johnny Reno" (1966)--and science fiction--films such as "Brain from Planet Arous" (1957), "Invisible Invaders" (1959), "Hand of Death" (1962) and "Zontar the Thing from Venus (1966).
Roles became scarcer in the 1970s, though he and Wayne reunited for three films: "Chisum," "Big Jake" and "The Undefeated." To supplement his income, Agar sold real estate and insurance, and also promoted Brunswick's senior bowling program. He also discovered that he was in demand at science fiction conventions and autograph shows, and he became a popular guest at such events.
Over time he seemed to come to terms with the B-movie phase of his career, and once told chronicler Tom Weaver that he didn't mind the fact that his name was so identified with science fiction movies of the '50s and '60s.
"No, I don't resent being identified with them at all--why should I?" he said in 1986. "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."
It was celebrity reporter Army Archerd of Variety who informed Temple of her former husband's passing. "I hope he has peace," she told Archerd. "I know how much he suffered in recent years."
Thanks to Lori Holuta for her assistance in preparing this item.