Remembering Dean Jagger

Dean Jagger (1903-1991) was a rather non-descript supporting actor with close to 150 screen credits. An Ohio farm boy with a love of oratory, Jagger worked in vaudeville, Chautauqua, and with stock companies before landing a role in the silent film The Woman from Hell (1929), where he was third-billed behind Mary Astor and Robert Armstrong. This was followed by an independent B movie called Handcuffed (1929) and a bit part in Eddie Cantor’s Whoopee! (1930)

A major role in the original 1933 Broadway production of Tobacco Road was a feather in Jagger’s cap, though he left the long running show after a few months to appear in the now-forgotten They Shall Not Die (1934). Another half dozen Broadway shows followed through the 1940s.

In 1934, Jagger returned to Hollywood, where he was a steady, if not precisely memorable presence for five decades. His most lauded performance was in Henry King’s bomber pilot drama Twelve O’Clock High (1949) for which he won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. He occasionally played the lead himself, as in Brigham Young (1940) and I Escaped from the Gestapo (1943). But more often he was in a key supporting role. His well-known films include People Will Talk (1935), Revolt of the Zombies (1936), Western Union (1941), My Son John (1952), The Robe (1953), Executive Suite (1954), White Christmas (1954), Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), X The Unknown (1956), Forty Guns (1957), King Creole (1958), Elmer Gantry (1960), Billy Rose’s Jumbo (1962), Firecreek (1968), Tiger by the Tail (1970) and Alligator (1980).

On TV, he was a regular on the public school drama Mr. Novak (1963-65, playing a principal — he’d worked as a schoolteacher in his youth) and could also be seen in guest starring roles on The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The F.B.I., Columbo (the Robert Culp-Dean Stockwell-football episode), Harry O, and The Waltons, as well as high profile TV movies like The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case (1976) and Gideon’s Trumpet (1980). His last credit was the Cheers crossover episode of St. Elsewhere (1985).

To learn more about vaudeville, where Dean Jagger got his start, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.