Rags Ragland

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Rags Ragland
Rags Ragland in Ringside Maisie trailer.jpg
in the trailer for Ringside Maisie (1941)
Born John Lee Morgan Beauregard Ragland
(1905-08-23)August 23, 1905
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
Died August 20, 1946(1946-08-20) (aged 40)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor, comedian
Years active 1935–1946
Spouse(s) Sabina E. Vanover (?–1926) (divorced) 1 son, John G. Ragland

Rags Ragland (born John Lee Morgan Beauregard Ragland, August 23, 1905 – August 20, 1946) was an American comedian and character actor. He was the son of Adam Joseph Ragland and Stella Petty, he was married to Sabina Elizabeth Vanover and they had one child, a son named John Griffin Ragland. Ragland made his show business reputation in burlesque, where he was one of the house comics for the famed Minsky burlesque shows. Minsky striptease star Georgia Sothern remembered him fondly in her 1971 memoir, saying she considered Ragland a close friend and the funniest comedian the Minskys had ever produced,[1] his longtime performing partner Phil Silvers referred to Ragland in his autobiography as "my favorite comic".[2]

Life and career[edit]

Arthur Treacher, Pat Harrington, Ethel Merman, Frank Hyers and Rags Ragland in the original Broadway production of Panama Hattie (1940)
Ragland (right) with Ben Blue, Red Skelton and Ann Sothern in the film Panama Hattie (1942)
Phil Silvers, Betty Grable and Ragland on the Armed Forces Radio program Mail Call (1943)

Ragland was born on August 23, 1905, in Louisville, Kentucky, as a youth, he worked as a truck driver, boxer, and movie projectionist in Kentucky before moving to Los Angeles at the age of 22. There, he found work as a comedian in various burlesque houses, and quickly became known for his wild ad-libs, unpredictable intrusions into other comics' acts, and a "healthy off-stage libido". Eventually he worked his way up to "top banana" at Minsky's, the dominant burlesque house.[3]

After burlesque in its classic style died, Ragland made his way to films, usually playing good-natured oafs with a knack for fracturing the English language, he became a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contract player beginning with 1942's Panama Hattie, reprising a role he played on Broadway, with Ann Sothern assuming the stage role played by Ethel Merman. Ragland appeared in around two dozen MGM light comedies and musicals with Abbott and Costello, Lucille Ball, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, and Gene Kelly, among others. He gained popularity as Red Skelton's cohort in the "Whistling" movies (Whistling in the Dark, Whistling in Dixie, and Whistling in Brooklyn). His final film appearance was in the drama The Hoodlum Saint (1946), starring William Powell, Esther Williams and Angela Lansbury.

After returning from an alcoholic bender with Orson Welles in Mexico in 1946, Ragland was scheduled to revive his nightclub act with Phil Silvers at the Copacabana when he began experiencing pain in his abdomen and was hospitalized. Sinatra called in a specialist, but the doctors determined that Ragland's liver and kidneys were destroyed from years of alcohol abuse, after falling into a coma, he died, three days before his 41st birthday, of uremia. Silvers and Sinatra were by his bedside. Many Hollywood celebrities attended Ragland's funeral, including Sinatra, who sang at the service. Silvers delivered the eulogy.[citation needed]

In a gesture of friendship and respect, Sinatra walked off the set of his movie It Happened In Brooklyn, flew to New York, and unexpectedly showed up for Silvers' Copacabana debut (he had signed a contract and "the show must go on"). Sinatra and Silvers had done the same routines during their USO tour, the show brought down the house. It ended with Silvers saying in tears, "May I take a bow for Rags." The audience was silent, crying in tribute to Ragland.[4]

Complete filmography[edit]


  1. ^ Sothern, G. Georgia: My Life in Burlesque. New American Library (1972), p. 62. ASIN: B000JI9BB2.
  2. ^ Silvers P, Saffron R. This Laugh Is On Me. New York, Prentice-Hall (1973), p. 134. ISBN 0139191003
  3. ^ Rags Ragland biography. New York Times archive. Retrieved March 19, 2015.
  4. ^ Silvers (1973), p. 142.

External links[edit]