After a column tribute I wrote last month, about actress Shirley Temple's death at age 85 on Feb. 10, readers wrote or called to share personal memories.
One reader's letter, written by George Elish of Highland, was of particular interest, in regard to Temple's first husband, actor John Agar.
"Hi Philip, I was in the Army Air Corps when John Agar was dating Shirley Temple in 1944. He was physical training instructor for officers at March Field Army Post in Riverside, Calif. On weekends, John visited with Shirley Temple's family until Sunday night. Then, when Agar returned to the base, he would visit the rec room, where he played the blackjack card game '21.' John played $20 bets every time and he was very lucky. He didn't play very long during games and also didn't care to talk much either. Like on screen, in person, John Agar was very handsome. His family owned Agar Canned Hams and Meat Packing Company in Chicago. We also played baseball at the base and shared the locker-room area, but I was never clear where he was living on the base. Thank you for your columns Philip and for your coverage of Honor Flight Chicago. I was one of the veterans who went on their flight to Washington D.C. on Aug. 22, 2012. It was one of the 10 best things in my life of 88 years. Thank you, George Elish."
Thank you George for sharing you story with other Times readers.
Somewhere along the way during my 20 years of reporting, I crossed paths with Agar, and I have an autographed publicity photo he gave me, which includes a very shaky signature, which I've included with today's column. In her 1988 autobiography "Child Star," Temple was candid about her early career and her none-too happy marriage with Agar, who was born to a privileged Chicago family, as the son of Lillian and John Agar, Sr. and their meat packing and canned ham company. He was educated at Harvard School for Boys in Chicago and Lake Forest Academy in Lake Forest, Ill. and then graduated from Trinity-Pawling Preparatory School in Pawling, New York. In 1942, following his father's death, he moved with his mother and sister to Los Angeles.
It was Agar's sister, who attended Westlake School for Girls with Temple in LA, who is credited with having introduced the actress to her brother. In 1944 Agar escorted Temple to a party held by her then-boss David O. Selznick, and Agar and Temple were married by 1945 with Selznick then signing Agar to a five-year acting contract starting at $150 a week and including acting lessons. Agar and Temple were teamed up in their first film together called "Fort Apache" in 1948 starring opposite John Wayne and Henry Fonda. Following the birth of their daughter Linda Susan Agar, the couple divorced in 1949, with Temple citing her husband's drinking as one of a number of problems.
Agar continued to act in films, mostly westerns (reunited with John Wayne) and science fiction movies of the 1950s like "Tarantula," "The Mole People" and "Revenge of the Creature of the Black Lagoon."
Agar died at age 81 on April 7, 2002 in Burbank, Calif. of complications from emphysema and is buried next to his second wife Lorretta Combs, who preceded him in death in 2000.