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Overview (3)

Date of Birth 20 May 1891Los Angeles, California, USA
Date of Death 13 July 1963Los Angeles, California, USA  (heart failure)
Birth NameJackson Wagner

Mini Bio (1)

Jack Wagner was among the legions of unsung writers of the silent film era who pioneered the art of comedy construction from staging car chases in Keystone Kops shorts to sight gags, pratfalls and later comedy bits for A-list actors in sound films.

Born on May 20, 1891, in Los Angeles, Jack was one of four brothers -- all of whom worked in the motion picture business -- born to William and Edith Wagner. William Wagner was a railroad train conductor in Mexico and Jack and his brothers -- Blake, Bob and Max -- grew up in Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico. The Mexican Revolution forced the family to return to California after William Wagner was fatally wounded by rebels attacking his train. Max Wagner moved to Salinas with his mother while Jack, Black and Bob found work in the infant film industry. Max would later join the family in films in 1924.

Jack and Blake found work with D.W. Griffith, first painting furniture and sets and later as an assistant cameramen. Jack eventually left D.W. Griffith to work as a gag writer and assistant cameraman for Mack Sennett. He engineered much of the auto and train chases and sight gags involving the Keystone Kops. He worked with Chester Conklin, Ben Turpin, Charley Chase, Slim Summervile, Edgar Kennedy and many others.

When World War I broke out Jack and Blake joined the U.S. Army. They were assigned to the first motion picture combat unit for the Signal Corps. Jack was assigned to filming Air Corps footage. He also filmed battles involving American forces at the Marne, St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne.

After the war, Jack returned to Hollywood, first to Mack Sennet's studios and later joining Hal Roach. He was a favorite of director Harry Sweet, filming a number of shorts with Turpin, Natalie Kingston and others.

By 1924, he joined Harry Langdon, working with Frank Capra among other directors. He also continued working on feature-length movies for Allan Dwan and William A. Seiter. His work included writing scenes for "The Sea Beast" (1926) starring John Barrymore. Jack's brother, Bob, was a cameraman for the movie.

Like many silent film writers, Jack had great difficulty making the transition from silents to talkies. His production dropped off significantly. But a short film, "La Cucaracha" (1934), he co-wrote with Lloyd Corrigan earned an Academy Award for best short.

Most of his work in the 1930s and '40s was uncredited as he was considered a "what-if" man. In comedy films and the occasional drama, he would stand next to the director and offer "what-if" comedy gags that would be inserted into the script. This worked especially well for Mae West and Lupe Velez in their films.

During World War II, Jack kicked around an idea of a film about a young man who was marginalized by the citizens of his hometown but treated as a hero after his death in the war. Jack had trouble putting the story on paper and he couldn't interest studio executives in it. He decided to enlist the aid of his long-time friend John Steinbeck to help him write the screenplay and use his influence to get the film made. The Steinbeck magic worked. Paramount Pictures produced "A Medal for Benny" (1945) starring Dorothy Lamour and J. Carrol Naish. Steinbeck and Jack were nominated for an Academy Award for best writing/original story. Naish was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor. It was the crowning achievement of Jack's career.

But shortly after the film was released, Jack dropped off the Hollywood landscape. Fluent in Spanish, he went to Mexico and produced several films there, including "La Otra" (1946) that starred Dolores Del Rio.

Jack Wagner died on July 13, 1963, in Los Angeles.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Rob L. Wagner

Spouse (1)

Mabel "Toots" Herriman (9 September 1934 - ?) (divorced)

Trivia (1)

Jack Wagner was involved in a 3 a.m. brawl at the Hollywood Crescent Athletic Club on March 26, 1927, that left actor Eddie Diggins, 24, fatally wounded from a stab wound. The Crescent Club was a speakeasy and Wagner, Diggins, film comedian Lloyd Hamilton, bootlegger Charles Meehan, Meehan's wife, Irene, and actor John Sinclair had been drinking. Diggins started a fight with Wagner and Charles Meehan intervened. Although Meehan was suspected of wielding the knife, police made no arrests following an inquest the next day in which a Coroner's jury determined "a sharp instrument in the hand of a person or persons unknown to us, with homicidal intent," killed Diggins.

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