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Sabu Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4) | Mini Bio (2) | Spouse (1) | Trivia (14)

Overview (4)

Born in Karapur, Kingdom of Mysore, British India
Died in Chatsworth, California, USA  (heart attack)
Birth NameSabu Dastagir
Height 5' 6" (1.68 m)

Mini Bio (2)

Sabu Dastagir (or Selar Shaik Sabu, depending on your resource) was born on January 27, 1924, in the little town of Mysore, India, which is nestled in the jungles of Karapur. The son of an elephant driver (mahout) in service for the Maharajah of his town, the young stable boy learned responsibility early in life when, at age 9, his father died and Sabu immediately became the ward of the royal elephant stables. As with many Hollywood success stories, good timing, and dumb luck allowed the impoverished youth a chance for a better life. By sheer chance the timid 12-year-old orphan was discovered by a British location crew while searching for a youth to play the title role (an elephant driver!) in their upcoming feature Elephant Boy (1937). Quite taken aback by his earnest looks, engaging naturalness and adaptability to wild animals and their natural habitat, the studio handed the boy a film career on a sterling silver platter and was placed under exclusive contract by the mogul Alexander Korda himself.

Sabu and his older brother (as guardian) were whisked away to England to complete the picture and became subsequent wards of the British government. They were given excellent schooling in the process and Sabu quickly learned the English language in preparation for his upcoming films. Elephant Boy (1937) was an unqualified hit and the young actor was promptly placed front and center once again in the film Drums (1938) surrounded by an impressive British cast that included Raymond Massey and Valerie Hobson. With the parallel success of the Tarzan jungle movies in America, Hollywood starting taking a keen look at this refreshingly new boy talent when he first arrived in the U.S. for a publicity tour of the film. Again, his second film was given rave reviews, proving that Sabu would not be just a one-hit wonder.

His third film for Korda is considered one of the great true classics. In the Arabian fantasy-adventure The Thief of Bagdad (1940), Sabu plays Abu the Thief and is not only surrounded by superb actors -- notably June Duprez, John Justin, Rex Ingram (as the genie) and Conrad Veidt (as the evil Grand Vizier) -- but exceptional writing and incredible special effects. Sabu's name began stirring international ears. His last pairing with Korda was the excellent adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's classic book Jungle Book (1942) playing Mowgli, the boy raised by wolves, who must adapt to the ways of mankind after being returned to his mother. The movie was directed by Alexander's brother Zoltan Korda.

Following this triumph, Sabu officially became the exotic commodity of Universal Pictures and he settled in America. Although initially rewarding monetarily, it proved to be undoing. Unfortunately (and too often typical), a haphazard assembly-line of empty-minded features were developed that hardly compared to the quality pictures in England under Korda. Saddled alongside the unexceptional Maria Montez and Jon Hall, his vehicles Arabian Nights (1942), White Savage (1943) and Cobra Woman (1944) were, for the most part, drivel but certainly did fit the bill as colorful, mindless entertainment.

Almost 20 years old by the time he became a citizen of the U.S. in 1944, he enlisted in the Army Air Force and earned WWII distinction in combat missions (Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, among others) as a tail gunner. By the time Sabu returned to Universal and filming, the charm of his youth had worn off and the boyish stereotype impossible to escape.

Post-war audiences developed new tastes, but Sabu had no choice but to trudge on with retreads of his former glory. Films such as Tangier (1946) again opposite Ms. Montez, Man-Eater of Kumaon (1948) and Song of India (1949) opposite lovely princess Gail Russell did little to advance his career. While filming the last-mentioned movie, Sabu met and married actress Marilyn Cooper who temporarily filled in for an ailing Ms. Russell on the set. The couple went on to have two children.

Sabu actually fared better back in England during the late 40s, starring in the crime drama The End of the River (1947) and appearing fourth-billed as a native general in the exquisitely photographed Black Narcissus (1947). Daring in subject matter, the film had Deborah Kerr heading up a group of Anglican nuns who battle crude traditions, unexpected passions and stark raving madness while setting up a Himalayan order. By the mid-50s Sabu's career was rapidly approaching extinction, seeking work wherever he could find it - in low-budget Europe productions, public appearances, etc. An attempt to conjure up a TV series for himself failed. His life was further aggravated by unpleasant civil and paternity suits brought about against him. His last two pictures were supporting roles in Rampage (1963), which starred Robert Mitchum, and A Tiger Walks (1964), a thoroughly routine Disney picture which was released posthumously.

Sabu died unexpectedly at age 39 of a heart attack on December 2, 1963, at his home in Southern California and was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in the Hollywood Hills. Son Paul Sabu developed into an accomplished songwriter and even formed a rock band called Sabu; daughter Jasmine Sabu, who died in 2001, was a noted horse trainer whose skill was utilized occasionally for films. Although he went the way of too many of our former stars, Sabu continues to enchant and excite newer generations with his unmatched athletic skills and magnetic charm in those early adventure fantasies of yesteryear.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

Sabu's role of Toomai in the 'Elephant Boy' was originally a minor one with the focus being on the other actors and the elephants. When the early rushes were viewed Sabu's naturalness and photogenic quality stood out which, combined with his way with the animals, caused the script to be re written giving him a major part. This made it necessary for him to be taken to England for studio work on the film. The premiere, on 7 April 1937, and Sabu were such a success that Alexander Korda had the film 'The Drum' written especially for him.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: tonyman5

Spouse (1)

Marilyn Cooper (19 October 1948 - 2 December 1963) (his death) (2 children)

Trivia (14)

He became an American citizen on January 4, 1944, after which he served in the US Army Air Force during World War II as a tail gunner.
Father of Jasmine Sabu and Paul Sabu.
According to his widow, actress Marilyn Cooper, Sabu had a complete physical just a few days before his death, at which time his doctor told him, "If all my patients were as healthy as you, I'd be out of business." Thus, his sudden death of a heart attack at the age of 39 came as even more of a shock than it would have been otherwise. His last film, Disney's A Tiger Walks (1964), was released posthumously, to good reviews.
The first Indian actor to make it big in Hollywood. However, he was restricted to stereotypical roles of Indians.
In the late 1940s and 1950s, he was among the richest stars in Hollywood. In an era in which white actors often played Asian characters, he was respected not only for his physique but also for his natural acting abilities. He was a friend to many Hollywood actors including James Stewart and Ronald Reagan.
Most reference books list his full name as Sabu Dastigir, but research by journalist Philip Liebfried suggests that was his brother's name, and that Sabu's full name was, in fact, Selar Shaik Sabu.
He was 12 years old and cleaning out the stables of a wealthy Indian maharajah when he was spotted by director Robert J. Flaherty, who was in India looking for a lead for his film Elephant Boy (1937).
Director George Stevens sought to borrow Sabu for the title role of "Gunga Din" (1939) but producer Alexander Korda refused to loan out his star. Aware of this, actor Sam Jaffe patterned his audition for Gunga Din after Sabu and won the coveted role. In order to give his best performance, Jaffe reportedly told himself "Think Sabu" before each scene was shot.
Before entering the service during WWII the actor participated in the Treasury Department's defense bond campaign, touring thirty cities and broadcasting on radio.
When Sabu's brother was killed by a robber in 1960, and the actor had to take over management of their furniture store. He was in the process of making a comeback when he suffered a fatal heart attack.
He received his citizenship papers on January 4, 1944.
He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force during World War II and served with distinction.
Was one of the many dozen of Hollywood celebrities who made regular weekend visits to Ralph Helfer's Africa U.S.A. Exotic Animal Ranch in Soledad Canyon, California to play with the animals and to pitch in with the chores.
Was the first actor to play the Character Mowgli from Rudyard Kipling's, Jungle Book.

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