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Conrad Nagel
Nagel in 1922
John Conrad Nagel

(1897-03-16)March 16, 1897
Keokuk, Iowa, U.S.
DiedFebruary 24, 1970(1970-02-24) (aged 72)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Resting placeGarden State Crematory
EducationDes Moines College
Highland Park College
Years active1918–1967
Ruth Helms
(m. 1924; div. 1934)
(m. 1945; div. 1948)
Michael Coulson Smith
(m. 1955; div. 1956)

John Conrad Nagel (March 16, 1897 – February 24, 1970) was an American film, stage, television and radio actor.[1] He was considered a famous matinée idol and leading man of the 1920s and 1930s. He was given an Academy Honorary Award in 1940 and three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.

Early life

Born in Keokuk, Iowa,[2] into an upper-middle-class family, he was the son of a musician father, Dr. Frank L. Nagel, who was of German descent, and a mother, Frances (née Murphy), who was a locally praised singer. Nagel's mother died early in his life, and he always attributed his artistic inclination to growing up in a family environment that encouraged self-expression. When Nagel was three, his father, Frank, became dean of the music conservatory at Highland Park College in Des Moines, and the family moved there.[citation needed]

After graduating from Highland Park College, Nagel left for California to pursue a career in the relatively new medium of motion pictures where he garnered instant attention from the Hollywood studio executives. With his 6-foot-tall (1.8 m) frame, blue eyes, and wavy blond hair; the young, Midwestern Nagel was seen by studio executives as a potentially wholesome matinee idol whose unpretentious all-American charm would appeal to the nation's nascent film-goers.[citation needed]

Film career

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Nagel was immediately cast in film roles that cemented his unspoiled lover image. His first film was the 1918 retelling of Little Women, which quickly captured the public's attention and set Nagel on a path to silent film stardom. His breakout role came in the 1920 film, The Fighting Chance, opposite Swedish starlet Anna Q. Nilsson. In 1918, Nagel was elected to The Lambs, the theatrical club.[3]

In 1927, Nagel starred alongside Lon Chaney Sr., Marceline Day, Henry B. Walthall and Polly Moran in the now lost Tod Browning directed horror film, London After Midnight. Unlike many other silent films stars, Nagel had little difficulty transitioning to sound films. His baritone voice was judged to be perfect for sound, so he appeared in about thirty films in only two years. He described the time as a "great adventure." He was working so steadily that one night when he and his wife planned to go to the movies, he was in films playing at Grauman's, Loew's, and Paramount's theaters. "We couldn't find a theater where I wasn't playing. So we'd go back home. I was an epidemic."[4] He spent the next several decades being very well received in high-profile films as a character actor. He was also frequently heard on radio and made many notable appearances on television.[1]

The Academy and SAG

On May 11, 1927, Nagel was among 35 other film industry insiders to found the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS); a professional honorary organization dedicated to the advancement of the arts and sciences of motion pictures. Fellow actors involved in the founding included: Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Richard Barthelmess, Jack Holt, Milton Sills, and Harold Lloyd. He served as president of the organization from 1932 to 1933.[1] He was also a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).[citation needed]

Nagel was the host of the 3rd Academy Awards ceremony held on November 5, 1930, the 5th Academy Awards on November 18, 1932, and a co-host with Bob Hope at the 25th Academy Awards ceremony on March 19, 1953. The 21-year gap between his appearances in 1932 and 1953 is a record for an Oscar ceremonies host.[citation needed]

Radio and television

Nagel was the announcer for Alec Templeton Time, a musical variety program on NBC Radio in the summer of 1939.[5] He was the host on Silver Theatre, a summer replacement program that began June 8, 1937.[6]

From 1937 to 1947, he hosted and directed the radio program Silver Theater. He then hosted the TV game show Celebrity Time from 1948 to 1952 and the DuMont Television Network program Broadway to Hollywood from 1953 to 1954.

From September 14, 1955, to June 1, 1956, Nagel hosted Hollywood Preview, a 30-minute show on the DuMont Television Network which featured Hollywood stars with clips of upcoming films.

In 1961, again on television but in an acting role, he made a guest appearance on the popular courtroom drama Perry Mason, portraying the character Nathan Claver, an art collector and murderer, in the episode "The Case of the Torrid Tapestry".[7]

In 1962 he guest-starred on the TV Western Gunsmoke as the vengeful Major Emerson Owen in S7E33's “The Prisoner”.

Personal life

Nagel married and divorced three times.[2]

Nagel died in 1970 in New York City at the age of 72.[2] A spokesman for the office of the Chief Medical Examiner said that Nagel's death was "due to natural causes", more specifically, a heart attack and emphysema. He added that no autopsy was planned.[8]

Awards and honors

In 1940, Nagel was given an Honorary Academy Award for his work with the Motion Picture Relief Fund.[9]

For his contributions to film, radio, and television, Nagel was given three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1719 Vine Street (motion pictures), 1752 Vine Street (radio), and 1752 Vine Street (television).[10]




In popular culture

In the M*A*S*H episode "Abyssinia, Henry" – which featured McLean Stevenson's final appearance on the show – Lt. Col. Blake finds out that his mother-in-law used his brown double-breasted suit to attend a costume party dressed as Conrad Nagel.[citation needed]

Radio appearances

Year Program Episode/source
1953 Theater of Life Three Miracles[11]


  1. ^ a b c Slide, Anthony (February 1, 2010). Silent Players: A Biographical and Autobiographical Study of 100 Silent Film Actors and Actresses. University Press of Kentucky. p. 263. ISBN 978-0813137452.
  2. ^ a b c "Old-Time Star Conrad Nagel Found Dead". The Dispatch. Lexington, North Carolina. February 25, 1970. p. 13. Retrieved April 23, 2014.
  3. ^ "History of The Lambs". The Lambs, Inc. 15 October 2015. Retrieved August 18, 2019.
  4. ^ Eyman, Scott (March 13, 1997). The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution 1926-1930. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1439104286. Retrieved August 18, 2019. epidemic.
  5. ^ Dunning, John (May 7, 1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (Revised ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. pp. 22–23. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. Retrieved 2019-09-26.
  6. ^ "Radio Headliners In Star Roles on "Silver Theatre"". Harrisburg Telegraph. May 31, 1947. p. 17. Retrieved May 28, 2016 – via open access
  7. ^ "The Case of the Torrid Tapestry", S04E23, Perry Mason series, originally broadcast in the United States on the CBS television network, April 22, 1961. IMDb. Retrieved September 5, 2018.
  8. ^ "Conrad Nagel, Actor, Dies at 72; Star of Stage and Silent Pictures". The New York Times. 25 February 1970.
  9. ^ "Nagel, Conrad". The Lambs, Inc. 2020. Archived from the original on September 24, 2020. Retrieved 13 March 2023.
  10. ^ "Conrad Nagel". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Archived from the original on February 18, 2014. Retrieved March 13, 2023.
  11. ^ Kirby, Walter (July 5, 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 40. Retrieved July 5, 2015 – via open access
Non-profit organization positions Preceded byM. C. Levee President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences 1932–1933 Succeeded byJ. Theodore Reed