Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Conrad Nagel (1897-1970)

The Iowa native was destined for a career in entertainment after being raised by his musician father and a mother who was a famous local singer.  After graduating from Highland Park college where his father was the dean of the music conservatory, Conrad relocated to California with the hopes of making his name in motion pictures.  With his piercing blue eyes and golden locks the studio felt he would be a nice fit and well received by the American audience.  He was given a part in the silent "Little Women" in 1918 cementing his career as an early matinée idol.  

with Marion Davies in costume for "Quality Street" 1927

with Lois Wilson and Lillian Tucker in the silent "What Every Woman Knows" 1921

During the early days of film in the 1910's-1920's Conrad starred with such silent greats as Lois Wilson, Blanche Sweet, Alma Rubens, Marion Davies, Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer, Claire Windsor, Renee Adoree, Anna Q Nilsson, Bebe Daniels, and Gloria Swanson.  Conrad's breakout performance was in "The Fighting Chance" opposite Anna Q Nilsson in 1920.  He stayed busy throughout the 1920's churning out 3-5 silent pictures a year.  He married silent actress Ruth Helms in 1924. The one silent film of Conrad's that stands out is "Quality Street" 1927 where Marion Davies disguises herself as her niece to test her suitors loyalties.  If you've had the pleasure of seeing Marion Davies in an early silent the one thing that stands out is her ability to not take herself so seriously and her ability to make you laugh out loud from her facial expressions.  Sadly I think Marion's career was overshadowed by her personal life.

with May McAvoy and George Beranger in "If I Were Single" 1927

click on photos and autograph from my collection for a larger view

with Lila Lee in "Second Wife"

Conrad along with Doug Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and thirty three others founded the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in 1927.  (You can read more about the first Academy Awards in my separate posts archived in December).  In 1928 Conrad appeared in one the first silent films which was redistributed with a sound track "Glorious Betsy" with Dolores Costello.  The silent version survived and is housed at the Library of Congress in D.C.  This film paved the way for talkies which Conrad transitioned to with ease.  

 with Greta Garbo in "The Mysterious Lady" 1928

Unscathed by the advent of talkies Conrad continued to get parts in the early critically acclaimed films "Redemption" with John Gilbert in 1930 then "The Divorcee" opposite Norma Shearer, Chester Morris and a young up and comer, Robert Montgomery.  Conrad also appeared in "Du Barry Woman of Passion" opposite Norma Talmadge in 1930 which was just another stand out performance out of eight films he would star in during 1930.  In 1931 Conrad starred in "The Right of Way" opposite Loretta Young where he plays an alcoholic who loses his livelihood and the love of his life due to his addiction.  (The film has a lot of similarities to "The Lost Weekend" in which Ray Milland won his Oscar).  

with Norma Shearer in "The Divorcee" 1930

with Greta Garbo in "The Mysterious Lady" 1928

Conrad stayed busy throughout the 1930's appearing in the campy hits "Hell Divers" with Clark Gable in 1931 and "Kongo" with Lupe Velez in 1932. The following year came the hit "Ann Vickers" with Irene Dunne and Walter Huston then "One New York Night" in 1935 with Franchot Tone and Una Merkel to name just a few of Conrad's many films during the 1930's.  Unfortunately Conrad's personal life wasn't quite as successful as he divorced his first wife Ruth in 1935.  They had one daughter together, Ruth Margaret during their marriage.

Conrad Nagel with Lila Lee in "Second Wife" 1930

During the 1940's Conrad continued to work steadily in film taking character roles in movies while the younger actors took lead roles.  He appeared with Joan Blondell and Dick Powell in "I Want a  Divorce" in 1940 and the Hal Roach classic "One Million B.C." with Carole Landis, Victor Mature and Lon Chaney Jr that same year.  In between acting Conrad appeared frequently on radio from 1937 through 1945 hosting and directing his own radio show Silver Theater.  He left the silver screen behind at the end of the 1940's opting for parts in television in shows like "Car 54 Where Are You", "Dr Kildare", "Gunsmoke" and "Perry Mason" to name just a few.  Conrad also hosted the game show "Celebrity Time" from 1949-1952.  Conrad married for a second time to actress Lynn Merrick in 1945.  (Lynn was a former WAMPAS Baby Star and was known for her roles in Western's alongside Warner Baxter, Richard Dix and Chester Morris before retiring from acting for good in 1947).

Conrad kept himself busy throughout the 1960's in television guest spots and married for a third time to Micheal Coulson Smith in 1955.  They had one son together, Michael in the late 1950's.  Conrad's last television appearance was on "ABC Stage 67" series in 1967.  Sadly Conrad passed away in 1970.  He was cremated and his ashes were scattered by his family and friends. He appeared in over 115 films during his career that spanned six decades.  

in "Heaven On Earth" 1927

Conrad Nagel Facts:

He was the host of the 3rd Academy Awards in 1930 and the 5th Academy Awards in 1932 then he co-hosted with Bob Hope in 1953.  The only person to wait 21 years before hosting again.  He also hosted the 1930 Emmy's.

He was given an Honorary Academy Award for his contribution to film in 1940.

He was the President of the Academy from 1932 to 1933.

He was engaged to actress Kay Linaker four times but they never married.  They met while filming "The Girl From Mandalay" in 1936.  Kay was 23 and Nagel was 39.

He has three stars on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame for Motion Pictures, Radio and Television

with Greta Garbo

Conrad Nagel Quotes:

"At the time (1927) I was under contract to MGM.  So Louis Mayer was mad at me. The worst punishment he could think of was to lend me to Warner Bro's for a picture".

"I was never a big star so I never had a big role like Moses or D'Artagnan.  But being assigned to 31 pictures in 24 months, I had the opportunity to play every kind of part.  The variety, though didn't keep me from being a drug on the market.  My wife would say, "Well let's go out and  see a movie tonight".  We'd get in the car and discover that I'm playing at the Paramount Theater.  And I'm playing at the Universal Theater. And I'm playing at the MGM Theater.  We couldn't find a theater where I wasn't playing so we'd go back home.  I was an epidemic".

Until next time please leave a comment if you have a favorite Conrad Nagel film or look around in the archives on the right for posts on other stars from my collection.  


  1. As a distant relative to "Lillian TUCKER" who appeared in the photo with Conrad Nagel, I was wondering where you found it - and if you have her in other silents (she appeared in 6 but I don't find much publicity shots).


  2. R,
    How great that you are related to Lillian! I will have to look through photos to see what I have of her so check back or leave me your email address.
    I only do a post on a celebrity if I own their autograph and since I don't have hers I've never purchased pictures of her only etc.
    If you have any fun info on Lillian please share.
    Myself and my fellow film fans would love to read anything you have to say about her or any celeb.
    Thanks for stopping by and please come back often.

  3. I have found autographed photos of her on-line (through don't own any). I do have her SS-5 (SS application) which has her signature as well (combining her married and maiden names) - which lists her legal birthdate as 21Sept1887 (on her SSDI) - though she used 1892 on her Philadelphia marriage license and 1899 on her California death record (CADI).

    Lillian Tucker credits (real stage name Lilian TUCKER) can be found in IBDB (Broadway only) and IMDB (film), with 3 images on the NYPL website - and lots of other places too numerous to list. Her stage career spanned 1908-1921 (including Broadway), and her silent career spanned 1915-1917 and 1920-1921 when she retired to marry, and then divorced 2 years later. (After her marriage she began using a different first name (Elsie) for some reason, possibly one of her character names.)

    Fun fact #1: Lillian Tucker decorated the second floor of Pickfair for her friend Mary Pickford (its in the LA Times) - the first floor was decorated by a studio set designer. Mary Pickford had been her employer (according to her SS-5).

    Fun fact #2: Lillian Tucker knew Hedda Hopper, and worked in a WW2 aircraft factory in LA (again an LA Times article I stumbled across).

    Fun fact #3: Lillian Tucker was an Interior Decorator according to her death record.

    Fun fact #4: Lillian Tucker, while on Broadway, was hired to tour with J N Tait's theatre company in Australia and New Zealand for 2 years (1917-1918) and did a product endorsement while there.

    More fun facts later.

  4. Fun fact #5: Lillian (as Mrs. Dauray) appeared in Episode #4 "The Hidden Prince" of a 12-episode serial released in 1916 about the adventures of Christopher Race (Earl Williams) and his high-powered automobile, "The Scarlet Runner" after whom the serial was named; each episode (2 reels) had a different cast with Williams appearing in all. (Sounds like the 1960s TV hit "Route 66" centered around the adventures of two college grads in a Corvette, doesn't it?)

    Fun Fact #6: Lillian (as Elsie Chase) starred in "The Cave Girl" (1921) with Boris Karloff (Baptiste, a "half-breed"). It was produced by Inspiration Pictures, a company started by her future husband (Charles Holland Duell Jr, a patent attorney and son of a US Patent commissioner). It was filmed on location at Yosemite and starred a "cinnamon bear" rather than a mountain lion (as the original script called for). This latter comment was derived from a 25Sept1921 article in the Oakland Tribune (found on Ancestry.com).

    Wonder if this character "Elsie Case" led to her begin using "Elsie" after her 1921 marriage for the rest of her life, which is the name under which she was buried?

    Is anyone reading this info?

  5. Hi R!
    Of course I'm reading your comments not to mention enjoying the fun facts that you're providing here.

    Thats interesting about the name Elsie and Lillian choosing it later in life. It certainly sounds plausible.
    Good to see you back again.

  6. How do I send you a scan of her signature?

  7. R,
    I'm assuming you are referring to Lillian but I'm not sure what I would do with a scan since I only post an autograph if it's in my personal collection. : )

  8. OK I won't share her signature. Yes it was my Lillian TUCKER's signature (from her PA marriage license) to which I was referring. I have seen other photos of her on auction sites (just after the auction closed but still visible for a week) that have the same signature; most don't.

    The problem is there are TWO major actresses named "Lillian/Lilian TUCKER" whose images (some with signatures) are sold "interchangeably" on-line - one of my co-researchers had bought the wrong one unknowingly.

    One can spot both actresses on the New York Public Library's Digital collection digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/index.cfm - TH-59242 and TH-59243 are of my Chicago-born actress; the other four (TH-59238 through TH-59241 are of an older UK-born actress who was in Repertory Theatre in US and Canada).

    Fun Fact: Did you know that before Actors Equity (and the concept of unique performing names), performers could share stage names or performed under their birth names? I, like most of your readers, did not - until I found these two different Lillian/Lilian images being auctioned "interchangeably" and appearing on NYPL's website.