Rags Ragland

Rags Ragland (born John Lee Morgan Beauregard Ragland, August 23, 1905 – August 20, 1946) was an American comedian and character actor.

Rags Ragland
in the trailer for Ringside Maisie (1941)
John Lee Morgan Beauregard Ragland

(1905-08-23)August 23, 1905
DiedAugust 20, 1946(1946-08-20) (aged 40)
OccupationActor, comedian
Years active1935–1946
Spouse(s)Sabina E. Vanover
(m. 192?; div. 1926)

Personal life

Ragland was born on August 23, 1905, in Louisville, Kentucky, to parents Adam Joseph Ragland and Stella Petty.

As a youth, he worked as a truck driver, boxer, and movie projectionist in Kentucky. He was briefly married to Sabina Elizabeth Vanover and they had one child, a son named John Griffin Ragland (1925-1990), before they divorced in 1926. The following year, at the age of 22, Ragland moved to Los Angeles.


Arthur Treacher, Pat Harrington, Ethel Merman, Frank Hyers and Rags Ragland in the original Broadway production of Panama Hattie (1940)
Ragland (right) with Ben Blue, Red Skelton and Ann Sothern in the film Panama Hattie (1942)

Ragland made his show business reputation in burlesque. He quickly became known for his wild ad-libs, unpredictable intrusions into other comics' acts, and a "healthy off-stage libido". Eventually he worked his way up to "top banana" at Minsky's, the dominant burlesque house.[1]

Minsky striptease star Georgia Sothern remembered him fondly in her 1971 memoir, saying she considered Ragland a close friend and the funniest comedian the Minskys had ever produced.[2] His longtime performing partner Phil Silvers referred to Ragland in his autobiography as "my favorite comic".[3]

After burlesque in its classic style died, Ragland made his way to Broadway theatre and films. He usually playing good-natured oafs with a knack for fracturing the English language. He became a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) contract player beginning with 1942's Panama Hattie, reprising a role he played on Broadway. Ragland appeared in around two dozen MGM light comedies and musicals. He gained popularity as Red Skelton's cohort in the "Whistling" movies (Whistling in the Dark, Whistling in Dixie, and Whistling in Brooklyn). His final film appearance was in the drama The Hoodlum Saint (1946).


After returning from an alcoholic bender with Orson Welles in Mexico in 1946, Ragland was scheduled to revive his New York nightclub act with friend Phil Silvers at the Copacabana. He began experiencing pain in his abdomen and was hospitalized. Good friend Frank Sinatra called in a specialist, but the doctors determined that Ragland's liver and kidneys were destroyed from years of alcohol abuse. After falling into a coma, he died, three days before his 41st birthday, of uremia. Silvers and Sinatra were by his bedside. Many Hollywood celebrities attended Ragland's funeral Sinatra sang at the service and Silvers delivered the eulogy.

In a gesture of friendship and respect, Sinatra left the set of his movie It Happened in Brooklyn, flew to New York, and unexpectedly showed up to take Ragland's spot with Silvers at the Copacabana debut (Silvers had decided to continue because he had signed a contract, stating "the show must go on"). Sinatra and Silvers did the routines they had performed during their USO tours. The show brought down the house. It ended with Silvers saying in tears, "May I take a bow for Rags." The audience was silent, crying in tribute to Ragland.[4]

Complete filmography


  1. Rags Ragland biography. New York Times archive. Retrieved March 19, 2015.
  2. Sothern, G. Georgia: My Life in Burlesque. New American Library (1972), p. 62. ASIN: B000JI9BB2.
  3. Silvers P, Saffron R. This Laugh Is On Me. New York, Prentice-Hall (1973), p. 134. ISBN 0139191003
  4. Silvers (1973), p. 142.
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