|This biographical article needs additional citations for verification. (December 2013)|
|Born||John Lee Morgan Beauregard Ragland
August 23, 1905
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
|Died||August 20, 1946
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||? (?–1926) (divorced) 1 son|
John Lee Morgan Beauregard "Rags" Ragland (born August 23, 1905, Louisville, Kentucky; d. August 20, 1946, Los Angeles, California) was an American comedian and character actor. After brief stints as a truck driver and a boxer, Ragland made his show business reputation in burlesque, where he was one of the house comics for the famed Minsky burlesque shows. One of the Minsky striptease stars, 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. His longtime performing partner Phil Silvers referred to Ragland in his autobiography as "my favorite comic".
After burlesque in its classic style died, Ragland made his way to films, usually playing good-natured oafs with a knack for fracturing the English language. He was strictly an MGM player, beginning with 1942's Panama Hattie, in which he repeated a role he played on Broadway, with Ann Sothern taking to film the lead role played by Ethel Merman. Ragland appeared in about two dozen MGM light comedies and musicals with Abbott and Costello, Lucille Ball, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Red Skelton, and Gene Kelly, among others. His final film, The Hoodlum Saint (1946), starred William Powell, Esther Williams and Angela Lansbury.
After returning from an alcoholic bender with Orson Welles in Mexico in 1946, Ragland was scheduled to revive his nightclub act with Phil Silvers at the Copacabana when he began experiencing pain in his abdomen. He was hospitalized. 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, including Sinatra, who sang at the service. Silvers delivered the eulogy.
In a gesture of friendship and respect, Sinatra walked off the set of his movie It Happened In Brooklyn, flew to New York, and unexpectedly showed up for Silvers' Copacabana debut (he had signed a contract and "the show must go on"). Sinatra and Silvers had done the same routines during their USO tour. 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.