in the trailer for Cobra Woman (1944)
27 January 1924
Kingdom of Mysore,
|Died||2 December 1963
Chatsworth, Los Angeles,
California, United States
Cause of death
|Other names||Selar Shaik Sabu|
|Spouse(s)||Marilyn Cooper (1948–1963) (his death) 2 children|
|Children||Paul Sabu, Jasmine Sabu|
Sabu Dastagir (27 January 1924 – 2 December 1963) was a film actor of Indian origin, who later obtained American citizenship. He was normally credited only by his first name, Sabu, and is primarily known for his work in film during the 1930s–1940s in Britain and America.
Born in 1924 in Karapur, Mysore, Kingdom of Mysore, then a Princely State of British India, and raised as a Muslim, Sabu was the son of an Indian mahout (elephant driver). While most reference books have his full name as "Sabu Dastagir", research by journalist Philip Leibfried suggests that was his brother's name, and that Sabu was in fact Selar Shaik Sabu or Sabu Francis. His brother managed his career. His brother was killed in a robbery of his furniture store, a failing business jointly owned by the two men.
When he was 13, Sabu was discovered by documentary film-maker Robert Flaherty who cast him in the role of an elephant driver in the 1937 British film Elephant Boy, based on Toomai of the Elephants, a story by Rudyard Kipling. In 1938 producer Alexander Korda commissioned A. E. W. Mason to script The Drum as a starring vehicle for the young actor. Sabu is perhaps best known for his role as Abu in the 1940 British film The Thief of Bagdad. Director Michael Powell has stated that he had a "wonderful grace" about him. In 1942 he once again played a role based on a Kipling story, namely Mowgli in Jungle Book directed by Zoltán Korda. He starred alongside Jon Hall and Maria Montez in three films for Universal Pictures: Arabian Nights (1942), White Savage (1943) and Cobra Woman (1944).
After becoming an American citizen in 1944, Sabu joined the United States Army Air Forces and served as a tail gunner and ball turret gunner on B-24 Liberators. He flew several dozen missions with the 370th Bomb Squadron of the 307th Bomb Group in the Pacific, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his valor and bravery.
After World War II, unable to secure the equivalent roles in Hollywood that British films had offered him, he saw his career go into decline. He occasionally did get significant parts, such as his supporting role in the classic British film Black Narcissus (1947). Through most of the 1950s he starred in largely unsuccessful European films. In 1952, he starred in the Harringay Circus with an elephant act.
His last completed film, A Tiger Walks, was released in March 1964, the year after his death.
In 1948, Sabu married actress Marilyn Cooper, with whom he had two children. Their marriage lasted until his death. Their son Paul Sabu established the rock band Sabu in the 1980s, and their daughter Jasmine Sabu was an animal trainer on various films; she died in 2001.
Sabu was the subject of a noted paternity suit that resulted in a published opinion by the California Court of Appeal, Dastagir v. Dastagir, 241 P.2d 656 (Cal. App. 1952). Sabu was sued by an infant girl born in 1948, through her mother, an unnamed unmarried English actress, who claimed to have had an affair with Sabu, and that he was the infant's father. The suit was tried by a jury which returned a nine to three verdict in favor of Sabu.
On 2 December 1963, Sabu suddenly died in Chatsworth, California, of a heart attack at the age of 39. He is interred at the Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills Cemetery. His wife said in a television interview that two days before his death, during a routine medical check, his doctor told him: "If all my patients were as healthy as you, I would be out of a job."
In popular culture
- "Sabu the Elephant Boy" was featured in story and song, Sabu Visits The Twin Cities Alone, by folk singer John Prine, and also in the teen novel The Snarkout Boys and the Baconburg Horror, by Daniel M. Pinkwater.
- ECW wrestler Sabu was given his ring name at an early age by his uncle Ed Farhat, who was a big fan of The Jungle Book and Dastagir.
- Mel Brooks' The Producers (musical) features a character called Sabu, based on the real Sabu, as one of Roger De Bris' entourage.
|1938||The Drum||Prince Azim|
|1940||The Thief of Bagdad||Abu|
|Arabian Nights||Ali Ben Ali|
|1947||Black Narcissus||The Young General|
|The End of the River||Manoel|
|1948||Man-Eater of Kumaon||Narain|
|1949||Song of India||Ramdar|
|1951||Savage Drums||Tipo Tairu|
|Buongiorno, elefante!||Sultan of Nagore|
|1954||Il Tesoro del Bengala||Ainur|
|1956||The Black Panther||Sabu the Jungle Boy|
|Jungle Hell||Sabu the Jungle Boy|
|1957||Sabu and the Magic Ring||Sabu, the stable boy|
|1960||Herrin der Welt (de)||Dr. Lin-Chor|
|1964||A Tiger Walks||Ram Singh|
- “Quit India”: The Image of the Indian Patriot on Commercial British Film and Television, 1956-1985, by Dror Izhar page 12.
- Meet Sabu, Mysore's elephant boy - Times Of India
- Remembering Sabu, the mahout from Mysore - Times Of India
- Sabu (I) - Biography
- BFI Screenonline: Sabu (1924-1963) Biography
- Leibfried, Philip; Willits, Malcolm (2004). Alexander Korda's The Thief of Bagdad, An Arabian Fantasy. Hollywood, Calif.: Hypostyle Hall Publishers. ISBN 0-9675253-1-4.
- "Black Narcissus (The Criterion Collection) (2001) DVD commentary". Criterion. Retrieved 27 October 2013.
- "People:Reservations". TIME, 19 March 1945.
- Sabu, Philip Leibfried, Films in Review, October 1989
- Leibfried, Philip. Star of India: The Life and Films of Sabu. Oklahoma; BearManor Media, 2010.
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