Sabu Dastagir Overview:

Legendary actor, Sabu Dastagir, was born on Jan 27, 1924 in Karapur, Mysore, British India. Dastagir died at the age of 39 on Dec 2, 1963 in Chatsworth, CA and was laid to rest in Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills) Cemetery in Los Angeles, CA.

Early Life

Sabu Dastagir, simply known throughout his career as Sabu, was born on January 27th, 1924 in the now defunct Kingdom of Mysore under the rule of the British Empire. His life would prove to be almost as fantastic as the parts he played on the big screen. Sabu was raised in the small jungle village of Mysore in a Muslim household. His mother passed away in his formative years, leaving the young Sabu to be raised by father, who worked as a mahout (elephant driver). After his father his died (Sabu was between 6 and 9 years old, depending on your sources), the young child was then forced to raise himself and became a ward of the royal elephant stables. It wouldn't be long before the bright, young boy to learn the tricks of the elephant trade and eventually became a mahout himself.

Move to England

It was while riding one of the King's elephants that Sabu's career in the movie business would begin. At just 13 years of age Sabu was seen mounted atop one of his majestic beasts by famed documentary director filmmaker Robert Flaherty. Impressed by boy's natural charisma, dark features, and ability to adapt to his wild surroundings, Flaherty immediately cast Sabu as a boy elephant driver, Toomai his upcoming film Elephant Boy, based on the Rudyard Kipling story Toomai of the Elephants. He and his older brother (as his guardian) were then whisked away to England, where Sabu would begin his new career as an actor. He then became a ward of the British government and began receiving an English education.

Like so many films Elephant Boy was riddled with pre-production problems with Flaherty being replaced by Zoltan Kordan, the brother of the films Producer, Alexander Korda. And while the film may have been released to fairly mixed reviews, audiences and critics both praised the performance by England's newest import. Elephant Boy would go on to be major box office success and Alexander Korda signed Sabu to a long-term contract.

Film Career

After the success of Elephant Boy, Sabu was once again paired with director Zoltan Korda in the Technicolor action/adventure extravaganza The Drum. Sabu's performance as the heroic Prince Azim displayed his breadth as an actors, giving the young star a chance to show he was more than a one trick elephant rider. His next film, 1940s The Thief of Bagdad, would provide the young actor with the biggest role of his career, Abu. The technicolor Arabian fantasy film was a momentous venture that featured three different directors and a cast that includes Rex Ingram, June Duprez, and Conrad Veidt. Due to the German Blitz, film was forced to move it's production from Britain to Hollywood and Sabu made his first visit to the United States. The end result was nothing sort of a masterpiece in storytelling and special effects as the film was the first to use the now all too common blue screen technique. The Thief of Bagdad would go on to win three Academy Awards including Cinematography, Art Direction, and Special Effects. He then starred in yet another adaptation of a Kipling adaptation as Mowgli in Jungle Book. The film was the final he would make under Alexander Korda.

Move to America

After The Jungle Book, Sabu's contact expired and the young actor decided to stay in Hollywood to further build his career. He was quickly picked up by Universal Pictures with his first film for the studio being the big screen adaptation of Arabian Nights. The film was released to reviews ranging from mixed to positive and was a huge box office success, making an almost two-million dollar profit. His next two roles were in "exotic" films White Savage and Cobra Woman. Despite their fairly large budgets and lavish set designs, both films paled in comparison to the quality of work Sabu had been a part of in England. They did, however, make a pretty penny for the studio.

In 1944, at the age of 20, Sabu became a U.S citizen. He then enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces, serving as a tail gunner. He participated in dozens of missions with the 370th Bomb Squadron that flew over the Pacific. He was eventually awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for is valor and bravery.

Career Decline

After World War II public taste shifted and Sabu's appeal began to wane. In 1946 he return to England to work with directing team, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. The first their collaborations was the ambitious Technicolor religious drama Black Narcissus. However, unlike his previous roles, Sabu was not the leading man and instead played a small but important role of a love-sick Prince, who runs off with a poor village girl played by Jean Simmons. He then played the leading role in another Powell-Pressburger production, The End of River. The film, however, lacked the sophistication of The Black Narcissus.

Sabu then left England for good. He returned to Hollywood, appearing in mostly forgettable fare such as Tangier, Man-Eater of Kumaon and Song of India. It was while filming the Song of India that Sabu met his future wife, actress Marilyn Cooper, whom he would immediately marry.  The couple would go on to have two children.

Later Life

In the last decade of his life, Sabu acted in mostly low budget European films that attempted to capitalize on his exotic image, such as Hello Elephant, Jaguar and The Black Panther. He eventually returned to his mahout roots and starred in his own elephant act in 1952. During this time, Sabu also began investing in property, eventually building a second, successful career for himself. His final film was the Disney production A Tiger Walks. It would be released three months after his death.

Sabu died on December 2, 1963 of a surprise heart attack in Los Angels California. He was just 39 years old. 

(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).



Dastagir was never nominated for an Academy Award.

BlogHub Articles:

No article for at this time. Submit yours here.

Sabu Dastagir Quotes:

Kado: Look! Music maker also murder stick!

Scheherazade: I would swear I have seen this man before. But where?
Ali Ben Ali: Maybe in your dreams.

read more quotes from Sabu Dastagir...

Share this page:
Visit the Classic Movie Hub Blog CMH
Also an Aquarius

See All Aquariuses >>
Sabu Dastagir Facts
According to his widow, actress Marilyn Cooper, Sabu had a complete physical just a few days before his death, at which time his doctor told him, "If all my patients were as healthy as you, I'd be out of business." Thus, his sudden death of a heart attack at the age of 39 came as even more of a shock than it would have been otherwise. His last film, Disney's A Tiger Walks (1964), was released posthumously, to good reviews.

In the late 1940s and 1950s, he was among the richest stars in Hollywood. In an era in which white actors often played Asian characters, he was respected not only for his physique but also for his natural acting abilities. He was a friend to many Hollywood actors including James Stewart and Ronald Reagan.

He became an American citizen on January 4, 1944, after which he served in the US Army Air Force during World War II as a tail gunner.

See All Related Facts >>