A Tribute to Conrad Nagel
Born in Keokuk, Iowa, on March 16, 1897, into an upper middle class family, Conrad Nagel was stage-struck when he played Scrooge at the age of 15, and after experiences in a Midwestern stock company, his dignity and good looks won him roles on Broadway. World Film Company cast him in “Little Women” (1919) and this took him to Hollywood, where he worked for both Cecil and William DeMille.
Conrad Nagel was never a big star, and he did not appear in one production which leaves a memorable impression. However, he was the perfect leading man for strong female stars such as Pola Negri in “Bella Donna” (1923), Blanche Sweet in “Tess of the D’Urbevilles” (1924), Marion Davies in “Quality Street” (1927) and Greta Garbo in “The Mysterious Lady” (1928) and “The Kiss” (1929).
The coming of sound helped Conrad thanks to his stage background. Conrad’s diction was superb and he could play both light comedy and drama. He was perfect as one of the on-screen hosts for MGM’s Hollywood Review of 1929
Conrad’s characterizations in later years were those of gentlemen husbands and lovers. He was never the virile leading man and it would be unthinkable to see him in a fistfight. I remember identifying an older Conrad Nagel in a bit part as Jane Wyman’s lover in “All That Heaven Allows” (1955) His last appearance in a feature was “Stranger in My Arms”(1959). Conrad probably deserves more praise for being the founder and president of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and as a spokesman for Actor’s Equity than as an actor. In 1940, Conrad was given an Honorary Academy Award for his work.
Just as he had made the transtion to sound, Conrad also made an easy crossover to television, appearing as a regular on Broadway to Hollywood: Headline Clues (DuMont, 1953-1954) and hosting The Silver Theater (CBS, 1949-1950) and Celebrity Time (CBS and ABC, 1949-1952).
For his contributions to film, radio and television, Conrad was given three stars in the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
It’s surprising that after appearing in over one hundred features in a career that spanned forty years, Conrad Nagel did not appear in one film that might be regarded as a classic.
Some film critics consider Conrad to be a bland performer, but he was the wholesome and handsome matinee idol whose all American charm appealed to the film goers.
Conrad Nagel married and divorced three times. He had a daughter with his first wife and a son with his third wife. In 1970, Conrad died in New York City. He was seventy-two years old.