Born on 10 December 1886 in Stepney in the East End of London. The McLagens’ family is of South African origin, despite the surname being written in Dutch manner. Victor’s father was bishop of the Free Protestant Episcopal Church of England.
The McLagens family had 10 children: 8 boys and 2 girls. Four of Victor’s brothers subsequently became actors: Arthur (1888-1972), actor and sculptor Clifford (1892-1978), Cyril (1899-1987), and Kenneth (1901-1979). Another of the Leopold brothers (1884-1951) played a role in one film, but before World War I was known as a showman and after it as a self-proclaimed world champion in ju-jutsu, a book about which he subsequently and wrote.
Except England as a child lived for some time in South Africa, where his father was Bishop of Claremont.
Victor McLagen left home at 14 to join the British Army with the intention of taking participation in the Second Anglo-Boer War. However, the young man was placed in Windsor Castle’s Leib-Guards and soon kicked out of the service as soon as his real age was revealed.
At 18, he moved to Winnipeg, Canada, where he became a local celebrity, standing for money as a heavyweight wrestler and boxer. Winning many times in the ring and on the carpet, for a while working as a constable for the Winnipeg Police.
One of McLagen’s most famous bouts was a fight with heavyweight champion Jack Jackson in a showpiece 6-round bout in Vancouver on March 10, 1909. But Victor’s usual earnings were fights at the circus, at which spectators were offered $25 to anyone who would stand at least three rounds against McLagen.
In 1913, MacLagen returns to Britain and joins the British Army. During World War I he serves as a captain in the 10th Battalion Mildsex Regiment. For a time, he served as Assistant Military Marshal in Baghdad, India. In the army, he continues to practice boxing and in 1918 becomes British heavyweight champion.
After the war, he pursued a career as a boxer, but began losing fights more often. Victor ended up ending his professional career as a boxer in 1920. His personal score as a professional was a record for those years — 16 wins, 8 losses and 1 draw.
During one of the visits to the sports club Victor was noticed by the producer and invited for the lead role boxer in the British film “The Call of the Road” (1920). And while McLagen didn’t have any acting experience, after the auditions he got the role.
Victor subsequently starred in the British adventure films “Corinthian Jack” (1921), “Dragon Prey” (1921), “The Sport of Kings” (1921), “A Glorious Adventure” (1922), “A Novel About Old Baghdad” ( 1922), “Little Brother of God” (1922), “Sailor Tramp” (1922), “Crimson Circle” (1922), “Gypsy” (1922), and “Strings of the Heart” (1922).
From 1923, MacLagen took to starring roles. In this capacity he appeared in the British films “Lord of the White Road” (1923), “In the Blood” (1923), “The Boatswain’s Assistant” (1923), “Women and Diamonds” (1924), “Corinthian Gay” (1924), “Passionate Adventure” ( 1924) by Alfred Hitchcock, “The Beloved Scotsman” (1924), “The Hunting Woman” (1925), and “Percy” (1925).
In 1925, McLagen moved to Hollywood and became a popular character, who was excellent at the roles of drunks. He also managed the role of the Irish, why many fans mistakenly believed that he was Irish and not English. Victor played the title role in the silent crime drama “The Unholy Three” (1925).
McLagen also had supporting roles in “Wind of the Wind” (1925) directed by Frank Lloyd and in “Battle Heart” (1925) directed by John Ford. Ford would subsequently make a major impact on MacLagen’s career, offering him roles in the films “Island of Retribution” (1925), “Steel Men” (1926) and “Bo Guest” (1926), the latter of which he played Hank.
McLagen became the highest-paid actor in director Raoul Walsh’s World War I film in the classic “What’s the Price of Glory?” (1926) with Edmund Lowe and Dolores del Río. The film was a huge success, earning over $2 million, and Fox Films signed a long-term contract with McLagen.
He began to receive the highest fees for roles in films such as:
- “Love Carmen” (1927) directed by Walsh;
- “Mother Mahri” (1926) directed by Ford;
- “The Girl in Every Port” (1928) with Robert Armstrong and Louise Brooks;
- romantic drama, filmed in Ireland, “Hangman’s House” (1928);
- “Pirate of the River” (1928);
- “Captain Lash” (1929);
- “Strong Boy” (1929) );
- “Black Watch” (1929).
In the same 1929, McLagen starred in the musical “Happy Days” and the film sequel “What’s the Price of Glory?” which became another box office success.
In the 1930s Victor began acting in sound cinema. These were the films “Hot for Paris” (1930), “On a Level” (1930) and the pleasing comedy with Humphrey Bogart “The Devil with Women” (1931). For Paramount Pictures, he starred in “Dishonored” (1931) starring alongside Marlene Dietrich and in “Not Quite Gentlemen” (1931).
In 1931, he played a cameo role in the short film “Stolen Jokes” and in the second sequel, “What’s the Price of Glory?”. He also played roles in the paintings “Women of All Nations” (1931), “The Deeds of Annabel” (1931), “Wicked” (1931), “Gay Caballero” (1932), “The Devil’s Lottery” (1932) and “Guilty as Hell” (1932).
In 1932, he starred in the third sequel, “What’s the Price of Glory?” as well as in the film “Rackety Rax”. In 1933 he played roles in “Sharp Pepper”, “Laughing at Life” and in the British film “Dick Turpin”.
In 1934 he appeared in such pictures as “More Women”, “Angel’s Wharf”, “Murder in the Bustles” and in the Colombian film “Captain Hates the Sea”. One of the best works of 1934 for MacLagen was a role in director Ford’s “Lost Patrol,” about a crazy religious fanatic, Boris Karloff, and about soldiers who gradually go crazy, fighting the arabs in the desert that is now iraq.
In 1935 Victor starred in “Fox Under Pressure”, “The Great Murder in the Hotel” and “The Professional Soldier” with Freddie Bartholomew. But the most important event for McLagen in 1935 was filming in “The Informer” directed by John Ford. For this role, Victor won his first Oscar Award as best first-plan actor.
In 1936 for 20th Century Fox, he stars in “Under Two Flags” with Rosalind Russell and Ronald Colman, for Paramount Pictures — in the picture “Klondike Annie” with Mae West. In 1937 for Universal Studios he works in the film “The Magnificent Beast” and “The Sea Devils”, and in the film “Nancy Steele Is Missing” for 20th Century Fox.
At the request of John Ford and Robert Taylor, he starred in the motion pictures “This Is My Business” (1937), “Shirley’s Temple” (1937), “Wee Willie Winkie” (1937), and in a cameo role in “Ali Baba Goes to Town” (1937).
In 1938 he starred in the comedy “Battle on Broadway” with Brian Donlevy for 20th Century Fox and in “The Devil’s Party” for Universal Studios. That same year, he travels to the UK for filming in “We’re Gonna Get Rich” with Gracie Fields.
In 1939 in Hollywood, McLagen stars in the films “Pacific Liner” and “Gunga Ding”. The last film starring Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks was an epic adventure that would later serve decades later as a model for “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Destiny” (1984).
This same year Victor appears in “Let Freedom Call” with Nelson Eddy for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, “Ex-Champion”, “Captain Fury” with Brian Ahern and “Full Confession” directed by John Farrow. The latter film was a partial remake of “Informer”. For Universal Studios worked in the paintings “Rio” with Basil Rathbone and “The Big Guy” with Jackie Cooper.
In 1940, as a highly paid actor, he starred in “South of Pago Pago”, “The Diamond Frontier” and “Broadway Limited”. During World War II he took part in filming film paintings “Challenge of the Marines” (1942), “Pauder Town” (1942), “Chinese Girl” (1942), “Forever and One Day” (1943), “Tampico” (1943),” Roger Towhey” and “Gangster” (both 1944). He played the roles of villains in Bob Hope’s films “The Princess and the Pirate” (1944) and “Rough, Hard and Ready” of the same year.
After World War II, MacLagen became exclusively a supporting actor. In this capacity, he starred in “Love, Honor and Goodbye” (1945), “Whistle Stop” (1946), “Calendar Girl” (1947) and “Harrow’s Fox” (1947). In 1948-1950, he starred in a supporting role as Cavalry Sergeant in John Ford’s “Cavalry Trilogy”: “Fort Apache” (1948), “She Wore Yellow Ribbon” (1949), and “Rio Grande” (1950).
In 1952, McLagen won his second Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, starring in “The Quiet Man” with John Wayne. He also continued to be in demand in supporting roles in the films “A passing wind to Java” (1953), “Prince Valiant” (1954). In the UK he starred in “Problems in the Glen” (1954), for Hollywood in “Cross Many Rivers” (1955).
In 1955, McLagen last starred as the main character in the French film “City of Shadows”, and as a supporting actor in “Benghazi” and “Lady Godiva of Coventry”. In 1956, Neg had a cameo role in “Around the World in 80 Days”. In 1957, he starred in the film “The Kidnappers”, which was directed by his son Andrew.
At the end of his career, MacLagen appeared on television several times as a guest actor in the Westerns series “Have Guns, Let’s Travel” and “Raw Skin”. Episodes in which Victor was involved were also filmed by his son Andrew.
In 1958, he played two of his final roles: in the Italian film “Gli Italiani sono matti” and in the English painting “Sea Fury”.
Victor McLagen was married three times.
The first wife is Enida Lamonte, whose marriage was consummated in 1919. They had two sons: Andrew (born 1920), Walter (born 1921) and daughter Sheila. Andrew subsequently became a television and film director and gave Victor grandchildren Andrew, Mary and Josh, who also became producers and directors. Sheila’s daughter, Gwyneth Horder-Payton became television director. Enida Lamonte died in 1942 as a result of an unsuccessful fall from her horse.
Victor’s second wife became Suzanne Bruggemann. Their marriage lasted from 1943 to 1948. Victor’s third and final wife was Margaret Pumphrey. They married in 1948 and lived together until Victor’s death.
On November 7, 1959, Victor McLagen died as a result of a heart attack. His body was cremated and interred at Forest Lawn Glendale Memorial Park in the Garden of Remembrance, the Columbarium of Eternal Light.
In 1960, McLagen received a star on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood on Grape Street, 1735 for his contributions to the film industry.