Sabu Dastagir

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Sabu actor.jpg
in the trailer for Cobra Woman (1944)
Born Sabu Dastagir
(1924-01-27)27 January 1924
Karapur, Mysore,
Kingdom of Mysore,
British India
Died 2 December 1963(1963-12-02) (aged 39)
Chatsworth, Los Angeles,
California, United States
Cause of death Heart attack
Other names Selar Shaik Sabu
Occupation Actor
Years active 1937–1963
Spouse(s) Marilyn Cooper (1948–1963) (his death) 2 children
Children Paul Sabu, Jasmine Sabu

Sabu Dastagir (27 January 1924 – 2 December 1963) was an Indian film actor 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.[2][3][4][5]

Early life

Born in 1924 in Karapur, Mysore, Kingdom of Mysore, then a Princely State of British India, and raised as a Muslim,[1] Sabu was the son of an Indian mahout (elephant rider). 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.[6] 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.[7] 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 Maria Montez and Jon Hall 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.[8]

His career declined after World War II as he was unable to secure equivalent roles in Hollywood that British films had offered. 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.[9]

His last completed film, A Tiger Walks, was released in March 1964, three months after his death.

Personal life

On 19 October 1948, Sabu married little-known actress Marilyn Cooper, (whose only movie part, as Princess Tara in Song of India in 1949, was not credited), with whom he had two children. Their marriage lasted until his death.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]


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 features a character called Sabu, based on the real Sabu, as one of Roger De Bris' entourage.
  • In The Odd Couple Season 5 Episode 3, Felix Unger says to Oscar Madison (referring to his son's frog, as Oscar lost it in their apartment, Oscar quips "It's just a frog") "That's like saying Sabu is just an actor".

In the film Caddyshack Rodney Dangerfield asks bartender Scott Colomby "Hey, Sabu do you know how to make a bull shot?".


Sabu in Hello Elephant (1952)
Year Title Role
1937 Elephant Boy Toomai
1938 The Drum Prince Azim
1940 The Thief of Bagdad Abu
1942 Jungle Book Mowgli
Arabian Nights Ali Ben Ali
1943 White Savage Orano
1944 Cobra Woman Kado
1946 Tangier Pepe
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
1952 Bagdad
Hello Elephant Sultan of Nagore
1954 The Treasure of Bengal Ainur
1956 The Black Panther Sabu the Jungle Boy
Jungle Hell Sabu the Jungle Boy
Jaguar Juano
1957 Sabu and the Magic Ring Sabu, the stable boy
1960 Mistress of the World Dr. Lin-Chor
1963 Rampage Talib
1964 A Tiger Walks Ram Singh



  1. 1.0 1.1 "Quit India": The Image of the Indian Patriot on Commercial British Film and Television, 1956-1985, by Dror Izhar page 12.
  2. Meet Sabu, Mysore's elephant boy - Times Of India
  3. Remembering Sabu, the mahout from Mysore - Times Of India
  4. Sabu (I) - Biography
  5. BFI Screenonline: Sabu (1924-1963) Biography
  6. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Black Narcissus (The Criterion Collection) (2001) DVD commentary". Criterion. Retrieved 27 October 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "People:Reservations". TIME, 19 March 1945.
  9. Sabu, Philip Leibfried, Films in Review, October 1989


  • Leibfried, Philip. Star of India: The Life and Films of Sabu. Oklahoma; BearManor Media, 2010.

External links