He was born in Baltimore, Maryland to May Veronica and Frank Raymond Hagner on December 6, 1927. At the age of seven he started school at St. Pauls Catholics private school. Early in life he recognized that he possessed a strong aptitude in art. He certainly was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. But he was, undoubtedly, born with a drawing pencil and a paint brush in his hand. And, he has consistently used this rare talent throughout his life.
When he was about 12 years old, he, along with other kids his age attended the exciting Saturday matinee movies in their local theatre. This was the high spot of the week in the life of John Hagner and his pals. The Saturday afternoon matinees also meant the very entertaining serials - the thrilling cliff hangers from Republic, Universal and Columbia Studios.
Republic Studios seemed to have the best, John thought, as they kept you on the edge of your seat, with tingling excitement, episode after episode.
Even though John, outwardly, was like the other of his friends, actually, he was a little more discerning than they, for he recognized that what made these serials so exciting was the spectacular work of the stuntmen and stuntwomen. And he became familiar with the names of many of them.
The work of the stuntmen became an abiding interest with John Hagner.
After seeing some of the exhilerating work of these talented men, he and his buddies would try out some of the stunts they saw in the movies. He had two pals, especially, with almost as much enthusiasm for stunts as he, himself. They acquired some old automobile seats and with these strapped to their backs, the three of them would walk for miles to places like railroad trestles or high trees.
When such places were found, the automobile seat would be expertly placed on the ground at just the proper location, and they, from their high vantage point would jump and land on the springy auto seats. They did this over and over again, until finally exhausted, they would trudge home with the seats, once again, strapped onto their backs. John later realized that this was his first training in
doing ‘high falls.’
His interest in stuntmen was so compelling that when he was 14 years old, he had already began collecting all the articles, clippings, stills, photos and artifacts about the stunt profession and its members. That was the beginning of the enormous collection he has today - no doubt the largest of its kind in the World!
By the time John was 17 years old and his collection was rapidly growing, he knew he would soon be up for the draft. In 1945, he enlisted in the United States Navy. After boot training, he was assigned to the newly commissioned aircraft carrier, U.S.S. Philippine Sea (CV-47).
John’s assignment to the Philippine Sea brought him one of the most rewarding experiences of his life. For this aircraft carrier and its fleet of ships was to make its historic expedition to the South Pole with Admiral Richard E. Byrd. Not only that, but the Philippine Sea was the Admiral’s flagship. John was elated for he had followed the news of the Byrd Expeditions to the Antarctic with great interest.
So for 19,000 miles of sea voyage, John saw, had short conversations with, and lived on the same ship as the noted explorer. This was an experience that has
remained a high spot in the life of John Hagner.
On board the aircraft carrier, John’s post was that of assistant to the Chaplain. Since this was an assignment that required typing, and he didn’t know how to type, he set about with his own indomitable spirit, to learn the trade of a typist. For 72 hours, with practically no sleep, John practiced and taught himself the art of typing by the accepted ‘touch’ method. Of course, he got the job as Assistant to the Chaplain.
John also participated in the entertainment programs on board the Philippine Sea and that activity came naturally to him.
Since John was already an experienced collector, it was inevitable that he would collect what he could from this famous expedition. He had the ship’s log, newspapers printed on board, bulletins, letters from the Admiral and other memorabilia from this great experience.
John Hagner attempted to learn whatever he could about the South Pole in this once-in-a-lifetime visit there. Of course, he found that Antarctica is the home of the charming, human-like bird, the penguin, with their enthralling and captivating antics. Their numbers are so great that it is impossible to arrive at a fair estimate.
John was intrigued with this fascinating bird and upon arriving home, he started yet another collection ... that of penguin figurines. He now has, in every shape and size, many hundreds of them. He may have one of the largest penguin collections in existence.
One of the great benefits, in John’s opinion, was getting to know this continent, to some degree, which, so far, was an enigma to most of the World. This mysterious place of never-never land, although almost unbelievable, is, in truth, an enchanted continent lying at the bottom of the World. Both beautiful and sinister, a land of ever-lasting mystery, it is called Antarctica. It covers 6,000,000 square miles of ice locked and frozen earth. 95% of the World’s ice and snow is located here!
John Hagner, as a young sailor from Baltimore and as an artist, was most impressed with the beauty of Antarctica. It is a place of lofty mountain ranges, rugged and majestic, covered with intricate formations of ice crystals. The sun’s rays, glancing off these crystals causes them to sparkle like diamonds and bring jewel-like colors of glorious iridescent purples, greens, pinks and gold. They are then thrown up, promiscuously, against the distant horizon in an ever-changing panorama of rainbow colors.
Its grandeur is infinitely more impressive than our own Grand Canyon. Its immensity is so great that man feels like an insignificant speck in eternity. The Glory and the Power and the Majesty of nature has been created here that is incomparable with any other place on earth.
These are the things John saw when he was in Antarctica; the emotions he felt; and he was touched with the greatness that it was. This unforgettable experience is part of the life of John Hagner.
When John was honorably discharged from the United States Navy, and returned to Baltimore, three things happened, simultaneously. 1) John fell in love with his first love Eleanore Alther and they were married Nov. 3, 1947 in Ellicott City, Maryland. 2) He resumed his interest in the stunt profession. 3) He enrolled in the Maryland Institute of Art, to polish up his art talents.
John worked as a clerk and typist for various companies including Bethlehem Steele in Baltimore.
In 1955 John and Eleanore started their family when they adopted a little blond-hair blue-eyed boy they named Donald Carter Hagner.
John grew tired of this routine life and decided to move the family to California so he could pursue his life long dream of becoming a stuntman.
So in the spring of the following year they sold everything they owned and got on a greyhound bus for three days and headed west to West Los Angeles. They stayed in a motel for about a month while he was looking for jobs as an artist to get them by until he could get interviewed for upcoming stunt jobs.
In June of 1967 John and Eleanore finally got the call they had been waiting for, so they drove to downtown Los Angeles ready to pick up and meet their new baby girl. This little six pound bundle of joy was named Desiree Clarice Hagner. Now the family felt complete.
John continued getting stunt jobs and collecting memorabilia. His big dream was to work as a stuntman and open up a museum for the stuntmen.
It was with David Sharpe that he developed a strong friendship. David, doubling for Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. in the swashbuckling type of stunt work, was to John, the example of the highest type of stunts, which David performed with utmost grace and perfection. David Sharpe, not only became a warm friend of John’s, but he was also the inspiration that led John into stunt work, striving always for the perfection of his friend, and later into the development of the Hollywood Stuntmen’s Hall of Fame for the stunt profession. John had many long talks with David about the development of such a Hall of Fame.
John doubled for Gardner McKay in the television series called “Adventures in Paradise”. From then on, he appeared in one movie after another, including, “The Great Race,” “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” “Captain Newman, M.D.,” “Police Woman,” and others. He also appeared in TV movies and on regularly scheduled television programs. These included “Bus Stop,” “Felony Squad,” “Outer Limits,” “Hank,” “Batman,” “Steve Allen Tonight Show,” “Truth or Consequences,” and others. He has also done live-action appearances and commercials.
Although Hagner has much diversification in stunt work, his specialties remained High Falls and Fight Sequences. After several years in the stunt profession, he required two major operations, not connected with stunt work, and this took him out of the business for a time.
After recuperation, he did many portrait drawings of major personalities for the motion picture and TV studios, and for public relation firms of the stars. He also developed a clientele in commercial art and so was able to make a comfortable living from his art talents.
But his heart remained with the stunt profession and he, eventually, got back to it. During the course of the years his collection had grown from stills to weapons, costumes, saddles, stunt equipment, all of which had a modest evaluation of one-half million dollars. This was all literally pouring out of his ears, his house and his garage.
During this same time, he was realizing that the stunt field was the only segment of the motion picture industry not recognized or honored. John did not think this was right, since these talented people risked life and limb to make the stars look good. He resolved to do something about it.
Obstacles have never been much of a concern to John Hagner. Nor was it a major anxiety to set the wheels in motion and to undertake a job of such magnitude in order to correct such an obvious oversight. To Hagner, this was a job he had to do and he was confident that obstacles and road blocks would all fall away as progress was made.
He held a meeting of stuntmen, some stars and other personnel of the motion picture industry. He had his attorney present as well. Outlining his thoughts on establishing a Stuntmen’s Hall of Fame, his message was enthusiastically received. In a nutshell, the idea and the purpose of such a Hall of Fame was to honor the stunt profession and its members and to preserve history as any such establishment dedicates itself to. And that remains the overall purpose today.
All present at this meeting felt it was a great idea and offered their moral support. John was willing to use his own collection as a nucleus of a Stunt Museum.
In 1973, John Hagner incorporated the Hollywood Stuntmen’s Hall of Fame, and he became its President and Founder, and Chairman of the Board. In fact, it is impossible to imagine anyone else with the same dedication, talent as a historian, and with knowledge of the stunt profession, spending hours on end to develop this Hall of Fame.
The Hollywood Stuntmen’s Hall of Fame is the World’s only Hall of Fame dedicated to the Stunt profession.
In 1975, after obtaining the first building for the Hall of Fame in Palmdale, California, John felt it was time to start footprint ceremonies and to ‘footprint’ the stunt performers for posterity, thus further honoring them. And for public interest, also the footprints of the stars they doubled for and other entertainment personalities.
Invitations were sent out to a carefully selected list of personalities. 33 of them responded with acceptances. And these included Burt Reynolds, Lee Majors, Dale Robertson, Yvonne de Carlo, Anne Francis and many more. As time and other footprint ceremonies have been held, more prestigious personalities have been footprinted by the Hall of Fame. These included Darth Vader, Chariton Heston, Johnny Weissmuller, Buddy Hackett, Isabel Sanford, George Montgomery, Eddie Fisher, and many, many more. The Hall of Fame Museum now has 120 footprint blocks containing footprints, handprints and signatures of the World’s greatest entertainment figures; including many stunt performers, whose names, because of the very nature of their work, is mostly unknown to the public.
When John, with hammer, nails and a saw together with considerable sweat, constructed a false-front set at one side of the Hall of Fame building - simulated Western Street - he saw this as a perfect place in which to teach students the art and skill of stunt work, for the purpose of performing for the Hall of Fame. Stunts Galore Academy was established. John taught many students and they often did live stunt shows.
After the move to Mojave Airport where more of John’s art work was displayed in the museum, he was convinced that his portrait drawings of famous personalities should go into ‘Limited Edition.’ Registers were organized and each print sold was numbered, registered and signed by him.
Hagner, as an author, had a special niche of his own. His authoritive book, “Falling For Stars,” was one of the first books ever written on the stunt profession. Ready to go into its third printing, it is found today in the libraries of universities throughout the World. He also authored “The Greatest Stunts Ever,” a pictorial of the World’s most complicated stunts ... also a best seller.
Another quirk to John’s inventive mind was the creation of the character, CAPTAIN ACTION. Captain Action appears as a masked figure with a flying red cape. His entire costume embodies the patriotic colors of red, white, blue and gold trim. Captain Action is a mystery character who stands for good over evil. He is slanted toward children of all ages, and they are encouraged by him, to follow the law and parent obedience, respect for authority and for our country, and are taught by him to live good, clean lives.
John had a very complex personality. Everything in his mind was geared toward the success of the Hollywood Stuntmen’s Hall of Fame. He was a member of the Screen Actors Guild, and of the Academy of Motion Pictures.
In 1988, John Hagner moved the Hollywood Stuntmen’s Hall of Fame to Moab, Utah. Soon after his arrival and opening of the facilities, he met and married Dorothy (Holyoak) McBeth. At that time he added more members to his family, which now consisted of his son Don and wife JoAnne and their twin boys Aaron and Nate, daughter Desiree and husband Jeff with two children Chase and Lacey. Also step daughter Doricca and husband Curt and their three boys Christopher, Michael and Austin.
John stayed busy running the Stuntmen’s Hall of Fame and drawing and painting portraits of the celebrities. He had the opportunity of working in the movies that were being filmed here in Moab. In the movie Geronimo he played the part of a miner. John doubled John Ireland in the movie Sundown Vampires in Retreat. While movies were being filmed here in Moab many celebrities came to the museum to be foot printed and donated items to John to put on display.
As the years flew by John spent most of his mornings playing in the band “The Happy Notes” with Ginger Clark at the Grand Center. John looked forward to every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday playing his drums and singing while Ginger played the piano.
In May of 2016 John was invited to participate in the Utah Honor Flight and fly to Washington D. C. John was one of 48 veterans from Word War II and Operation High Jump to attend the war memorials and receive their very own Victory Medal.
In September of 2016 John received the horrible news that he had pancreatic cancer. He was a very strong and proud man and decided only immediate family members were to know. John privately fought this horrible disease with all the strength he had.
He worked in his last movie in December of last year at the ripe age of 90. The movie “Astro” was just released and is now playing in movie theaters. He was able to get his final wish, to be the oldest working stuntman. John passed away in his home on May 31, 2018.
John leaves behind brother Frank Hagner, wife Beverly, son Don and wife JoAnne, daughter Desiree and husband John Sexton, stepdaughter Doricca and husband Curt Brewer, grandsons Nate and wife Elsa, Aaron Hagner, Chase Sexton, Christopher Brewer and wife Maggie, Michael Brewer, Austin and fiance BreAnne, granddaughter Lacey Sexton, great granddaughters Avery and Devin Hagner, and great grandsons Easton and Rawling Brewer.
Funeral arrangements will be a Sunday, June 10 family-only gathering and viewing from 6 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. and a public viewing from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Spanish Valley Mortuary. A Monday, June 11 funeral at the LDS chapel on 400 North at 11 a.m. with a viewing at 10 a.m. Interment at Grand Valley Cemetery. Anyone wishing to make donations instead of sending flowers may do so to Grand County Hospice.