Yes, this guy is some exotic dude.
He was indeed an unlikely star, first in England and then in the U.S. Billed simply as Sabu he remains to this day one of the very few India-born actors ever to cross over to mainstream Hollywood success.
He died early — days after being declared completely healthy by his doctor in late 1963 he was felled by a heart attack at age 39 — but squeezed in a career comprising 23 movie credits over a 27-year period.
It all started when a 12-year-old orphan and elephant stable boy was discovered by a British production crew on location, and put into the title role of Alexander Korda’s Elephant Boy, a 1937 adaptation of a Rudyard Kipling short story about a local lad who knows his way around elephant herds, and dreams of becoming the hunter his father was.
Sabu’s debut turn was a smashing success, as was Elephant Boy, leading to a contract with Korda himself, and a trip to England as a ward of the state where Sabu was schooled and learned to speak the King’s English. Two more films for Korda — 1938’s Drums and then 1940’s Thief of Bagdad — confirmed Sabu’s abilities in front of the camera.
Hollywood took notice. A string of films, mostly for Universal, followed featuring Sabu as — what else? — an Indian. He may have been a bit too exotic for studio brass to think of him in other terms. In any case, it was during this period that he met and married actress Marilyn Cooper. It lasted 20 years and was Sabu’s only union, providing two children.
Ok, let’s get to our Sabu Quiz. As usual, questions today and answers tomorrow. Here we go:
1) Question: Which one of the following did Sabu NOT appear with onscreen? a) Maria Montez; b) Robert Mitchum; c) Gail Russell; or d) Jane Russell.
2) Question: Sabu refused to become an American citizen because he feared being drafted in World War II. a) True; or b) False.
3) Question: Perhaps Sabu’s most enduring movie costarred Deborah Kerr as an Anglican nun facing big hurdles in setting up a beachhead in the Himalayas. Can you name this picture? a) Rampage; b) The End of the River; c) A Tiger Walks; or d) Black Narcissus.
4) Question: What was Sabu’s real name? a) Sabu Dastagir; b) Selar Shaik Sabu; c) Sabu Francis; or d) Sabu Goldstein.
5) Question: For all his exotic notoriety, Sabu was grossly underpaid given his star stature, and never made much money in Hollywood. a) True; or b) False?