Born in Columbus Grove, Ohio, Jagger made his film debut in The Woman from Hell (1929) with Mary Astor. He became a successful character actor, without becoming a major star, and appeared in almost 100 films in a career that lasted until shortly before his death.
Jagger made his breakthrough to major roles in film with his portrayal of Brigham Young in Brigham Young (1940). According toGeorge D. Pyper, a technical consultant on the film who had personally known Brigham Young, said that Jagger not only resembled Young, he also spoke like him and had many of his mannerisms.
Jagger then played prominent roles in Western Union (1941), Sister Kenny (1946) and Raoul Walsh's Western neo-noir Pursued(1947).
He received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Twelve O'Clock High (1949). In the film he played the middle-aged adjutant Major Stovall, who acts as an advisor to the commander General Savage (Gregory Peck), and is tasked with writing letters to the next of kin of slain airmen. He appeared in the biblical epic The Robe (1953) as the weaver Justus of Cana, "whose words were like his work: simple, lasting, and strong," as Marcellus Gallio (Richard Burton) put it later in the film.
He was the retired general honored by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye in the musical White Christmas (1954) and a helpless sheriff in the iconic Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) directed by John Eliot Sturges.
For the 1956 British science-fiction film X the Unknown, there was controversy when the actor refused to work with director Joseph Losey on this film because Losey was on the Hollywood blacklist. Losey was removed from the project after a few days shooting and replaced with Leslie Norman.
Jagger portrayed the father of Elvis Presley in 1958's King Creole. He was the traveling manager for an evangelist played by Jean Simmons in the acclaimed 1960 drama Elmer Gantry, which won three Academy Awards.
In 1961 he portrayed Sala Post in Delmer Daves's film drama Parrish as a tobacco plantation owner in Connecticut. The film also starred Troy Donahue, Claudette Colbert, Karl Malden and Connie Stevens.
In 1969 Jagger played "The Highwayman" in John Huston's The Kremlin Letter. In 1971's Vanishing Point, the actor made a brief but memorable appearance as a prospector in the desert with a knack for handling rattlesnakes.
Jagger also achieved success in the television series Mr. Novak, receiving Emmy Award nominations for his role, in 1964 and 1965. He won a Daytime Emmy award for a guest appearance in the religious series This Is the Life. He did dozens of TV dramatic roles, including an episode of The Twilight Zone called "Static." In an early episode of the television series Kung Fu Jagger appeared as Caine's grandfather who wants little to do with him, but starts Caine on his series long search for his half brother Danny. One of Jagger's last television roles was a guest appearance on St. Elsewhere.
In later years, Jagger appeared in made-for-TV movie roles in The Glass House (1972, ABC) which also starred Alan Alda and Vic Morrow. The screenplay was partially based on a story by Truman Capote. Jagger played state prison Warden Auerbach.
In 1970 he performed memorably in Brotherhood Of The Bell, a made-for-TV movie with Glenn Ford. In 1973, he was in another TV movie, a pilot for a proposed series called "The Stranger," a science-fiction film starring Glenn Corbett as an astronaut stranded on an alien planet, with Jagger as a leader of a corrupt deceptive government known as "The Perfect Order". Lew Ayres and Cameron Mitchell also starred. None of the major U.S. networks picked it up as a weekly series.
Dean Jagger has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for his contribution to motion pictures, at 1523 Vine Street.
He dropped out of school several times before finally attending Wabash College. While at Wabash he was a member of Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. He worked as a teacher before studying acting at Chicago's Lyceum Art Conservatory. Before making his first movie "in 1929, Jagger had worked in stock, vaudeville and radio."
Jagger was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1972.
He died from heart disease in Santa Monica, California. He was 87, and was buried in the small town of Hughson, California, at Lakewood Memorial Park.