Hosted by Once Upon A Screen- Outspoken & Freckled & Paula’s Cinema Club
As these fabulous bloggers say -“They are eccentric. They are unusual. And they are BACK!”
Character actors are the grease that spins the wheels of cinematic & television memories. I am so thrilled to be participating in this Blogathon because there are a lot of unsung actors that deserve recognition. Though it was a tough decision, I decided to focus on the inimitable Jeanette Nolan!
Jeanette Nolan just kept popping up for me in film and television episodes until I couldn’t resist her often irascible charms, and quirky yet dignified demeanor. Okay okay, she’s played a truly bona fide hag at times. No one cackles and frets quite like a Jeanette Nolan crone.
The transformation… from Maiden to Crone! Perhaps the more genuine utterance of ‘Hag Cinema.’
But, don’t let that fool you into thinking that she didn’t have an incredible depth and range of characterizations filled with heart and a sharply honed instinct for creating an atmosphere that drew you into her orbit, even when she was on the periphery of the story.
I adore this woman and I’m so glad I get to share more than just a few of the memorable moments in Jeanette Nolan’s long career.
Jeanette Nolan’s career as a tireless character actor materialized on classic television in the late 1950s. Nolan was a beautiful woman with deep penetrating eyes whose features conjure a life that has shouldered a lot of memories. It’s not surprising that she began in the medium of radio, with a voice that sounds like it’s been steeped inside an aged cask of mulled wine.
Her acting journey extended well into the 1990s. And it was her versatility and at times deeply unconventional characterizations that created a legacy that would leave a lasting footprint on the radio, film, and television landscapes.
Nolan pursued her education at Abraham Lincoln High School, where she honed her skills and nurtured her passion for the arts. After graduating, she set her sights on Los Angeles City College with the intention of studying music and realizing her dream of becoming an opera singer.
Nolan’s illustrious acting career took off when she joined the Pasadena Playhouse in Pasadena, California. As a student at Los Angeles City College, she made her radio debut in 1932, starring in Omar Khayyam the first transcontinental broadcast from station KHJ.
Jeanette Nolan was born in 1911 in Los Angeles California, She began her acting career in the Pasadena Community Playhouse. She made her film debut as Lady Macbeth in Orson Welles’ 1948 film version of Macbeth.
Jeanette Nolan crossed paths with her future husband, actor John McIntire, during their involvement in a West Coast radio program in the 1930s.
McIntire, who served as the announcer for the show in which Jeanette was performing, received an insightful comment from her that would change the course of his career.
“Right then, I thought he should be acting as well as announcing.” – she said In her interview with Radio Life in 1945.
Jeanette expressed her belief that McIntire should delve into acting in addition to his announcing duties. Taking her advice to heart, McIntire soon found himself performing alongside his wife on notable programs such as The Cavalcade of America, The March of Time, and The Court of Missing Heirs.
Jeanette Nolan’s ambitions took an unexpected turn when she found herself becoming a member of the Pasadena Playhouse. However, earning very little during the bleak days of the Depression left her unable to pay for carfare on her meager salary working as a clerk at a local department store and she had to abandon college and part ways with the Playhouse.
At the suggestion of a friend, she explores the world of radio. High School friend True Boardman arranged for her to meet Cyril Armbrister and Nolan showcased her talent by performing a reading for him, and the very next day, the aspiring actress found work making more money.
Recalling this turning point in her life with Leonard Maltin, Nolan shared a delightful anecdote.
“I went to my boss and said, ‘I have to quit.’ She said, ‘What’s the matter?’ And I said, ‘Well, I have a job and it’s going to pay me $7.50.’ She said, ‘Listen, Sarah Bernhardt, you keep your job; if you get more work, we’ll let you go.’ It was just so darling, they kept me on.” Nolan continued to pursue her blossoming career in radio.
Jeanette Nolan embarked on her radio career with a memorable debut on station KHJ in the groundbreaking transcontinental broadcast of Omar Khayyam which marked the beginning of her journey in radio. Among the surviving radio serials, she lent her voice to Tarzan of the Apes and Tarzan and the Diamond of Asher, in which her husband John served as the narrator.
Over time, Nolan progressed to portraying significant roles on esteemed shows such as The March of Time. Additionally, she engaged in various projects, including Calling All Cars, Great Plays, The Jack Pearl Show, Radio Guild, The Shadow, and Young Dr. Malone.
Frequently collaborating with her husband, John McIntire, whom she married in 1935, the couple became a dynamic duo in the world of radio. Their frequent on-air performances earned them the endearing nickname the Lunt and Fontanne of radio.
By the 1940s Jeanette Nolan became one of radio’s most sought-after actresses. Playing the part of many great characters in serialized dramas.
Throughout her career, she graced numerous radio series, including notable appearances in Young Doctor Malone from 1939-1940, Cavalcade of America from 1940-1941, One Man’s Family as Nicolette Moore (1947-1950), and The Great Gildersleeve (1949-1952).
She also treads the radio boards for – Big Sister, Home of the Brace and Life Begins and a recurring role as Nicolette Moore on Carlton E. Morse’s One Man’s Family. Her existing radio broadcasts also include The Lux Radio Theatre, The Adventures of Sam Spade, The Clock, The Columbia Workshop, Crime Doctor with husbandJohn in the lead role, The Ford Theatre, Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood, I Love Adventure, Let George Do It, Manhattan at Midnight, Meet Mr. Meek, The Perfect Crime, The Railroad Hour, and The Upper Room. Jeanette was part of a very notable cast of actors who would appear on shows like Escape, Suspense, and The Whistler.
Despite her career diverging into movies and television, Jeanette Nolan remained dedicated to her roots in radio. She continued to actively participate in the medium, even during the 1970s, by involving herself in drama revivals such as “The Hollywood Radio Theatre” and “The Sears Radio Theatre.” Additionally, she played an active role in CART (California Artists Radio Theatre), showcasing her commitment to the art form and her ongoing passion for radio performances. Jeanette Nolan’s enduring connection to radio exemplifies her unwavering love and appreciation for the medium that initially propelled her career.
Jeanette Nolan’s contributions to Orson Welles’ radio programs, particularly This is My Best and The Shadow, played a crucial role in shaping her path toward the silver screen. Inspired by her talent and potential, Orson Welles successfully persuaded Republic Studios, primarily recognized for their B-Westerns and serials, to fund a remarkable motion picture endeavor. In 1948, they embarked on the production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, with Jeanette Nolan co-starring alongside Welles himself. The movie version got hammered by the critics but despite the unfavorable reviews received for both her performance and the film at the time, it marked her notable debut in the world of motion pictures, further cementing her versatility and skill as an actress.
Nolan as Lady Macbeth in Orson Welles’ production of Macbeth in 1948.
In 1949 Jeanette Nolan appeared in her first film noir, Abandoned directed by Joseph M. Newman.
She’s well known for her iconic role as the cold, cunning, and corrupt Bertha Duncan In Fritz Lang’s Outré violent film noir The Big Heat 1953, Nolan plays a widowed cop’s wife, Bertha who shows no emotion over her dead husband’s lifeless body and stashes the suicide letter to use in order to blackmail crime boss Alexander Scourby.
Gloria Grahame as gutsy Debbie Marsh has just plugged a hole in her ‘sister under the mink.’
As Bertha Duncan, Jeanette Nolan breathed a wickedness into the role that is reminiscent of her Lady Macbeth. Her portrayal brought a palpable sense of villainous allure to the character.
It also led to some treasured roles in movies like Words and Music in 1948 and No Sad Songs for Me in 1950. And she gave some standout performances in films that followed – particularly Westerns like her role as Harriet Purcell in The Secret of Convict Lake 1951 starring Glenn Ford, Gene Tierney, and Ethel Barrymore.
Her work in Westerns was not limited to television – Other films include, Hangman’s Knot in 1952, and in 1955 she appeared in A Lawless Street as Mrs. Dingo Brion. The film starred Randolph Scott. Amongst the other oaters to her credits are 7th Cavalry 1956, The Halliday Brand 1957, and The Guns of Fort Petticoat 1957. And as a departure from Westerns, she co-starred in the romantic musical April Love in 1957 starring Shirley Jones, Dolores Michaels, and Arthur O’Connell.
From A Lawless Street.
From April Love 1957.
Nolan made her foray into television in the 1950s but continued to work in radio showcasing how busy she was on shows like The Adventures of Christopher London, The CBS Radio Workshop, Father Knows Best, Fibber McGee & Molly, Frontier Gentleman, The General Electric Theatre, The Hallmark Hall of Fame, Hallmark Playhouse, Hollywood Star Theatre, Hopalong Cassidy, Jason and the Golden Fleece, The Lineup, The Man Called X, Mr. President, Night Beat, Pursuit, Richard Diamond, Private Detective, Screen Directors’ Playhouse, The Six Shooter, Tales of the Texas Rangers, This is Your FBI, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.
With an astonishing number of credits, Nolan’s television career encompassed an impressive repertoire of over three hundred appearances earning four Emmy nominations for her exceptional work on television. She appeared on 2 episodes of Mr. and Mrs. North in 1953, an episode of The Loretta Young Show, Big Town in 1955, and that same year in 2 episodes of You Are There.
This included the religious anthology series “Crossroads” and as Dr. Marion in the 1956 episode The Healer of Brian Keith’s CBS Cold War series, Crusader. She also made an appearance on Rod Cameron’s syndicated series, State Trooper. 3 episodes of Four Star Playhouse from 1953-1956. In 1957 she played Mrs. Blunt in the episode The Reformation of Calliope on The O. Henry Playhouse. Also that year she appeared on 2 episodes of The Joesph Cotton Show: On Trial. She also appeared on Climax! In 1957.
In 1957, she portrayed Ma Grilk in the episode titled Potato Road of the TV Western series Gunsmoke Nolan was cast as Emmy Zecker in the 1959 episode “Johnny Yuma” of the ABC Western series The Rebel, starring Nick Adams. Additionally, she appeared in two episodes of David Janssen’s crime drama, “Richard Diamond, Private Detective.”
In 1958 she plays Mrs. Austen in Rudolph Maté’s war drama The Deep Six starring Alan Ladd.
Continuing to have a prominent presence on television she appeared on dramatic shows like General Electric Theater and 3 episodes of Matinee Theatre that ran from 1956-1958. With guest appearances on tv’s popular police procedural Dragnet, The Lineup, Naked City, and The Restless Gun in 1958 & ’59.
Following that, she took on the role of Janet Picard in the episode Woman in the River of the ABC/Warner Brothers detective series Bourbon Street Beat in 1959 starring Andrew Duggan.
And 2 episodes for another television Western series Tales of Wells Fargo as Ma Dalton and Mrs. Borkman and Emmy Zecker in The Rebel starring Nick Adams.
She appeared in the role of Maggie Bowers In the Peter Gunn episode titled Love Me to Death in 1959. Moreover, while portraying the very staid and cagey Sadie Grimes who sets a trap for Robert Emhardt in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode titled The Right Kind of House, which first aired on March 9, 1958. She also appeared in another Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, Coming Home in 1961.
From 1959 to 1960, Nolan took on the role of Annette Deveraux, one of the co-owners of the hotel in the CBS Western series Hotel de Paree, alongside Earl Holliman and Judi Meredith.
With Judi Meredith in Hotel de Paree.
Jeanette Nolan, Earl Holliman, and Strother Martin in Hotel de Paree.
In 1960, she made an appearance in Richard Boone’s “Have Gun – Will Travel,” portraying a newly widowed sheriff, and then again in 1962 as a mother searching for her lost Eastern school girl. She would make 2 more appearances in the series.
Nolan’s presence was also notable on CBS’s Perry Mason, where she guest-starred in six episodes. Her portrayals included the role of Mrs. Kirby, the murderer, in the 1958 episode titled The Case of the Fugitive Nurse, Emma Benson, another murderer, in the 1960 episode titled The Case of the Nine Dolls, Mama Norden in The Case of the Hateful Hero, Martha Blair in the 1962 episode titled The Case of the Counterfeit Crank, Nellie, the title character and murderer, in the 1964 episode titled The Case of the Betrayed Bride, and defendant Emma Ritter in the 1965 episode titled The Case of the Fugitive Fraulein.
Because of Nolan’s distinctive voice, she would contribute her powers of articulation to the voice of sicko Norman Bate’s mother in Hitchcock’s Psycho in 1960, which also included voice work by another busy character actor Virginia Gregg.
Nolan actually provided the screams for Norman’s “mother” in Psycho (1960) Husband John played Sheriff Chambers.
In 1960 she appeared on screen as Ma Demara in the comedy/drama The Great Imposter by underrated director Robert Mulligan and starring Tony Curtis, Karl Malden, and Edmund O’Brien.
In the 1961 episode titled “The Good & The Bad” of CBS’s Bat Masterson, Nolan made a guest appearance as “Sister Mary Paul,” a nun who unknowingly harbors an injured killer. In 1962 she played Mrs. Brooks in the 87th Precinct episode Idol in the Dust. The show starred Robert Lansing who was married to Gena Rowlands, and co-starred Norman Fell as detectives who worked the rough streets of NYC. Also in 1962, she appeared in the medical drama Ben Casey, and the realist journalist series Saints and Sinners.
In an episode of Boris Karloff’s Thriller – Parasite Mansion, where she inhabits the role of a scraggly old crone in an over-the-top performance as the deranged old Granny who harbors a secret power of telekinesis that she wields over her terrorized women of the family. She also starred as yet another witch in the episode La Strega.
Granny to James Griffith – “Stirs your manhood doesn’t it Victor? That’s why you didn’t get rid of her in the swamp!”
Granny is terrorizing Pippa Scott in Parasite Mansion. ‘pretty baggage.’
On April 27, 1962, Nolan appeared in the episode A Book of Faces of another ABC crime drama, Target: The Corruptors!, featuring Stephen McNally and Robert Harland.
She guest-starred as Claire Farnham in the episode To Love Is to Live of the psychology-based drama The Eleventh Hour. Nolan played a fortune teller named Mme. Di Angelo in the 1963 episode The Black-Robed Ghost of the anthology series GE True, hosted by Jack Webb.
Jeanette Nolan graced various dramatic teleplays in the 1960s, including being a member of the repertory cast of The Richard Boone Show in 25 episodes In 1963. And appeared in the ABC drama series Going My Way starring Gene Kelly as the Roman Catholic priest in New York City.
She was featured in two of John Ford’s films during his later career, Two Rode Together 1961 and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance 1962 where she played Nora Ericson.
Next came ABC’s western series Wagon Train in which Nolan’s husband, John McIntire, portrayed the wagon master Chris Hale from 1961 to 1965. In 1963 she guest starred as Sister Therese in ABC’s WWII series Combat! episode Infant of Prague.
From 1963 to 1964, Nolan made three guest appearances on Dr. Kildare one in which she is obviously made up to look like another old gal. also appeared in a 1964 episode of the short-lived CBS political drama series Slattery’s People, starring Richard Crenna. Prior to that, she had shared the screen with Crenna and Walter Brennan in their sitcom, The Real McCoys.
Nolan flaunted her witches persona in two of Rod Serling’s anthology television series The Twilight Zone – Jess-Belle in 1963 starring Anne Francis and The Hunt in 1962.
And then In Rod Serling’s horror anthology series Night Gallery Nolan starred in the segment “Since Aunt Ada Came to Stay” opposite James Farentino and Michele Lee, where she portrays one of her more sinister crones in her arsenal of witches.
But in 1964, Jeanette Nolan brought back the icy dourness in her portrayal of nurse Mary Fitzgibbon in The Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode Triumph. She summons the wickedness of her earlier manifestation of Lady Macbeth, as the ‘woman behind the curtain’ directing her husband Ed Begley, a medical missionary to maintain his autonomy at their post when they are threatened by a visit from Brother John Sprague (Tom Simcox) and his sensual wife Lucy. Nolan is chilling as a woman whose paranoia drives her to bear her fangs.
In 1964, Nolan became a repertory cast member of the acclaimed but short-lived television anthology series The Richard Boone Show, appearing in 13 episodes. She also made guest appearances on Gunsmoke in 1964, portraying the character of Festus’ eccentric Aunt Thede.
In 1965 she starred as Aunt Sarah in the psycho-sexual thriller My Blood Runs Cold directed by William Conrad and featuring Troy Donahue as a very disturbed and delusional young man who is fixated on Joey Heatherton.
Jeanette Nolan appeared as a guest star on Gunsmoke more than any other character actress. It was her irresistible portrayal as the frontier outcast Sally Fergus in two episodes of Gunsmoke that led to a spin-off Dirty Sally that had a limited run in 1974.
The following year in 1965, Nolan played the treacherous Ma Burns in the episode The Golden Trail on NBC’s series Laredo which was a spin-off of The Virginian. Ma Burns comes off as a woman of refinement but her plot to hijack a gold shipment turns out to be thirty-six bottles of Tennessee whisky.
In 1966, she appeared in the film It’s the End of the Road, Stanley, and in 1967 she portrayed Vita Rose in Like One of the Family. And by the mid to late 60s, she had appeared in a variety of popular series including Perry Mason, Burke’s Law, I Spy, The Fugitive, My Three Sons, and The Invaders. In 1968, Nolan was cast in the episode of the NBC police drama Ironside – All in a Day’s Work where she played a grieving mother who loses her child during a robbery. That same year, she made an appearance on Hawaii Five-O.
She also has supporting roles in the horror film, Chamber of Horrors in 1966 and the zany Don Knotts vehicle The Reluctant Astronaut in 1967 and Did You Hear the One About the Traveling Saleslady? In 1968.
One of Jeanette Nolan’s most enduring television roles was on the long-running series “The Virginian,” where she shared the screen with her husband John McIntire. From 1967 to 1970, they assumed ownership of the Shiloh Ranch, portraying the characters Clay and Holly Granger. This significant role provided them with a consistent presence on the show, allowing them to captivate audiences with their performances and strengthen their on-screen chemistry. Their portrayal of Clay and Holly Granger left a lasting impression on “The Virginian” and contributed to the show’s success during their tenure.
Nolan guest-starred on the short-lived sitcom The Mothers-in-Law in two separate episodes during its final season. First, she portrayed Kaye Ballard’s grandmother, Gabriela Balotta, who had a habit of fainting when things didn’t go her way. Then, she would play Scottish nanny Annie MacTaggart.
It was the 1970s and she continued to make her presence known in popular dramas including Medical Center, Mannix, The Name of the Game, Marcus Welby M.D., Alias Smith and Jones, Longstreet, The F.B.I., Love, American Style. She was cast In two classic supernatural series -Circle of Fear 1972 episode The New House, and The Sixth Sense -Shadow in the Well.
In 1972 she appeared in the Made for TV movie Say Goodbye, Maggie Cole starring Susan Hayward. In 1973 it wouldn’t be typical if she didn’t appear on The Streets of San Francisco and in 1975 in an episode of Harry O, and as Mrs. Raye in Police Woman -Don’t Feed the Pigeons and an episode of Charlie’s Angels.
Nolan portrayed Mrs. Peck in the 1973 episode Double Shock of Peter Falk’s unsurpassed detective series Columbo. She is perfectly delicious as the tidy little spitfire who admonishes the sloppy detective in his rumpled raincoat who oblivious to decorum drops his cigar ashes on her newly waxed floor. “You must belong in some pigsty,” She spits out the words as she assaults him with white-gloved fury. Perhaps of all the murderers on the show, no one traumatizes Columbo more than Jeanette Nolan’s little ankle-biter. Starring Martin Landau playing twin murderers it still remains one of my favorite episodes of the show.
In 1974, she briefly starred with Dack Rambo in CBS’s Dirty Sally, which was the spinoff of Gunsmoke, where she had previously played the recurring guest role in three of the show’s episodes.
She would also have a significant part in Daniel Haller’s Made for TV movie The Desperate Miles in 1975 starring Tony Musante and Joanna Pettet. And the following year in another Made for TV movie as Essie Cargo in The New Daughters of Joshua Cabe.
In a much different role, Jeanette Nolan returned to Columbo as Kate O’Connell in The Conspirators in 1978.
The couple who were fluent in voice work collaborated together on two Disney features, The Rescuers in 1977 and The Widow Tweed in The Fox and the Hound in 1981. “But in my heart’s a memory. And there you’ll always be.” Widow Tweed
Like many Hollywood actresses, she would find herself cast in an embarrassing horror film The Manitou in 1978 based on Graham Masterton’s novel which did not translate well to the screen. Boasting a great cast including Ann Sothern, Susan Strasberg, Burgess Meredith, and Tony Curtis – director William Girdler’s film wound up being more of a trippy circus than a serious horror film in which Nolan’s Mrs. Winconis gets lost in the fog about a 500-year-old Indian Shaman who has hitched a ride on Strasberg’s back.
Also in 1978, she would be amongst the stellar cast of Corey Allen’s disaster movie Avalanche.
In 1981 she played the leading men’s mother Mrs. Spellacy in True Confessions Ulu Grosbard’s crime thriller True Confessions starring Robert De Niro and Robert Duvall who play brothers, one a cop and the other a priest centered around corruption and a Black Dahlia-like murder.
In the 1980s she appeared in episodes of Fantasy Island, T.J. Hooker, Matt Houston, Quincy M.E., Hotel, Trapper John M.D., Hell Town, St. Elsewhere, Night Court, Cagney & Lacey, Hunter and MacGyver.
In 1985, she played Alma Lindstrom, Rose Nylund’s adoptive mother, in the ninth episode of the first season of the popular NBC sitcom The Golden Girls.
Her final film appearance was in Robert Redford’s The Horse Whisperer in 1998, where she portrayed Tom Booker’s mother, Ellen.
After the passing of John McIntire in 1991, Jeanette Nolan continued her career, leaving an indelible mark before her own departure seven years later.
Before her death at age 86 due to a stroke on June 5th, 1998, her career encompassed so many varied roles, including Orson Welles’s Lady Macbeth in 1948. Her last performance was in Robert Redford’s film The Horse Whisperer, where she plays Tom Booker’s mother “Ellen.”
As you can now imagine, she brought to life some of the most interesting characters in more than 300 television shows.
Here’s Jeanette Nolan in one of Columbo’s memorable episodes ‘Double Shock’ as Mrs Peck keeps a very tidy house.
As the oddball Annie in Dr. Kildare’s The Hand that Hurts, The Hand that Heals 1964
Jeanette as Bernadine Spalding in Emergency! Weird Wednesday 1972
As Dirty Sally Fergus on Gunsmoke
As Mary Fitzgibbons in ‘Triumph’ The Alfred Hitchcock Hour 1964
As Edith Beggs in Coming Home Alfred Hitchcock Presents 1961
As Hallie in The Secret- Medical Center 1972
As Mrs Fleming in The Reluctant Astronaut 1967
Jeanette Nolan as Miss Havergill The Invaders
As Mrs Grimes in The Right Kind of House- Alfred Hitchcock Presents
As Naomi Kellin in ‘Ill Wind’ The Fugitive
Jeanette Nolan in Wagon Train- “The Janet Hale Story”
As Granny Harrad in Boris Karloff’s television anthology series Thriller- “Parasite Mansion’
Jeanette Nolan as Mrs Downey in Say Goodbye Maggie Cole Tv Movie 1972
As Bertha Duncan in 1953 film noir classic The Big Heat
As Granny Hart in Twilight Zone’s ‘Jess-Belle
As Lady Macbeth in Orson Welles’ Macbeth
As Mrs Tibbit in Marcus Welby MD “Epidemic”
As Mrs Waddle in Rod Serling’s Night Gallery episode “The Housekeeper”
As Mrs Fitzgibbons in The Alfred Hitchcock Hour “Triumph’
Jeanette Nolan in Rod Serling’s Night Gallery “Since Aunt Ada Came To Stay”
As Judge Millie Cox in The Streets of San Fransisco “The Runaways”
Jeanette Nolan as Granny Harrad in Boris Karloff’s Thriller ‘Parasite Mansion’
Jeanette Nolan as Emma ‘Martha’ Benson in Perry Mason’s The Case of the Nine Dolls
Jeanette Nolas as Mrs. Trotter in Alfred Hitchcock Presents The Morning After
As Edna Brackett in Quincy M.E. with husband John McIntire