Lloyd Nolan: Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk

It’s likely I first knew Lloyd Nolan (1902-85) as a pitch man for Poli-Grip. He was a codger then (the 1970s) but his was a trusted face. He had often played doctors, in such things as the original movie of Peyton Place (1957), on the TV series Julia (1968-71) and in the movie Earthquake (1974). By the time of his death he’d spent over a half century as an actor.

Nolan came into the world with a silver tongue depresser in his mouth. The son of a prosperous shoe manufacturer, he flunked out of Stanford and pursued his dream of acting. After some work with regional stock companies, he made it to Broadway by 1929, appearing in seven plays there through 1934. His first film was G Men (1935) with James Cagney. He moved back and forth between A and B pictures and was often cast as detectives during the ’30s and ’40s. Some of his better known pictures include Every Day’s a Holiday (1937) with Mae West, Wells Fargo (1937), St. Louis Blues, the Michael Shayne mystery series (1940-42), It Happened in Flatbush (1942), A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), The House on 92nd Street (1945), Lady in the Lake (1947), The Lemon Drop Kid (1951), A Hatful of Rain (1957), Peyton Place (1957), Ice Station Zebra (1967), Airplane (1970), Earthquake (1974), and Fire! (1977).

One of the best things about Nolan was his voice — it is not surprising to learn of his scores of credits in the radio medium between the 1930s and early 1950s, usually in suspense programs and fillers. Indeed, his voice was stronger than his appearance, which was somewhat ferret like, with his long nose and beady eyes, reminding one at various times of Zeppo Marx, or the two characters in Spy vs. Spy. It is no doubt for this reason that as he grew older, he was normally cast in supporting parts, with leads now eluding his grasp. One particular occasion must have frustrated him. Nolan had returned to Broadway in 1954 for one of his best roles, creating the part of Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutinity Court-Marial. The play ran a year, but when it came time to turn it into a movie Humphrey Bogart got the part. Nolan did get a big courtoom scene on celluoid though — his climactic speech in Peyton Place three years later. 

Naturally Nolan did a lot of TV work too. Prior to Julia he had starred in the short-lived Martin Kane (1951-52). Later he would appear on such things as McCloud, The FBI and McMillan and Wife. His last credit was Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), released posthumously.