Glenn Strange: The Cowboy Who Played Frankenstein

Not Karloff

And now a tribute to a giant of a man, whose stance was so great it straddled two genres: Glenn Strange (1899-1973).

Classic horror fans know him as the man who was tapped to replace Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s Monster for the Universal horror films The House of Frankenstein (1944), The House of Dracula (1945) and the horror comedy Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). He also played monster type roles in other films like Flash Gordon (1936), The Mad Monster (1942), and the 1949 Bowery Boys comedy Master Minds.

Key to this casting was Strange’s six foot five height, which put him in a league with such tall men in the saddle as James Arness, Fess Parker, Clint Walker, and John Wayne. And like those hombres, Strange was primarily an actor in westerns, although he never attained their star status. His best known western role was undoubtedly his last one, that of Sam Noonan the bartender in Miss Kitty’s saloon on Gunsmoke opposite Arness, which he played from 1961 until his death. Before that came hundreds of western credits.

Born in New Mexico territory, Strange grew up in west Texas were his father was a bartender and later a rancher. In addition to the requisite cowboy skills, Strange learned to play fiddle and guitar and wound up with an outfit called the Arizona Wranglers that played on radio and brought him to Hollywood circa 1930. This was just at the time when minor studios were making western serials, often musical ones, and Strange can be seen in scores of these, supporting stars like a pre-Stagecoach John Wayne and Hopalong Cassidy. Usually he either performed with musicians in the pictures, or played one of the henchmen of the villain. In the TV era you could see him frequently on shows like The Lone Ranger, Death Valley Days, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, and The Rifleman before he got the Gunsmoke gig.

On occasion he worked in other genres too: in addition to those named he’s in the Red Skelton comedies Texas Carnival and A Southern Yankee (1948), Up Goes Maisie with Ann Sothern (1946) and A&C’s The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap (1947), among others.

But let’s face it, is there a better name for a horror star than “Strange”?