McIntire and Nolan: A Romance Wrought in Radio

A little thing today on a husband-wife acting couple, both of whom many screen fans probably know well without necessarily realizing they were a couple. And they were a couple for a LONG time. John McIntire (1907-1991, not to be confused with this guy) and Jeanette Nolan (1911-1998) tied the knot in 1935 and stayed together until the former’s passing: 56 years.

The pair both started out in radio. Nolan, an L.A. local, acted at Pasadena Playhouse and broke into radio in 1932 in a biographical drama about Omar Khayyam. McIntire was from Montana, hence his ubiquity in so many westerns over the decades, and Nolan’s presence in them as well. But he also had a terrific voice (I can conjure it in my mind from memory) so radio was a natural medium for him. I am amused at the photo above from their radio days; McIntire’s image at that time was light years away from the rugged outdoorsman he later came off as. McIntire’s first radio gig was Tarzan and the Diamond of Asher (1934), which fortuitously, is available to listen to online! It is available here.

At any rate, the pair worked in radio and live theatre through the rest of the ’30s and the ’40s as well. It is undoubtedly how Nolan came to know Orson Welles, who cast her as Lady MacBeth in his 1948 screen version of the Scottish play. That same year she played the wife of Lorenz Hart in the show biz bio-pic Words and Music. While he had previously done some film narration and announcer parts, McIntire also broke into films in ’48, appearing in six of them that year, starting with Calling Northside 777.

Way different from that radio guy, right?

McIntire’s nearly 150 screen credits include Francis, The Asphalt Jungle, Winchester ’73 (all 1950), Westward the Women (1951), The Far Country (1954), The Kentuckian (1955), The Spoilers (1955), The Tin Star (1957), Psycho, Elmer Gantry, Seven Ways from Sundown, Flaming Star (all 1960), Two Rode Together (1961, with Nolan), Summer and Smoke (1961), Rooster Cogburn (1975), Honky Tonk Man (1982) and the Disney pictures Herbie Rides Again (1974), The Rescuers (1977, with Nolan) and The Fox and The Hound (1981, also with Nolan), and scores of others. Some might remember him best as Ward Bond’s replacement on Wagon Train (1961-65) and Charles Bickford’s replacement (after Bickford replaced Lee J. Cobb) on The Virginian (1967-71, also with Nolan, who played his wife).

Nolan, who has over 200 credits, can be seen in movies such as Hangman’s Knot (1952), The Big Heat (1953), Tribute to a Bad Man (1956), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), Chamber of Horrors (1966), The Reluctant Astronaut (1967), Did You Hear The One About the Traveling Saleslady? (1968), The Manitou (1978), Avalanche (1978), and True Confessions (1981), among numerous others, including those mentioned above with McIntire. Like all screen actors of their industry and caliber, both McIntire and Nolan guested on all the top tv shows of the day. Nolan’s recurring appearances on Gunsmoke as a character named Dirty Sally resulted in an eponymous spin-off tv show starring her in 1974, co-starring Dack Rambo.

Nolan pulled out all the stops for the role, deglamorizing herself to the max, as the crazy, wild old frontier woman. (I’d be shocked Deadwood’s Robin Weigert didn’t at least partially base her characterization of Calamity Jane on it). The show was short-lived but it lasted long enough to provide guest starring opportunities for McIntire…and someone else! To wit:

Their son, Tim McIntire (b. 1944), also an actor. Tim appeared in such movies as Shenandoah (1965), The Sterile Cuckoo (1969) with Liza Minnelli, The Gumball Rally (1976), Robert Aldrich’s The Choirboys (1977), American Hot Wax (1978, as Alan Freed), Brubaker (1980), and Stand By Your Man (1981, as George Jones). Perhaps most historically significant, he was the original Meathead in the pilot to the show that became All in the Family, later replaced by Rob Reiner. And (an obscurity) he provided the voice of the dog in L.Q. Jones’ A Boy and His Dog (1975),and sang the theme song . Shout out to my old friend, Lawrence Mattis, still the only fan of that movie I have ever encountered (though I know there must be others out there.)

Sadly, Tim McIntire predeceased both his parents in 1986. Heart attack, age 41 (he was a heavy-ish dude). His older sister Holly (b. 1941) is still with us however. She dabbled a little in the family trade, but ended up becoming a highly respected art photographer. In 1969 she married poet Charles Wright, whose many honors include having been the former Poet Laureate of the United States.

Both John McIntire and Jeanette Nolan kept plugging ’til the bitter end, and they each ended on a respectable note. McIntire’s last credit was in the 1989 Tom Hanks comedy Turner and Hooch. Nolan’s last picture was Robert Redford’s The Horse Whisperer (1998).