‘Gunsmoke’: Glenn Strange Got His Acting Start in a John Wayne Movie

by Taylor Cunningham
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Gunsmoke’s Glenn Strange once had the privilege of playing a minor role next to Western’s greatest star, John Wayne.

Fans of Stange know him as Dodge City’s trusty classic TV bartender, Sam Noonan. The actor spent years working at the Long Branch Saloon after going through a round of different characters during the show’s earlier years. But once he started pouring stiff drinks in 1961, he stayed there for 12 years.

Sam ended up being the actor’s last role before his death in 1973. And by the time he passed away, he had etched his name in Western greatness. Nearly all of his roles were in the genre, including one alongside The Duke.

One of Glenn Strange’s first full-length films was John Wayne’s The Hurricane Express in 1932. At the time, both actors were relatively new to the screen. Wayne, who played the lead Larry Baker, was only 25. And Strange was 33.

While the movie was an impressive feat for Strange, he didn’t get a lot of screen time, however. The plot actually surrounded his murder. The actor played Jim, Larry’s father. While airline pilot Larry was trying to compete with the railway industry, a strange string of train accidents began happening. And a victim of one happened to be Jim.

After the death, Larry set out to end the bloodshed and unmask the villain responsible who went by the name “the wrecker.”

Unfortunately, playing that minor role with John Wayne didn’t end up helping Glenn Strange get his big break. After starring in the film, he held numerous uncredited parts. It wasn’t until later in his life that he began starring in TV and film as a named character.

In 1952, Strange earned a spot in Wagon’s West and a guest spot on Hopalong Cassidy. And from there, he had a relatively easy time keeping himself busy both acting and singing as a cowboy. Aside from Gunsmoke, some of his most famous works were The Rifleman, The Life And Legend of Wyatt Earp, and Annie Oakley.

After Playing Alongside John Wayne, Glenn Strange Famously Played Frankenstein

But he also had a major role in one movie that broke from the Western genre. Because of his brooding 6-foot 5-inch build, Universal pegged him as the perfect monster in its Frankenstein movies.

From 1944 to 1963, Strange played Frankenstein six different times. The actor began in House of Frankenstein and concluded his run as the green humanoid during The Adventure of the Spirit Miniseries, which highlighted a handful of cryptic creatures.

Along with his stature, the studio also dubbed him the perfect monster because of his resemblance to Boris Karloff, who played the original Frankenstein in 1931. In fact, the actors looked so similar that a picture of Strange actually appeared in Karloff’s obituary—because the newspapers couldn’t tell the difference between the two.

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