‘Law & Order’: Long Before ‘SVU,’ Ellen Burstyn Starred in Westerns Like ‘Gunsmoke’ and ‘The Virginian’

by Joe Rutland
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While “Law & Order” franchise fans are familiar with actress Ellen Burstyn, she’s played in a number of other classic TV series.

Burstyn, who will reprise her role as Bernadette Stabler on “Law & Order: Organized Crime” this season, has credits for “Gunsmoke” and “The Virginian” to her name.

But there’s something interesting about Burstyn and her name involved with two of those appearances.

First, she played Kate Burden in a 1969 episode of “The Virginian,” which starred James Drury in the lead role. She went by the name Ellen McRae for that role.

‘Law & Order’ Franchise Guest Star Had Number of TV Credits To Her Name

Second, the “Law & Order” franchise guest star appeared in three “Gunsmoke” episodes nine years apart. She played Polly in the 1962 episode called “Polly” where, again, Burstyn was credited as Ellen McRae. Burstyn, now going by her last name, appeared in the two-part episode “Waste” as Amy Waters in 1971.

While we’re talking classic TV westerns, there were appearances on “Wagon Train” that starred Ward Bond in 1963. She played Margaret Whitlow in the episode “The Jim Wardlow Story.” Other TV westerns to her credit include “Cheyenne,” “Laramie,” and “The Big Valley.”

But her career definitely rose above TV shows as Burstyn broke through in the 1971 film “The Last Picture Show.” She received Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for her role in that movie. For Burstyn’s career, she has won two Emmys, one Tony, and one Oscar.

As for when Burstyn will appear as Bernadette, the “Law & Order: Organized Crime” show doesn’t plan on having her on until later in the season.

The “Law & Order” franchise, though, has benefitted from having Burstyn play Stabler’s mother.

Meloni Said He Went In-Depth For Role Between Shows

Meloni didn’t just sit around and idly waste time between leaving “SVU” and starring on “Organized Crime” for the “Law & Order” shows.

He played Dick Ford on the TV series “Pose,” where Meloni was the lover and fiance’ of Elektra.

“Pose” ran for three seasons between 2018-21. It was a drama series that focused on New York’s African American, Latinx LGBTQ, and gender nonconforming drag ball culture. The show’s characters are dancers and models working to get recognition.

Meloni was a huge fan of the show. “Now that was eye-opening,” Meloni said to Decider in 2019. “I really learned a lot about the people that inhabit that community. I’m good friends with Billy Porter, who’s one of the stars of it.

“I didn’t have scenes with him, but I got to see him do his thing,” Meloni said. “That was great. But truly, I’d talk to my co-stars and learn their histories, and…everyone should be exposed to it. It’s not a world that I would ever know about in personal, in-depth detail. It really was eye-opening.”

Outsider.com