Obituary: Jeanette Nolan

JEANETTE NOLAN was a versatile character actress whose 70-year career embraced stage, film, television and notably radio. For many years she was a stalwart of the airwaves, performing in comedy, drama, soap operas and documentaries and is generally considered one of the greatest of all radio actresses.

Her voice was later used by Disney in animation features. She was in countless television series, including two in which she starred opposite her husband John McIntyre, Wagon Train and The Virginian, and gave memorable screen portrayals in Orson Welles's Macbeth and Fritz Lang's study of urban corruption The Big Heat, in which she presented a chilling portrait of controlled malevolence.

Born in Los Angeles in 1911, she gained acting roles at the Pasadena Community Playhouse as a teenager, and moved into radio while still a student at Los Angeles City College. One of her earliest assignments, Omar Khayyam (1932), in which she was heard as one of the Hindu girls, was the first transcontinental broadcast from California, an event Nolan later described as "overwhelming". She became a regular member of the radio series Hollywood Hotel and soon her versatility, her range of accents and her flair for creating a rounded character through the medium of sound made her one of American radio's top character players.

In 1935 she married John McIntyre, who had also made his name on radio, notably as the narrator of the March of Time series, a programme of newsreel- style enactments of current events, in which Nolan played Eleanor Roosevelt, Queen Marie of Romania and the Duchess of Windsor. Other series in which she had regular roles included Young Doctor Malone (1939-40), Cavalcade of America (1940-41), in one episode of which she played Ann Rutledge to McIntyre's Abraham Lincoln, One Man's Family (1947-50) and Gunsmoke (1952-59), plus such prestigious series as Lux Theatre of the Air, Suspense and Dragnet. "Radio acting has nothing to do with looks," said Nolan. "It's all to do with imagination, and a deep creative germ that you are born with."

Another regular on The March of Time was Orson Welles, who used Nolan later on his own mystery show The Shadow and his anthology series, Campbell Playhouse and Mercury Theatre of the Air. When Welles was casting his screen version of Macbeth (1947) and was unable to secure Agnes Moorehead, his first choice for Lady Macbeth, he cast Nolan in her film debut, realising that his decision to have the whole piece acted in a Scottish burr would prove no problem for an actress with such a superb flair for dialects. Though Welles and Nolan are alleged to have had an affair at this time, Nolan's marriage to McIntyre remained a happy one, and the following year her son Tim was born.

Nolan played opposite Welles in a stage production of Macbeth at the Utah Festival in Salt Lake City prior to the filming, which was done in only 21 days. (On the film's release in 1948, the studio re-dubbed much of the dialogue when audiences complained that they could not understand the strong brogue.) Nolan's next film was a more commercial one, MGM's biography of the songwriting team Rodgers and Hart, Words and Music (1948), in which Nolan was the affectionate mother of the lyricist Hart (played by Mickey Rooney).

Nolan's subsequent films were to include a high number of westerns, including Saddle Tramp (1950), Hangman's Knot (1952), A Lawless Street (1955), Tribute to a Bad Man (1956), The Seventh Cavalry (1956) and The Guns of Fort Petticoat (1957), with the actress often seen as stoic frontierswomen, but her finest role was in The Big Heat (1953), Lang's uncompromising and searingly nihilistic film noir. Nolan is the outwardly grieving widow of a police officer who has killed himself because, she says, he had a terminal illness. She is in fact blackmailing the city crime boss for a fortune, by withholding an incriminating note written by her husband confessing his involvement in racketeering. Her eventual death at the hands of the gangster's moll Gloria Grahame is preceded by a memorable confrontation in which the icily cool widow, in her austere mansion, is told by Grahame that, beneath their mink coats, they are much the same.

Later films included two fine performances for John Ford: in Two Rode Together (1961), as the hysterical mother of a kidnapped child; and as a feisty frontierswoman in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). For Walt Disney, Nolan and her husband lent their voices to The Rescuers (1977) and The Fox and the Hound (1981).

After her television debut on a Four Star Playhouse drama in 1953, Nolan became as prolific on television as she had been on radio, with guest spots on such shows as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Perry Mason, I-Spy, Charlie's Angels, Hart to Hart, Golden Girls and Cagney and Lacey. Her first regular series was Hotel de Paree (1959-60). She was a member of the repertory company on The Richard Boone Show (1963-64) and from 1967 to 1970 she played the wife of her real-life husband in The Virginian. In 1974 she had her own series, Dirty Sally, a spin-off from the series Gunsmoke.

Nolan's son Tim McIntyre, a fine actor who was acclaimed for his superb portrayal of the disc jockey Alan Freed in American Hot Wax (1971), died of heart failure in 1986 after a battle with alcoholism. John McIntyre died in 1991, but Nolan continued to work and make public appearances.

I met her just four years ago at a radio convention in New Jersey where, with other survivors of radio's golden age, she re-enacted a vintage broadcast and reminisced warmly about her varied career. She still lived on the 640-acre ranch in Yaak, Montana, which she and her husband had bought many years ago, and recently she completed a role as Robert Redford's mother in The Horse Whisperer, which was filmed near her home.

Jeanette Nolan, actress: born Los Angeles, California 30 December 1911; married 1935 John McIntyre (died 1991; one son deceased); died Los Angeles 5 June 1998.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas