For fans of the Western drama series Gunsmoke, actor Glenn Strange can be remembered as Sam Noonan, the bartender of the Long Branch Saloon on the show. The actor was first cast in the show in 1959, playing various characters before being cast as the famous bartender. Strange played the role of Sam Noonan from 1961 until shortly before his death in 1973. While his role in Gunsmoke was likely his most memorable, Strange had a successful career acting in other Western-themed TV shows and movies as well as productions that may surprise some people.
George Glenn Strange was born in Weed, New Mexico Territory in 1899, 13 years before New Mexico became a state. He grew up in Cross Cut, Texas, where his father, ironically, worked as a bartender and later as a rancher. Before Strange got into acting, he was something of a musician, learning how to play guitar and fiddle as a child. He began performing at cowboy dances in his pre-teen years, and he even made it onto the radio in El Paso, Texas. While Strange could have pursued music as a career, a trip with a singing group called the Arizona Wranglers brought him to Hollywood and acting became his goal.
One of Strange's first forays into motion pictures was playing a minor role in the John Wayne-led movie, The Hurricane Express. Many of his early roles were uncredited parts in various films such as The Gay Buckaroo, Flash Gordon, The Cherokee Strip and others. From there, he starred in the Western-themed Hopalong Cassidy film series, playing various roles from outlaw gang member, to sheriff, to antagonist. He also starred as villain Butch Cavendish who kills the Texas Rangers in the Western series, The Lone Ranger. In fact, much of Strange's early career was spent in Western television series' and movies. Other examples in his filmography include The Adventures of Kit Carson, The Cisco Kid, Judge Roy Bean, The Restless Gun, 26 Men and Frontier Doctor. Prior to his stint on Gunsmoke, Strange also starred in The Rifleman, The Life And Legend of Wyatt Earp, and Annie Oakley, among others.
Hailing from Texas, Strange seemed to have that Western "look" that fit perfectly in the Western productions in which he starred. Make-up artist Jack Pierce noticed that Strange also had another "look" -- one that would be perfect for the role of the Frankenstein monster. In 1942, Strange appeared in The Mad Monster, and it was after that movie that he was tapped to play Frankenstein's monster in Universal's House of Frankenstein (1944). Strange was personally coached for the role by the original Frankenstein actor, Boris Karloff. Strange played the monster yet again in House of Dracula (alongside Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man) and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (alongside Chaney and Bela Lugosi). He continued his career as movie monster in 1949's Master Minds.
It was after all these roles that Strange found his 12-year role as Sam Noonan on Gunsmoke, a part for which he was acutely prepared. For his personal life, Strange was married twice. He was first married to Oklahoma native Flora Hooper, with whom he had two children. He was married to his second wife, Minnie Thompson, up until his death, and they had one child together. Glenn Strange passed away in Los Angeles, California on September 20, 1973 from lung cancer. When Strange passed away, so too did his onscreen counterpart, Sam Noonan. Strange is buried at Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery.