John McIntire possessed the requisite grit, craggy features and crusty, steely-eyed countenance to make for one of television and film’s most durable supporting players of western settings. Born in Spokane, Washington in 1907 and the son of a lawyer, he grew up in Montana where he learned to raise and ride broncos on the family homestead. After two years at USC, he spent some time out at sea before turning his attentions to entertainment and the stage. As a radio announcer, he gained quite a following announcing on the “March of Time” broadcasts.
In the late 1940s, John migrated west and found a niche for himself in rugged oaters and crimers. Normally the politicians, ranchers and lawmen he portrayed could be counted on for their integrity, maturity and worldly wise, no-nonsense approach to life such as in Black Bart (1948), Down to the Sea in Ships (1949), The Asphalt Jungle (1950), Saddle Tramp (1950) and The World in His Arms (1952). However, director Anthony Mann tapped his versatility and gave him a few shadier, more interesting villains to play in two of his top-notch western films: Winchester ’73 (1950) and The Far Country (1954) and a kindhearted role in The Tin Star (1957). Television helped John gain an even stronger foothold in late 1950s Hollywood. Although his character was killed off on the Naked City (1958) program, he became a familiar face in two other classic western series. He won the role of Christopher Hale in 1961 after Wagon Train (1957) series’ star Ward Bond died, and then succeeded the late Charles Bickford in The Virginian (1962) in 1967 playing Bickford’s brother, Clay Grainger, for three years.
John’s deep, dusty, resonant voice was utilized often for narratives and documentaries. In the ensuing years, he and his longtime wife, actress Jeanette Nolan, became the Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee of the sagebrush set, appearing together as the quintessential frontier couple for decades and decades. They were married for 56 years until John’s death of emphysema in 1991. They both outlived their son, Tim McIntire, a strapping, imposing actor himself, who died in 1986 of heart problems.
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