Historically Speaking: The life of George Glenn Strange

Kathie Bell
Special to the Globe
Glenn Strange with Gunsmoke actor Buck Taylor and the late Boot Hill Director George Henrichs.

As of Sept. 20, he’s been gone for 48 years, and many knew him as the barkeep in the Long Branch in Dodge City. But before tending bar on TV, he was best known as the Frankenstein monster in several early of Hollywood movies. George Glenn Strange was born to William Russell Strange and Sarah Eliza Byrd Strange on August 16, 1899 in Weed, New Mexico Territory, nearly 13 years before New Mexico was a state. Later he "George" dropped from his professional name.

He grew up as a true cowboy in Cross Cut, Texas. His father was a rancher and, coincidently, a bartender. After quitting school at the end of 8th grade, Glenn taught himself the fiddle and guitar, and began performing in his teenage years.

In the 1920's, he and a cousin, Taylor McPeters, known as Cactus Mack, toured throughout the country with the singing group the Arizona Wranglers. In addition to being an entertainer, Strange rode in rodeos for a while. He even had a short stint as a heavyweight boxer.

In the 1930's he sung for, and played as extras, in "B" western films. At a large 6 foot five, he was sought after by Universal to play hulking creatures in Frankenstein movies, all this time continuing his work in westerns.

It was his resemblance to Boris Karloff, who was afraid of being type-cast as the Frankenstein monster, that landed him that role. In fact, when Karloff died in 1969, a photograph of Strange's Frankenstein appeared mistakenly in Karloff's obituaries in newspapers.

When the demand for western movies faded in the 1950's, Strange made his way into television productions where he appeared in numerous westerns. In 1961, he began the small, but regular, role as Sam Noonan the bartender in Miss Kitty's Long Branch Saloon, Dodge City in the TV show, Gunsmoke.

In a way he followed the footsteps of his father who was a bartender in real-life back in Cross Cut. In at least one episode, Strange reprised his role as a fiddle player in some Dodge City social affairs. For 12 years, he held this role until shortly before his death from lung cancer on Sept. 20, 1973 in Los Angeles.

He is interred at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills Cemetery, Hollywood, Calif.

But Glenn Strange lives on in the hearts of people in Dodge City as Sam the Bartender.