Jeanette Nolan was far more like her Gunsmoke character Dirty Sally than a Hollywood star

The actress lived in the mountains without electricity or plumbing, alongside her husband from Wagon Train.

Read to Me

Gunsmoke aired for two decades but spawned just one spin-off. Several characters were worthy of their own series. Imagine Dr. Galen Adams, Frontier Medicine or The Haggens or Quint.

But, no, the lone television child of Gunsmoke was Dirty Sally, a 1974 Western about a haggard, cantankerous woman traveling to California with a mule named Worthless and a spirited young man. The Sally character had been introduced in the Gunsmoke episode "Pike," played by Hollywood veteran Jeanette Nolan.

The two-part "Pike" proved to be one of the more beloved latter episodes of Gunsmoke, earning a Western Heritage Award for Fictional Television Drama, a "Bronze Wrangler," the sort of cowboy equivalent to an Oscar. Despite the strong foundation and acting pedigree, Dirty Sally lasted one short season.

After starting in radio, Nolan made her film debut in Orson Welles' 1948 adaptation of Macbeth. The scheming Lady Macbeth was a far cry from Dirty Sally. Yet, the personality of fictional Sally fell much closer to Nolan's true spirit than Shakespeare and red carpet premieres.

"I feel very close to [Sally]," Nolan admitted to the papers when Dirty Sally was in production. "She's the embodiment of the old American spirit of individuality — and I've always been an individual."

Indeed she was. While raised in a big coastal city — her father was a union official in Los Angeles — Nolan possessed a mind for history and the open plain. In her youth, she was obsessed with old Russia. The first money she earned from acting immediately went towards the purchase of a furry Cossack hat. 

"I was a hippie before hippies were invented," Nolan once joked to a journalist in 1973. 

Nothing quite exemplifies Nolan's proximity to Dirty Sally quite like her home life. Did you know she was married to a star from Wagon Train? Nolan wed John McIntire in 1935, a quarter-century before he took the role of wagon train leader Christopher Hale, following the deal of Ward Bond.

The two lovers were true pioneers — in the literal sense. After tying the knot, the couple looked to move away from city life. They settled on Montana, where McIntire had some roots. The husband and wife found a log cabin nearby the Yaak River. They had no electricity and, for at least three decades, no plumbing. They fished, hunted, and farmed on their 640 acres for their food. Certainly, playing 19th-century pioneers was no stretch.

No wonder that McIntire appeared in the premiere episode of Dirty Sally. Nolan remained his wife until his death in 1991. She passed seven years later. 

When you see Sally stealing scenes on Gunsmoke, know that Nolan was the perfect performer for this brief, beloved character.

Watch Gunsmoke on MeTV!

Monday - Saturday at 1 PM & 1:30 PM

*available in most MeTV markets
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Post a comment
Pacificsun 1 month ago
If you really want to see Jeanette Nolan is something unique, MFU's The Gazebo in the Maze Affair with George Sanders! Ms. Nolan at her best.
TheDavBow3 1 month ago
I remember Dirty Sally. I believe she had a mule she named "Worthless". My grandmother was named Sally and I remember she didn't particularly like the "Dirty Sally" episodes 😊
Tresix 1 month ago
She’s among that rare group of actors who appeared on both “The Twilight Zone” and “Night Gallery”. She was in the “TZ” episodes “The Hunt” and “Jess-Belle” and on “NG” in “Since Aunt Ada Came to Stay with Us” and “The Housekeeper”.
F5Twitster 1 month ago
"Nolan wed John McIntire in 1935, a quarter-century before he took the role of wagon train leader Christopher Hale, following the deal of Ward Bond."

That's the DEATH of Ward Bond.
DanielZabo F5Twitster 1 month ago
Yes I read/saw that too. But I only chalked it up to an honest typos or mistake.
HeleneNeiman 1 month ago
She was the greatest actress EVER ! Sometimes I didn't recognize her, as she looked and sounded so different from one role to the next. People worship Robert Deniro because he gained some weight for one role....but Jeanette Nolan did more than that....she completely transformed herself for each and every role. If you 're not familiar with her, keep an eye out when you watch old TV Shows on Cable'll see what I mean .
1 month ago
She was such a versatile actress!
tootsieg 1 month ago
Very nice article. Like Jeanette Nolan said John McIntire and Jeanette Nolan were hippies before hippies. Living off the land and doing their own thing long before it was fashionable. A true love story.
David 1 month ago
I always thought she was a lovely woman who seemed to have no vanity about her appearance, cheerfully taking on roles where she was obliged to be dowdy and frumpy.
Pdls 1 month ago
I never saw her young. Wow, she was lovely! I mostly recall her from "The Virginian". What an interesting life she had, and married to the same man for over half a century.
DanielZabo Pdls 1 month ago
Yes she was a real “dame” using those 1930’s/40’s lingo. lol
justjeff 1 month ago
Jeanette Nolan did a number of Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes, and in her radio days did a brief stint as Margo Lane, the ever-faithful companion to Lamont Cranston - The Shadow...
justjeff 1 month ago
I haven't called out a MeTV typo in quite a while, preferring to let things be, but... " following the deal of Ward Bond"???? The *deal* was that Ward Bond DIED!

By the way, John McIntyre wanted out of the original half-hour "The Naked City" with James Franciscus [which was filmed on location in New York City] so he could return to the Midwest... and about midway through the show they killed off his character. Horace McMahon was his replacement as Lt. Parker, and he carried over into the revamped hour-long "Naked City" co-starring Paul Burke and Harry Bellaver as Detective Arcaro (who also appeared in the original version).
MrsPhilHarris 1 month ago
I know it is what it is, but aging is cruel.
birddog MrsPhilHarris 1 month ago
Yes it is :((
bukhrn 1 month ago
Imagine that, not only a great actress, but a Real person from Hollywood.
denny 1 month ago
Her son Tim McIntire and John Rubinstein, the actor who played on Crazy Like a Fox wrote the theme to Jeremiah Johnson. McIntire sang the theme to Jeremiah Johnson.
Wiener 1 month ago
My favorite character of Jeanette nolan on gunsmoke was Aunt Thede. Festus's aunt. She made more gunsmoke appearances than any other woman. Her son with Mcintire, actor Tim Mcintire
Andybandit 1 month ago
Interesting story, I only on Gunsmoke. I didn't know she was married to Chris from Wagon Train. I wouldn't want to live without electricity or plumbing. She was a pretty lady.
texasluva 1 month ago
Never heard of the series Dirty Sally but the term I have. Looking it up and having only 14 episodes and 4 reviews I never have seen it shown on TV. Also never knew Jeanette was married to John McIntire. Must have been a hoot and a holler. You can learn something new on MeTV most days.
moax429 texasluva 1 month ago
I remember "Dirty Sally" *very* well; I was 12 at that time. CBS made the big mistake of putting it on Friday nights at 8:00 P.M. against "Sanford and Son" (Yeccch!!!!) on NBC, thus ensuring a quick death for "Sally."

I also remember recording the soundtracks of the final and then the first episodes of "Dirty Sally" on my tape recorder when they were first shown. Shame I didn't save the tape. (Even worse is that VCR's were still in the planning stages in early 1974.)

I hope CBS/Paramount either includes some episodes of "Dirty Sally" as extras on the DVD box set of "Gunsmoke" when they reach that point in the series, or - better yet - release *all 14* episodes of "Dirty Sally" in a DVD box set of its own. I would buy it in two minutes flat!
texasluva moax429 1 month ago
I am not sure who carries Dirty Sally TV series. I do not see it at IA (Internet Archives), Youtube or Amazon. Hula talks about it but not streaming at this time. Of course you can get the Gunsmoke episodes (probably have to buy at least one year or more). Usually a series that last 14 episodes back then are lost and forgotten. On YT you can get small smidgens of talks and scenes. Maybe some station might have it and show but again its a short series and there are 1000's of others through the years that more people tend to watch. If I happen to run into it during my search of IA I will surely let you know.
moax429 texasluva 1 month ago
CBS Media Ventures *still has* all 14 episodes of "Dirty Sally" - which was recorded on *film,* not videotape - in their archives somewhere, so I doubt the show is "lost."

But thanks. If you see anything of "Dirty Sally" (the series) again, *please do* let me know!
birddog 1 month ago
Yeah! they sure don't make um like they used to. She was a true Diamond in the Ruff. Dirty Sally one of a kind, especially when she got her choppers!! Steak on the table tonight:))
denny birddog 1 month ago
A set of choppers makes a big difference in appearance. Seen Nolan in roles and looked so much different. Also when Micah on The Rifleman plays a double role, one has no teeth and a different look altogether.
birddog denny 1 month ago
Yeah it sure does!! Makes talking a whole lot easier toooo RR
TonyClifton 1 month ago
I still get tears in my eyes when I remember the scene where Worthless was stuck in the mud and sure to die, and Dirty Sally stood they're crying, "Worthless!" My young heart broke, and it still breaks today when I recall that scene. She was an amazing actress.
audie65 1 month ago
I actually remember that show from its one season run. I was 9. I liked the show. She talked to her mule like it was a person. Like mad Jack did to number 7 on grizzly adams. I had no idea she was Jeanrtre Nolan of old radio and movie fame. She is all over the old time radio shows!
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?