Happy Birthday, John McIntire!
Posted by Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. on Jun 27th 2021
In the mid-1930s, actor-announcer John Herrick McIntire—born in Spokane, Washington on this date in 1907—decided, along with his actress wife Jeanette Nolan, to retreat from show business and take up a simpler life in northwestern Montana (an area with which McIntire was most familiar, having been raised in Eureka, Montana as a boy) to benefit John’s health. The McIntires built a log cabin in the valley of the Yaak River (their 640-acre spread would soon come to be nicknamed “The Yaak”), many miles south of the Canadian border. It was an area so remote it had only been opened to homesteaders as late as 1914.
The McIntires were frequently snowed in from December to May, with temperatures often dipping to fifteen below zero…and John and Jeanette loved their existence, shooting deer & other game and pitching hay & hauling wood. Come the thaw, the couple collectively known as “the Lunt and Fontanne of radio” would travel to NYC to continue their radio work, earning enough to keep themselves on a firm financial footing so that they might quickly return to life on “the Yaak.” It was very therapeutic for John, plus it provided a touch of authenticity to his later film and television roles as one of the busiest and most durable of character actors (as we will soon see, McIntire appeared in more than a few Westerns).
After fifteen years’ worth of growing up in Montana, John McIntire’s parents moved the family to Santa Monica, California…where John attended high school and then the University of Southern California, majoring in speech and dramatics. While still a college student, McIntire got a job as a part-time announcer at Los Angeles’s KEJK, where at one time he functioned as the entire broadcasting staff for $25 a week. John dropped out of USC after two years and then spent an additional two years as a merchant seaman. Back on dry land, he returned in time to be the first announcer at KEJK to announce its switch in call letters to KMPC (now KSPN). John would use this experience to move up to network radio, where as a busy NBC employee he stood in front of a microphone and was heard on such programs as The Chase and Sanborn Hour (with Jimmy Durante), The Fleischmann Yeast Hour (Rudy Vallee), The Hall of Fame, Mary Pickford and Company, and Shell Chateau (Al Jolson).
John McIntire met future wife Jeanette Nolan while the two of them were working on the 1934 radio serial Tarzan and the Diamond of Asher. John served as the narrator, but Jeanette was convinced that he should be acting as well. They would marry in 1935 and work together again on another Tarzan serial the following year (Tarzan and the Fires of Tohr). While both McIntires enjoyed successful solo radio acting careers, they often worked in tandem on such programs as The Cavalcade of America, The Court of Missing Heirs, The Jack Pearl Show, The March of Time, and The Shadow.
Since ranching in Montana occupied John McIntire’s time six months out of the year, he really had to step it up where radio was concerned. He starred alongside Betty Garde in We, the Abbotts—a daytime drama that aired over CBS and NBC from 1940 to 1942. John was the master of ceremonies on Lincoln Highway (1940-42), an NBC dramatic anthology that offered the novelty of featuring top Hollywood and Broadway stars in high-quality productions airing in the daytime hours (rather than the traditional primetime slot). On the sitcom Meet Mr. Meek, McIntire portrayed the “sour and cynical” Mr. Apple, and he was one of the first actors to play Dr. Benjamin Ordway, the hero known as the Crime Doctor. John was also Jack Packard (briefly) on I Love a Mystery, the titular criminologist of the detective drama The Adventures of Bill Lance (a CBS West Coast series), Lt. Dundy on The Adventures of Sam Spade, and Hamlet Mantel on the daytime variety series Glamour Manor. In addition, McIntire handled the announcing chores on The Man Called X, Orson Welles’ Radio Almanac, and This is My Best.
To catalog the entire radio career of John McIntire would certainly be a Herculean task. A sample list of his accomplishments would include The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The CBS Radio Workshop, The Columbia Workshop, Dark Venture, Escape, Family Theatre, Favorite Story, Frontier Gentleman, Gunsmoke, The Hallmark Hall of Fame, Hallmark Playhouse, Hollywood Star Playhouse, Hopalong Cassidy, I Love Adventure, Let George Do It, The Line-Up, Luke Slaughter of Tombstone, The Lux Radio Theatre, My Friend Irma, Mystery Is My Hobby, On Stage, The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show, The Prudential Family Hour of Stars, The Railroad Hour, Richard Diamond, Private Detective, Screen Directors’ Playhouse, Suspense, This is Your FBI, The Whistler, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, Long after radio ceased to be the dominant entertainment medium, John made time for an old friend with appearances on The Sears Radio Theatre—the 1970s attempt to revive radio drama.
John McIntire’s motion picture debut was as narrator of the “Baptism of Fire” sequence in the 1940 feature The Ramparts We Watch, and you can also hear him as an announcer in the 1947 film The Hucksters. But his first credited role was in the 1948 film noir classic Call Northside 777, with James Stewart as a newspaper reporter attempting to prove a convicted killer’s innocence. Jimmy and John would cross cinematic paths an additional three times; most notably in Winchester ’73 (1950), with McIntire as a duplicitous gambler and gun trader, and The Far Country (1954), in which he locked horns with Stewart while playing a crooked judge. (Their last collaboration, 1961’s Two Rode Together, also featured wife Jeanette in a small role.)
John McIntire plays the police commissioner in The Asphalt Jungle (1950); a crusading D.A. in The Phoenix City Story (1955; one of my favorites); an ill-fated town doctor in The Tin Star (1957); a laconic sheriff in Psycho (1960); Elvis’ dad in Flaming Star (1960); and a cantankerous judge in Rooster Cogburn (1975). Other noteworthy films that feature McIntire include The Street with No Name (1948), Command Decision (1948), Shadow on the Wall (1950), Horizons West (1952), The Lawless Breed (1952), A Lion is in the Streets (1953), Stranger on Horseback (1955), Elmer Gantry (1960), and Summer and Smoke (1961). John and Jeanette occasionally worked together in features like Saddle Tramp (1950) and No Sad Songs For Me (1950), but one of their most delightful pairings was in 1984’s Cloak & Dagger (as the bad guys!). (The couple also voiced characters in the animated films The Rescuers  and The Fox and the Hound .)
Like many of his radio contemporaries, John McIntire transitioned to the small screen with guest roles on series like Father Knows Best and Cimarron City. In the fall of 1958, McIntire co-starred on the TV version of Naked City, portraying the role essayed by Barry Fitzgerald (Lt. Daniel Muldoon) in the 1948 film. But John was homesick for Montana and quit the series (in an admittedly fiery finish) in the episode “The Bumper” (replaced by Horace McMahon as Lt. Mike Parker). McIntire’s love for “The Yaak” almost kept him from accepting his next regular television assignment: replacing the late Ward Bond on the Western series Wagon Train. (John played wagon master Chris Hale from early 1961 until the show’s cancellation in May 1965.) McIntire also took over for Charles Bickford (who died in 1967) as the lead on The Virginian, playing the brother of Bickford’s character (and real-life wife Jeanette as his TV spouse) from 1967 to 1970. John made the guest star rounds on shows like The Fugitive and Bonanza and had one more regular role (on the short-lived Shirley in 1979-80) before his death in 1991 at the age of 83.
One of the many movie Westerns John McIntire appeared in was 1955’s The Kentuckian…and one of the highlights of that film is a musical number, Possum Up a Gum Tree, performed by John and co-stars Burt Lancaster, Diana Lynn, and Una Merkel. This catchy little ditty is available on the 2-CD set The Westerns: Music and Songs From Classic Westerns, which is available in our Radio Spirits store. We’ve also got plenty of our birthday celebrant’s appearances on radio in our inventory: The Bob Bailey Collection, Great Radio Science Fiction, Gunsmoke (The Hunter, The Round Up), Jack Benny: Be Our Guest, The Line Up: Witness, The Man Called X: Race Against Death, My Friend Irma: On Second Thought, Suspense (Black Curtain, Ties That Bind), and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (Expense Account Submitted, The Many Voices of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, Medium Rare Matters, Mysterious Matters, Wayward Matters).
You’ll also find the following collections featuring the talents of John McIntire in our Digital Downloads store: Christmas Radio Classics, Escape Essentials, Frontier Gentleman: Aces and Eights, Hopalong Cassidy: Out from the Bar-20, The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show: Explain the Beer, Richard Diamond: Mayhem is My Business, Suspense: Around the World, Suspense: Omnibus, and The Whistler: Eleventh Hour. Happy birthday, John!