- Birth name:
- Lloyd Benedict Nolan
- Date of Birth:
- 27 September 1902 San Francisco, California, USA
- 5' 10½" (1.79 m)
It would no doubt be a real shock to most people that the rich baritone Bronx-like accent of great veteran character actor Lloyd Nolan was a product of San Francisco-not the urban swagger of New York City. Nolan was born in the City by the Bay to James Nolan, a successful shoe manufacturer from hard-working with Irish stock. Nolan caught the acting bug while at Santa Clara College - at the time, a junior college. He gained every bit of theatre experience he could, gaining his AA in the process. Though he continued on to Stanford, he was still focused on acting and soon flunked out from continued attention to acting opportunities rather than studies. Forsaking his father and the family shoe business, Nolan went to sea on a freighter, which soon burned, and then headed south to Hollywood.Nolan continued to hone his acting by first taking up residence at the Pasadena Playhouse (1927). With his father's passing he was able to sustain himself on a small inheritance. Continuing at PP and elsewhere in stock for two years, he then headed east to Broadway where he landed a role in a musical revue Cape Cod Follies in late 1929. He continued with two other similar roles through 1932 before breaking out with his acclaimed part as the less-than-wholesome small town dentist, Biff Grimes, in the original hit play One Sunday Afternoon (1933). He would stay on for two more plays until mid-1934 when he headed back back to Hollywood with heightened opportunities of success in the movies. His voice and that rock solid but somehow sympathetic face made Nolan an actor with whom the audience could immediately identify, and ahead was over 150 screen appearances. Nolan did not waste any time. He signed with Paramount and had five roles in 1935, getting the lead role in two and working with up-and-coming James Cagney and George Raft. In the next five years, Nolan was settling into his niche as solid and versatile in whatever he did. His genre was more B, but he was playing good guys and heavies with equal skill. The value on some B-level efforts were every bit as good as A-pictures. Everybody did at least a few B-pictures. Nolan was doing quality work, though efforts long-forgotten, as starring with A co-star Claire Trevor in King of Gamblers (1937) or as another king in King of Alcatraz (1938). He was a mainstay at Paramount until 1940, especially in competing with Warner Brothers in the popular gangster films. Unlike better known Cagney and Humphrey Bogart across town, Nolan's bad and not-so-bad guys often had more depth, and again, it was that face along with verve and voice to back it up that brought it out.Into the 1940s Nolan was moving around within the studio community, but he was taking on his more familiar, later character type as private detective, government man or police detective - hardboiled but understanding either way - and World War II action guy. In regard to the first, he landed the recurring role as Mike Shayne, private eye, for Twentieth Century Fox - there were seven films between 1940 and 1942. Nolan's very able comedic ability with running wisecracks relieved the business end of the always on top of things Shayne. But Nolan is best known during the period as one of the familiar faces of World War II drama. The first is, at least to this observer, the best, but probably least known - Manila Calling (1942). It was a part of Hollywood's concerted effort behind WWII morale with the subject matter of the Philippines, its conquest and liberation, as center stage in the War in the Pacific. Most films dealt with both retreat and return later in the war years; this 1942 film was perhaps the first to deal with the beginning and hope for the future. Nolan is the usual reliant, get-things-done professional here, ace communications technician trying to keep the radio airways open amid the onslaught of the Japanese invaders. Of all the flag-waving messages given in so many WWII films, none is as stirring as Nolan's, who by the way, gets the girl, Carole Landis. It is she who stays behind with him while the rest of the radio team escapes with bombs falling. Microphone in hand and in his best hardboiled monotone Nolan spits out: "Manila calling, Manila calling - and I ain't no Jap!" Significantly, Nolan appeared in several of the other films dealing with the struggle in the Pacific that are often mentioned.By 1950 Nolan was ready for television. Nearly half of his roles would tally on that side of the ledger. In these later years his film list would amount to aging character roles offered by the movie industry. But no one was more enthusiastic about the potential of TV. Of course, the initiation of TV marked the first major revival of sound film of the 1930s and 40s. All those Saturdays chock-filled with films, usually adventure, for the first generation of TV kids. They could be impressed with Nolan at their own level, as their parents had been, and could revisit that pleasure during weeknight TV viewings of 'old' movies. But TV was not looking in retrospect for Nolan but forward. He made a comprehensive circuit of the best in television history with a full list of playhouse productions, game and variety shows, and episodic TV, including his own shows: "Martin Kane, Private Eye" (1949) and "Special Agent 7" (1958).After having been away from Broadway for nearly twenty years, Nolan returned in early 1954 to originate the role of the paranoid Captain Queeg in the play The Caine Mutiny Court Martial. Critical acclaim would mark his phenomenal scenes of character deterioration with riveting realism. Nolan spent a year in the much-lauded role and then turned to TV to do it as a Ford Star Jubilee playhouse production in 1955. His list of TV roles kept him busy. It must have been fun at nearly sixty to play 'Bugs' Moran - a much younger man historically - on the popular "The Untouchables" (1959), along with five continuing episodes of the extremely popular "77 Sunset Strip" (1958), and other crime dramas beholding in some fashion to his body of movie work in the genre. In the 1970s, when cameo roles by older stars was becoming a popular means of luring people to the movies, Nolan was happy to oblige in box office hits like Ice Station Zebra (1968), Airport (1970), and Earthquake (1974). When the same urge befell episodic TV, Nolan was only too happy to be on hand. Most older actors - even those with good reputations - have a tendency to be a bit difficult, but Nolan was such a professional. His joy at still being able to work at the acting craft was profound - almost childlike in enthusiasm. He never complained or claimed special privilege.That was the measure of the man - what had been and what would continue to be. Unconventional in a natural sort of way was the norm for Nolan. Call it keeping to one's dignity. He kept no Hollywood secrets as was the fashion. He was very open about an autistic son. Into the 1980s and entering his 80s, Nolan still deftly handled a few final TV and screen roles, though his noted memory for lines continued to fade and cue cards became necessary. He was inspired in his final film role as retired actor, husband of showy, boozy has-been 'Maureen O'Sullivan', and three individualistic daughters in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986). It's a great role, and probably the most even and satisfying film effort of director Woody Allen.Nolan's last role was a "Murder, She Wrote" (1984) TV episode with old friend Angela Lansbury. He still had not revealed his final secret - he was dying with lung cancer - which by then revealed itself just the same. Ravaged as he was Lloyd Nolan with the help of his friends and well-wishers successfully wrapped his 156th professional acting performance before his passing. His was a life of quality commitment. Character and integrity - things increasingly rare in Hollywood - those were Lloyd Nolan, plain and simple.