Glenn Strange was only supposed to have a small part in Gunsmoke
He thought Gunsmoke would only be a day's work, but it turned into a steady gig that lasted him years.
Glenn Strange played the tough-looking, but friendly and easygoing bartender at the Long Branch Saloon in Gunsmoke's Dodge City. While his character, Sam Noonan, may not have been at the center of the action, he played an important part in making the stars happy.
For many seasons, Sam had been pouring drinks for the heroes and heavies of the series, although he didn't drink himself.
In a 1969 interview with The Mason Telegraph, Strange said he got the part of Sam after visiting the set of Gunsmoke with James Arness, who played the leading man on the series.
Strange asked the producer of Gunsmoke to give him a small role which eventually transformed itself into years of steady work.
"I thought it was only going to be a day's work," Strange said. "Now I'm starting my ninth year."
As the bartender of the series, Strange's schedule varied — much like a bartender's job in real life would. Sometimes he'd work one day, and other weeks he'd work all five, depending on how many scenes and how many drinks the patrons of Long Branch Saloon needed.
Despite having a semi-small role compared his other co-stars, Strange's character was well-loved among Gunsmoke fans. You either wanted to get drinks with Sam, or have drinks made by Sam.
Although small, his role led to fans recognizing him in public and stopping him for signatures. He said he liked being associated with the character and loved meeting fans of Gunsmoke.
"When people call me 'Sam' I never bother to correct them," Strange said. "I just say 'Howdy' right back to them and they never know the difference."
Although Strange may have been new to the acting world, he wasn't new to the Western lifestyle. According to a 1972 interview with The World-News, Strange said he grew up in the "wayback country" in New Mexico before moving to Texas.
His father even ran a saloon of his own in New Mexico. He grew up watching his dad work hard making drinks for customers who shared qualities that were close the characters he was serving up on Gunsmoke.
"My dad bought a little saloon in Weed (New Mexico), but I don't imagine he served mixed drinks anymore than my character does at the Long Branch Saloon," Strange said. "They mostly drank it straight in those days. I remember dad kept a jug on the mantle and had a shot every morning."
Some would say it was a "Strange" coincidence that he became a fictional bartender to the men and women of the Old West. His past helped prepare him, and he knew exactly what kind of drink a true Western hero would want.