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December 30 in Twilight Zone History: Celebrating the birth of actress Jeanette Nolan ('Jess-Belle')

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Steve Rubin
Dec 30, 2017

Today, December 30, This Day in Twilight Zone History celebrates the birth of actress Jeanette Nolan ("Jess-Belle"), born on this day in 1911.

This multidimensional character actress arrived in the Zone for two memorable episodes. In "The Hunt," she's Rachel Simpson, the loyal wife of backwoodsman Hyder Simpson (Arthur Hunnicutt), who one night goes off hunting with his dog and never returns.

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In "The Hunt," Arthur Hunnicutt (left) and Jeanette Nolan (right) play the Simpsons (no, not those Simpsons), a backwoods couple about to enter the backwoods of The Twilight Zone.

However, it was her turn in the Season 4 one-hour episode "Jess-Belle" that proved to be the meatier role: deliciously diabolical witch Granny Hart. Visited by love-starved Jess-Belle Stone (Anne Francis), Granny offers her a potion that will turn Billy Ben Turner (James Best) into her lover. However, Granny Hart's potions come with a terrible price – a price that Jess-Belle agrees to pay.

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Roles like the deliciously evil Granny Hart don't come very often, and Jeanette Nolan milked it for all is was worth in Earl Hamner's terrific one-hour episode "Jess-Belle."

Interestingly, on the night The Twilight Zone debuted in 1959, Nolan (1911-1998) co-starred in another debuting series – the western Hotel de Paree, which starred Earl Holliman ("Where Is Everybody?"). I always remember her as Nora Ericson, John Qualen's wife and fellow restaurateur in John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (she had a very credible Swedish accent).

So let’s raise a cup of witch's brew to Jeanette Nolan, and the fire and magic she brought to her Zone roles – and everything else she did – in a long career in Hollywood.

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