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January 15, 1948
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
|Residence||San Fernando Valley, California, USA|
Nolan was born Bernard Girouard in Montreal, Canada, to parents of French and Irish descent. His family moved to Beverly in Essex County in northeastern Massachusetts, where he immediately started dance classes. His television debut was as Edward, Prince of Wales, the son of Henry VIII, on NBC's Hallmark Hall of Fame. The jug-eared lad often portrayed young boys with afflictions, such as a crippled youngster on an episode of CBS's My Friend Flicka or an asthmatic on NBC's Medic, the first television medical series. He appeared in two episodes of the NBC anthology series, Thriller: as a disturbed young boy in "Child's Play" and as a violently protective brother in "Parasite Mansion".
At the age of ten, Nolan was cast as Jody O'Connell in the NBC Western series Buckskin, which ran for thirty-nine episodes from July 3, 1958 to September 14, 1959. It started as a summer replacement series for The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford and was held over after a month's hiatus in October 1958. It was repeated in the summers of 1959 and 1965.
Sally Brophy played Jody's widowed mother, Annie O'Connell, who ran the boarding house in the fictitious town of Buckskin, Montana. Mike Road portrayed the marshal, Tom Sellers. The program was unique in that it was a nonviolent western seen from a child's perspective, with Tommy narrating each episode while sitting on his corral fence and playing his harmonica. The program focused on the interesting individuals who passed through Buckskin in the heyday of the Old West. The series was successful enough for a spin-off comic book with Nolan's character, and his autograph was sought at parades, conventions, and other public gatherings. Brophy and Nolan also appeared as a guest on The Ford Show.
After Buckskin (which continued in repeats on an irregular basis until 1965), Nolan appeared in other western series, such as CBS's Rawhide and Gunsmoke, ABC's The Rifleman and The Rebel, and NBC's Wagon Train and Riverboat (as young Tommy Jones in the 1959 episode, "The Boy from Pittsburgh"). He had a recurring role on CBS's Lassie as well.
Even before Buckskin, Nolan had unsuccessfully sought the lead role in Circus Boy but lost to Micky Dolenz, later of The Monkees. He was unable to find another regular series, and he ended the first half of his acting career with a small part in The Moonshine War (1970).
After Buckskin, the then 12-year-old Nolan summed up his situation accordingly:
They teach you to succeed, but you're unprepared for failure. You're led to expect fame, but no one tells you about the rejection waiting at the end of the trip. Something fantastic had been given to me, then taken away, leaving a big hollow place at the center of my twelve-year-old life.
- Warren, Alan (2004). This Is a Thriller: An Episode Guide, History and Analysis of the Classic 1960s Television Series. McFarland. p. 31. ISBN 9780786419692. Retrieved 22 November 2014.