The Early Days Of TV
During the ’50s and ’60s, television was still very new, and it was an exciting edition in many homes. People loved to watch their favorite characters. During this time, Westerns were very popular. Americans loved rugged, brave cowboys. This is why the series, The Rifleman, was such a huge success.
The show was set in a small town in New Mexico territory, and it focused around Lucas McCain, played by Chuck Conners. He was a rancher back in the 1870s and 1880s when ranching could be dangerous. His wife had died, and he was raising his son, Mark, on his own. Johnny Crawford played Mark. The show aired for five seasons, which was the longest that a show had been on the air at the time. Today, the older generation watches the show because of the nostalgia of watching The Rifleman during their childhood. If you were a fan as a kid or after seeing reruns as an adult, you might think that you know everything there is to know about the show. This is the insiders scoop of the hit TV series ‘The Rifleman’. These are all of the secrets about what happened on and off-screen. You will learn some pretty interesting secrets that you may not know.
There Was Almost a Different Actor Playing Lucas McCain
Lucas McCain was The Rifleman; however, he almost wasn’t. When Chuck Connors was offered the role, he turned it down at first. The producers weren’t offering him the salary he wanted, so they considered offering the role to John Anderson and James Whitmore. It wasn’t long before they realized that they wanted Chuck Connors for the role.
In 1957, Chuck starred in the Disney box office hit, Old Yeller. His acting impressed the producers. His great acting onscreen and his charisma made them see how talented he was. This wasn’t the only reason the producers were determined to get him to play the part. They really changed their minds when they saw how well he worked with children. When child actors, Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran, starred with Chuck, they realized that he got along great with kids. Because he would be playing a father on The Rifleman, they knew that he would be perfect for the part. The producers were determined to change Chuck’s mind.
Based on the backend information and the historical references in the show, it was set in the 1870s and the 1880s. The model gun that McCain carried in the show was a modified 1892 Winchester rifle with a large ring lever. This allowed him to spin the handgun expertly. Based on when the show was taking place, this model of rifle wasn’t made yet. This left gun and history buffs to be annoyed by the historical inaccuracy.
Gunsmoke almost took the storyline of the pilot of The Rifleman. Writer and direction, Sam Peckinpah wrote the script for the pilot for Gunsmoke three years earlier. The pilot was turned down, but not thrown out. Sam decided to change the script a bit, including the character’s lead name. He changed it from John McCain to Lucas McCain. He also created a son character for the show, and these changes became The Rifleman.
A Few More Tweaks
It took more than changing the names and the script a bit to put The Rifleman into production. Producer Arnold Laven wanted to add some emotional drama to the story, which is why Lucas McCain was a single parent and a widower. This turned out to be a smart decision. In June 2004, TV Guide created their list of “50 Greatest TV Dads Of All Time.” Lucas McCain ranked at number 32 for his strong, yet soft character.
To keep everyone happy and to create a strong fan base, the writers knew that they needed to have more on the show than just gunfights and action. They wanted to add some romance to the plot, and many actresses starred on the show as one of Lucas’ love interests. The list is very long, and some of the most memorable characters were Amanda Ames, Julie Adams, Patricia Blair, Patricia Barry, Katherine Bard, Ellen Corby, Sherry Jackson, and Joan Taylor. Of all Lucas’ love interests, the one that fans like the most was Joan Taylor.
The Show’s End
The producers and the network never gave a reason for canceling the show. Many people believed that it was because the actor who played the son on the show, Johnny Crawford, was getting older. He was no longer a cute little boy, which changed the dynamic. Others believe that a slight drop in ratings was the reason. When Johnny was asked why he thought the show was canceled, he says that he felt that the show was getting stale, and the scripts weren’t as good as they had been in the previous seasons. He believes that season one was the best. Johnny didn’t mind too much that the show had ended. After five years on the same show, playing the same character, she was ready to move onto something new.
The producers wanted to bring more female fans to the show, so they wanted to show that Lucas was capable of settling down. This was when they brought on the character, Milly Scott. She was written as a strong and independent woman who purchased the local general store with her inheritance. When the two got together onscreen, the fans loved it.
A Good Shot
Lucas McCain wasn’t your average Western gunslinger. On the show, his accuracy was 99.99 percent when shooting and hitting his target. The show isn’t meant to mimic real life, because most cowboys back then probably weren’t such good shots. Lucas could hit any target regardless of the hand that she was using. Even after swapping hands while shooting, he never missed his mark.
On the show, Lucas was seen smoking a cigarette just once. In real life, Chuck Connors was a very heavy smoker. On average, he would smoke 60 cigarettes a day, which equals to three packs. Back in the ’50s, smoking wasn’t viewed as negatively as it is today. Many people were surprised that the producers didn’t make Lucas a heavier smoker like the man who played the role. Sadly, Chuck Connors died at the age of 71 from lung cancer.
A Precious Prop
The rile that was used in the show is a valuable piece of Hollywood history. Arnold Laven, The Rifleman’s producer, said that Connors used the same famous rifle in the show that John Wayne used in the legendary film, Stagecoach. During the opening credits of the show, the gun is fired 12 times. It was said to be an 1892 .44-40 Winchester model rifle. Many people were confused by this claim.
On the show, Lucas McCain had a plainsman friend played by Michael Ansara. He only appeared in two episodes of the show, but his talent didn’t go unnoticed. Not long after he appeared on The Rifleman, he was given his own show. In 1956, he landed the lead in Law of the Plainsman.
Today, we see many types of families on TV. Back in the days of The Rifleman, most shows had a mother, a father, and children. Lucas McCain was a widower, and he was the first single parent on American television. This added a depth to the show that others during this time didn’t have. Sam Peckinpah created the scripts, and he managed to make the relationship between father and son realistic, interesting and touching.
Before Chuck landed the role of The Rifleman, Chuck Conners was an athlete. In 1946, he was a member of the first Boston Celtics basketball team. There, he made a name for himself. He was the first professional basketball player to shatter the backboard during a game. When he left basketball, he didn’t give up on sports. Growing up, he loved the Brooklyn Dodgers, and he made the team after leaving the Boston Celtics. Later, he went on to play first base for the Chicago Cubs in 1951. Then, he moved on to play for the Chicago Bears. When he landed the role on The Rifleman, he was a great shot thanks to his natural hand-eye coordination and his practice in sports.
Before Dennis Hopper starred in Easy Rider, he starred in the premiere episode of The Rifleman called The Sharpshooter. Later, he returned to the show for a small, unrelated role to his first. The episode was called Three Legged Terror and went unrecognized by fans. They didn’t remember him as being the man in the first episode. After showing what he could do onscreen, he was offered the roles of a motorcycle rider on Easy Rider.
Another Unrelated Role
Dennis Hopper wasn’t the only actor to star in two different episodes, playing two completely different characters. Paul Fix had the small role of Marshal Micah Torrance. He also starred in the episode, The Sharpshooter, as a doctor. Later, he landed a role in the pilot episode of Star Trek, titled, Where No Man Hs Bone Before. He played Dr. Mark Piper. He was later replaced by actor DeForest kelly. The way that the episodes were aired, Paul actually starred in episode three.
Sammy Davis Jr.
Sammy Davis Jr., the famous Rat Pack member, was extremely famous at the time, which led to him landing a role on The Rifleman. He played the nasty Tip Corey in one episode; then, he returned to play Wade Randall. The episodes that Sammy can be seen in are titled, Two Ounces of Tin, and The Most Amazing Man. It should come as no surprise that these were two of the highest-rated episodes.
More Single Dads
When Lucas being a single father, became such a popular show plot, other shows began to follow suit. The Bachelor Father, starring John Forsyth, was a single dad. Later, in the ’60 and ’70s, Diahann Carroll played a single parent in Julia. Then, The Brady Bunch starred a divorced woman meeting a widower, creating TVs first blended family. The relationship between father and son was such a success that other shows followed suit with this as well.
Drawing From Experience
The show’s creator actually grew up on a ranch. He understood the physical and mental strength required to live and work in nature with animals. When Sam Peckinpah was writing the script, he used his experience to create the characters and the stories. He left the show after the first season so that he could move on to film and writing the scripts for Straw Dogs and The Wild Bunch.
A Star Is Born
When Johnny Crawford landed the role of Lucas’ beloved son in The Rifleman, he was just 12-years-old. When the show ended, he became one of the original members of the Mouseketeers. Because of his age, he was cut after the first year. This didn’t end his career. Soon, he landed roles in Little Boy Lost and The Lone Ranger, among others. After this, the roles just kept on coming, and a star was born.
Johnny grew up and became a teen idol, like many ’50s television stars. He also had a great voice, which landed him a singing career. In the ’60s, five of his songs hit the 40. His most well-known song was Cindy’s Birthday. This song hit number 8 in the 1962 Billboards Hot 100 List. All of this was thanks to his role on The Rifleman.
Serving His Country
Johnny Crawford was ready to leave his celebrity behind when he enlisted in the United States Army. He was in the military for two years and reached the rank of sergeant. Thanks to his work on camera, he was able to help direct the Army’s training videos. After leaving the military, he landed a role as a soldier on an episode of Hawaii Five-O.