The Rifleman

Johnny Crawford and Chuck Connors

Lucas McCain:  Chuck Connors
Mark McCain:  Johnny Crawford
Micah Torrence:  Paul Fix

One of the better Westerns ever aired was the story of Lucas McCain, a widower in New Mexico Territory struggling to make ends meet while attempting to raise his young son Mark into manhood.  The nearby town of North Fork always seemed to be overrun with unsavory types, and the town marshal, Micah Torrence, always seemed to need McCain's help to maintain justice.  Micah was a dedicated, honest lawman, but he was a wee bit past his prime.  Since there seemed to be a large number of baddies to control, he counted on McCain's lightning speed, sound judgment, and strong sense of fair play to help keep peace.  McCain was always ready.  He never went anywhere without his trick rifle, and his expertise with it earned him the nickname of The Rifleman.  His rifle was a modified 44.40 Winchester with an enlarged trigger guard which cocked as he went into action.  He was so adept with it that he could fire six rounds in 4/10ths of a second.  He only needed to cock the rifle once, usually in a twirl, to fire twelve shots.  Naturally, as his reputation spread, other unsavory types rode into town to try their luck against him. It should be mentioned at this point that the opening sequence only showed McCain firing 11 shots, as one shot was eliminated and edited from the sequence.  Why?  Who knows.

Kevin Joseph "Chuck" Connors was a former professional athlete.  When the Boston Celtics came into being in 1946 and played their maiden home game on November 5 against the Chicago Stags, Chuck Connors became the first professional basketball player in the history of the sport to splinter the backboard.  He went on to a professional baseball career with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949, playing First Base for two seasons.  He stood six-feet, five-inches tall, and according to all who knew him, was a very friendly man with a quick grin and easy manner.  He did a number of guest-starring roles before landing the lead as Lucas McCain in The Rifleman, and he went on to a long and successful career in television and the movies.  He and his television son, Johnny Crawford, became close friends, a relationship which lasted for the rest of his life.

Johnny Crawford was one of the original Mouseketeers from the famous Walt Disney Mickey Mouse Club of 1955.  He was 9 years old when he became a Mouseketeer, and he went into The Rifleman in 1958 as Mark McCain.  Ironically, his older brother Bobby Crawford, starred in his own western, Laramie, at the same time.  The Rifleman launched Johnny's acting career, appearing in more than 250 television parts, 15 movies, and 12 plays.  He managed to acquire enough time to do the rodeo circuit for two years and cut a number of best-selling records, having 5 hit singles and 4 albums in the Top 40, which launched a second career.  Today, he has his own Los Angeles-based, 16-piece, 1920's style dance orchestra playing to sell-out crowds.

Chuck Connors died 10 November 1992.
Paul Fix died 14 October 1983.

(Text and photos by Sandy Sturdivant)

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