1 9 5 8 – 1 9 6 3 (USA)
169 x 30 minute episodes
The late Chuck Connors starred as 6′ 6″ widowed homestead rancher and father Lucas McCain in this ABC series, which ran from September 1958 to 1963.
McCain could fire a round with his specially modified .44 Winchester rifle in 3/10ths of a second.
That and his resolve enabled him to help the local Marshal maintain order while raising his 12-year-old son Mark on the Dunlap Ranch near North Fork, New Mexico.
Lucas was provided with a little romantic interest, first with shopkeeper Milly Scott and then with Lou Mallory, the ambitious proprietress of the Mallory House Hotel.
Other townsfolk included Eddie Holstead, owner of the Madera House Hotel, shopkeeper Hattie Denton, and Sweeney, the bartender at the Last Chance Saloon.
When director Sam Peckinpah first penned the pilot for The Rifleman, he actually intended it to appear in the popular Western Gunsmoke instead.
But although the script had been rejected for that particular show, three years later it finally went into production for The Rifleman. There were a few tweaks, however: some names were changed around, the character of Mark was added and the backstory was altered a little, too.
The rifle of the title had a few modifications for showbiz purposes – The gun boasted an enlarged lever so Chuck Connors could cock it as he drew, and a special screw that allowed him to fire simply by re-cocking.
With that kind of help, the actor could fire off his first shot from a resting position in just 3/10ths of a second and get off another in 4/10ths of a second with a full twirl.
The producers believed the viewers were fooled into thinking that speed was all due to Connors’s skill. Until, that is, Mad magazine ran a spoof, entitled “The Idiot with the Rifle, Man,” that included several illustrations offensive to a 16-year-old fan in Connor’s hometown of Brooklyn.
The incensed kid tore the pictures out and sent them to Connors, accompanied by a letter registering his outrage. He circled every illustration of the gun and drew a line from each to a note in the margin: “Look, they even left the screw out”.
The lesson there is that when you name your show The Rifleman, expect people to keep their eye on the rifle!
Chuck Connors, who previously made his living on a baseball diamond, got into television after playing a stint for the Chicago Cubs’ minor-league team in Los Angeles.
In between innings, he hosted a TV interview show, was spotted by a talent scout and landed a minor role in Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy’s Pat and Mike.
“They paid me $500 for my first day’s work in that movie,” he recalled in 1959. “I figured they’d made some mistake on the adding machine, but I stuck the check in my pocket and shut up. Sure enough, the next day they gave me another $500. ‘Baseball,’ I told myself, ‘just lost a first baseman.'”
Connors was reunited with Johnny Crawford, who played his son Mark, in a 1990 episode of the Western Paradise. Crawford – one of the original 24 founding Disney Mouseketeers – sang a series of pop hits in the 1960s (Cindy’s Birthday and Patti Ann among others).
The Rifleman is set in North Fork, a town in what was once called New Mexico Territory. In reality, though, the show was actually shot in California. Filming took place in various Californian spots such as the Santa Monica mountains, Malibu Creek State Park and Calabasas.
Marshal Micah Torrance
Sweeney the bartender
Edgar Buchanan (1)
Rhys Williams (2)
Ralph Moody (3)
Miss Millie Scott