Ever heard of the TV show, The Rifleman? It was an American Western TV series with the main characters played by Chuck Connors as rancher Lucas McCain and Johnny Crawford as his son, Mark McCain. They live in the fictional town of North Fork, New Mexico territory in the 1870s and 1880s.
The show was in black-and-white with half-hour episodes. The Rifleman aired on ABC from 1958 to 1963 and was one of the first prime-time series on American TV to show a widowed parent raising a child.
The episodes were simple enough to be understood by children and there was always a lesson to be learned in between flying bullets that never killed anyone and a reminder for all at each show’s end that your life could be worse. Click on to find out the real story behind the once most watched show.
12. Worth More Money
Chuck Connors was first offered the lead of Lucas McCain in the show but he turned down the part because of the small salary he was offered. The show’s producers then considered James Whitmore and John Anderson for the role, thinking they would accept their minimum wage offer. But then they made an amazing discovery that changed their minds.
Chuck Connors had a box office hit in 1957 with Disney’s Old Yeller where he starred with charismatic child actor Tommy Kirk. When producers saw the chemistry between the two actors on screen and that Connors could talk to a kid with such respect and understanding, they knew Connors was worth more money. They raised the price and Connors accepted their new offer.
11. Single Parent Pioneer
Lucas McCain’s character showed to be a groundbreaking parent on American TV. He was the first widowed parent to be played on TV raising a child alone. Connors credited Sam Peckinpah with writing strong, wholesome scripts that made the father-son relationship played on the show realistic and appealing. And other TV series soon joined the bandwagon.
It may have taken some time, but the idea of a single parent raising a child popped up on other series not too long. Another show that featured a single dad was the 1950s series “Bachelor Father” and in the 1960s-1970s show “Julia,” the title character was beautifully played by Diahann Carroll. Julia was a widowed registered nurse who didn’t bring a gun but had a relationship with her young son similar to Lucas and Mark McClain.
10. Athletic Skills
Chuck Connors is a native of Brooklyn and was a member of the very first Boston Celtics team in 1946. He also had the recognition of being the first professional basketball player credited with shattering a backboard. Scouts and coaches recognized Connors amazing natural athletic abilities and it wasn’t long before his sports career took off.
But he decided to leave the Celtics to play with his childhood heroes, the Brooklyn Dodgers. After that, Connors joined the Chicago Cubs in 1951, where he played first base. The icing on the cake? He was also drafted by the Chicago Bears. Maybe playing all those sports nurtured Connors’ ambidextrous skill.
Johnny Crawford was one of the original 24 Disney Mouseketeers but was unfortunately cut from the club after the first year when the membership was reduced to 12 years old. He then starred in a live NBC broadcast of “Little Boy Lost,” followed by a role in “The Lone Ranger” and many others. Johnny was 12 when he landed “The Rifleman” role.
The actor took the career path that many young TV stars of the 50s chose. He became a teen idol and started a singing career. It was a better choice for him than many of his co-celebrities of that era.
After his singing career, Johnny Crawford enlisted in the United States Army. During the two years he spent in the Army, Crawford offered his knowledge and experience in film to help product the Army’s training videos. He reached the rank of sergeant by the time he was honorably discharged at 1967. Months later he portrayed a soldier in an episode of the TV series “Hawai’i Five-O.”
8. Life Lessons and The Ranch
“The Rifleman” had life lessons in each of its episodes. One of the recurring lessons was forgiveness. In one episode, Lucas McCain hires a former convict on his ranch, showing that everyone deserves a second chance. In another episode, a soldier who had his arm shot off during the Civil War crosses path with the General who did the damage while on the ranch. General Philip Sheridan then offers to take care of the former Confederate States of America solider’s medical expenses as a showing of apology and to ask for forgiveness.
The Rifleman is set in North Fork, a town in what was known as New Mexico Territory in the show but in reality, it was filmed in Los Angeles. The ranch scenes included several locations. Many of the scenes were also shot on Paramount Ranch, in the Santa Monica Mountains. Since this was a recreational area, fans of the show can hike through the structures of the Old Western town in Agoura, CA. How cool is that?