You never really see a proper western on TV anymore. However, back in the mid-1900s, westerns were some of the most popular series around, such as "The Rifleman." This legendary American Western TV series starred Chuck Connors as widowed rancher Lucas McCain and Johnny Crawford as his young son, Mark McCain. The chemistry between the two stars struck a chord with viewers. Now, it’s still considered a timeless classic. Read on to find out some surprising facts and secrets you might not know about "The Rifleman".
1. Chuck Connors Turned Down The Role Of Lucas McCain At First
When The Rifleman's producers offered Chuck Connors the leading role of Lucas McCain, Connors turned it down because of the low salary. The producers then decided to turn to John Anderson and James Whitmore for the role. However, they discovered something unusual...
2. Connors Chemistry With Kids
In 1957, Connors had a box office hit with Disney’s Old Yeller, co-starring with two child actors Kevin Corcoran and Tommy Kirk. The producers of The Rifleman saw how Connors talked to kids, full of understanding and respect. They immediately upped the ante and Connors accepted the offer.
3. The First Prime-time TV Series To Show A Widowed Parent Raising A Child
One of the show's great draws was its moral compass. Lucas McCain was a widowed parent who taught his son Mark honest and tough lessons.
4. McCain's Gun Was Literally Before Its Time
The background of The Rifleman was set in the 1870s and 1880s, but the rifle Lucas carried was a modified Winchester Model 1892, which was first produced during 1892-1945.
5. The Script Was Initially Penned For Another Show
Actually, director Sam Peckinpah initially wrote the pilot for a completely different show, Gunsmoke. However, it was rejected. Three years later, it became The Rifleman. The back story was changed a little, and the character of Mark was added.
6. Chuck Connors Was More Than A Rifle Pro
Famously, Chuck Connors could hit his target using either his left or right hand. In reality, he was a three-sport pro athlete. In 1946, Connors was on the first Boston Celtics squad. In 1951, he joined the Chicago Cubs and played first base. He also went on to join the Chicago Bears, too.
7. Coffin Nails
On the show, Lucas McCain was only shown smoking a cigarette once. However, in real life, Chuck Connors smoked 60 cigarettes a day, which made him a heavy smoker in anyone’s books. 1992, he died from complications of lung cancer and pneumonia at the age of 71.
8. Never Marry Again
In the show, Lucas McCain's wife died of a smallpox outbreak when they lived in Oklahoma territory. At various points he toyed with the idea of remarrying. However, that never happened and he stayed single till the end of the show.
9. Dennis Hopper Was Doing Double Duty
Remember Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider? He also appeared in the premiere episode of The Rifleman called ‘The Sharpshooter’. He then appeared in an installment called, ‘Three Legged Terror’ as a completely unrelated character.
10. Why On Earth Was The Rifleman Cancelled?
"You know, I never did know exactly why and I wasn't too concerned at the time because after having done it for five years, I was anxious to do something else. I felt personally that the show was getting a little stale and that the scripts were not as good as they had been. The first season, I still think, was our best, and that was our best season in the ratings." actor Johnny Crawford explained in an interview.
11. Johnny Crawford Become A Big Music Star
Crawford later became a successful crooner. In fact, during the 1960s, he climbed the Top 40 chart five times. His most famous hit "Cindy's Birthday" was released in 1962 and became a number eight hit on Billboard's Hot 100.
12. Johnny Crawford Enlisted In Army
Following his singing career, Johnny Crawford enlisted in the United States Army in 1965. He reached the rank of sergeant when he was honorably discharged at the conclusion of 1967.
13. What Looks Like New Mexico Is Actually California
The Rifleman is set in North Fork, a town in what was once called New Mexico Territory. In reality, it was actually based on a town by the same name in northern California.
14. A Spin-off Show
Like many other popular shows, The Rifleman made a spin-off show called Law of the Plainsman, starring Michael Ansara.
15. The Remake That Didn’t Happen
In late 2011, CBS announced that The Rifleman would be remade. Unfortunately, that didn't come true.
The NBC show Julia, which aired from 1968 to 1971, was the first copycat of The Rifleman. Julia was a widowed registered nurse who didn't tote a gun but had interchanges with her young son similar to those between Lucas and Mark McClain.