• THE RIFLEMAN – Concept and Back Story

    Westerns were a popular genre when THE RIFLEMAN premiered in 1958.  First telecast on Dick Powell's "Zane Grey Theatre" (CBS) on March 7, 1958, the pilot premiered on ABC in the regular television season on September 30 that same year.  The show's creator, Arnold Laven, developed THE RIFLEMAN's core themes, which distinguished it from a crowded field of formulaic adventure programs.  Set in New Mexico in the 1880s, originally, the main character was John—not Lucas—McCain, and he had no son.  Also, the original premise had McCain packing a pistol, not a rifle.  It was Laven who had the idea of making McCain a widower with a young son and making a customized Winchester rifle, not a six gun, the main protagonist's signature firearm.

    The opening credits showcasing the skill of Chuck Connors as Lucas McCain firing his rapid-action Winchester rifle set the tone for the western action adventure, to be sure, but the show aspired to be more than a vehicle for gratuitous gun-slinging.  Heart-warming human relationships, specifically the kinship between father and son, provided balance, and sometimes a paradoxical juxtaposition, to the violent backdrop of life on the frontier.  The rifle complemented Lucas McCain's persona as a self-possessed, rugged individualist who had high ethical standards and a cool head.  Connors in the title role, with rifle at the ready, portrayed the iconic western hero—a crackerjack marksman and cowboy-turned-single-father and homesteader facing life's challenges with a stoical, reasoned view about social justice and personal responsibility.  Uppermost in his mind was being a good role model for his son and a solid citizen in his community.  So, when McCain picked up his rifle, he wielded it not only with confidence and competence, but also with rational deliberation and fair-minded determination.  He admonished his young son in one episode, "A man doesn't run from a fight, Mark, but that doesn't mean you go looking to run to one."

    Family values and moral principles informed many storylines in THE RIFLEMAN series.  Through the McCains' adventures with the townfolk of North Fork and the weekly influx of visitors, THE RIFLEMAN was a series of morality plays examining human nature's rich and varied complexity—with all its foibles and follies, sorrow and humor, venality and virtue.  The inspiration for many episodes was drawn from Biblical parables, sometimes recapitulated explicity, such as the story of Job, which was related by Lucas to son Mark in the second episode, "Home Ranch."  Second chances—redemption—was a prominent, recurring theme.  It was often elicited in episodes featuring Marshal Micah Torrance, played by Paul Fix, a sometime derelict, recovered alcholic, who was a regular character introduced in the fourth episode, "The Marshal," after R.G. Armstrong, who played the sheriff in the pilot was killed off.  The themes were timeless and universal, featuring sympathetic characters grappling with familiar human dilemmas and classic good-versus-evil conflicts.

    Arnold Laven and series co-producers, Arthur Gardner and Jules V. Levy, presciently anticipated that the show's strength lay in the father-son relationship, and its best asset was the genuine filial affection between actors Chuck Connors as Lucas McCain and Johnny Crawford as Mark McCain.  In fact, the depiction of a widowed father grappling with the challenges of raising a son alone in THE RIFLEMAN may have been a television first in its departure from the traditional depiction of a family as mother, father and child.  Critics and viewers responded favorably to the novel family portrayal celebrating the father-son bond, and it appears to account for the enduring appeal of the series.  In the June 20, 2004 issue of "TV Guide," the character of Lucas McCain was ranked #32 in a list of the "50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time."  In 1959, at age 13, Johnny Crawford was nominated for an Emmy for his role in THE RIFLEMAN.  Chuck Connors later remarked with admiration how young Johnny Crawford comported himself on THE RIFLEMAN set with deferential respect toward the crew, addressing them as "sir" and "ma'am" upon arriving to the set on his first day until departing on the last day.

     

    THE RIFLEMAN – Cast & Characters

    The narratives that elicited THE RIFLEMAN's central themes were compelling because of the characters' capacity to animate the viewers' imagination and ability to kindle an emotional connnection to them.  THE RIFLEMAN producers, writers and directors attracted the most gifted actors working in Hollywood to enliven the stories with a colorful and varied cast of characters.  More than 500 guest stars in over 970 credited roles appeared during THE RIFLEMAN's five-season run, with many veteran character actors cast in recurring rolesBill Quinn, who began his career in the silent film era, played Sweeney the Bartender at the North Fork Saloon, appearing in 40 episodes, while John Harmon portrayed the quiet hotel clerk in 15 episodes.  Harlan Warde, representing the stolid integrity of a civic-minded businessman, portrayed president of the North Fork Bank in 18 episodes.  Hope Summers played Hattie Denton, the owner of North Fork's General Store.  She appeared in 16 episodes, imparting a warm, maternal counterbalance to an otherwise rough and tumble atmosphere.    Joan Taylor would replace Hope Summers as owner of the General Store, portraying "Miss Milly," a character introduced in episode 84.  She would provide a romantic interest for Lucas in 18 episodes; however, in the fifth and final season of the show, actress Patricia Blair, potraying "Lou Mallory," would become the new romantic interest, taking ownership of the General Store from Miss Milly, who returned to her family the east.  Blair appeared in 17 episodes.  Other recurring characters, some portrayed by different actors, would turn up North Fork, including Toomey the Blacksmith, played by Robert Foulk, who made five appearances, the reassuring stalwart Doc Burrage, who was played by six different actors, including Edgar Buchanan and Rhys Williams, and the character Nels Swenson (also Swensen and Svenson), alternately North Fork's farrier or the blacksmith, who was played by several actors, including Richard Alexander, John Dierkes, Joe Higgins and Karl Swenson.

    Many legendary icons of the stage and screen appeared during THE RIFLEMAN's five seasons.  Some appearing several times in different parts, including John Carradine, Lon Chaney, Jr., Royal Dano, Dabbs Greer and Agnes Moorehead, among many other thespian luminaries.  Young actors crackling with talent and energy and full of brash and bravado also appeared in THE RIFLEMAN.  Some of them, such as Dennis Hopper Michael Landon and Harry Dean Stanton, would go on to have illustrious careers in Hollywood.  Many of the most recognizable names in the entertainment industry of the late 50s and early 60s also graced THE RIFLEMAN's credits.  Even after 50 years, the fond regard of fans and industry peers endures for many RIFLEMAN guest stars, including Chris Alcaide, Robert Culp, Sammy Davis Jr., Buddy Hackett, Kevin McCarthy, Robert Vaughn and Lee Van Cleef, all of whom imprinted their unique, indelible qualities upon the characters they played.

    Chuck Connors' earlier career as a professional athlete included stints with the Boston Celtics, followed by a triple header in Major League Baseball, when he played briefly for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and LA Angels.  He enlisted a few friends from his days in professional sports to make cameo appearances on THE RIFLEMAN, including baseball great Don Drysdale, former Dodger teammate outfielder Duke Snider and NFL coach and Football Hall of Famer Sid Gilman.

     

    THE RIFLEMAN – Production Notes

    The pilot episode, "The Sharpshooter," was first televised as a special on March 7, 1958 on CBS's "Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater."  It was broadcast again on September, 30, 1958, inaugurating THE RIFLEMAN series' five-year run on ABC.  The last of 168 episodes, "Old Tony," aired on April 8, 1963.  Among THE RIFLEMAN's 36 directors, was Sam Peckinpah, who also wrote the pilot and established the tone of the show.  The series creator and co-producer, Arnold Laven, directed 22 episodes, including the pilot, "The Sharpshooter."  The program is noted for its atmospheric lighting, unorthodox camera angles and cinematic qualities, as well as occasional brooding undertone, which is credited primarily to Joseph H. Lewis, who directed 51 episodes.  Lewis is best-known for his 1950 film noir classic "Gun Crazy."  Among its 64 writers, the most prolific contributors were Arthur Browne, Jr., Calvin Clements and Cyril Hume.  The musical score, which is one of the most distinctive and best-remembered in the annals of television history, was composed by Herschel Burke Gilbert.

    THE RIFLEMAN – Directors
    • Lewis Allen
      Budd Boetticher
      Robert Butler
      James Clavell
      William Claxton
      William Conrad
      Lawrence Dobkin
      Richard Donner
      John English
      David Friedkin
      Murray Golden
      Ida Lupino
    • Jesse Hibbs
      Arthur Hiller
      Jerry Hopper
      Lamont Johnson
      Bernie Kowalski
      Paul Landres
      Otto Lang
      Arnold Laven
      Joseph H. Lewis
      Don MacDougall
      Don Medford
      Richard Moder
    • Arthur Nadel
      James Neilson
      Gene Nelson
      Sam Peckinpah
      John Peyser
      Montgomery Pittman
      Ted Post
      John Rich
      Joseph Smith
      David Swift
      Don Taylor
      Paul Wendkos

     

    THE RIFLEMAN – Assistant Directors

    Lloyd Allen
    Read Kilgore
    Norman S. Powell
    Don Torpin
    Lou Watt

     

    THE RIFLEMAN – Writers
    • Ed Adamson
      Julius Adelman
      Albert Aley
      Peter Arends
      Margaret Armen
      Lowell Barrington
      Arthur Browne, Jr.
      Calvin Clements
      Frederic Conrad
      Oliver Crawford
      Robert Culp
      Jack Curtis
      Robert C. Dennis
      Lawrence Dobkin
      John Dunkel
      Dale Eunson
      Katherine Eunson
      Pat Fielder
      Harry Julian Fink
      George W. George
      Judy George
      Bruce Geller
    • Peter B. Germano
      Frank D. Gilroy
      Bernard Girard
      Tom Gries
      Herman Groves
      David P. Harmon
      Clair Huffaker
      Cyril Hume
      Christopher Knopf
      Ken Kolb
      Harry Kronman
      David Lane
      David Lang
      Fanya Lawrence
      T. Leicester
      William F. Leichester
      Robert Lewin
      Herbert Little, Jr.
      Mike Mamakos
      Peter Mamakos
      Paul Mazursky
    • Michael Morris
      Edmund Morris
      Gene Olson
      Sam Peckinpah
      Samuel A. Peeples
      Montgomery Pittman
      Robert Sherman
      Teddie Sherman
      Jay Simms
      Barney Slater
      Douglas Stevens
      N. B. Stone, Jr.
      David Swift
      Judy Taylor
      Palmer Thompson
      Thomas Thompson
      David Victor
      Arthur Weiss
      John Wilder
      Ward Wood
      Martin Zweiback

     

    THE RIFLEMAN – Directors of Photography

    Charles Burke
    George E. Diskent
    Howard Schwartz

     

    THE RIFLEMAN – Film Editors

    Samuel Beetley
    Folmer Blangsted
    Lester Orlebeck
    Sherman Todd

     

    THE RIFLEMAN – Stunts

    Archie Butler (stuntman, stunt coordinator and actor)—according to Arnold Laven, Butler appeared in more episodes than any other actor except the regular cast

    Bill Catching

    Fritz Ford (stunt double for Chuck Connors)

    Robert Hoy

    Troy Melton

    George Robotham

    Luke Saucer

    Jesse Wayne

    Al Wyatt

     

    • Chuck Connors is The Rifleman, Lucas McCain, homesteading in the New Mexico territory of the 1880's and defending his ranch and the town of North Fork

      Chuck Connors is THE RIFLEMAN, Lucas McCain, homesteading in the New Mexico territory of the 1880's and defending his ranch and the town of North Fork.

    • Lucas McCain's signature firearm, a customized Winchester rifle, differentiated the show from other series in the western genre of the 1950's and 60's

      Lucas McCain's signature firearm, a customized Winchester rifle, differentiated the show from other series in the western genre of the 1950's and 60's.

    • Producer Arthur Laven developed the premise of Lucas McCain being a widower raising his young son Mark alone, a first in the annals of television history

      Producer Arthur Laven developed the show's premise of a widower rancher, Lucas McCain, raising his young son Mark alone in the western frontier—a first in the annals of television history.

    • Chuck Connors and Johnny Crawford portray Lucas and Mark McCain.  The bond between father-son  was a central theme of the show and many storylines revolved around their close relationship.

      Chuck Connors and Johnny Crawford portray Lucas and Mark McCain.  The bond between father and son is a central theme of the show and many storylines revolve around their close relationship and the challenges they face together as a family.

    • The producers of The Rifleman attributed a great measure of the show's success to the natural chemistry between Chuck Connors, a father of four sons in real life, and his on-screen son, Johnny Crawford.

      The producers of The Rifleman attributed a great measure of the show's success to the natural chemistry between Chuck Connors, a father of four sons in real life, and his on-screen son played by Johnny Crawford.

    • Paul Fix, who portrayed Marshal Micah Torrance, was a regular cast member, appearing in 150 of 168 episodes. Lucas McCain frequently was enlisted to help the Marshal protect the townfolk against the weekly travails visited on North Fork by villains, outlaws and hucksters.

      Cast regular Paul Fix portrayed Marshal Micah Torrance.  He appeared in 150 of 168 episodes.  Lucas, shown here with son Mark, frequently was enlisted to help him protect the townfolk against the villains and outlaws who plagued North Fork.

          

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    Malibu Creek State Park, location for some of the early RIFLEMAN episodes.  Photograph courtesy Susan Geary.

     

    THE RIFLEMAN – Filming Locations (California)

    Four Star Studios and Interior Western Street
    Republic Backlot and Western Street
    Iverson Ranch
    Janss Conejo Ranch
    Paramount Ranch
    20th Century Fox Ranch

     

    RATINGS
    Season Rank Viewers Households w/ TV
    1  (1958–59)#414,547,45043,950,000
    2  (1959–60)#1312,581,25045,750,000
    3  (1960–61)#2710,431,20047,200,000
    4  (1961–62)#2710,827,76548,555,000
    5  (1962–63)Not in the Top 3050,300,000

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