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THE RIFLEMAN

 THE RIFLEMAN
Tuesday ABC 9:00 -
Sept 1958 - July 1963


Chuck Connors would sometimes turn cartwheels when he was rounding the bases. A film producer saw him and cast him in a small part, and that's how the baseball player got his start in acting.

"Not all episodes of "The Rifleman" were violent. On some shows, Lucas McCain was able to solve problems with good common sense.

"On one show, a teenage girl was being pressured into becoming a princess for her country following the death of her father during a tour of the USA. The poor kid was being harassed by her prime minister and her lady in waiting until it got to the point where she wanted to abdicate her throne and live with the McCains on their farm as a simple farm girl and foster daughter.

"McCain talked to her people, not abusively but firmly, making sure that they realized that they were being unfair and unkind to this poor kid and they should never do this sort of thing again. That their responsibility was to help show the princess how to run her country with some patience and care and fairness.

"I've seen and taped a number of "Rifleman" episodes. Another nonviolent episode had Mark McCain and one of his friends trying to deal with an obnoxious, controlling teacher who takes discipline way too far. The boys hide in an abandon mine to escape the teacher's tyranny but get trapped in a cave in and have to be saved by Lucas and the teacher - who finally realizes he can't teach his students with abusive corporal discipline, students need time to learn (especially if you also have ranch chores to do!)."

- Kevin S. Butler

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The Rifleman starring Chuck Connors
The Rifleman - Chuck Connorsby Billy Ingram

There were a lot of westerns on television in 1958, but none like The Rifleman. At the time it was considered the most violent show on TV, right alongside 'The Untouchables' which also aired in 1958.

'The Rifleman' was the story of loner Lucas McCain (former Brooklyn Dodger Chuck Connors) and his son Mark (Johnny Crawford) who live on the outskirts of North Fork, New Mexico. Lucas invented a new rapid-cocking rifle that enabled him to fire at a furious pace, giving him the advantage of having (sorta kinda) the world's first semiautomatic weapon.

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TVparty-er Al Williamson writes, "We used to love watching the show just to see him cock that rifle - you know, the looping underhand action Chuck Connors would use to load a round into the .44-.40 chamber. Man, he'd cock that rifle and all the bad guys would know they were messin' with one bad mofo.

"My dad used to say that Connors was known to swing his baseball bat like that in the on-deck circle as a pro ball player. We also loved to hear the rifle being fired - it was like no other gun sound on TV. The rest of the show, we'd be bored with Mark's whinin' and cryin' and forever getting himself - and ultimately Lucas - into hot water. But hey, it was a plot device."

The marshall of the town was recovering alcoholic Micah Torrance (Paul Fix) who just couldn't keep things in North Fork under control - he was forever calling on Lucas to come to town with that gun of his and set things right. Meanwhile, the booze soaked Marshall would be found in Sweeney's bar when things weren't going well or if he had some stressful task to perform. Several times, bad guys would ride into town and force liquor on Micah to gain control of that depressing, muddy, one-road town.

The Rifleman starring Chuck Connors

(This was written about later episodes...)

This was a dark series, the townspeople were all a bunch of craven, dimwitted dirt farmers - ready to form a mob at a moment's notice but unwilling to individually stand up to any hothead who happened to stroll into town that morning.

The Rifleman castMcCain's son Mark was especially creepy as he faced adolescence in this grim environment (as a child growing up in North Carolina in the sixties, I could relate). Lucas always had the boy doing his "chores" or his homework but Mark wasn't interested much in school - he knew he was going to inherit his dad's big firearm, so his future was assured.

I remember one episode where Micah got his ass kicked, then little Mark got his ass kicked, then they beat the hell out of McCain - and he just couldn't get to his rifle! The tension was incredible, the bad guys even ate the food McCain had been saving and smashed up his furniture.

This really pissed off McCain, because he had a buried sensitive side that you did not f*ck with. But he was powerless without that damn rifle! When he did finally get to his firearm, the bad guys went down hard. As long as McCain had that Winchester, he was the toughest and smartest man on Earth, able to solve any problem at home or in town.

The Rifleman - Chuck Connors photoThe show was extremely popular for two seasons until Lucas got a girlfriend, sweet little Miss Milly (Joan Taylor) in the third season. Someone finally got between him and that gun.

Ratings fell that year, so the next season Lucas dumped the girlfriend and gained a female adversary instead. Patricia Blair joined the cast as Lou Mallory, she ran the hotel in town and had more practical needs for a man with a big, quick cocking gun for hire.

The Rifleman ended its run after five seasons and Chuck Connors went on to star in several other short-lived TV productions including 'Arrest and Trial' (1963-1964), 'Branded' (1965-1966), 'Cowboy in Africa' (1967-68) and 'Yellow Rose' (1983-1984). Connors also played the head werewolf as a semi-regular on FOX's 'Werewolf' (1987-1988).

The Rifleman photo In the early Seventies, when hard-line USSR leader Leonid Brezhnev made his historical visit to the United States, the White House staff asked their notoriously temperamental guest if there were any American stars or celebrities he would like to meet. He had only one request - Chuck Connors.

'The Rifleman' was one of the few American shows allowed on Russian television at that time because it was Breshnev's favorite.

Chuck Connors and the world leader became friends, the actor made several trips to Russia after that - which led to breakthroughs that helped quicken the thaw between our countries, including the first documentary film collaboration between the United States and the Soviet Union in 1973. And he did it all without firing a shot!

The Rifleman end credits


:READERS RESPOND:

"The Rifleman ran on Tuesday nights for the first three seasons (9:00pm-9:30pm Sept.'58- Sept '60, 8:00pm-8:30pm Sept.'60-Sept.'61, then moved to Monday 8:30-9:00pm Oct.'61-July '63).

"Also the show had two different openings - one featuring the rifle closeup and a second opening with Chuck on a dark street - there were also two different closing themes. I believe the opening & theme changes occurred when the show moved to Monday nights in 1961.

"The show was shown widely in syndication on local stations after it left the network for most of the mid-late '60s. I disagree with it being the "most" violent western - most shows of that era contained quite a bit of violence. What seemed to make The Rifleman different was the fact that those who were killed truly deserved it and frequently episodes included a moral lesson - often quoting a biblical passage.

"As a small kid watching the original run of the show - I was truly fascinated by how the characters always overcame the most dire consequences to ultimately persevered - and they never took pleasure from having to kill someone.

"I owned a Hubley Rifleman Rifle that was my all-time favorite toy. The music from the show by Herschel Burke Gilbert was AMAZING and played a critical role in creating the high drama."

- Ken Budell


There was a line of toys based on The Rifleman including this cap gun.

"I enjoyed the write up on The Rifleman, but your description of the rifle itself is a bit off base.

"The rifle was not in any sense a "self-cocking rifle". That is quite clearly seen as Lucas obviously has to cock it for each shot. And it is not a semiautomatic weapon, either, which is defined as a weapon that uses the bullet's energy to load each round and cock the weapon with every single pull of the trigger.

"What it was is a Winchester model 1892 with a large cocking handle that could be manipulated rapidly, but it still had to be cocked manually for each shot. It also had a screw that could be adjusted to *fire* the rifle every time the cocking lever was returned to the resting position.

"In a sense, it is the opposite (inverse?) of a semiautomatic rifle. It had to be manually cocked for each shot, but the shot went off by itself. A true semi-auto has to be manually fired, but the cocking takes place by itself.

"It was also a wildly impractical design - you could not cock the rifle without having it fire! That meant it had to be carried in the "already fired" mode, requiring a cock to fire it the first time.

The Rifleman - Chuck Connors"And of course, we won't dwell on the fact that a rifle that fires as the cocking lever is moving is probably the least accurate rifle every developed. But damn, it was fun to watch!"

- Dennis Thompson

 

"I was kind of surprised that the show was considered so violent. I saw a lot of episodes, but a lot of them were cutesy (Mark falling in love with a love interest of Lucas' or one of them having sad memories of the late Mrs. McCain).

"I do remember one called 'Home Ranch' (by the way---what happened to the episode titles they used to show over a drawing of the rifle after the first commercial break on ABC?). It was when they first bought the ranch but some desperados burned their home down. Then they dragged Lucas by horse to make sure he would have second thoughts about coming back. When I first saw it as a kid, that was a completely normal malady in a western. Looking back now, I guess it seems brutal, since most shows today would rather have instant blood and guts and move the story along faster. They don't drag people anymore. They slice 'em in half and move on.

"One really memorable 'slow' show that was boring when I first saw it as a kid, but pretty brutal when I saw it as an adult years later, was called 'The Vaqueros.'

"In that episode, Lucas and Mark were on their way to buy a bull for their ranch but were detained by some banditos (one was played by Martin Landau). Mark was kidnapped and then Lucas was left in the desert for dead (after being taunted by the bad guys). Everything worked out in the end but it was a gloomy episode looking back in retrospect. It was easy to remember because not much happened other than seeing Lucas strive for survival in the desert, which was pretty much the story.

"I think the show HAD to be violent to some extent because of a flaw in Lucas' character---he could take a lot from bad guys with big mouths. He appeared to have Christian values, so the violence (at least to me) seemed to come right out of the Bible. In the 'Home Ranch' episode, Lucas tells the story of Job to Mark after their home was burned, and made Mark feel better about their troubles. Earlier in the episode, Mark exclaimed something like, 'I guess the Lord is dead set against us owning a ranch!'

"Only when the Lucas character was humanized (girlfriends, taking less crap), the producers weren't hard pressed to find all those creative ways to really tick Lucas off. I think it's interesting that The Family Channel doesn't have a problem with it. For a time they showed two episodes back-to-back on Saturdays.

"And let's face it, the real star was the rifle - and except for being 'kidnapped' from time to time, nothing really violent ever happened to it. It was a good show, with gloomy music and a dark set (always thought it was my TV), but with fine acting, great writing and a strong moral lesson thrown in at times."

- Mike Eiland Columbus, Ohio

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