If there was any doubt you were going to get a macho good time out of The Rifleman, all you had to do was look at the lead actor’s name: Chuck Connors. Names didn’t get much manlier than that. And luckily, the man lived up to it, delivering the rifle-shooting goods in this popular ABC Western.
Connors played Lucas McCain, a rancher so manly he didn’t even have a woman in the whole homestead. McCain was a widower and a former U.S. Cavalryman trying to raise his adolescent son Mark in the New Mexico town of North Fork. But no matter how much Lucas tried to teach Mark good values like honesty and integrity, the biggest lessons were always in his actions. You see, North Fork was a kind of lawless town, and Marshal Micah Torrance just couldn’t hack it as a lawman. So when trouble came riding in (as it did in pretty much every episode), Lucas rode into battle with his trusty trick .44 Winchester rifle at his side.
With its dark tone and rifle-toting action, The Rifleman was an instant ratings smash upon its 1958 debut. Former professional baseball player Connors had been known primarily as a bad guy in his big screen roles, and that slight touch of menace made him a fascinating hero for this series.
But even the manliest man eventually finds himself needing a woman’s touch, and the producers of The Rifleman provided one with the introduction of Milly Scott in 1960. “Miss Milly” was the owner of a general store in North Fork, but she quickly became Lucas’ love interest. The rest of the cast included bartender Sweeney, storekeeper Hattie Denton, Doc Burrage, and hotelkeeper Lou Mallory, who arrived in the 1962 season.
The Rifleman’s popularity dipped after its initial season, but it remained an ABC constant through 1963. Gunfighting action may have been the initial draw, but the show’s fans also had their heartstrings touched by Lucas’ ongoing father-son relationship with Mark, who grew into a fine young man over the course of the show’s run. Who says macho men don’t have a soft side?
The title of the show came from the fact that Lucas has a specially adapted Winchester that could fire off a round in three tenths of a second.
USA / ABC – Four Star – Sussex / 168×30 minute episodes / Broadcast 1958-1963
Creator: Sam Peckinpah / Music: Hershal Burke Gilbert / Producers: Sam Peckinpah, Jules Levy, Arnold Laven, Arthur Gardner
CHUCK CONNORS as Lucas McCain
JOHNNY CRAWFORD as Mark McCain
PAUL FIX as Marshal Micah Torrance
JOAN TAYLOR as Miss Milly Scott (1960-62)
PATRICIA BLAIR as Lou Mallory (1962-63)
BILL QUINN as Sweeney, the bartender
HOPE SUMMERS as Hattie Denton (1958-60)