The success of the series was due largely to the warm, convincing portrayals by Chuck and Johnny. The simple fact that Chuck was the loving father of four sons in real life, made it natural for him to portray a screen father of a young son on television. Chuck's sons and Johnny all got along well. Johnny was often invited to go on family camping trips and to ball games.
Chuck Connors said in interviews, "Lucas was a righteous character, despite all the violence. We had the benefit of the father-son relationship, so I could have a little scene at the end of the show where I would explain to Mark, essentially, that sometimes violence is necessary, but it isn't good. And there was a lot of violence on The Rifleman.
We once figured out that I killed on the average of two and a half people per show. That's a lot of violence," Chuck recalled with conviction. "But it was always covered by the scene with the little boy. And he would say, in essence, "Gee, you won Pa.' "And I would say, 'Wait a minute son. You never win when you kill someone. It demeans you, it takes something away. People have got to learn to do away with violence and guns, and to love each other.' "And the viewers would forget the fact that I had killed three people during the show, because of the tender epilogue with Mark, (Johnny's favorite scenes). The warm father-son relationship was the heart of the program, and not only did we perform it, but Johnny and I became very close friends."
"When Johnny came on the set in 1958, he was a little twelve year old boy. He called everyone in the cast or crew, sir or ma'am. During the course of the five years of our run, he had two hit records, and he was nominated for an Emmy for Best Supporting Actor. And yet, when the show was finished after five seasons, Johnny went around and thanked everyone in the cast and crew, and he still called them sir or ma'am."
Johnny recalled in an interview some of his memories of working with Chuck and The Rifleman. As a child, Johnny was a huge fan of westerns, and being cast as Mark McCain was a dream come true for the young actor. Johnny's interview for the role was at the old Hal Roach Studios in Culver City, and he initially read for the producers. Johnny met Chuck upon his second interview, and he later was told that he got the job. He was elated! "I was very fond of Chuck," said Johnny, "and we were very good friends right from the start. I admired him tremendously."
"I was a big baseball fan when we started the show, and when I found out that Chuck had been a professional baseball player, I was especially in awe of him. I would bring my baseball, and a bat and a couple of gloves whenever we went on location, and at lunchtime I would get a baseball game going, hoping that Chuck would join us. And he did, but after he came to bat, we would always have trouble finding the ball. It would be out in the brush somewhere or in a ravine, and so that would end the game."
"We remained friends throughout the rest of his life. He was always interested in what I was doing and ready with advice, and anxious to help in any way that he could." "Chuck was a great guy, a lot of fun, great sense of humor, bigger than life, and he absolutely loved people. He was very gregarious and friendly, and not at all bashful. It was a good experience for me to spend time with Chuck and learn how he dealt with people. I learned a great deal from him about acting, and he was a tremendous influence on me. He was just my hero."
In an interview with TV Guide, Chuck recalled his first meeting with Johnny. "I remember the first time I saw him," recalled Chuck. "I was sitting there with the producer and we were interviewing kids to play Mark. We must have interviewed 20 or 30, then Johnny came in and before we even talked to him I said, "That's him, that's the Rifleman's son.' "
Chuck knew they needed a gimmick for the show to compete with the fast draw of James Arness of Gunsmoke and Hugh O'Brian of Wyatt Earp. A trick rifle.They added a special loop to his Winchester carbine and a thumb screw that tripped the trigger each time the weapon was cocked, making it virtually as deadly as an automatic weapon.
From the biography, Chuck Connors: The Man Behind the Rifle", by David Fury
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