Michael Landon Guest Starred Alongside ‘The Rifleman’s Chuck Connors Before ‘Bonanza’ Fame

by Taylor Cunningham

Before landing a role in Bonanza, Michael Landon starred in a string of famous Westerns alongside some of the biggest stars of the era, including The Rifleman’s Chuck Connors.

During the early years of Landon’s classic TV stardom, Landon had the pleasure of working with some famous actors who would eventually go down as legends.

But one of the biggest actors he worked with was Chuck Connors. The star played in movies like Disney’s Old Yeller and the first adaptation of Flipper. But out of all his projects, he is likely best known for playing the lead in The Rifleman.

The series ran from 1958 to 1963 and followed the life of Connors’ Lucas McCain, a Wild West rancher known for holding down the fort with his customized Winchester rifle.

The Rifleman and Bonanza, of course, became two of the most famous shows of Western’s past. But before either of the shows debuted, another named Tales of Wells Fargo was reigning on primetime TV. And it gave fans of the genre a taste of two up-and-coming stars.

Michael Landon and Chuck Connors were both able to play in the series three different times. And it happened to work out that the actors both scored guest roles in the same episode once. The two shared a spot in a 1957 story called Sam Bass.

Connors played the title role of Sam, who led a band of outlaws hiding in a secluded location in Texas. The gang had been terrorizing the good people of the West for some time because no lawmen could find their location. So to help, Jim offered to go undercover in an effort to infiltrate Sam’s group and find the hideout.

Landon played a villain named Jackson. That same year, he returned to the show to play Tad Cameron in two more installments called Shotgun Messenger and The Kid.

Michael Landon Went on to Work with Chuck Connors in ‘The Rifleman’

The young Michael Landon then went on to work with other stars James Garner, William Hopper, Steve McQueen, and Alan Hale Jr. before once again meeting Chuck Connors in an episode of The Rifleman.

In 1958 and 1959, Landon starred in episodes titled End of a Young Gun and The Mindreader. In the first, he played an outlaw who took refuge at the McCain ranch after heroically saving Mark’s life. The following year, he played a man falsely accused of murder.

The last Rifleman appearance served as his final gig before moving on to the Cartwright Ranch. Bonanza premiered only three months after The Mindreader. And from there, the actor spent nearly 15 years playing Little Joe.