Why ‘The Rifleman’s Chuck Connors Considered Westerns the ‘American Fairytale’

by Joe Rutland

Chuck Connors of the classic TV show The Rifleman played in his fair share of Westerns both on TV and in movies. Yet he has an interesting thought when it comes to how people viewed the Western at one time. Connors played Lucas McCain, the father of young Mark McCain, played by Johnny Crawford. As you may recall, the show’s famed opening has Connors quickly shooting his rifle.

Back in 1961, Connors appeared on the CBS news show Person To Person with newsman Charles Collingwood. The interview would cover some elements of Connors’ home with his then-wife Betty. At one point, Collingwood asked Connors about some of the criticism Westerns were getting then.

Chuck Connors Of ‘The Rifleman’ Didn’t Like Hearing Criticisms Toward Western

“You know, I’ve read and heard much of the criticism that’s been leveled at the Western,” Connors tells Collingwood. “And in many areas, I find it justified. But here’s how I feel about the Western itself. To me, it’s the American fairytale. Now, the Irish have their leprechauns, the Mid-Europeans have their fairytales a la Hans Christian Andersen. The English have their Knights of the Round Table. And we Americans have our Western, our American fairytale.

“And I feel chagrined many times when I hear or read criticisms of the Western,” Connors said. “They throw it all into the same vat. Now I do agree that if the Western is done poorly, it should be criticized. But I don’t like to see it criticized flagrantly by saying the Western is no good or words to that effect.

“I know that on The Rifleman, we work very hard to do a show that, in a small way, contributes to the American scene,” he says. “It’s a family show. I know that there are many shows on television which are not good. But it’s not because they are Westerns. It’s because their Western is done poorly.” Connors would be on The Rifleman for five seasons.

Lead Actor Would Write Episode For Romantic Storyline

At one time, though, Connors went to extraordinary lengths to bring more depth to McCain. Did you know that he actually wrote a show to romantically benefit his character? It’s true. He ends up writing a second-season episode titled The Visitor.

Ann Dodd, who happens to be a friend of Lucas’ late wife, shows up in North Fork. That’s where Lucas and Mark live. Well, Ann and Lucas have an attraction to one another. But there’s a hitch: Ann’s uncle’s son and wife want to kill her and claim the uncle’s estate. Lucas saves her from trouble. He wants her to live with them, but she’s not coming back once she leaves.