Chuck Connors once was a conduit for a high-dollar Major League baseball deal. So why not work the same magic between the United States and the Soviet Union?
This was back in 1973 when Connors still was a TV star, but a decade after he’d wrapped up The Rifleman. It turned out, Leonid Brezhnev, the leader of the Soviet Union, was a huge fan of the very American TV show. He loved Lucas McCain, the central figure in The Rifleman. Chuck Connors, as McCain, became the first single dad on TV to raise a son. The McCains lived in what was the New Mexico territories in the 1880s. The show ran from 1958-63.
President Richard Nixon invited Brezhnev to the United States. And Nixon wanted to impress the leader of the Soviet Union. Frank Sinatra met Brezhnev on the trip. And when Nixon asked Brezhnev who he wanted to meet, the Soviet leader said Chuck Connors. Really.
Chuck Connors Gave Soviet Leader a Pair of Six Shooters
Brezhnev’s interpreter recalled the trip in an interview with The Independent. When asked why Chuck Connors, the interpreter said:
“He was in a TV thing called The Rifleman. And Brezhnev often sat up late in the Kremlin watching cowboy movies, and he just loved Connors’s films. So the meeting was arranged, and Connors lifted him off the ground in a great bear hug, and presented him with a pair of six shooters he had used for filming, and these became prized possessions for Brezhnev. I remember him saying plaintively, ‘Why did Connors not give me a belt and holsters as well?’ But he had those made when he got back to Moscow. He wore the guns as often as possible.”
Brezhnev and Chuck Connors first met at the Western White House in San Clemente, Calif. And Brezhnev, who rarely left the Soviet Union, was so excited that he jumped into Connors’ arms. Now, Connors was a big man. He was 6-foot-6 and a former pro baseball and basketball player. He could handle Brezhnev. Connors also gave the Soviet leader a pair of Colt Single Action Army revolvers. The Soviet Union allowed few western shows to be shown on television. But the Rifleman was an exception because it was Brezhnev’s favorite show.
It wasn’t the first time Chuck Connors successfully tried diplomacy. In 1966, he helped end the holdouts of two Los Angeles Dodgers stars, Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax. Connors knew the Dodgers general manager. So he set up a meeting.
Brezhnev was so impressed with Connors that he invited him to Moscow. A decade later, when the Soviet leader died, Connors wanted to attend his funeral. But the U.S government wouldn’t allow it. So there was no more diplomacy for The Rifleman.