‘The Rifleman’ Producer Snuck References of His Own Family Into the Show

by Emily Morgan

Despite all his success, “The Rifleman” producer Arthur Gardner never forgot his family back home. He even paid tribute to them by putting tidbits only they would recognize in his productions. 

Known for work on the classic western, Gardner was born in Marinette, Wisconsin, in 1910. He was close with his extended family, who lived nearby during his childhood, including his maternal grandparents Dr. and Mrs. Merar. 

After high school, Gardner headed west for California, hoping to become an actor. To start, he mainly booked minor, uncredited roles. As he continued to work, World War II began, and he joined the First Motion Picture Unit, making training films for the Army Air Forces. 

Following the war, he and his fellow unit members Jules Levy and Arnold Laven decided to become film producers. Thus, in 1915, Levy-Gardner-Laven Productions was born. 

In the beginning, they produced noir and science fiction films before hitting it big with their first TV venture: “The Rifleman.” During production, Gardner made sure to give a shoutout to his family. 

One example seen in his projects is the use of the name “Merar,” taken from his grandparents and many of his cousins. In “The Rifleman,” viewers see the “Merar Ranch” numerous times. In the episode, “The Score is Even,” Lucas sends Mark to the Merar Ranch for help, and Abe Merar helps Lucas in the end. 

Additionally, Tom Merar, another character in “The Rifleman,” appears in the episode “First Wages,” and the Merar Ranch is mentioned again in “Ordeal.”

The Personal Tributes You May Have Missed In ‘The Rifleman’

However, the most notable use of the name “Merar” in the western is in season four’s episode, “The Debt.”

 The episode sees Micah moving a dangerous prisoner named Renolds. Lucas and Mark meet them, and Mark realizes that the prisoner is the man who saved his life years ago. 

As a result, Mark lets the prisoner escape. Upset, Lucas brings him to the Merar Ranch while he and Micah go after the escapee. In addition, Gardner also incorporated the name “Merar” into his later series, “The Big Valley.”

He paid homage to his late grandfather with the character Dr. Merar, who appeared in several episodes. 

On the show, the doctor’s wife was played by fellow producer Arnold Laven’s wife, Wallace Earl Laven. She was often credited as Amanda Harley. 

However, the doctor wasn’t limited to just TV. In the 1974 John Wayne film, McQ, also backed by Levy-Gardner-Laven production, Wayne at one point yells, “Get Doc Merar over there!” after learning a friend has been shot early on in the movie. 

While a casual viewer might miss these little details, it’s intriguing to know the sentimental reason why the name “Merar” showed up at different times.