‘The Rifleman’ Featured a Baseball Hall-of-Famer

There are many popular Western television shows, from Bonanza to Gunsmoke. These days, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing many to stay indoors, viewers are becoming re-acquainted (or in many cases, experiencing for the first time) the world of classic television Westerns.

The Rifleman is one example of a vintage television show that has managed to stand the test of time, with many storylines as fresh as the day that they were written. At the helm of the series was Chuck Connors, an imposing actor with more than a knack for baseball

What is ‘The Rifleman’ about?

Chuck Connors smiles on the set of 'The Rifleman'
Chuck Connors on The Rifleman | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

RELATED: ‘Gunsmoke’ Wasn’t the Origin Of the Phrase ‘Get Out of Dodge’

The Rifleman debuted on television in 1958, according to IMDb. Set in the 1880s, in the fictional town of North Fork, the show featured a character named Lucas McCain, who worked as a rancher all while raising his son, Mark.

Filmed entirely in black and white, The Rifleman was notable for several reasons — mainly for being the first primetime television series to feature a single parent raising a child.

Lucas McCain was a strong, silent Civil War veteran who had lost his wife when their son was only six years old. Determined to make a fresh start for himself and his son, Lucas moves to North Fork from Oklahoma in the pilot episode of the series, where he works on his ranch — all while developing a reputation as a crack shot with his Winchester rifle.

Lucas McCain is far from perfect, making him stand apart from other stereotypical Western heroes. He has many flaws and can suffer from an overblown ego as well as a tendency to be overprotective of his young son. Still, his intentions are good, and viewers quickly fell in love with the character. 

Chuck Connors starred in ‘The Rifleman’

The character of Lucas McCain required an actor who could effortlessly portray tough as well as tender. Showrunners found the perfect match in Chuck Connors, an actor who had previously appeared in movies such as Old Yeller, Trouble Along the Way, Pat and Mike, and South Sea Woman.

He had made a name for himself as a character actor but hadn’t yet broken through to the big time. That changed when he was cast as Lucas McCain in The Rifleman in 1958.

The show was an immediate hit, and viewers gravitated to the character of Lucas right away. Chuck Connors became a star, critically acclaimed for his portrayal of the tough rancher. Connors appeared on all five seasons of the show until it went off the air in 1963. He went on to act in other projects, mainly Western shows like Branded and Cowboy in Africa

Chuck Connors was a professional baseball player as well as an actor

Long before Chuck Connors was making waves in The Rifleman, he was excelling at a very different profession. According to a report by MeTV, Connors was a professional baseball player as a young man, playing for multiple top teams, including the Cubs.

In fact, Connors played professional baseball for nearly two decades before turning his attention to a career in acting. Connors wasn’t the only baseball player to appear in The Rifleman — according to the same report, Dodgers star Duke Snider was a guest star in one episode of the famed Western series.

By the ’90s, Connors was an icon of entertainment, and of Western culture. He was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in 1991, only one year before he passed away at the age of 71. Still, he has left a mark on pop culture that will likely remain forever.