6 different actors played the same doctor on The Rifleman
Dr. Burrage was a man of many faces.
Classic television has many strengths. But we have to admit, one thing that classic TV didn’t do terribly well? Continuity.
At a time when entire seasons weren't available at audiences' fingertips, keeping things consistent from episode to episode was less of a priority.
One major perpetrator of crimes against continuity is the 1958–63 western The Rifleman. Multiple recurring characters were played by different people — or played by the same person but given different names. The most obvious example is the role of the town doctor.
In the pilot, an unnamed doctor is played by none other than Paul Fix (who was also a one-time doctor on Star Trek in "Where No Man Has Gone Before"). Three episodes later, in “The Marshal,” Fix was cast as lawman Micah Torrance and became a regular part of the show. That episode also had an unnamed doctor, this time played by Bert Stevens (who happened to be the brother of film star Barbara Stanwyck).
In the third episode, "End of a Young Gun," Lucas McCain mentions a "Doc Sedley" but the character doesn't make an appearance.
Halfway through the first season, North Fork's official town doctor was introduced, Dr. Burrage – though having a name didn't help the character's continuity woes. He was played by no less than six different people over the course of the show's five seasons.
Meet the many men who played North Fork's M.D. below.
Watch The Rifleman on MeTV!
Weekdays at 3 PM & 3:30 PM
*available in most MeTV markets
Saturdays at 5 PM & 5:30 PM
1. Edgar Buchanan
Edgar Buchanan, who later played Uncle Joe Carson on The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres and Petticoat Junction, portrayed the first iteration of Dr. Burrage. He was in five episodes of The Rifleman's first season. He also appeared as Grandpa Fogarty in the season four episode "The Long Goodbye."
2. Fay Roope
Another person who played Dr. Burrage was Fay Roope, but it wasn't his first time on the show. He was in season one's "The Brother-in-Law" before playing Burrage for the first time in "Panic," the seventh episode of season two. Just two episodes later, Roope portrayed Barton, a stagecoach passenger more concerned about his own money than Mark. His final appearance on The Rifleman? Back as Dr. Burrage, in "The Legacy."
3. Rhys Williams
Rhys Williams was technically the second person to appear as Dr. Burrage but is third on this list because he played the role three times after Fay Roope. Williams was Burrage toward the end of season one and beginning of season two. Then he and Roope switched off — Roope was Burrage in season two, episodes seven and 11, Williams was Burrage in episode 10. Williams continued to play Burrage in three more episodes of season two, making his final appearance in "The Prodigal."
4. Jack Kruschen
Jack Kruschen was the next actor to play Dr. Burrage. Like Fay Roope, he was in four Rifleman episodes but only two as the doctor. His first appearance was as an outlaw in "The Retired Gun" (an episode which also featured Dodgers legend Duke Snider). He played another season one bad guy in "One Went to Denver" before taking over North Fork's medical duties in two early episodes of season three.
5. Robert Burton
Robert Burton only appeared as Dr. Burrage on The Rifleman once, but he played plenty of other medical professionals throughout his career. As Burrage, he was in the season four episode "The Princess" about a European woman who stays with the McCain's and might be more than she lets on. Burton also played doctors in Wagon Train, Perry Mason, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis and The Twilight Zone episode "Mr. Denton on Doomsday."
6. Ralph Moody
The final and longest-running iteration of Dr. Burrage was portrayed by Ralph Moody. He was in a total of twelve Rifleman episodes, nine as North Fork's physician. Moody's first appearance as Burrage, in "Six Years and a Day" from season three, was a doozy. Two men come to town specifically to kill the doctor! Moody played Burrage eight more times, ending in the season five episode "Requiem at Mission Springs" where Mark becomes paralyzed after falling of his horse.
Corey Carrier, River Phoenix, Sean Patrick Flannery, George Hall, and ?????
Anyway continuity was not an issue with productions of the day. They were crunched for budgets, meeting deadlines, and logistics.
Let me suggest some new topics. Did you know that with many shows an initial script is taken through several drafts? Sometimes it’s fun to find an original, and note the changes, as televised. The source often comes from dedicated fan followers who collect such trivia and trade them at Shows. (You are connected with "Collector's Call," right)? No doubt comic-cons could be a source for action / adventure shows. But what about MeTV’s love of sitcoms? Wouldn’t it be interesting to know how an “I Love Lucy” script changed from initial read, through blocking to being filmed?
Just a thought!
Always enjoy your comments MrsPhilHarris. Thank you for sharing!