A producer of The Rifleman snuck his family name into the show multiple times
Do you recognize the name "Merar"?
Film and television producer Arthur Gardner was born in Marinette, Wisconsin, in 1910. He was close with his extended family who lived nearby, including his maternal grandparents Dr. and Mrs. Merar. His grandfather was the local optometrist.
After high school, Gardner moved to California, hoping to become an actor. He worked steadily, mostly in small, uncredited roles, until World War II. During the war, he joined the First Motion Picture Unit, making training films for the Army Air Forces. He decided, along with fellow unit members Jules Levy and Arnold Laven, to become a producer after the war.
Sure enough, in 1951, Levy-Gardner-Laven Productions was born. They produced noir and science fiction films before hitting it big with their first TV effort, The Rifleman. They followed the popular Chuck Connors Western with others, including The Big Valley in 1965.
Through all his success, Gardner never forgot his family back in Wisconsin. He showed his love by putting tidbits in his productions that they would recognize. One example seen in many of his projects is the family name "Merar" taken from his grandparents but also the name of many cousins.
In The Rifleman, the "Merar Ranch" is mentioned numerous times. In "The Score is Even," Lucas sends Mark to the Merar Ranch for help, and Abe Merar (played by Joe Benson, a frequent Rifleman extra and good friend of Chuck Connors) comes to Lucas' aid at the end.
A character named Tom Merar appears in the episode "First Wages" and the Merar Ranch is mentioned yet again in "Ordeal."
Perhaps the most notable use of the name "Merar" in The Rifleman is in season four's "The Debt." The episode sees Micah transporting a dangerous prisoner. Lucas and Mark meet up with them when Mark realizes the prisoner is the same man who saved his life years ago. With that in mind, Mark lets the prisoner, a man named Renolds, escape without sounding the alarm. Lucas is furious with Mark and brings him to the Merar Ranch while he and Micah go after Renolds. This time Abe Merar is played by Hank Patterson, best known as Fred Ziffel from Green Acres. When Renolds shows up at the ranch, Mark has to face the consequences of his decision to let him go!
Arthur Gardner also slipped the name "Merar" into his later series The Big Valley. In fact, he paid direct homage to his grandfather with the character Dr. Merar, who appeared in multiple episodes. The doctor’s wife on the show was played by fellow producer Arnold Laven's wife, Wallace Earl Laven (sometimes credited as Amanda Harley).
The doctor wasn't limited to the small screen either. In the 1974 John Wayne detective movie McQ, also a Levy-Gardner-Laven production, the movie legend orders, "Get Doc Merar over there!" after learning a friend has been shot early in the film.
Though this little detail might slip by most casual viewers, it's interesting to know the sentimental reason why the name "Merar" showed up so many different times in classic entertainment.