Chuck Connors bought a horse for 50 bucks to turn himself into a cowboy

The Rifleman had to change his voice and hair before he could convincingly become a Western actor.

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Chuck Connors knew he was lucky. "How many 40-year-old baseball players do you know?" he asked entertainment reporter Rick Du Brow in 1961. He had just celebrated his 40th birthday and wrapped filming a historical Western called Geronimo. Of course, at the time, he was also one of the toughest guys in TV Westerns as Lucas McCain, the Rifleman. 

None of that would have happened had Connors been a little better at baseball. Not that he was a slouch. He suited up for both the Brooklyn Dodgers and Chicago Cubs, but his low batting average sent him to the minor league. As a ballplayer, he was a ham, clowning around on the diamond, reciting Shakespeare to umpires. One time, in 1953, when on a local celebrity panel show on television, he famously told Zsa Zsa Gabor to "Shut up" when she interrupted one of his gags. He had an outsized personality — and some friends in showbiz.

So, when his baseball career washed out, Connors got some acting gigs from his buddies.

"Let's not kid each other," he told Du Brow. "I got into this [acting] business because I was a ballplayer, not an actor. My pals in the movie business — the stars, casting directors and others — gave me a break."

As they say, it's all about who you know.

Initially, Connors saw himself as a cowboy.

"After two years in pictures, I had never been in a Western, and my secret desire was to be a Gary Cooper," Connors admitted. "I was tall, thin and looked like one of those guys."

His voice and haircut didn't help either. He did not just play for Brooklyn — he was born in Brooklyn, and talked like it. 

"I had a Brooklyn accent, didn't know how to ride a horse and wore a crewcut that hardly looked western," Connors said.

So he worked at it. Hard. The acting work might have fallen into his lap thanks to some ins he had with Hollywood, but the guy strived to turn himself into a Western star. That started with a horse.

His mind set on becoming a cowboy, Connors bought a rough horse for $50. 

"It had a game leg," he explained. "The wrangler wouldn't sell me a real good one." Connors then rented an acre of land, put up a fence and stable, and started teaching himself riding and general cowboy behavior. 

"I fed the horse, watered it," Connors said, adding that he worked just as hard on himself. "I worked on the accent and let the hair grow."

The effort paid off. He certainly looked right at home on the ranch in The Rifleman. You'd never guess he was a Brooklyn kid.

If there's one thing Connors took from sports to Hollywood it was this: practice.

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GTStang08 10 months ago
I believe it was from the film "The Big Country" that Chuck Connors developed that cowboy image many producers were looking for. This is where he honed in his riding skills as well. His character in the movie, Buck, resembles a double character that he portrayed in an episode of "The Rifleman" entitled "Deadly Image". The character...Bantry!...Earl Bantry.

Purple0456 25 months ago
I love my visits to the McCain ranch everyday
Reminds me when I was a kid watching it with my dad
But honestly they should have given Lucas more love scenes
Now that I am older I realize what a sight to behold when Lucas is chopping wood. Just loved Johnny Crawford as Mark. He was so talented and grew up to be so handsome
Miss these actors
I’m this troubled time we live in these vintage tv shows are really important
MichaelGreene 35 months ago
Chuck Connors must have worked on a number of accents. He made an appearance in The Adventures of Superman as Sylvester J. Superman, a country bumpkin who answers an ad from a woman for the actual Superman, and flies a pie up to Alaska in an airplane to the woman's fiance. Connors character's reaction to the actual Superman jumping into the air is a bit hokey, but fitting for the show at the time.
Bella0911 35 months ago
Thank you so much for the updated information on Chuck Conners. I watch the Rifleman faithfully everyday day of the week. I watch this series, as if it was my first time watching. I get so excited and call the shots (the words) when a statement is present from the main characters. I am a "young at heart" and have be totally entertained by the Rifleman. Love myself the series.
ww245 35 months ago
I thought Chuck Conners was great as an actor and I loved him in those westerns. He played a great Dad in Rifleman and a great do gooder in Branded. Always watched those when I was a kid and I get to see the Rifleman today. I tell the young guys to watch them so they get an idea of why my generation had a chance to be a good generation because of what we watched and they could be too if they gave the shows half a chance. Lots liked those old flicks they told me too. Lots of good lessons to learn on those old TV shows. Make better sense than anything else on TV......
Seawalker80 35 months ago
I met Mr. Connors when I was ten years old; I lived in the suburbs of Los Angeles near the Firestone Factory, on Firestone; he was visiting the ballplayer that lived next door, Mom and I were outside doing some weeding, and he was talking to the man next door in the driveway, we started to go inside and the man next door asked if we would like to meet Chuck Connors; MoM didn't know who he was but said sure; (we didn't have a TV at the time) Chuck picked me up and held me over his head laughing, I had never been that high before.
ww245 Seawalker80 35 months ago
That had to be something to meet him.
Gossemer 35 months ago
Thanks Chuck!,
He was one of the greats, I loved the show then and I stll do. Although im glad he doesnt put marks on his rifle for all the bad guys hes taken down. He'd need 100 to fit them. 😆
F5Twitster 35 months ago
Connors made himself convincingly “western” enough that William Wyler, one of the greateat directors who ever lived, cast him as Jean Simmons’s unwanted suitor, and Gregory Peck’s antagonist — a major part — in his 1958 “The Big Country.”
ww245 F5Twitster 35 months ago
Great point. That was a great movie! To me, it still is and what a cast and story along with Burl Ives!
MikeDunne 35 months ago
The picture was taken during Chuck's tenure on Branded, note the cavalry pants , the first season haircut and the horse.
Zip 35 months ago
I've never thought of Chuck as anything else except a cowboy/rancher. So I guess he pulled it off very well.
Well, there was that time he played a werewolf but we won't talk about that. ;-)

I'd love to buy a horse. Wish I could buy one for $50. Wonder what that would be today.

I also recognized this name, "entertainment reporter Rick Du Brow". He was mentioned in/on Russell Johnson's book and audiobook, "Here on Gilligan's Island" as one of the critics who panned GI back in the day. I still remember Russell mentioning the critic's quote on the audiobook, with his name and journalism institution he was with afterward, "Rick Du Brow, UPI."
jerrysays Zip 35 months ago
i am with there with you on Chuck Connors , any thing more , then a Cowboy , but i thought he played a good Geronimo , when they had him do a movie playing that Indian Chief , they let Chuck Connors , show his blue eyes in that movie , they originally was going to make chuck Connors wear brown contacts , the Director decided not to , because how Chuck Connors true eye color came through more impressive on Camera , then it would have with contacts
LoveMETV22 Zip 35 months ago
$50 then would be $500 and change with inflation. I'm guessing they were referring to the horse as rough because of its leg. 🐎🐎
MrsPhilHarris 35 months ago
Two things. Love the Hudson’s Bay Company blanket coat, and I did not realize he was that old when on Rifleman. I thought he was in his early to mid-thirties.
MrsPhilHarris 35 months ago
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Oh definitely. The blanket were used as trade for furs. Each blanket had a set of small black lines which indicate how many furs it cost to trade for the blanket. They are still around and are quite expensive.
LoveMETV22 MrsPhilHarris 35 months ago
Yes, I was looking at some Hudson Bay Point blankets they start at $700 and up.
LoveMETV22 MrsPhilHarris 35 months ago
And the Coat he was wearing $475 and up.
Arnold_Ziffel4_life 35 months ago
Thank you so much MeTv, that was a very interesting story, I view the Rifleman as my favourite show now (moved up from #2). Never knew Connors was like that, can't imagine him talking like Bugs Bunny.
My email is arnoldziffel. Love green acres
Cougar Mr305north 35 months ago
Me too!!!
ncadams27 35 months ago
If he was serious about becoming a cowboy, I think he would have worn a different coat.
justjeff 35 months ago
Remember, you can see Connors in full color with his crew cut [well...more of a brush cut] and an affected Southern accent - along with a mule [not a horse] in the "Adventures of Superman" episode "Flight to the North". He was Sylvester J. Superman... ("Thuffering leotardths!)
Andybandit 35 months ago
The Rifleman is my favorite western. That is right, he had to have a Western accent. He was from Brooklyn like me. Carroll O 'Connor had to have a southern accent for "In the heat of the night", and he is from Brooklyn.
Pacificsun 35 months ago
Great story! When I catch the Rifleman on in the afternoons, Chuck Connors is always very good. As realistic as a Western (escapism) series could be. And has an excellent rapport with the character's son! Good moral tales!
LoveMETV22 35 months ago
Good story MeTV. One of my favorite shows.Like baseballl but glad he got his break in Hollywood.
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