Chuck Connors said the rifle in The Rifleman was important to the series

For Chuck Connors, honesty was the best policy in the Old West and in real life.

The Rifleman may not have been titled "The Rifleman" if Lucas McCain, played by Chuck Connors, was using any other type of weapon besides a modified Winchester Model 1892 rifle. 

It simply couldn't be named The Rifleman if Lucas McCain was carrying a revolver. The title of the series put emphasis on the fact that Lucas McCain was a skilled marksman and highlighted the significance the rifle played in the series.

Connors said his gun was a big part of the series and he was quick to defend the choice of a rifle as his main weapon whenever he had to.

"Too much emphasis has been placed on the gimmick guns instead of honesty," Connors said in a 1961 interview with The Pantagraph. "I'll admit the rifle I use is unorthodox, but it's not a gimmick. We don't use it as a substitute for storytelling."

The Rifleman followed the story of a widowed rancher (Lucas McCain) and his son Mark McCain. Connors used his Winchester Model 1892 rifle to maintain justice and protect his loved ones.

Connors' objection to the absurd firearms carried by other TV cowboys was that their main purpose was to provide a program with an identifying mark. He said many Westerns had a habit of relying too much on the gimmick gun, rather than developing storylines.

But, of course, Lucas McCain was different than any man in the Old West. 

"In our show, the rifle is a symbol, not a trademark," Connors said. "It's a symbol of dignity and the way it's used indicates very strongly that it is meant for hunting animals, not men. The only time Lucas uses the gun against men is when he has to defend himself."

Connors added that his character was never happy about using his gun on a person, and he wanted that to reflect in the way he portrayed his character in the series.

According to the interview, the original decision to use the rifle was made by The Rifleman producers, Arnold Laven, Jules V. Levy, and Arthur Gardner, in an effort to avoid the TV weapons cliche that many other Westerns fell victim to.

"Before we came on air, people were firing bullets out of canes, top hats — and I guess they would have used their ears if the prop department could have fixed it," Connors said. "A lot of that has disappeared — maybe by our example."

Another cliche that bothered Connors about Westerns was something audiences loved very much: A classic Old West shootout.

"We like to fool the audience sometimes by setting up what looks like a sure shootout — then avoid it completely," Connors said. "Many shows use the showdown as an excuse for a bad story."

Connors said he would have rather avoided a shootout — no matter how fun they seemed — in order to delve into someone's character.

"What works for us is honesty," Connors said. "And I hope three years of success has proven it's the best policy — on television or anywhere else."

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2 Comments

Pacificsun 1 month ago
I think Chuck Connors carried a lot of innate dignity. It was an elegant Series with purposeful storylines!
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