Iconic horror actor Lon Chaney Jr. played one of the scariest villains on The Rifleman
His friendliness made him frightening.
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As a young man, Creighton Chaney stayed away from show business. His father, Lon Chaney, was a famous silent film star and discouraged his son from following in his footsteps. But after the elder Chaney died in 1930, Creighton decided to do just that.
He began using the more marketable stage name Lon Chaney Jr. and soon became forever connected to one studio and its particular brand of horror movies: the Universal monster films. Lon Chaney Jr. is the only actor to play all four main monsters. While he is most widely remembered as the Wolf Man, he also played Dracula’s son Count Alucard (Dracula spelled backwards), Frankenstein’s Monster and the Mummy in some of the many sequels produced throughout the 1940s and 50s.
With the rise of television, Chaney was seen on the small screen as well — especially in Westerns. One of his most memorable TV roles came on The Rifleman in 1962. In the season-four episode "Gunfire," Chaney plays the notorious and cruel outlaw Charlie Gordo.
We meet Gordo at the very beginning of the story. He's biding his time in the North Fork prison, looking for a way to escape hanging in Yuma. When the U.S. Marshal who was supposed to escort Gordo to his fate turns up dead before even arriving in North Fork, Micah and Lucas know they're in for trouble.
Chaney portrays Gordo with a laid back, calm, almost friendly demeanor — which is exactly what makes him so chilling! He smiles while freely admitting he'll kill anyone who tries to prevent his escape.
After the first shots ring out in the night, and someone else ends up dead, Gordo casually remarks lying in his jail cell cot, "Don't you 'spose, Marshal, they're just out there having some fun, riling you up before they kill ya?"
The episode builds to a suspenseful, and deadly, climax. Though he was only sporting light scruff, not full Wolf Man makeup, Lon Chaney Jr. brought all his horror instincts to the evil villain of this great Rifleman episode.