Mark McCain's first crush on The Rifleman was a Mickey Mouse Club reunion of sorts
Cheryl Holdridge was the only female Mouseketeer to appear on the Western.
Insert images: Disney
T-H-E… R-I-F… L-E-M-A-N… It does not quite have the same ring to it as M-I-C-K-E-Y-M-O-U-S-E, and while the cheery children's television of The Mickey Mouse Club and the gun-twirling action of The Rifleman seem miles apart in tone, the two shows do have some obvious ties.
Johnny Crawford, one half of the central duo of the series, the young Mark McCain growing up with his single father in New Mexico Territory, is an alumnus of the original Mickey Mouse Club. The son of a television editor (Robert Crawford worked on The Bob Cummings Show and The Monkees, to name a couple of titles), Crawford was born and raised in Los Angeles. The boy was a mere nine years old when he landed a part on The Mickey Mouse Club in 1955.
On the Walt Disney program, Crawford was a member of the "Red Team," the more popular regulars who took precedence over the de facto bench squad, the Blue Team.
However, he left the afterschool staple after a single season. At the age of ten, he was ready to move on.
Not long after, Crawford nabbed the enviable part of Mark McCain opposite the towering Chuck Connors, a former NBA and MLB player turned actor. Over its five seasons, The Rifleman told many coming-of-age tales about Mark, always guided by the wisdom of his pa, Lucas. That meant, compared to other Westerns of the era, more adolescent guest stars than other shows.
So perhaps it was inevitable that Crawford would cross paths with another erstwhile Disney child-star in North Fork. What's surprising is just how rare those reunions actually were.
We always remember our first serious crush. The puppy love sears our memory banks. Mark McCain felt the first significant flutters of stomach butterflies in "A Young Man's Fancy," an episode from season four. The story begins as Milly Scott (Joan Taylor) — the love interest of Lucas McCain — welcomes her young niece off of a stagecoach. With her bouncy blonde bangs, Sally Walker immediately shoots cupid's arrow into Mark's heart.
Cheryl Holdridge plays Sally. Like Crawford, she was a veteran of The Mickey Mouse Club. The Red Team, too. She was the only female Mouseketeer to appear on The Rifleman (Walt Disney was busy arranging roles for Annette Funicello on Zorro). Kids at home wearing their black Mickey ears in front of the rabbit ears were probably geeking out. Two Mouseketeers together! Kissing, even!
But here's the weird part. Johnny and Cheryl never appeared together on The Mickey Mouse Club! Cheryl joined the Red Team in season two — just after Johnny bolted. This was, at last, a chance for them to meet.
Just one other Mouseketeer made it on The Rifleman, Don Grady, who had a blossoming career of his own thanks to My Three Sons. You can spot him in two earlier episodes, "The Patsy" and "Heller."
Back to Cheryle and Johnny for a moment. Their onscreen romance is not the only notable element of "A Young Man's Fancy."
Midway through the episode, Mark serenades Sally on the porch with a little guitar strumming and sugar-sweet crooning. The tune is "Something Special," a single that Johnny Crawford was not-so-coincidentally releasing to record shops at the time. It was a debut guitar performance for Crawford on the series.
In fact, as you can see in the cover art above, Crawford dropped an album around the episode — also titled A Young Man's Fancy. As we said, you never forget Mark's first love, especially when its preserved on camera and on record.