Mark McCain's mysterious mom on The Rifleman was Mork's mentor
Marian Seldes taught Robin Williams, Christopher Reeve, Kelsey Grammer and many more.
Johnny Crawford appeared in more than 160 episodes of The Rifleman, but he had a favorite. "At the time I remember thinking that it was very imaginative and unusual," Crawford said in a 1982 interview with TV Collector. "Also, at that time, one of my favorite shows was The Twilight Zone, so that was where my tastes were."
The episode in question is "The Vision," wherein Mark McCain comes down with typhoid and slips into a fever dream. The young McCain was not the only boy dealing with high temperatures — Crawford himself was ill during the filming. Despite his hardship in production, the young star still looked at the tale fondly.
"I was actually ill," Crawford recalled. "Normally, it took us three days to do an episode and we worked like crazy, but I think it was on the first day of the show, I had a fever and I was trying to keep it a secret."
It is a special episode for fans of The Rifleman, as well, as we get a glimpse of Mark's dead mother, Margaret. Veiled in white, she sits by a reflecting pond in a tranquil garden. We see Mark's reaction to staring into the face of his lost mom, but the face of Margaret McCain is never fully revealed to the audience.
Marian Seldes played mother Margaret, Lucas' former wife. She pulled double duty in the episode, also portraying a fortune teller in "The Vision." Acting range was hardly an issue with Seldes. She was an ace. A mentor, really.
Perhaps you recognize Seldes from other projects. She was a murder victim in season one of Perry Mason, in "The Case of the Screaming Woman."
Until her death in 2014, Seldes was an acting force, a legend truly, even if most of her work appeared on stage, not screen. The American Theater Hall of Fame inducted her in 1995. A Lifetime Achievement Award was bestowed upon her at the Tonys in 2010. Throughout her career, Seldes garnered five Tony nominations, winning Best Featured Actress in a Play in 1967 for A Delicate Balance.
Seldes might have made her biggest mark in education, however. From 1967–91, she worked as part of the drama faculty at The Juilliard School. Her students included Christopher Reeve, Kelsey Grammer, Kevin Kline, William Hurt, Patti LuPone and Val Kilmer. She also happened to teach Robin Williams.
Williams and Seldes got to work together late in their careers, as mentor and pupil both appeared in August Rush (2007). She played an educator, the dean.
"The idea of Juilliard was that it would give you this toolbox full of skills that you could take with you and apply to anything," Williams once said. Though he is best known for his zany comedy, especially as he exploded onto the scene as Mork on Happy Days and a stand-up comic, Williams trained in the schools "Group 6" class of drama actors which included Kelsey Grammer and Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman in Batman: The Animated Series.
"You should hear Robin Williams do [an impression of] me," Seldes joked and teased in the 2002 book Juilliard.
Seldes and Williams died two months apart from each other in 2014. "Marian Seldes was great!" Williams said of his former teacher, "She was like a bird herself, kind of like a flamingo."