See the cast of The Rifleman in their earliest screen roles

How did Chuck, Johnny, Patricia and Paul kick off their careers?

The Rifleman remains one of the most beloved Westerns in television history, largely because it is far more than some mere oater about bandits and cowboys. At its heart, The Rifleman is a father-and-son tale, relevant to any parent or any child.

Though Lucas and Mark McCain were the big stars, appearing in every episode, they were not the only recurring characters. There was local law enforcement… and love.

Let’s take a look at how some of the cast got their start!

1. Chuck Connors

After showing his rare two-sport talent in the MLB and NBA and a member of the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Celtics, Connors transitioned to acting in the 1950s. The former athlete likely felt right at home in his first picture. He was surrounded by jocks. The Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn rom-com Pat and Mike reunited the Hollywood icons. Hepburn portrayed a tennis and golf player. For realism (and box-office appeal), the movie cast real pros like Don Budge, the first tennis ace to win the Grand Slam in a single year. However, Chuck — who earned his nickname “Chuck” from tossing baseballs — played a cop, not a ballplayer! His scene pit him against Hepburn, Tracy and Charles Bronson!

Image: MGM

2. Johnny Crawford

Crawford, of course, got his start as one of the original Mouseketeers on The Mickey Mouse Club in 1955. Mark McCain’s first crush on The Rifleman was a Mouseketeer reunion, of sorts. On the big screen, Crawford has the distinction here of making his debut in full color. He had a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him part in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, the 1956 Gregory Peck movie adapted from one of the great novels of 1950s American life. Johnny carries groceries as small Italian boy in one of the flashback scenes with Marisa Pavan.

Images: Disney / 20th Century Fox

3. Patricia Blair

As Lou Mallory, she won the heart of single dad Lucas McCain. As “Pat Blake” (her birth surname) Blair made her movie debut in Jump Into Hell (1955), the first Hollywood film to deal with the war in French Indochina, a.k.a. Vietnam. The war picture is riddled with questionable French accents. Texas native Blair plays a French woman, Gisele.

Image: Warner Bros.

4. Paul Fix

Who is that handsome man?! The one on the left is screen icon Gary Cooper. The fellow on the right is none other than Paul Fix. Yep, that is Marshal Micah Torrance back as a 27-year-old. His first major movie role came in 1928’s The First Kiss.

5. Joan Taylor

She was feisty Milly Scott, love interest to Lucas McCain on The Rifleman, but 11 years earlier she was making her debut in another Western, Fighting Man of the Plains. The Kansas-set story featured Jesse James — and Paul Fix as “Yancy”! Yep, Taylor was no stranger to working with Fix.

Image: 20th Century Fox

6. Hope Summers

Milly Scott took over the general store in North Fork from the elder Hattie Denton. Mayberry favorite Hope Summers (prize-winning pickle-maker of The Andy Griffith Show) played Hattie. Surprisingly, her acting career began not too long before The Rifleman, in the early 1950s. She appears as a preachy vision in the educational short “Better Use of Leisure Time,” one of those charmingly dated didactic films you’d have to watch in school. “My, that’s hard work,” she complained while cranking a old-fashioned laundry wringer. “But that’s women’s lot in life.”

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