Johnny Crawford at a crossroads: How the teen star navigated the end of The Rifleman

Crawford stayed grounded at 17

Peter Rodgers Organization

Imagine having the world on a string at 17 years old. At that age, most of us struggle to keep up with the present, let alone plan for the future. It's a strange time. We certainly know more than we ever have, which is enough to make us think we know it all. But the truth is that we're in a very vulnerable time in our lives. We don't yet have the tools to successfully navigate everything life presents us. Our brains aren't even fully formed!

It's a surprise, then, that Johnny Crawford seems to have pretty deftly handled the obstacles of his fame and career. In interviews, he comes across as wiser than his years. He knows he's not entitled to anything, either in show business or in general. Somehow, he just seems better suited for teenage life than the average adolescent.

In 1963, The Buffalo News caught Crawford at an intersection in his life. The Rifleman had just ended, and suddenly, the actor who played Lucas McCain had a lot more free time to consider life and its opportunities. But, instead of sounding like a Hollywood brat, Crawford sounds like he had a good head on his shoulders.

"Naturally, I feel kind of sentimental about the end of The Rifleman," said Crawford. "After all, it's been five years, and there are a lot of reasons for wanting to have it go on. But there are also reasons for being glad it's over because I can move on to other things, new people, [and] new experiences."

Rather than assuming he'd have work waiting for him after The Rifleman, Crawford treated the craft with respect and dedication not usually seen in young actors. 

"It was drummed into me by very smart people— that you can be a boy wonder today and a flop tomorrow," he said. "So I realized that I had to be a well-rounded person. I don't think I'm handsome so I can't get by on my looks. I'm no Laurence Olivier so I had to work hard, to study, to improve my acting."

Crawford remained a consummate student of the acting profession, watching every show, play, and movie he could. He was also open to feedback from his more experienced peers.

"Chuck Connors tells me that I have improved so much since I first started with the show that it really astounds him," Crawford said. "It also pleases him because that's the kind of guy Chuck is. I appreciate his encouragement."

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GTStang08 1 month ago
"...the actor who played Lucas McCain had a lot more free time to consider life and its opportunities." Who wrote this? Uh, MeTV staff, that would be Chuck Connors. Johnny Crawford portrayed Mark McCain, the son. I stopped reading after that section.
dazeofwine 2 months ago
Always was class. Always will be.
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