Johnny Crawford's father-son relationship with Chuck Connors was more than just acting

The father-son duo didn't quit when the cameras stopped rolling.

Image credit: The Everett Collection

Growing up as a child star can come with its own set of unique challenges. It can be isolating, overwhelming and confusing. Reaching such great heights at a young age can pull kids out of classes, lead to mental health issues and set them on a bad path very easily. 

While the pressure to perform applied to most child actors, it didn't seem to affect a young Johnny Crawford. 

Crawford was only 12 years old when he started his role as Mark McCain on the 1958 series, The Rifleman. He still had a lot to learn, but luckily for Crawford, he had one of the best men in the Old West to help guide him through it. That man was Chuck Connors.

Connors played the role of Lucas McCain and was the fictional father to Crawford's character, but the duo didn't stop when the cameras stopped rolling. According to a 1959 interview with Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, Crawford considered Connors to be one of his idols.

Crawford was a big baseball fan before turning to acting. Just like Connors, who played in the MLB for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949, Crawford never expected his two loves to cross. Then came Connors.

"I was real scared when Mom told me I was going to read to play the part of Mr. Connors' son in the show," Crawford said. "I remembered him from when he was the first baseman with the Los Angeles Angels. They were my favorite team and Mr. Connors was always the character of the team... I wasn't so much scared about reading for the role; I guess I was more excited about meeting Chuck Connors. But he made me feel right at home because I told him I was a baseball fan and it seemed like we had a lot in common."

Before he met Connors on The Rifleman, Crawford got his start as one of the original Disney Mouseketeers. Crawford stood out in a room full of hundreds of other kids all wanting the same part. "I never thought I would get it," he added.

Both Connors and Crawford had a fairly demanding schedule hard enough for any actor to handle. Rehearsals took Crawford at least 28 hours per week, and school kept him busy for at least three hours each day. 

By spending as much time together as a real father-son duo would per week, the two coworkers became like family.

"I treat him just like I would my own kids," Connors said. "I want him to feel that he's a normal boy. I roughhouse with him, I send him off to school, find out how he'd doing with his studies - but I don't pamper him."

"The big thing in our series is the fine relationship between me and Johnny," Connors said. "I don't pretend to be an authority on children, but he's one of the best-mannered child actors I've ever met. It's pretty easy for a boy who has become a celebrity to get out of hand. I know this will never happen to Johnny."

Watch The Rifleman on MeTV!

Weekdays at 3 PM & 3:30 PM
Saturdays at 5 PM & 5:30 PM

*available in most MeTV markets
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


JERRY6 1 month ago
one of my favorite shows , never tire of watching it . unlike the crap today it will live on , for good reason
LynCarrigan 1 month ago
He seemed much younger than 12 in the beginning but maybe that was acting. I love those early episodes; the two of them are so touching.
MrsPhilHarris 1 month ago
I always thought he was a lot younger than 12 when he started the role.
WordsmithWorks 1 month ago
They definitely had a chemistry on the show that would have been hard to fake.
Runeshaper 1 month ago
This is so AWESOME! Chuck Connors is definitely idol material. It's GREAT that he and Johnny Crawford got along so well (-:
Irish 1 month ago
Awe...sweet story. I love the Rifleman show. ❤️
trogg888 1 month ago
Id have to say the rifleman was my favorite show growing up.the show was so well written and believable.markwasabout my age when I watc d the show so I could relate.
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?