Little Jeff Connors was paid handsomely in his Rifleman debut
The 7-year-old son of Chuck Connors had two lines of dialogue in a small but sweet role on the classic Western.
It’s not uncommon for family members of famous stars to appear in their onscreen projects. Ron Howard’s dad, Rance, and his little brother, Clint, both appeared on The Andy Griffith Show. Will Geer’s daughter cameoed on The Waltons and both stars of Adam-12, Kent McCord and Martin Milner, brought their daughters onboard for small roles.
But before all of these examples, Chuck Connors brought his son, Jeff, to North Fork in The Rifleman episode “Tension.”
The story revolves around a seemingly ordinary rancher, Sid Halpern, who admits to a criminal past and pays the ultimate price in a gunfight with some nefarious bounty hunters. Lucas, who counted Sid among his friends, tries to keep the truth from the widow and young son left behind.
Jeff Connors portrays little Toby Halpern, who we meet at his father’s funeral. When Marshal Torrance calls Toby “the man of the house,” Toby replies “I know sir, I’ll try to do my best.” He then turns to his mother and says, “Ma, we better hurry if we don’t want to miss our stage.”
It’s a touching scene made even more special by the family connection. It was also a lucrative scene, especially for a seven-year-old in his onscreen debut.
According to the caption of an AP photo saved on a Rifleman fan site, Jeff was paid “about $300” to play Toby. That’s $150 per line of dialogue, not bad! Especially considering that’s almost three grand in today’s money. The younger Connors also had to get a California work permit for the gig “which he’s been rehearsing with his dad for the past month,” reads the caption.
“Tension” would be Jeff Connors’ biggest TV role. He had uncredited background parts in two other Rifleman episodes, “First Wages” and “The Schoolmaster” which also featured his older brother, Mike Connors, and his younger brothers Steve and Kevin. Jeff also had a cameo in the 1973 Chuck Connors film The Mad Bomber.