Chuck Connors spent five years playing Lucas McCain on “The Rifleman,” and the steely-eyed rancher was famous for shooting first with his Winchester rifle and maybe — or maybe not — asking questions later. That’s the way you live life when you’re a single parent out in the wilds of the New Mexico Territory in the late 19th century.
Still, there is no beast so fierce that doesn’t crave love. In the rough-and-tumble world of North Fork, the show’s setting, Conners finally took matters into his own hands and wrote a second-season episode where McCain had an unexpected romantic liaison.
Kiss Is Just a Kiss
Sam Peckinpah, who later directed the nihilistic Western classic “The Wild Bunch,” developed “The Rifleman.” He wrote and directed many early episodes that used violent realism to illustrate the lessons he felt McCain’s son Mark, played by Johnny Crawford, should learn.
Connors wanted a change of pace and wrote “The Visitor,” the 18th episode in the second season. Ann Dodd, a friend of his late wife, arrives in North Fork on her way to Albuquerque. She is going there to collect an inheritance from her recently deceased uncle. Dodd and McCain discover they share a mutual attraction that is complicated by the fact her uncle’s son and his wife plan to kill her to get his estate.
McCain saves her from them and asks her to return to North Fork when her affairs are settled. They share a few kisses as she prepares to leave town for Albuquerque, but she tells him she won’t be back. She explains that she could never replace his son Mark’s mother and the boy would never accept her, something she couldn’t accept.
You can watch the complete episode below, and see McCain’s heart break as he watches Dodd ride out of his life on a stagecoach.
Life After ‘The Rifleman’
Unfortunately, Connors never again achieved the success he enjoyed on “The Rifleman.” Typecasting relegated him to bit parts not much different from his McCain character. He periodically had smaller roles in more successful projects such as the movies “Soylent Green” (1973) and “Airplane II: The Sequel” (1982) but never managed to sustain a new start to his career.
Connors’ last highlight came in 1991, the year before his death at age 71, when the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City inducted him into the Western Performers Hall of Fame.