"Arnold Laven.....The Producer!"
The Producer's Corner
Sadly Arnold Laven passed away on
September 13, 2009
Arnold I miss you, rest in peace!
"The Rifleman" was a Levy-Gardner-Laven Production
Everything pertaining to "The Rifleman" was coordinated among these three men.
Arnold loved to talk about
I bet he & Chuck are in Cowboy heaven having some really great chats about The Rifleman.
I have some interesting stories that Arnold Laven has sent me pertaining to
The Rifleman. I know you Cowboys & Cowgirls will love them!!!!!
I just got this in from Arnold.....Margie...Unhappily we have not succeeded in getting a DVD distribution deal up to this time...just didn't work out...however, we are still working on it and have hopes that we will succeed early next year...for our fiftieth anniversary...I believe Amazon has some Rifleman DVD sets available...covering "X" number of episodes...I do not know that particulars........Best wishes, Arnold posted 11/30/07
I had gotten several questions from the Northforkers on the messageboard wanting me to ask Arnold about colorizing The Rifleman.
Here is what he had to say.....
Margie....On two or three occasions we were on the verge of colorizing....however, for different reasons...including the money factor..the process didn't go foreward...colorizing is still very much on our mind...tell Pete, I appreciate his bring up colorizing...keeping it fresh in our mind.My very best, Arnold
Arnold, I heard that some of the kids that were on the show were sons & daughter, nieces and nephews in a lot of the episodes. I know which episode the Connors' boys were in and also Steve Gardner. I even heard that Jules Levy's son was in some and also your daughter. I also was wondering who Fancy, the baby, was in "The Baby Sitter?" (I had sent Arnold the link) Can you shed some light on this for me? This would be great to put in my piddlin' stuff.....
Margie...I am afraid that I'm not going to be of much help on this one....the only clear memory that I have of my children along with Jules' and Arthur's was in an episode (don't remember the name) in which a wagon load of young children were involved in the scene...to the best of my memory none of them had speaking parts...they were solely there as extras...neither my daughter Barbara or my son Larry...again, to the best of my memory...appeared in another episode...I can't speak for the others...my limited memory also does not recall that sons or daughters, nieces or nephews were ever cast in speaking parts of any significance... I was not involved in the casting of a number of the episodes, so there well might have be relatives involved that I was not aware of...in any case, I am not aware that the use of relatives was such that it would in any way characterize the show...most regretfully, I do not have any idea who the baby in the "baby sitter" was...the general approach to casting babies who are that young is done via the casting director going through a special procedure that delivers the baby to the set with her mother standing by.
Have a bountiful Thanksgiving, Arnold
I got this e-mail from K.O'Donnell—I have a question that maybe you could forward to Arnold Laven. I haven't found any information regarding Chuck Connors' skill as a marksman. I realize the shooting on the series was all the magic of TV, but put to the test, could Chuck Connors hit a target? Also, how long did it take for him to handle the rifle the way he did?
Margie...Please let Ms. O'Donnell know I appreciate her interest in The Rifleman...her question: "How long did it take for Chuck to handle the rifle the way that he did?" Chuck was a professional athlete both as a basketball player (with the Boston Celtics for a year or so) and baseball player (which included a year with the Dodgers)....both sports call for dexterity which Chuck had in spades...I remember quite clearly that Chuck and I were standing at the counter of Stembridge Gun Rentals after having made an appointment with Mr. Stembridge, an acknowledged authority relating to all aspects of guns...we were there for him to show us what he felt might be an individual rifle that would match up with the title of our show.....Mr. Stembridge put a Winchester with a large circular lever on the counter...Chuck picked it up..stepped back to give himself room...and twirled it around...cocked it...pulled the trigger..re-cocked it faster than the eye could follow...and looked at me...it was love a first sight...Chuck and the rifle...need I say more...only that Chuck became more and more efficient with time and experience...Ms. O'Donnell's other question re Chuck's skill as a marksman...over the five years working on the series with Chuck and having enjoyed many social activities with him and his first wife Betty, including a vacation in Mexico in which his lack of expertise in fishing was demonstrated...never once, to the best of my recollection, did I ever see Chuck fire the rifle or any weapon using live ammunition...the subject of how good a marksman he actually was never came up...but just taking a guess after watching the many times I saw him bring the rifle to his shoulder and take aim, I would hate to have been the target if it were for real.Best wishes, Arnold
Hi Arnold, I have this question that was in The McCain Ranch messageboard and hoped you could help with it. The fans are figuring out the percentage of episodes the regular characters have been on in The Rifleman. This particular one is on Paul Fix.Here is the question..... So, if Micah (Paul Fix) was not in 46 (or so) episodes, that means he was not in 27% of the episodes (but was in 73% of the episodes - - significantly higher than my estimate).Cowgirl - do you have any idea if a regular on a TV series gets paid when he is not in an episode? Renewed Fan
Here is Arnold's answer.....
Margie...The contract arrangements with actors who are established in a series but who are not in the majority of episodes vary with the particulars of the series...my guess is that in most cases the actor is guaranteed a minimum number of episodes at a satisfactory salary negotiated by his agent...to the best of my recollection that was the case with dear Paul Fix.........actors who are in most but not in all the episodes, I believe, in most cases, are paid a negotiated weekly salary...those who appear occasionally are usually paid only for the episodes they are in...the company will notify that actor's agent enough in advance so that he, hopefully, will become available....however, there are no rules and each company deals with the non regular actor in their own way......hope I have given a reasonable satisfactory answer to the question...My very best, Arnold posted 10/26/07
Got a tid bit from Arnold Laven.....Now it ain't much.....but.....
I had got an e-mail from someone asking who the narrator was for The Rifleman in the opening scene. This is what Arnold said.....
Margie....Regretfully, I am not sure who the narrator was....I am guessing that the narration he is referring (meaning the fan) to was done at the time show went into syndication and was recorded independent of LGL...in any case neither Arthur or I can answer Mr. xxxxxxx's question...but we sure thank him for his interest in the show.
All is well here...still waiting for final word on extended distribution.
My very best, Arnold
"still waiting for final word on extended distribution." I would say he is talking about the DVD's What say you? posted 10/19/07
At which studio - Universal, Columbia, Republic, etc. - was the show filmed and would you know a sound stage number? I am curious. Many years ago I worked on several studio lots and often wondered where the show was filmed. Any information you may have will be appreciated.
Margie....Not meaning be a nit picker....but.... when reference is made to a motion pictures studio...that includes a variable number of sound stages....along with offices, and the many miscellaneous buildings where are stored the elements that go into constructing sets...like scene docks, wardrobe, prop, electrical, grip, along with the motor pool, the studio restaurant....and mail room where I started work in 1939 are the Warner Bros Studio.....not to get down to business...The pilot of the Rifleman and the first year's episodes were shot at the Fox Western Studio....a small studio belonging to 20th Century Fox which is located on the Western Avenel which is on the eastern edge of Hollywood....which was also the headquarters of our production partner Four Star...the following year Four Star moved their productions the Republic Studios...located in Studio City, in the San Fernando Valley...the main entrance being on a street called Radford...Republic Studio somewhere early on was taken over by CBS and became know as CBS Studio Center...the last four years of the Rifleman were shot at that studio....FYA both Hollywood and Studio City are part of the many, many parts that make up Los Angeles.Best wishes, Arnold posted 5/4/07
Bruce asked..... Will Encore stop showing the series after the final episode or will the series start over?
I did write to Arnold, this is what he had to say.....the specific timing is not determined but it will run well into 2008 and probably beyond...Arnold—Great news for us Rifleman fans!!!!! posted 4/20/07
A Rifleman Fan asked. . . . ."How come Lucas and mark didn't have a dog; a faithful companion who could have come to their rescue from time to time?" Considering it was the era of Rin Tin Tin and Lassie, I thought that his question made good sense.
So I asked Johnny the same question. He said that he asked that same question of the producers way back then, but never got an answer. He also asked them that since they lived on a ranch, why weren't there more animals. Again, no specific answer. If you communicate with the Producer again, would you mind asking these questions? JBArnold's answer - Margie...While Sam Peckinpah was the story editor on "The Rifleman" he wrote a pilot script (for himself) called "The Westerner" which sold ...it was about a colorful Western character, Brian Keith...and his dog...so clearly, out of respect for Sam we were not about to introduce a dog on our series...keeping the McCain ranch a "farm" ranch made life and budget simpler than having to deal with cattle, etc......hope this answers the questions.As always, Arnold
I got this e-mail from Renewed Fan.....I saw on the Branded page that they had a three day shooting schedule (one day interiors, one day on location, etc.) I know that "North Fork" was basically a sound stage and that exteriors were done in the Malibu Hills, but can you fill in any more details about "Rifleman" locations and shooting schedule?
Here is Arnold reply.....
Margie....regarding Renewed Fan's inquiry...it is so general regarding locations that I am unclear as to how to answer...the locations, other than the McCain ranch house, were very many and quite varied...however the details regarding the shooting schedule did not vary...it was always three days of actual shooting, with rehearsals taking place less and less often as the actors and crew became, to a large degree, "pre-rehearsed" as more and more episodes were shot...don't forget to give my best to the gang "out west"...and, please, do have a great time.Best of everything. Arnold posted 3/5/07
I had a fan write to me about The Rifleman DVD's. He wrote.....I am a "Rifleman" fan and have volume 1 (single DVD) of the show with five early episodes. I have been trying to get the four DVD sets, but I learned that the episodes are out of (broadcast) order and are now out of print. I read on your site that Arnold Laven, the producer, says that he hopes to have the show back out on DVD and in stores soon. Do you think that the entire series
will be repackaged and re-released? Perhaps in season by season format? If so, I will hold on and wait for the new DVDs. Please let me know what you find out.
I did hear back from Arnold and this is what he had to said.....
Margie...As I write, discussions are taking place to determine future distribution plans for the Rifleman DVDs...I wish I knew how soon that will be...I would guess within a month or two...tell The Rifleman gang I send my best wishes.
And my very best wishes to you, Arnold posted 2/17/07
Do ya'll know who Archie Butler is? I asked Arnold Laven if he could give me any information on Archie Butler.....Here is what Arnold had to say: Archie Butler....What good memories his name brings back...If I remember, Archie was part of The Rifleman from the start...he was Paul Fix's stand-in, played occasion small parts, and was an extra when otherwise not occupied, indeed, he was a stunt person when it came to riding stunts as he was an exceptionally good horseman...I don't remember how old Archie was when he first joined us, but I think he was pushing sixty...I mention this to explain why his stunts were limited to his being on horseback....but topping all the things he contributed to the show was that he was a warm and generous person always looking to help out in every way possible including helping Johnny learn to be a very good rider.All is on an even keel here...With best wishes for the holiday season.Arnold posted 11/06/06
Ever wonder why "The Rifleman" has not been made into a movie?Margie (and Sweeny)...In answer to why The Rifleman has not been made into a movie....over the past 35 or so years we have had four development deals via several studios...in each case the script was really not good enough to get a go ahead...not surprising, as my guess is that about one in five movie scripts based on TV series lead to a production...so maybe, if there is a next time the odds will be in our favor...based on my experience I can safely say that the most difficult thing to come by in the film business is a truly good script....I pride myself on being a pretty good "script doctor" i.e. fixing scripts that don't work...some years back when I was under contract at Columbia I got access to their unproduced script library...among the hundred or more scripts in the library were scripts by some of the most successful writers including those by Academy Award winners...I don't remember how many I read, but I was stunned by how bad they were, the writing in most cases was quite good, but the story lines were quite bad and I did not have a clue how to make any of them work...I then realized that even the best writers fail time and again...and my subsequent experience participating in script development further convinced me that a truly good script is the most difficult thing to come by...regarding Sweeny's observing that Four Star has gone through a series of mergers...that has no bearing on The Rifleman as shortly after the series went into syndication in the late sixties.My very best to you (and to Sweeny)Arnold
I asked Arnold "How many shots did Lucas McCain fire in the opening scene of
Margie....My memory is not really clear on this: After the Rifleman was well into it's run we became aware that there was a lot of interest in how many shots Chuck fired during the opening title (which I devised and directed without paying attention to the number of shots fired))... was satisfied when he got a lot of shots off in a very few seconds, so I didn't bother to try and count them....now interested, I went to the editing room and with the editor and counted the shots not by what we saw or heard, but by the striations on the sound track....before magnetic tape came in for recording sound and on which there is no visible evidence of sound...a sound track was recorded on a separate 35 mm. roll of film and that track was synced up to the picture and the two rolls of film were run on a moviola that had a window for the editor to view and hear what he is in the process of editing......anyway, the sound was printed on the edge of the film in an extended series of striations which passing through a devise on the moviola created the sound that matched the picture....the editor could not look at the striations and relate them to words, but looking he could tell from the sudden change in the striations when there was a loud sound...like a GUN SHOT...as the shots were fired too close together, almost blending one into the other, it was impossible to count them accurately by listening...what we did was look at the striations and count the gun shots that way...to the best of my memory the number was ELEVEN....as per Chuck's book...but that was about forty five years ago so I wouldn't testify to that number in court....now as for the gun holding only eight shots, that I don't remember...but if true, my guess is that Bernie Burton, who supervised the editing of the pilot, instructed the sound editor who smoothes out, adds and detracts sound to squeeze in as many additional shots as possible, which would enhance the overall effect....what I have just written about Bernie Burton is pure conjecture as I have no recollection of Bernie telling any of us that he did what I just presume...but, as I think back on Bernie, who was one of the best film editor's in the business, he probably figured, "Why open up a kettle of fish?", or "What they don't know won't hurt them."....Margie, as I now see, it you just got a long and questionable answer to a short question.My very best, Arnold LavenP.S. I'm sure that know what a moviola is...but in case you don't...it is the machine the editor used to use edit (cut) the film...It could run the film backward and forward at any speed the editor desires from one frame at a time to the standard twenty four frames a second, or faster....I know you've seen film where you see a scene being shot in which a person holds up a "slate", with the top piece of it held in an up position, in front of the camera...somebody else calls "roll em" the camera starts and the person holding the slate slams down the top piece causing the slate to sound a "bang"....the editor lines up the "bang" (i.e. the striation} with the frame of film showing the top hitting the bottom of the slate...that puts the sound track in sync with the picture...(that explanation for what it's worth) ..incidentally, since the advent of digital and the computer....the moviola is pretty much "out the window" and movies, TV, commercials etc.are edited via a computerized processes. posted 2/15/06
I had won this really neat picture (promo) on EBay of Joan Taylor as Millie Scott. In this picture Joan is showing off her legs. I wrote to Arnold and had told him about the picture that I had won. Although he did not remember that particular picture being taken, he did remember Joan Taylor having really nice Gams, as he put it!
Hi Arnold, I have a question about Robert Foulk, the man who played Toomey. I see in the "Three Legged Terror" they have him listed as the Blacksmith and in http://www.tv.com/ they have him listed as Toomey the undertaker????? What was his profession?Margie...To the best of me recollection Bob Foulk over the course of five years played a variety of different roles as did almost all of the actors on the long list you e-mailed....you can see Joe Higgins and John Dierkes both played the blacksmith as I'm pretty sure Foulk did as well as playing the undertaker in another episode.....a further example is that three different actors played Dr. Burrage...mainly because the good doctor was not conceived as a running character...exceptions were Bill Quinn, Harlan Ward, and I think Hope Summers (none of whom were committed to multiple episode deals as our basic cast was) each of whom we hoped would be available when needed...as for other character parts, we cast who was available when, for whatever reason, a specific character part was brought back as a result of the writer's need for a blacksmith, undertaker, waitress, storekeeper, etc.....I wouldn't bet me life that the above was 100% accurate regarding Bob Foulk, but it does explain the likelihood....and how the series dealt with those characters who we did not know whether or not they would reoccur in a subsequent episode...... Best, Arnold
Hi Arnold, I just received this e-mail I can't answer. I hope you can help us out. Anne has wrote and asked about the different number of episodes to each season. I have often wonder this myself. . . . .
Anne: I went down each Season and was curious why there was a different number of episodes each year. The first year there was 40 (which I know the first one was from the Zane theatre hour), the second season they filmed 36, the third 34, the fourth 32 and the final season only 26 episodes. I was just curious why the difference. I hope you don't think this a silly question just
thought you might know why. Has any one else ever asked you this before?
Arnold's answer—Margie....At the beginning of each year...in the Rifleman days it was our principal sponsor, Proctor and Gamble...who essentially decided on how many episodes they would guarantee...at that time most new series would get a commitment of 13 episodes...after the series is on the air for several weeks and the Neilson ratings are evaluated the sponsors will either cancel the series after the first 13 episodes or the sponsors may commit to an additional 13 episodes, extending the series to 26...if the Nelsons' continues to be very good the number may be extended by another 13...that's how we got to the 39 episodes (not counting the pilot) the first year...because of the series early success.... IF I remember correctly, the 2nd year commitment was for 32 episodes, but as the series continued to get good ratings they added 4 episodes onto the 32...the third year they added 2 on to a commitment of 32...the fourth year stayed with the basic commitment of 32...and the last year, because of not so good ratings, diminished the order to 26 episodes.So answering Anne's question...the guide to the number of episodes a series runs in a year depends on evaluating the ratings and then determining what is the most practical... i.e. profitable... number of episodes to run on that particular year....today the "sponsor" is the network who makes those decisions....of course, there may be side issues based on give and take... if the production company has multi series on the air, that can play into the decisions.....hope the above, at least, gives you and Anne a sense of how the number of episodes may be scheduled for the various series that come and go each year.Best wishes, Arnold—posted 5/27/06
My question to Arnold—It's on Deputy U. S. Marshal, Sam Buckhart - Law of the Plainsman - I have always considered this a spin off of "The Rifleman," but I see I was wrong because this show aired from 1956-1960. So he really was a guest as his own character. I loved this show and hope someday this will be released again. I am interested in the casting of Michael Ansara as Sam Buckhart - excellent choice by the way - and for "The Raid" & "The Indian." Also, Any info that you might remember? I know this has been a long time ago.I know this has nothing to do with "The Rifleman" but I love "The Westerner" with Brian Keith. He is one of my favorite old time actors. Thank you so much for all those great Westerns!!!!! Catch ya' later! Margie
Margie.....Thanks for keeping me posted on the visitors to the McCain Ranch....re Michael Ansara and "Law Of The Plainsman"...you were correct in your synopsis of "The Indian" episode...it was the spinoff that became the successful pilot for that series...which, unfortunately, didn't click....I am doubly sure, as I directed that episode and guided it through its becoming a pilot....the series you got it mixed up with was "Broken Arrow" in which Ansara played Cochise....it had been canceled when we shot "The Indian", but it did suggest that Ansara was ideally suited to play the Harvard educated Indian sheriff, Sam Burkhart, in Law Of The Plainsman...Your admiring "The Westerner" fits right in....Sam Peckinpah after writing "The Rifleman" pilot became the story editor along with being guaranteed 3 directing assignments....somehow during that period he found time to write the pilot for "The Westerner"...and was given time off to direct the pilot..when the series sold Sam received credit as the creator along with being one of the producers, writers and directors....so your taste in westerns didn't stray too far from home....Best wishes, Arnold posted 4/2/06
I had asked Arnold about some info on the music from "The Rifleman" and what was Al Perry's title.....Al Perry's title should have been Right Hand Man to Herschel Gilbert...instead, I'm pretty sure, not positive, he was listed as music editor...to explain how exactly Herschel's wonderful music was selected used throughout the Rifleman would take me longer that I have time too explain....perhaps later...at any rate Herschel and Al teamed up to get it done contributing greatly to the show's success...Al and Herschel were a formidable team...the words in the Rifleman song was never used during the series....I presume Herschel and Al selected choice music that was written for the series and somewhere along the line wrote the words to fit that music, thus creating a song which belonged to Herschel and Al, as all the music rights except when used in the series reverted to Herschel. posted 3/26/06
I asked Arnold if he remembered Steven Marlo.....I remember Steve Marlo very well...he and my wife were in a drama class together some years back...like maybe forty five, fifty years ago...anyway I enjoy getting on the website, and reading the names of the actors who worked on the various Rifleman episodes....boy!....oh...boy!
I also had asked Arnold if he could give me a little info on Enid Jaynes.....being Jules close friend for many years...we used to car pool..going to work at Warner Bros. where we both were messengers in our late teens...I knew Enid very well...she was very good person and a competent actor...whatever her shortcomings as an actor were, they were enough to keep her from getting many, if any, jobs outside of LGL...I was not involved with the casting or her work in the Rifleman episodes...but in the small part she had in Geronimo, I thought she did quite well...incidentally, Jules has a penchant for thinking up titles...not stories, but interesting, meaningful titles that hopefully would lead to a script that would fit the title...LGL was a member of the Motion Picture Producers Alliance which had certain "in house" rules by which the members agreed to abide...one of the rules was that a production company could register a limited number of titles, which was like having those titles copyrighted with in the film industry....among the several titles Jules thought up was..............."The Rifleman".............Best, Arnold
Margie . . . . .The next time that you communicate with Arnold Laven will you ask him a question for me? I have just finished watching Stagecoach starring John Wayne for the umpteenth time. The rifle that John Wayne used in that movie is not the same rifle that he used in later movies. The ring on his rifle in his later movies had a tear drop lever. The one in stagecoach had a "Rifleman" type lever. I am thinking that the rifle that Wayne used in stage coach is the same rifle or the rifle that was used to pattern Chuck's rifle. The only difference that I can see is the screw was missing from the trigger guard and the barrel was 2" shorter on Wayne's rifle. Both could easily be changed to make the Rifleman's rifle . . . . . My question to Mr. Laven is this: Is John Wayne's rifle from Stagecoach the same rifle that finally ended up going down in history as Lucas McCain's famous rifle?Margie....Pete is quite right in assuming that the Stagecoach rifle and the was the same as the Rifleman's. As I recall when Chuck and I met with Stembridge he related it to the one used by John Wayne in Stagecoach...I'm not positive if he said that it was the exact one....or one of several that may, or may have not been used during the filming of Stagecoach...the property department, which is responsible for having the rifle on the set, always has one or more duplicates available in case the rifle malfunctions during a scene...so I believe, it is safe to say, that it is the same as the Stagecoach rifle...modified by inserting the screw in the trigger guard.......please, convey my thanks to Pete for his kind and thoughtful words about The Rifleman on "this 'n that page".Best, Arnold posted 3/5/06
My question to Arnold . . . . .I've always been interested in character actors. I find them totally interesting and of course you see them in a lot of shows over and over again and the same goes for the Rifleman episodes. Is this what you call a stock player? Like Chris Alcaide, John Anderson, Richard Anderson, Jack Elam, John Milford and so on. These are all great actors. How does that work? Do you sign them for so many shows? And what are they called if they are just like town folks or people just in the background?Margie....I haven't been to the Festival of the West...based on the title I would think you're going to have a wonderful time...it also sounds like your going to meet a lot of actors that I was fortunate to work with...that would include Morgan Woodward and almost all the character actors whom you asked about. You are quite right in stating that they are great actors...in the case of The Rifleman, I do not believe we made multi-picture deals with any of those wonderful character actors who appeared in numerous episodes...the main reason is that with a few exceptions, like Harlan Ward, the actor would play a different character in each episode...but each TV series has it's own particulars re character actors and in a great many cases the actor plays the same person, off and on, throughout the series and so would have a multiple picture deal...it is difficult to generalize about their position in the acting business because of their range in "importance" (i.e. demand) makes for a great deal of difference between one character actor and another...a fact reflected in how they are positioned in the screen credits...from guest star billing, to larger type than the others, to being somewhere in the roll up of cast names...and then there are the character actors who became major stars....they didn't start out as leading men, ala Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Paul Newman, Warren Beatty, etc...but they had that extra something that lifted them out of character rolls into being leading men...I'm thinking, off hand, (along with a number of others) of Lee Marvin, Charlie Bronson and Humphrey Bogart (going back a few years).... from a personal point of view I found it a special pleasure working with the character actors...in that sense I can generalize....they, overall, are a great bunch of people............Best, ArnoldP.S. I may be wrong but I think that the term stock players is now out of date...it refers back (I don't know how many years ago) to the days when the major studios had a list of character actors under contract and they were described as "stock players"....you would see the same character actors in almost every picture made by the studio to whom they were under contract. Those days of actors under contract are long gone. There are some special cases where a star may have a multiple picture deal...but even those situations are few and far between...it is signing a contract for one job at a time for almost all actors. posted 3/5/06
I asked Arnold how they came about getting Herschel to do "The Rifleman" theme song.....In regard to the background leading up to the opening theme.....which was no small part of the Rifleman's overall success....Herschel was the automatic choice for composer as he was the composer of our first three features...most happily....there may have been some discussion about the particulars the music, but it was essentially a matter of leaving it up to Herschel ...the theme was basically an exquisite example of Herschel Gilbert's talent Cowgirl heard that at one point Herschel Gilbert got more fan mail then Chuck! posted 2/26/06
Margie....I forgot to mention this sidelight relating to the Rifleman gun.....for what it's worth.....once we got the "go ahead" to make the series, Jules Levy got to thinking that it we should figure something out that would distinguish McCain's rifle from the Winchester
which was standard in all western's. The three of us agreed that anything that would give the rifle a fancy or elaborate look would be counter productive...it still had to have the identity of the classic Winchester...so we got nowhere...until one of us suggested that we go to the Stembridge Gun Rental Shop located at Paramount studios...it was the place which all the studios used to rent guns when their property department needed additional guns, rifles, etc. for a western...as well as all the guns for independent companies that made westerns....we hoped that maybe at the shop where period guns were a way of life we might find an idea...it was decided that I should go together with Chuck Connors...and so we made an appointment with Mr. Ed Stembridge explaining to him on the phone the precise purpose of our visit....figuring it was a long shot but not critical if we had to go along with the standard rifle used in the pilot.....I think (???) I remember the specifics of the visit....Stembridge met us standing behind a counter with a Winchester rifle lying on the counter...he tossed it over to Chuck, who, (having been a major and minor league first baseman) caught it with one hand...looked it and saw that that the lever was in the shape of a loop instead of the narrow slot where the hand fit while holding the rifle. Asked how it felt, Chuck instinctively flipped the gun forward and back which automatically cocked the rifle.... when he did, both Chuck and I heard a distinct click...like a trigger hitting on an empty chamber...and that, indeed, is exactly what we did hear...Stembridge had bored a hole through the lever in the area where it is located over the trigger...in the hole he placed a screw just long enough so that when the lever is pulled back to it's base the screw will hit the trigger ........................... BAM!!....................the rifle could fire just as fast as Chuck could move the lever back and forth....which was pretty fast: witness the opening title and various and sundry episodes....of course, we now had a rifle that was all that we could have imagined and then some.........
........................Thanks to Mr. Stembridge... who has our everlasting appreciation.....
With best wishes, Arnold Laven posted 2/12/06
Margie...This is how Chuck Connors came to be cast in The Rifleman to the best of Art Gardner and my memories:
We used John Wayne and Jim Arness as prototypes for Lucas McCain...so, obviously Jimmy Whitmore was never considered...the hope was to come close in finding the right Lucas McCain among lesser known actors (stars would either cost too much or refuse to do television) after maybe a week of casting we had interviewed 6 or 7 actors, not 50, and were still looking when Arthur started the morning by stating he found the actor to play McCain. The previous night he saw a film called "Old Yeller", which you may or may not have seen....it is a Disney production...a period, family oriented western...there is a scene partway into the film that goes something like this: a very formidable cowboy come riding by a farmhouse where he sees a boy and a dog playing in the yard...(earlier we have seen the dog, a stray, wandering near the farm where the youngster spots it, takes the dog into the house and gets his mother to let him keep it)...the cowboy eyes the dog for a moment then whistles a couple of notes and the dog (Old Yeller) runs up to him...after a show of mutual affection the cowboy starts to lift Old Yeller on to his horse as the youngster comes running, shouting "Stop it! That's my dog!"...in short order the cowboy convinces him that it's his dog, who wandered away from home...again he starts to put it on his horse, but the youngster pulls the dog back, saying he doesn't care, it's his dog now....the cowboy, dealing with the youngster on a strictly man to man basis, agrees to sell him the dog, providing he has the wherewithal to pay the price..."So, what d'ya got" he asks?....reluctantly he offers his horny toad...not enuff...another item...still not enuff...the cowboys get the youngster to fork over everything he has in both his pockets, a top, ball of string, a couple of pennies, etc....then he offers his large sized hand to shake declaring in a strong tone.." A deal's a deal." The Rifleman father-son relationship personified in the person of one, Chuck Connors.
Now a couple of happy coincidences: I had met Connors briefly at a party over the weekend. I only knew he was a former baseball player who was trying to make it as an actor, so I never thought of him as McCain. Our office was at the Hal Roach studios and it was around lunch time when I glanced out our window and saw Chuck and Charlie Bronson engaged in conversation...I called Art and Jules into the room and pointed to Chuck remarking that there's the actor from Old Yeller who I met over the weekend....The thought we all had: Was there a way to get him to read the pilot script, get him interested, without having to go through his agent....It had worked, I thought successfully, with Charles Bronson, so I decided to try something...I casually walked outside and seeing Bronson walked over to say hello...he started to introduce Chuck as we said we met over the weekend...I then began the standard small talk with Bronson about what we both were up to...I forget what he told me, but I could tell Chuck was taking it all in when I mentioned I was about to do a pilot called The Rifleman and started to describe it's premise, at which point Chuck asked if it was cast, when I said "No" he asked if he could read the script...I, hesitated before I agreed to deliver it to him on the set where he was working....which I did....several hours later, I thought the door would break down as Chuck came barging in demanding the we cast him as Lucas McCain.....it took a little doing as he had to get his agent, Meyer Mishkin, to get him out of a tentative commitment on another pilot.....but that's how it actually came about...as I said....to the best of our memories...My very best, Arnold Laven posted 2/8/06
For what it's worth here's some background on Johnny Crawford being cast as Mark.....after seeing at least 50 youngsters I, along with Art and Jules, felt he was damn near perfect for the part and we signed him up. That was about three weeks before the shooting was to start....about a week before that date Art and Jules burst into my office with the news that Johnny's parents had decided that they did not want Johnny to take the job...they were very concerned that between the mental strain of learning lines every day plus the strenuous aspect of horseback riding, which Johnny was not accustomed to, along with other aspects of ranch life, it would be too much for Johnny health wise....so....who was my second choice? I answered, almost without hesitation, "there is no second choice". And that was true....his match up with Chuck Connors was exactly what we wanted and no other youngster I saw was even close....I suggested that I call his parents and rather than discuss Johnny over the phone, invite them over to dinner where the atmosphere would be less formal.... they agreed....after dinner I told that between the three us we had nine boys..
Chuck had four..Art, two Jules, two..and I had one boy and the only girl....I assured Johnny's parents that the health of our children was more important to us than any television show...I further assured them that at any time they felt that Johnny's health was being jeopardized, we would adjust the scripts so he would have whatever amount of time they felt he might need to rest up...and, in addition, I along with whoever else might be directing an episode, would be instructed to avoid putting Johnny under any undo strain...I was aware that Johnny while not frail...likewise was not robust....over the course of the first two years Johnny's parents never requested that Johnny be given special time off ..........................
it was during the layoff period after the second year, that the agent, who represented the company which insured the series, asked for a special meeting. At that meeting he told us that his company was no longer insuring Johnny because they had been informed that Johnny had been entering Junior Rodeos...riding bucking broncos...an extremely strenuous sport, and, more important, an uninsurable sport because of the physical danger to the rider...so once more we had to make an appeal to Johnny's parents.... Johnny had to stop riding in rodeos so we could get him insured again, otherwise we could not begin the third season.....they said they tried to discourage Johnny from rodeo riding...with no success...he insisted that he knew what to do so he wouldn't get hurt. However, they said they would explain the insurance problem to him....when Johnny was made aware of the problem he agreed to stop riding....but reluctantly..............Arnold Laven
Thanks Arnold for sharing this with us! posted 2/4/06
A couple of years before "The Rifleman" I directed Anna Lucasta with an all black cast (starring Eartha Kitt)...Sammy Davis (his first acting job) was cast in a colorful supporting role....most the better black actors were in New York where there was a modest amount of work along with several black theater companies...in those years there were very few parts for the black actors in movies...so I went to New York to do most of the casting...at the same time Sammy Davis was appearing at the Apollo Theater in the Harlem area...The Apollo was a huge theater which would show a movie plus a stage show, usually featuring a well known black performer....Sammy was, at that time, at the top of his game, the number one song and dance man in the business....so when he performed before a jam packed theater, the applause was thunderous after each number...around the middle of his show he went off stage and returned a few minutes later dressed as a cowboy...a black cowboy at that time didn't make much sense and a black cowboy who looked that far from John Wayne made even less sense...so when Sammy reappeared with two six guns strapped onto his belt the theater went silent...waiting for some kind of explanation and Sammy began by explaining that some day he hoped to get a job in a western and the first thing would be to learn how to handle guns..."so when I started to learn the fast draw" he said as he demonstrated with a quick move to the gun, it fell in the floor before he could get it fully drawn...(moans from the audience)...he went on from there showing how with time and a lot of practice (demonstrating as he talked) he did, indeed, improve...."improve" is a huge understatement because in short order he was doing those remarkable, dazzling tricks with both guns twirling in the air.... thrown behind his back, under his legs all being caught amid exploding gunshots...not only did the guns explode but so did the audience...screaming and yelling...I was truly overwhelmed...and that is how come his facility with guns was worked into the "Two Ounces of Tin" episode.
* There has been a rumor through the years about Sammy Davis Jr. wanting a "Rifleman's Rifle" for doing the two episodes of The Rifleman. So I had Asked Arnold Laven about the it . . . . .
The William Morris Agency, who represented Sammy, called Levy-Gardner-Laven to say he would like to do an episode. We promptly negotiated a contract. The rifle was not part of the negotiation, but aware that he wanted a rifle, we gladly gave him one. It was after Sammy saw the first episode that he expressed the desire to do another.
Sammy Davis Jr. was big into the early fast draw completions and was a master in all the fancy pistol twirling tricks
posted 2/11/06You might be interested in the following: At some time during the past thirty five or so years the TV networks took over complete control of their programming. They are the only entities that can approve or turn down the concept a production company brings to them for a series. They will often be involved in the financing from the start to finish...is essence, today, they are the name of the name as far as getting the project on the air. The process was quite different prior to them "taking over"....Up until then it was the sponsors, the large corporations who contracted with the networks to "own" one or more time slots, mostly half hour periods, in which they placed series that they "bought" from production companies and on which they would advertise their product. "Owning" the best time slot on the best days was all part of the big business that went on between the corporations and the networks. The talent agencies, i. e. William Morris, (and others) would take a pilot to an advertising agencies, i.e. Benton and Bowles (and others) who would take it to their clients, the large corporations, who, if they thought the pilot would lead to a successful series, would "buy" the series and pay the networks for the advertising time. Along with the Zane Grey Theater, Four Star had several other series which gave them good entree to the key people involved in getting a series on the air. With the result, when The Rifleman pilot, a Four Star presentation, looked like it might be a winner it was viewed and bought by sponsors before it was actually completed...that is, all the elements, music sound effects and opticals (dissolves and fade out and in) were assembled into a composite....the original Rifleman sponsors were Proctor and Gamble, at that time, by far the biggest TV advertiser, who took two-thirds of the time and Ralston Purina, who took the other third....that way we got off to a running start...Best, Arnold Laven posted 2/11/06
The Rifleman....."Welcome to the McCain Ranch" is a tribute to the cast, crew, the creators of the series and for the fans to relive their memories!
I want to personally thank Levy-Gardner-Laven Productions for all the great "Westerns" and their other great shows that have brought us hours of enjoyment!
Thanks Arnold for sharing this with us!
I tip my Cowgirl hat to each and everyone of you!
"The Producer..... 'My Friend' !"
Slaughter on Tenth Avenue
Arnold Laven dies at 87; director and producer
The McCain Ranch
around The McCain Ranch