Apr 22, 2015

"The Rifleman"- Chuck Connors: His Baseball & Acting Career

Kevin Joseph Aloysius Connors was born on April 10th, 1921 in Brooklyn, New York. He never liked his birth name, and settled on Chuck, after he would yell out to the pitcher "chuck it to me" while playing baseball. Connors was an altar boy at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

He became a local Dodger fan, even though the Dodgers teams of the thirties weren't much good. He attended Adelphi Academy also in Brooklyn where he was a star athlete. He earned a scholarship to Seton Hall University, in New Jersey but left after two years, joining the military.

He served as a tank warfare instructor during World War II. Connors was an incredible athlete, who would play pro baseball as well as pro basket ball. He is only just one of few players to have that distinction.

He began to play pro basketball with the Rochester Royals, leading them to a 1946 NBL Championship. In 1946 he joined the newly formed Boston Celtics of the Basketball Association of America. He is credited as the first player to ever shatter a backboard in the history of the game. This event occurred in November 1946 during a pregame warm up.

He eventually left basketball to fulfill his dream & play baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He began his playing career back in 1940 but only played in four games & then broke his finger. He played in the A.L. New York teams chain in 1942 before going off to war.

 By 1946 he was back with the Brooklyn Dodgers, playing four years in their minor leagues. The first baseman hit over .300 twice in the minors & also hit .290 in 1949 when he made his MLB debut. On May 1st, 1949 he came into a game against the Philadelphia Phillies, as a pinch hitter going 0-1 in a 4-2 Dodger loss. It was his only game of the year, as the Dodgers went on to win the NL Pennant & go to the World Series.

Connors was back in the minor leagues, playing 1951 & 1952 in Los Angeles with the Pacific Coast League's Angels. There he was first discovered by Hollywood & got the first of many future acting roles. In 1952 Connors played with the Chicago Cubs, he hit .239 with two HRs & 18 RBIs in 66 games for the 8th place Cubs. He soon suffered two shoulder injuries & retired from the game.

Acting: Helping the decision was the fact that Hollywood was giving him more opportunities. Connors was first spotted by an MGM casting director getting a role in the Spencer Tracy Audrey Hepburn, Pat & Mike. Next he was cast in the Burt Lancaster film South Sea Woman.

But it was in 1957 when his acting career took off after getting cast in the film Old Yeller. That led to his lead role in the classic television show; The Rifleman.

Connors played Lucas McCain, a Union Army Civil War veteran rancher, raising his son in the New Mexico Territory of the 1880's. This was a time period where America was still in love with Westerns. The show was one of the first to deal with a single parent who was widowed. The show ran for six years, peaking at number four in its first season run as the one of the top shows on the tube.



The show also featured over 500 special guests, including everyone from Lon Chaney Jr., to Agnes Moorehead, Dennis Hoppe, Robert Vaughn, Sammy Davis Jr. & Dodger great Don Drysdale.

In 1966 when Drysdale & Sandy Koufax were in the midst of their famous hold out during contract negotiations, it was Connors who served as an unofficial mediator between the club & the two star pitchers. He can be seen in the photos when the contracts were being signed.

Connors child co-star Johnny Crawford, who played his son, also a big baseball fan, remained friends with Connors until his death. The Rifleman is still seen today in syndication on a few different channels. 

The show was one of the few to be allowed to be shown in Russia, as it was a favorite of Secretary Leonid Brezhnev. Connors & Brezhnev met in 1973 at a political party. In his career, Chuck Connors would appear in tons of television shows as a character through the years, until his death in 1992.

Connors was married four times, & has four sons. He has been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Passing: Connors passed away from pneumonia & lung cancer at the age of 71.

1 comment:

Shirley Bill Wallace said...

I was truly touched by the lovely biography of Mr. Connors. My whole opinion changed. What a kind and decent man he really was, and he did so many charitable things. When I see him in old movies from now on, I shall look upon him with great respect. He was born the same year as my own father.