Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Seven Things to Know About Chuck Connors

Chuck Connors as a Celtic player.
1. Chuck Connors, who was 6' 5", played both professional basketball and baseball. He appeared in 53 games for the Boston Celtics in 1946-48 and averaged 4.5 points per game. In major league baseball, he appeared in one game for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949. He spent a season with the  Chicago Cubs in 1951, batting .239 with 18 runs batted in. He also played football and baseball when he attended Seton Hall University.

2. He made his film debut in 1952, appearing as a police captain in Hepburn and Tracy's Pat and Mike. According to some sources, it was his performance in Walt Disney's Old Yeller (1957) that led to his casting on The Rifleman. Connors played Old Yeller's real owner, who lets Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran keep Yeller when he realizes how much they love the dog. (Technically, he trades Yeller for a horny toad and a home-cooked meal).

As Lucas McCain on The Rifleman.
3. Connors played one of the first widowed parents on U.S. television in The Rifleman (1958-63). He and co-star Johnny Crawford created an incredibly natural father-son relationship on the screen. It's one of the reasons why The Rifleman is still popular on television today. When Connors died in 1992, Johnny Crawford said: "Well, it was a great childhood, and he was bigger-than-life, a wonderful guy, very intelligent, and a big influence on me, and a great supporter, too. He was always interested in what I was doing and ready to give me advice or help me and he would call me out of the blue, and I really miss him."

4. Chuck Connors, a Republican who campaigned for his friend Ronald Reagan, met Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in 1973. According to his New York Times obituary: "When President Richard M. Nixon invited several celebrities to meet Brezhnev in 1973, Mr. Connors presented the visiting Soviet leader with United States armaments--two Colt .45 six-shooters--and a cowboy hat. Brezhnev, a Western fan, was delighted. He and the actor locked in such an enthusiastic bear hug that Mr. Connors briefly lifted him off his feet."

As the villain on Werewolf.
5. Following the cancellation of The Rifleman, he starred in numerous TV series to include Branded (1965-66), Cowboy in Africa (1966-67), and The Yellow Rose (1983). Two of his most different roles were in Arrest and Trial (1963-64), in which he played a criminal defense attorney, and Werewolf (1987-88), in which he played...a werewolf.

6. Although the New York Times stated that Chuck Connors was nominated for an Emmy for his portrayal of a slave owner in the mini-series Roots (1977), that apparently is not true. Although Roots received 37 Emmy nominations (and won nine), we couldn't find Chuck Connors' name anywhere in the list.

7. He was born Kevin Joseph Aloysius Connors--but never liked his name. The story goes that he changed his name to Chuck while playing first base in baseball. He would yell to the pitcher: "Chuck it to me, baby, chuck it to me!"

9 comments:

  1. True story from the mid-'60s:

    David Susskind was appearing on Merv Griffin's show (the NYC one with Arthur Treacher), where he told of a conversation he'd had with Chuck Connors a few nights before at a party.
    Susskind described Connors as " ... a good friend ...".
    Griffin, who knew Susskind as a full-fledged Manhattan liberal, noted that Connors was not like that at all, to which Susskind replied " ... We have great arguments. I like him a lot ...".
    This would have been about '65 or '66.
    Those were the days ...

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  2. Larry Cohen said he created Branded as a Blacklist allegory, and that when Connors found out he charged at him on horseback.

    He supposedly was doing a Doc Savage pilot - til they realized they didn't have the rights....

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  3. During a commercial break while watching Roots, my dad commented "Miss Dove would be very disappointed in Chuck". The mind of the movie buff is ... well, the mind of the movie buff is what it is.

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  4. At 6'6" Clint Walker had Chuck Connors beat by one inch and he also had the build to be the perfect Doc Savage. His face looked like it just came off of a pulp magazine cover.

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  5. I never fully appreciated what a busy actor Chuck Connors was until your post. You prompted me to look up his filmography – IMDB says he has 135 screen credits! I need to seek out more of his films.

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  6. I admired Connors for being willing and able to play both the hero and the villain, where some actors only wanted to play heroes. Connors was great in SOYLENT GREEN and also in a lesser-known movie called THE MAD BOMBER that seemed to always run on the late show back in the early '80s. PS: I agree with everyone that Connors would have made a great Doc Savage; in fact that Celtics photo looks like the reference James Bama used on The Man of Bronze. Ron Ely was okay as Doc, but Connors had the squared off and weather-beaten features of the Bama paintings.

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  7. Besides THE RIFLEMAN, my favorite Chuck Connors role was that of the vicious elder son in THE BIG COUNTRY. The wonderful Burl Ives played his father.

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  8. What a fascinating post! I had no idea about his athletic background nor about how many screen credits are listed for him.

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  9. Referring to his meeting with Brezhnev in which he literally swept the Russian leader off his feet Connors supposedly described himself as "a communist carrying card." No, I didn't make that up --- I wouldn't dare.

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