Friday, November 28, 2014

Rifleman custom card added to TV Westerns

With the creation of this card based on The Rifleman television series of 1958-63, I've expanded into my third addition to the original Topps 1958 TV Westerns bubblegum card issue. (My Maverick cards were featured on the blog on Aug. 13, and Rawhide cards were presented on Sept. 28.)

The Rifleman is one of the few classic TV westerns that is currently (as of late 2014) being shown in reruns regularly on cable; Saturday mornings on AMC.

I'm not going to say too much about the television show, itself. There is plenty of readily available information on the internet. One recommended site is the "Official" web site of the series, at

I can tell you why I chose to make this custom card. I've always been a fan of Chuck Connors; moreso since I met him at the National Sports Collectors Convention in 1985.

A couple of years earlier, one of my contributors at SCD, Paul Green, had worked up a profile of Connors and conducted a Q-and-A session for the paper. The article heavily leaned toward Connors' career in professional baseball: One game with the 1949 Brooklyn Dodgers and 66 games in 1951 as a Chicago Cub, plus more than 950 games in the minor leagues in 1940, 1942, 1946-52.

As we were setting up our booth at the Anaheim National, a tall, well-built fellow, whom I instantly recognized, strode up to me, shook my hand and introduced himself as Chuck Connors.

He wanted to thank me for publishing that interview and, parenthetically, for kick-starting a secondary "career" as an autograph guest at Southern California card shows. Connors didn't do card shows for the money, obviously, but rather because he really seemed to enjoy interacting with fans both baseball fans and Hollywood fans.

When he invited me for a drink, I left the booth set up to my minions and we adjourned to one of the bars at the Disneyland Hotel. We probably talked for two hours.

I listened to great stories of his days in pro ball. I got a real feel for the frustration he suffered in going to spring training with the Dodgers every year in the late 1940s, only to be sent out to Montreal or Mobile  when the season started, where he'd regularly hit around .300 with nearly 20 home runs.  He summarized his lack of success in breaking into the Brooklyn squad by saying he'd had "Gil Hodges stuck up my ass all that time."

We also talked about  his acting career. I was particularly interested in a new project that he had just signed on for. He was going to play Capt. Jonas Skorzeny, an evil lycanthrope, in a series that eventually aired for some 30 episodes in 1987-88 as Werewolf.

Our conversation came to an end when it was time for him to participate in a card-flipping contest. If I recall correctly, he lost in the celebrity division finals to Bob Feller. 

At the 1985 National Convention in Anaheim, Chuck
Connors stands by while Bob Feller makes his throw.

Not long after I returned to Wisconsin from the show, I received an envelope with a handful of autographed 8x10 photos from Connors. We corresponded a time or two prior to his passing in 1992.

My Rifleman custom card focuses on character Lucas McCain's "gimmick gun." Many of the TV westerns of that era featured some sort of signature weapon wielded by the star. Wyatt Earp had his Buntline Special, Johnny Yuma had his double-barreled sawed-off shotgun, Josh Randall his cut-down Winchester, etc.

Lucas McCain had a tricked-out Winchester Model 1892 saddle-ring carbine. Viewers were expected to suspend disbelief that a character in a series set in the 1880s in New Mexico Territory was sporting a rifle that wouldn't be invented for a dozen years.

The Winchester had a 20" barrel and a capacity of 15 rounds of .44-40 ammunition. A modified reverse-D lever had a set-screw that could be deployed to make the rifle fire without pulling the trigger, allowing McCain to get off a string of rapid-fire hip shots.

Viewers also had to suspend disbelief that a rifle could be fired in that fashion with any degree of accuracy. 

According to what I've seen on the internet, there were five rifles used in the series. Several of them have made their way into the gun collectors' market, where they have fetched good prices at auction. 

This may be the only Rifleman custom card I'll make. Good color photos relative to the show are not plentiful. This surely will not be the last time Chuck Connors appears on one of my custom cards, however. Some day I'll work up a baseball card or two.

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