Chuck Connors attended Seton Hall University before embarking on a career in professional sports. He first played basketball with the Boston Celtics, then baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Chicago Cubs. Hardly a spectacular player -- while with the Cubbies, he hit .233 in 70 games -- Connors was eventually shipped off to Chicago's Pacific Coast League farm team, the L.A. Angels. Here his reputation rested more on his cut-up antics than his ball-playing prowess.
While going... through his usual routine of performing cartwheels while rounding the bases, Connors was spotted by a Hollywood director, who arranged for Connors to play a one-line bit as a highway patrolman in the 1952 Tracy-Hepburn vehicle Pat and Mike. Finding acting an agreeable and comparatively less strenuous way to make a living, Connors gave up baseball for films and television. One of his first roles of consequence was as a comic hillbilly on the memorable Superman TV episode "Flight to the North." In films, Connors played a variety of heavies, including raspy-voiced gangster Johnny O in Designing Woman (1957) and swaggering bully Buck Hannassy in The Big Country (1958).
He switched to the Good Guys in 1958, when he was cast as frontiersman-family man Lucas McCain on the popular TV Western series The Rifleman. During the series' five-year run, he managed to make several worthwhile starring appearances in films: he was seen in the title role of Geronimo (1962), which also featured his second wife, Kamala Devi, and originated the role of Porter Ricks in the 1963 film version of Flipper. After Rifleman folded, Connors co-starred with Ben Gazzara in the one-season dramatic series Arrest and Trial (1963), a 90-minute precursor to Law and Order. He enjoyed a longer run as Jason McCord, an ex-Army officer falsely accused of cowardice on the weekly Branded (1965-1966).
His next TV project, Cowboy in Africa, never got past 13 episodes. In 1972, Connors acted as host/narrator of Thrill Seekers, a 52-week syndicated TV documentary. Then followed a great many TV guest-star roles and B-pictures of the Tourist Trap (1980) variety. He was never more delightfully over the top than as the curiously accented 2,000-year-old lycanthrope Janos Skorzeny in the Fox Network's Werewolf (1987).
Shortly before his death from lung cancer at age 71, Chuck Connors revived his Rifleman character Lucas McCain for the star-studded made-for-TV Western The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw (1993).Read more