Chuck Connors: Bullet Notes on “The Rifleman”

CHUCK CONNORS 1946 ONE OF THE ORIGINAL BOSTON CELTICS

CHUCK CONNORS
1946
ONE OF THE ORIGINAL BOSTON CELTICS

 

* Technical Point: We know. – Hand guns hold bullets; rifles hold shells. It’s just that “Shell Points on ‘The Rifleman’ ” lacked a certain ring to it as a column title.

Addendum Note: My collegial contributor, Cliff Blau, already has corrected my brain-freeze error on this one point. – See his comment and my response in the Comment section which follows the column. – I do know that shells are for shotguns, not rifles. I simply misspoke. Forgive me as you now read through the rigorously researched points below on the fascinating career trail of former ballplayer and actor Chuck Connors:

* Kevin “Chuck” Connors was born in Brooklyn New York on 04/10/1921.

* Kevin was the second of two children and the only son of Allan and Marcella Connors, immigrants from the Dominion of Newfoundland, now a Canadian province.

* Kevin Connors was raised Roman Catholic and served as an altar boy at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Brooklyn.

"WATCH OUT FOR THAT FAST BREAK PASS, KEVIN!"

“WATCH OUT FOR THAT FAST BREAK PASS, KEVIN!”

* At full growth, left-handed Kevin had grown into a bright 6’5”, 200 lb. very athlete baseball and basketball player.

* He attended Adelphi Academy on an athletic scholarship. At high school graduation, he had no fewer than 27 college athletic scholarship offers.

* Chuck chose Seton Hall, the future alma mater of Craig Biggio, where he played both basketball and baseball for two years.

* At Seton Hall, Chuck revealed a clue to his ultimate future by winning an elocution contest reciting Vachel Lindsay’s “The Congo”.

* As a Seton Hall first baseman, Connors adopted his nickname “Chuck” from his redundant calls to teammates with the ball to “chuck it to me” because he preferred the nickname to his legal first name Kevin.

"CHUCK IT TO ME!    CHUCK IT TO ME!"

“CHUCK IT TO ME!
CHUCK IT TO ME!”

* After Chuck Connors left Seton Hall, it is also variously reported that he was drafted by the Chicago Bears of the NFL, but, if he was, it obviously never materialized into anything.

* Baseball Reference notes that Connors first signed to play baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1940. Except for brief stints of minor league ball in 1940 and 1942, WWII pretty much placed those plans on hold.

* Chuck enlisted in the Army at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and spent most of the war as a tank-warfare instructor at Fort Campbell, Kentucky and later at West Point, New York.

* During his Army service, Connors moonlighted as a professional basketball player, joining the Rochester Royals, helping lead them to the 1946 National Basketball League championship.

CHUCK CONNORS MADE HIS MLB DEBUT WITH THE BROOKLYN DODGERS MAY 1, 1949

CHUCK CONNORS
MADE HIS MLB DEBUT
WITH THE BROOKLYN DODGERS
MAY 1, 1949

* In 1942, Chuck Connors made his very unofficial movie debut as one of the unaccredited real soldiers used in a backdrop scene shot for the Brian Donlevy war movie, “Wake Island”.

* Following his military discharge in 1946, Chuck joined the newly formed Boston Celtics of the Basketball Association of America as one of their original players.

* Shortly thereafter, Connors left the Celtics for spring training with Major League Baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946, but after a minor league baseball assignment in 1946, he was back with the Celtics and basketball in the fall.

* On 11/05/1946, prior to the very first game in Celtics history, Chuck Connors became the first NBA player to shatter a backboard during warm ups prior to the Celtics first game at Boston Arena. His hard dunk shot attempt caught the front of the rim, shattering the wooden backboard that was hardly ready for that kind of violent action. As a result, Connors also gets the credit and blame for causing the first game in Celtics history also to become the first game in NBA history whose starting time had to be delayed about an hour due to his player-inflicted damage to the court of play.

CHUCK CONNORS, 1B 1952 CHICAGO CUBS .236 BA, 2 HR, IN 66 GAMES

CHUCK CONNORS, 1B
1951 CHICAGO CUBS
.239 BA, 2 HR, IN 66 GAMES

* In 1947, Connors played first base for the Dodger AA farm club, the Mobile Bears, and helped the team win the Southern Association pennant.

* In the 1947 Dixie Series, Chuck Connors homered for Mobile at Buff Stadium in Houston in Game One, but the Texas League Champion Houston Buffaloes won the opener, 8-2, and went on to defeat Chuck’s Bears in six.

* After three seasons (1948-50) at AAA Montreal, a span in which Connors averaged over .300 as a full-season batter, he only managed to get in one “0 for 1” late season MLB plate appearance in 1949 with Brooklyn. The Dodgers had a fellow named Gil Hodges entrenched at first base.

* Chuck requested and the Dodgers obliged him with a trade to the Chicago Cubs on 10/10/1950.

CHUCK CONNORS, 1B LOS ANGELES ANGELS 1951-1952 HIT .322, 25 HR IN '51

CHUCK CONNORS, 1B
LOS ANGELES ANGELS
1951-1952
HIT .321, 22 HR IN 1951

* The Cubs trade proved to be a life-changing event for the multi-talented, always open to testing some new skill guy that was Chuck Connors. The Cubs assigned him to their AAA farm club, the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League.

* Connors hit .321 with 22 HR for the Angels in 98 games, earning him a call up to the Cubs in 1951, where he hit only .239 and 2 HR in 66 games.

* Now 31, Chuck hit only .259 with 6 HR in 113 games for the 1952 Angels. Age and performance “suddenly” had moved the baseball future of Kevin “Chuck” Connors from the “prospect list” to the “suspect pile”. It was time to go.

ANOTHER ANGELS PHOTO ~THANKS AGAIN TO ~ DARYL AND ROBERT BLAIR

ANOTHER ANGELS PHOTO
~THANKS AGAIN TO ~
DARYL AND ROBERT BLAIR

* Leaving baseball was no big income loss problem for Chuck Connors. In his two years of hobnobbing in the LA/Hollywood movie culture, his rugged good looks and affable personality had made him a favorite among the Hollywood crowd, starting with the Hollywood baseball fans, but quickly expanding to a much larger social/business circle.

* 1952 would be Connor’s time for the life lesson best known today as “when one door closes, another opens”. It was the end of baseball and the beginning of movie/TV star status for Chuck Connors. He began his official movie career with a bit part in the Spencer Tracy/Kathryn Hepburn classic, “Pat and Mike”.

* From 1952 to 1958, Chuck Connors made 57 movie and TV appearances on the way to a five-season ride as Lucas McCain in the iconic TV western “The Rifleman” (1958-63).

CHUCK CONNORS (L) WAS A COWARDLY BULLY IN "THE BIG COUNTRY" AND IS PUT TO SHAME IN THE END BY GREGORY PECK (CENTER) AND THEN KILLED BY HIS OWN FATHER (BURL IVES) FOR BEING A COWARD.

CHUCK CONNORS (L) WAS A COWARDLY BULLY IN “THE BIG COUNTRY” AND IS PUT TO SHAME IN THE END BY GREGORY PECK (CENTER) AND THEN KILLED BY HIS OWN FATHER (BURL IVES) FOR BEING A COWARD.

* Beyond “The Rifleman”, Chuck Connors made, at least, another sixty movie/TV appearances on his way to a financially comfortable old age, but on that surely came with some rough emotional times along the way.

* As he achieved success, Connors hosted the annual Chuck Connors Charitable Invitational Golf Tournament, through the Chuck Connors Charitable Foundation, at the Canyon Country Club in Palm Springs, California. Proceeds went directly to the Angel View Crippled Children’s Foundation and over $400,000.00 was raised

* Connors was married and divorced three times. He and his first wife had four sons together. He spent the last twelve years as a divorced father, but we have no information on his relationship status with the four adult sons. He did have a significant other woman in his life at the time of his death, Her name was Rose Mary Grumley.

AS "THE RIFLEMAN" (1958-63), CHUCK WAS 180 DEGREES FROM COWARDICE AS THE "STRAIGHT-SHOOTING LUCAS McCain.

AS “THE RIFLEMAN” (1958-63), CHUCK WAS 180 DEGREES FROM COWARDICE AS THE “STRAIGHT-SHOOTING LUCAS McCain.

* Kevin “Chuck” Connors died at the age of 71 in Los Angeles, California on November 10. 1991. He died of pneumonia that had been helped along by lung cancer. Chuck had been a three-packs-a-day Camel smoker from 1940 into the mid-1970s, but he never quit smoking completely because of sporadic binge periods.

* Chuck was interred in the San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Los Angeles.

* Frivolous Chuck Connors “What’s Your Guess” Trivia Question to bring this wagon train of facts to an end: Chuck Connors supposedly was a big fan of Spencer Tracy, the star of the former ballplayers first official movie. BUT … We still must ask: Had Kevin Connors’ first name also been “Spencer”, do you think he might have sought an even earlier change to “Chuck” than he had with “Kevin”?

 

 

 

 

 

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4 Responses to “Chuck Connors: Bullet Notes on “The Rifleman””

  1. Cliff Blau Says:

    I thought rifles use bullets while shotguns use shells.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      You thought right about it, Cliff, I’m just no longer a big gun guy, even if do own the trinity (pistol, rifle, and shotgun.). Technically, rifles use bullets too, but most of the time their delivery packages are more commonly referred to as just “ammo”. Shells, indeed, are for shotguns. I’m just used to never calling ammo for rifles “bullets”. Throw in a little “brain freeze” on my misuse of the term “shells” in this context too. I seem to have an inexhaustible supply of the stuff.

  2. Fred Soland Says:

    Chuck Connors was pure class. He was a friend of my family and I met him a few times at Sunday lunches after mass when he happened to be in Houston. We corresponded with each other for a few years. I would run across some baseball or basketball cards of him. I would send them to him. Some he kept, most he autographed and sent back. I still have the photo he sent me in the last correspondence we had before he died. It is a B&W 8×10 photo of him as Lucas McCain. He inscribed it to me “Fred, To a good friend, Chuck Connors.

    Oh, and by the way, he also starred in a TV series called “Branded” after his Rifleman days ended.

  3. gregclucas Says:

    Immortally remembered in Kokomo, Indiana, where the film “Terror Squad” was filmed in the 1980s. Terrorists from Libya sneak into Indiana through Lake Michigan with a plan to blow up the Kokomo Nuclear power plant. Car chases, destruction rule. Awful film, but great for people from Kokomo to see their town “blown up” and fellow citizens cut down in the streets (movie trickery, of course.)

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