The Rifleman television series
Last night I was watching an old Rifleman episode and it was an odd one. One of Lucas McCain’s neighbors turns out to be Abraham Lincoln! Well, not the real Abraham Lincoln, but rather a man who incurred psychic trauma during his Civil War service and now he believes he is Abraham Lincoln. However, the man, portrayed by the late actor Royal Dano, looks and acts just like Abraham Lincoln. This show was broadcast in 1961 when the Civil War centennial was big news, and this was a clever way of getting Lincoln on the Rifleman show, a series set in the 1880’s, without having to invoke time travel! The episode was moving and as I listened I thought the actor portraying Lincoln sounded familiar. Then it struck me: the Disney Animatronics Lincoln!
Dano provided the voice of Lincoln.in the Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln show which Disney premiered at the World’s Fair in 1964. Disney chose Dano because he believed his voice was most like what Disney imagined Lincoln sounded like. In this Disney was probably incorrect. Most contemporaries described Lincoln as having a high pitched voice. However, Disney was a showman and not an historian, and I think Disney hit upon a voice that did fit the popular imagination of what Lincoln sounded like, said imagination having been formed by deep voiced portrayals of Lincoln on film by actors such as Walter Huston, Henry Fonda and Raymond Massey. The Animatronics Lincoln now has a new voice actor as Lincoln, but to generations that came of age in the final decades of the last century and visited Disney World, Dano’s voice will be that of Lincoln’s. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. The theme from one of the my favorite childhood shows, The Rifleman. Broadcast from 1958 to 1963, The Rifleman featured Chuck Connors as Lucas McCain, the eponymous star of the show, and his son Mark McCain, portrayed by Johnny Crawford. Unlike almost all other westerns of the time, the title character, Lucas McCain, was not a sheriff, a rich rancher or a gunfighter, but rather a widowed farmer raising his son near the town of Northfork. Each of the 30 minute shows was a skillfully done morality play focusing on the human condition. Some of the episodes had plots drawn from the Bible and placed in a western setting. McCain’s modified Winchester 73 almost always came into play, but simple gun play and violence was not the focus of the series. The episodes were studded with appearances of actors and actresses who would go on to achieve fame, and with frequent appearances by classic Western character actors and actresses.