Mar 22, 2013

Johnny Crawford: Growing Up in the Old West

Westerns in the 1950s and 1960s were good for beefcake but not for bonding.  The days of the cowboy and sidekick were long gone, replaced by single fathers and womanizing card sharks.

The Rifleman (1958-63) was no exception.  The tale of widowed Lucas McCain (Chuck Connors) and his son Mark (Johnny Crawford) had two men living together and caring for each other, and lots of nick-of-time rescues -- Mark seemed to get tied up and threatened by bad guys just about every week -- but they were father and son, and neither developed a significant relationship with anyone else, male or female.







On the other hand, there was lots of muscle.  A former basketball player (and reputedly the star of a gay underground film), Chuck Connors was lean, lanky, and craggy.  As Johnny Crawford grew into a teenager, he surpassed his father, developing a ripped bodybuilder physique.












But that didn't mean that he stopped being the object of "my hero" heroics.











They were also shirtless in comic books, coloring books, big-little books, and every other tie-in imaginable.












Johnny Crawford appeared in Indian Paint (1965), some teen beach and horror movies, such as Village of the Giants (1965) with Tommy Kirk (the movie I saw on my first date, in October 1968).  He was even fully nude in The Naked Ape (1973) and The Great Texas Dynamite Chase (1976) before settling down to a career as a singer.

But he has continued to appear occasionally before the camera; for instance, as Deputy Noah Paisley on an episode of Murder She Wrote (1985), or as Art in the children's movie Rupert Patterson Wants to Be a Superhero (1997).

In The Gambler Returns (1991), Kenny Rogers' Gambler encounters some of the most famous figures of the Old West, including Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Diamond Jim Brady, President Teddy Roosevelt -- and Mark McCain!