Apr 26, 2021

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.  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!


  1. In 2012, Johnny Crawford reprised the role of Mark McCain for an ad for MeTV to promote showings of "The Rifleman" reruns. Still recognizable and good looking.

  2. When I got older and understood what a "daddy-boy" relationship was -- I saw that too. But, it had to be unintentional, didn't it?

    1. Most gay subtexts are unintentional, but the question of authorial intent is tricky. Characters often take on a life of their own, with motivations and desires that the actors themselves aren't fully aware of.

    2. plus there are the motivations of writers, director, actors; all of whom might or might not try to sneak in a bit of whatever they can "get away with". i've got to think that somebody involved in decision-making on some of these shows (of the era) was aware of all the homoerotic shirtlessness, etc... & the occasional juicy line or set-up/scenario xD

    3. Plus there are shippers, if there are hints to be found they will find them.

      I should know I’m a shipper, myself I’m not that into incest ships and I never watched this show but if they wrote this show for incest shippers of the day I’d only be a little surprised.

      However you’d think they’d give the son character a boy around his age to have adventures with and sometimes rescue... You get more gay fans that way (and shippers of all genders)

  3. I had not see the show since I was kid but looking at it now - its like wow. Connors was very sexy and his body is really exploited by the show. Connors and Crawford had chemistry and if they were not playing father and son you could see them as romantic couple specially in the final season

  4. Watching the reruns now, it was actually a pretty good show, and one reason is that it was more about the father and son than about gunplay (although the first episode, directed by Sam Peckinpah, had a pretty high body count). Nice little half-hour one-act plays most of the time, sometimes with excellent guest stars.
    Alas, Wikipedia reports that in 2019, Crawford was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and can no longer speak.

  5. About Johnny Crawford having Alzheimer's Disease, that is so sad. I am an agnostic, but I can't help saying this. God help him.

  6. I'm surprised. Most of the sidekicks were father-son or brothers or sworn brothers or at least intended to be such.

    Not sure about the porn, since he's not only nude but masturbating, having sex with a woman, and getting a blowjob from a man. Athletes regularly posed nude, this was before multimillion-dollar endorsement deals, but they rarely did actual pornography. Even physique models had a fig leaf of artistic merit.

  7. R.I.P., Mr. Crawford. You will be badly missed.

  8. In my youth I never missed an episode of The Rifleman because of Johnny Crawford which helped me realize my attraction to boys and that I am gay. I would dream of having him as a special friend.


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