Boys Costumes Depicted in Television Shows: The Rifleman (U.S., 1958-63)


Figure 1.--One episode entitled "Hostages to Fortune" is about an English boy named Percy and his father, who move there to start ranching. Percy wears a short pants suit, prompting Mark to exclaim later, "Those pants! He'll be lynched at school before lunch!" Sure enough, some bullies start picking on Percy and Mark comes to his defense.

'The Rifleman' was one of the first of a series of Westerns that dominated American TV screens in the late-1950s and 1960s. The Rifleman is Lucas McCain (Chuck Connors) who is a widower trying to raise his son Mark on the Western Frontier. Kind of likle 'The River of No Return', but without Maralyn. He is homesteading a ranch in North Fork, New Mexico. The local Marshall, however, has his hands fulls with a never-ending supply of desperados. Invariably McCain has to pull out his Winchester Rifle (never six guns) to save the day. I don't remember any particuarly interesting episodes of this Western. The costuming never changed much. Lucas McCain's had a son, Mark (Johnny Crawford). He only wore long pants--usually jeans. Mark was the thoughtful son of a rough man trying to make a man out of the motherless boy. Johnny looks very Western, but jeans like that were not worn in the 1870s-80s, rather overalls with the bib front was the available style--but not worn by boys and ranchers. They were worn by miners and factory workerts. Also boys did not wear cowboy hats like Mark wears.

TV-ology

"The Rifleman" was one of the first of a series of prime-time Westerns that dominated American TV screens in the late 1950s and 1960s. There have been realtively few Westerns either before or after the 1960s. And Westerns with children were also rare. 'Rin-tin-tin' was an exception, but more of a kids show. "The Rifleman" was very popular during its original run. It also occassionally runs in syndication. A reader tells us in 2013, "'The Rifleman' is now aired on AMC every Saturday morning and daily on MeTV (for Memorable TV). MeTV now has many others shows of the 1950s-1960s as well, such as 'Leave It to Beaver', 'Lassie', 'I Dream of Jeannie', and 'Batman'. It is broadcast as a digital sub-carrier channel by many over-the-air TV stations in the U.S. and carried by major cable TV systems (but not satellite services such as DirectTV)."

Plot

The Rifleman is Lucas McCain (Chuck Connors) who is a widower trying to raise his son Mark on the Western Frontier. He is homesteading a ranch in North Fork, New Mexico. The local Marshall, however, has his hands fulls with a never-ending supply of desperados. Invariably McCain has to pull out his Winchester Rifle (never six guns) to save the day. I only recall one episodes of this Western involving the costuming.

Setting

The series is set in the Arizona Territory (modern Arizona and New Mexico) during the 1870s-80s. I don't think that the series ever specied the precise years. Given the name of the show, the Winchester riles acn help date it. The first Winchester rifle was the Winchester Model 1866 inluened by the .44 Henry repeating rile used by the Unuion Army during the Civil War. Perhaps the most successful, and one of the most famous riles of all time was the Winchester Model 1873. It became known as 'the Gun that won the West'. Presumably this is the gun that Lucus McCain uses in the various episodes. So this would date the film to the mid-1870s through the 80s. By the 90s a range of modern innovations appear that I do not recall seeing in the various episodes.

Cast

The star of the show was Chuck Conners who played Lucas McCain. His son Mark is played by Johnny Crawford. Johnny was briefly, a Mousketeer for Disney. One source relates a story from that time, concerning the late Mr. Disney and Johnny. During a lunch break Walt happened to see young Crawford and asked him, "Hi, Johnny; how are you?" Johnny was so impressed that Mr. Disney knew his name that he hastened to tell his grandmother, who was seated nearby. She listened, smilingly, and told her grandson, "Mr. Disney knows your name because it's printed on the front of your Mousketeer T shirt!"

Costuming

The costuming for mark and his friends never never changed much. Mark only wore long pants--usually jeans. Mark was the thoughtful son of a rough man trying to make a man out of the motherless boy. Johnny looks very Western, but jeans like that were not worn in the 1870s-80s, rather overalls with the bib front was the available style. One reader comments, "Concerning the clothes Johnny wore in his role as "Mark Mc Cain", the review is correct. There was little variance from episode to episode. I don't remember, though, Johnny wearing a plaid shirt as seen on a publicity photo. He usually wore a long sleeved, solid color shirt (possibly a medium blue) with his jeans and boots. When he was outdoors he most often wore a western style hat with a fairly low crown, it seems. I never see noys wearing such coenoy hats in ptopd portraits. In colder weather he added a fleece collared coat. From time to time "Mark" and his dad would eat in town at a hotel, The Madera House. For dinner "Mark" would dress up in a suit typical of the setting (about 1875). The coat buttoned rather high, and "Mark" wore a string tie, tied in a bow at top. His hair was neatly combed on such occasions. Perhaps to save money on the show's budget was the reason for the similarity in clothes throughot the series' run. It's also easier to splice scenes shot at different times if the clothes are always the same (That's why Jack Webb always wore the same sport jacket, tie, and slacks in his show, "Dragnet"!)"

Episode

There were only a few episodes in which "Mark" was the central figure and even fewer addressing the costuming. The interesting episodes we know of include the following.

New school master

One episode concerned a new the new schoolmaster, a strict fellow from back East. "Lucas Mc Cain", "Mark's" dad, the Rifleman, was bringing some children, including Mark, in his wagon to town for the first day of school. The new schoolmaster, "Mr. Griswald", chided Lucas for being a few minutes late. When Griswald saw Lucas' rifle, he really fussed at Lucas for carrying a weapon so near school children. As school opened for the day, Griswald had some more to say about Lucas' poor judgement, and Mark had enough of it and came home. Lucas told Mark that Griswald is strict, but if he's unfit, that's up to the school board to decide. As for Mark, he'd have to return to school and take his punishment. Mark returned during lunch break and on the school grounds apologized to Mr. Griswald, who told Mark that he was to be kept after school for a week as punishment. Mark politely accepted his 'sentence' and apologized. Then, as Mark went back inside the school house, ahead of Griswald, another boy told Mark they were going to "show" Griswald: the boy placed some messy candy in Griswald's textbook, ruining it. Mark tried to stop the boy, but it was too late. Griswald entered just in time to see Mark with the ruined book in his hand. Immediately, Griswald suspected Mark, who, ever the loyal friend, took the blame and accepted a whipping from Griswald, as the real culprit watched silently. Humiliated, Mark told Lucas what happened, and the Rifleman could only tell his son that if he's going to accept blame for the misdeed, he must also take the punishment. Mark, unfazed, ran away with the boy to an abandoned mine. The mine caved in, trapping both boys. Lucas and Griswald rescued the boys in time. Griswald explained a scientific principle (a fulcrum and lever) to the boys, and how it was applied to save them. Griswald, the teacher, has learned a lesson by show's end, that he can be liked AND respected by the boys. Griswald even asked if he could have some of that sticky candy!

English boy: 'Hostages to fortune'

A reader tells us about one episode entitled 'Hostages to Fortune' "It is about an English boy named Percy and his father, who move there to the Arizona Territory to start ranching. Percy wears a short pants suit with knee socks, prompting Mark to exclaim later, 'Those pants! He'll be lynched at school before lunch!' Sure enough, some bullies start picking on Percy and Mark comes to his defense (figure 1)." This is a rare epidode in which costuming fits into the plot. The costuming, however is absurd and not historically accuate. Boys wore long pants in the early-and mid-19th centyry. At mid-century, shortened-length pants appeared for younger boys after breeching, but this was mostly for affluent families in the fashionable cities. The photographic record in America shows younger boys in the cities wearing knee pants, but always with long stockings. This was mostly boys up to 8 perhaps 10 years of age. And this is apparent in the photographic record for schools in the 19th century, although unfortunately we do not begin to get a lot of school portraits until the 1880s and especially the 90s. Only by the late 1890s do we see older boys wearing knee pants, especially in rural areas. And they never wore knee pants without long stockings. It would have been scandalous, although younger boys did go barefoot when wearing knee pants. The idea of a boy short pants without long stockings is unthinkable, even knee socks which Percy wears. (And short pants did not appear until the 20th century. American boys at the time wore knee pants.) The situation is similar, but a little different in Britain. Boys there also wore mostly long pants. Younger boys might wear knee pants or more commonly bloomer knickers. And by the 1870s, some provate boarding schools were adopting knickers uniforms for the junior boys, worn always with long stockings. So it is possible that a boy like Percy could have come to American wearing a knickers suit, perhaps with an Eton collar. It is not possible he would have worn a short pants suit or not have worn long stockings with it.

Sources








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Created: October 3, 2002
Last updated: 3:41 PM 8/11/2013