WASHINGTON, DC – Johnny Crawford, the first Mouseketeer who featured as the young son of the Civil War veteran depicted by Chuck Connors on the 1958-63 ABC series ‘The Rifleman,’ has died.
He passed away on Thursday at the age of 75.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, in 2019, it was revealed Crawford had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and a GoFundMe campaign was coordinated by Paul Petersen, the advocate for former child actors and onetime star of The Donna Reed Show, to help the family deal with expenses.
Crawford was 12 when he showed up for the first time as Mark McCain, child of the single man Lucas McCain, on ‘The Rifleman.’ The Four Star Television series, set in the New Mexico Region with storylines created by Sam Peckinpah, ran for five seasons, from September 30, 1958, to April 8, 1963, and then for decades in syndication and reruns.
In a 2018 interview, Crawford noted that the strength of the program was it’s dad-and-son dynamic.
“That, and the fact that there was always a lesson at the end of every episode. Really, it’s such a wholesome show, a healthy show,” he said.
“And Chuck was so perfect. You know, I still miss him [he died in 1992]. He was unique I’ll never meet anybody else like him again. He tried to be a good influence on me, even off-camera. And he treated me like an adult when we were working. He made it much easier than it might have been. He was a lot of fun,” he added.
In 1959, when Crawford was nominated for an Emmy for best-supporting actor (continuing character) in a dramatic series, his older brother, Robert Crawford Jr., was nominated for best single performance by an actor (for ‘Playhouse 90’) and their father, Robert Crawford, was nominated for film editing (for ‘The Bob Cummings Show)’.
Brought into the world in Los Angeles on Walk 26, 1946, John Ernest Crawford did a tap-dancing routine, showed producers he could fence — his dad was a state champion — and imitated singer Johnnie Ray during his audition for ABC’s ‘The Mickey Mouse Club.’
As per The Hollywood Reporter, auditioning for ‘The Mickey Mouse Club’ found for him a line of work as one of the 24 unique Mouseketeers for the primary season (1955-56) of the show. However, when the number of children was reduced considerably for season two, his option was not picked up.
He said in 1982, “I was a has-been at nine. I told my agent that I would have worked at Disney for nothing. That’s when she told me that I was working for them for nothing.”
“[But] being able to go in and say that I had just finished working for a year as a Mouseketeer was to my benefit because there weren’t many nine-year-olds who had experience in film. It gave me a certain confidence that I hadn’t had before, and I started getting a few small parts.”
The young Johnny Crawford appeared in an uncredited part in ‘The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit’ (1956), featuring Gregory Peck, and at that point in television programs such as ‘The Solitary Officer’, ‘Peak!’, ‘Early show Theater’ and ‘The Loretta Young Show,’ prior to featuring in ‘Fortitude of Dark Excellence’ (1957). He also had a successful career as a recording artist releasing a number of singles and albums.
As per The Hollywood Reporter, after ‘The Rifleman’ was dropped, Crawford and Connors teamed up again on a 1965 scene of NBC’s ‘Marked,’ and he showed up alongside John Wayne in ‘El Dorado’ (1967) and on Television programs including ‘Hawaii Five-O.’ ‘Little House on the Prairie,’ and ‘Murder She Wrote.’
Beginning in the late 1950s, Crawford had a recording contract with Del-Fi Records and oversaw hits including ‘Cindy’s Birthday,’ which arrived at No. 8 on n the Billboard Hot 100 in 1962,’Rumors,’ ‘Your Nose Is Gonna Grow”‘ and ‘Proud.’ During the 1990s, he led the Johnny Crawford Orchestra.
Survivors include his wife, high-school sweetheart Charlotte Samco, whom he married in 1995, and his brother. (ANI/Big News Network)