Friday, April 30, 2021

Godspeed Johnny Crawford

Johnny Crawford, the actor and singer best known  for playing Mark McCain on the classic Western television series The Rifleman, died yesterday, April 29 2021, at the age of 75. He had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease in 2019. More recently, he had contracted COVID-19 and still later pneumonia.

Johnny Crawford was born on March 26 1946 in Los Angeles, California. His father was television editor Robert Crawford Sr. His older brother, Bobby Crawford, would also go into acting. Johnny Crawford appeared on television while still very young. He made his television debut in 1950 on The Pinky Lee Show. In 1951 he sang on The Steve Allen Show. It was in 1955 that he became one of the first 24 Mouseketeers on The Mickey Mouse Club. Johnny Crawford would only last on The Mickey Mouse Club for its first season. At the end of that season it was decided to reduce the number of Mosueketeers on the show to 12 and so he was released from his contract.

While he was no longer on The Mickey Mouse Club, Johnny Crawford was not without work. He guest starred on such shows as Chevron Hall of Stars, Lux Video Theatre, The Lone Ranger, Cavalcade of America, The Count of Monte Cristo, Climax!, The O. Henry Playhouse, The Sheriff of Cochise, Telephone, Crossroads, The Frank Sinatra Show, The Millionaire, The Loretta Young Show, Mr. Adams and Eve, Have Gun--Will Travel, Make Room for Daddy, Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok, Whirlybirds, Zane Grey Theatre, Wagon Train, Playhouse 90, Trackdown, Matinee Theatre, The Restless Gun, and Tales of Wells Fargo. He appeared in the movies Courage of Black Beauty (1957) and The Space Children (1958).

It was in 1959 that he began playing Mark McCain on The Rifleman. Mark McCain was the son of the title character, Lucas McCain (Chuck Connors), and the two of them lived on a homestead outside North Fork, New Mexico Territory. The show was historic as it was the first American television series ever to feature a single parent raising a child. It also differed from previous Westerns on American television up to that time as it was as much a family drama as it was a Western. The Rifleman was well received critically and did very well in the ratings. In 1959 Johnny Crawford was nominated for the Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a Dramatic Series for his role as Mark McCain.

In the Sixties Johnny Crawford guest starred on the shows The Donna Reed Show, and The Dick Powell Show. In 1965 he guest starred on the TV show Branded, which starred his former Rifleman co-star Chuck Connors. During the decade he also guest starred on the shows Mr. Novak, Mister Ed, Rawhide, Lancer, Hawaii Five-O, and The Big Valley. In the mid-Sixties he served in the United States Army. He appeared in the movies Indian Point (1965), Village of the Giants (1965), The Restless Ones (1965), and El Dorado (1966). He played the title role in the movie short "The Resurrection of Bronco Billy."

Early in the Sixties, Johnny Crawford also had a successful recording career. His first single, "Daydreams," was released in 1961 and went to no. 70 on the Billboard Hot 100. From 1961 to 1968 he released 16 singles, four of which entered the top forty. His single "Cindy's Birthday" went to no. 8. He released the albums The Captivating Johnny Crawford, Young Man's Fancy, and Rumors, in addition to two greatest hits collections.

In the Seventies Johnny Crawford guest starred on the shows Cade's County and Little House on the Prairie. He appeared in the movies The Naked Ape (1973), The Inbreaker (1974), and The Great Texas Dynamite Chase (1976). In the Eighties Johnny Crawford played the recurring role of Prince Ignatius on the TV show Crossbow. He guest starred on Movie Macabre; Murder, She Wrote; and Paradise. He also began a career as a crooner. Late in the Eighties, Johnny Crawford was the lead vocalist for Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks. In 1990 he formed Crawford Music Services, which provided music for live events.

It was in 1992 that he formed the Johnny Crawford Dance Orchestra, a vintage dance orchestra that played at special events. The Orchestra released a live album in 2008, Sweepin' the Clouds Away. In the Nineties he reprised his role as Mark McCain in the TV movie The Gambler Returns: Luck of the Draw. He also appeared in the TV movie Rupert Patterson Wants to Be a Super Hero.He appeared in the movie The Thirteenth Floor (1999). His final appearance on film was in the movie Bill Tilghman and the Outlaws (2019), playing silent screen Western star William S. Hart.

While chances are good that Johnny Crawford will always be remembered as Mark McCain on The Rifleman, he was a man of multiple talents. He gave solid performances not only on The Rifleman and Crossbow, but in multiple guest appearances on TV shows and movies as well. He was a pastor's son who becomes involved with a disturbed young girl in The Restless Ones. In the Big Valley episode "The Other Side of Justice," on which Stockton's former sheriff went on a killing spree, he played a young deputy. Of course, Johnny Crawford wasn't just an actor, but a talented singer as well. While many young actors developed singing careers in the early sixties, Johnny Crawford was actually good at it. He was impressive as the leader of the Johnny Crawford Dance Orchestra. Johnny Crawford may always be remembered as Mark McCain, but he did so much more.

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