The actor (the Rifleman) and one time Brooklyn Dodger, Chuck Connors, was born here, 455 61st Street, Brooklyn, in 1921. It's about 5 miles from Knickerbocker Village, so Chuck doesn't make the "almost who" category. If he was Derek Jeter I would make an exception, even if I didn't agree with his politics.
Chuck Connors (April 10, 1921 – November 10, 1992) was an American actor and a professional basketball and baseball player, best known for his starring role in the 1950's ABC hit western series The Rifleman.
Connors was born Kevin Joseph Aloysius Connors in Brooklyn, New York, a son of Allan and Marcella (Lundrigan) Connors, immigrants from the Dominion of Newfoundland. His father was a longshoreman and his mother a homemaker. He was reared Roman Catholic and served as an altar boy at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn.
Connors's athletic abilities earned him a scholarship to the private high school Adelphi Academy, and then to the Catholic college, Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. He left college after two years, and in 1942 enlisted in the Army at Fort Knox, Kentucky. He spent most of the war as a tank-warfare instructor, stationed at Camp Campbell, Kentucky, and later at West Point, New York.
During his Army service, Connors moonlighted as a professional basketball player. Following his military discharge in 1946, he joined the newly-formed Boston Celtics of the Basketball Association of America. Connors left the team for spring training with Major League Baseball's Brooklyn Dodgers. He played for numerous minor league teams before joining the Dodgers in 1949, for whom he played in just one game; and the Chicago Cubs in 1951, for whom he played in 66 games as a first baseman and occasional pinch hitter. In 1952 he was sent to the minor leagues again, to play for the Cubs' top farm team, the Los Angeles Angels. Connors was also drafted by the Chicago Bears, but never suited-up for the team. Connors is one of only 12 athletes in the history of American professional sports to have played for both Major League Baseball and in the NBA. He is credited with being the first professional basketball player to break a backboard. Connors jumped center and smashed the wooden backboard during warm-ups in the first-ever Boston Celtics game on November 5, 1946 at Boston Arena
Connors realized that he would not make a career in professional sports, so he decided to become an actor. Playing baseball near Hollywood proved to be fortuitous, as he was spotted by an MGM casting director and signed for the 1952 Tracy-Hepburn film Pat and Mike. In 1953, he starred opposite Burt Lancaster, playing a rebellious Marine private in the film South Sea Woman. Connors starred in 1957's Old Yeller as Mr. Sanderson. That same year he co-starred in The Hired Gun.
Although he was in feature films, such as The Big Country and Soylent Green, with Charlton Heston, Connors was best known for his television work. He appeared in a 1954 episode of Adventures of Superman titled Flight to the North, in which he played a good-natured (and very strong) backwoodsman named Sylvester J. Superman. He was featured in an episode of the syndicated crime drama, City Detective starring Rod Cameron, and a segment of CBS's fantasy drama, The Millionaire. In 1956, he appeared with Regis Toomey in the episode "The Nevada Nightingale" of the NBC anthology series, The Joseph Cotten Show. He portrayed George Aswell in the 1960 episode "Trial by Fear" of CBS's anthology series, The DuPont Show with June Allyson.
He achieved stardom when cast as "Lucas McCain" in the ABC television Western series The Rifleman (1958-1963), with Johnny Crawford as his son, Mark. Connors portrayed a veteran of Berdan's Sharpshooters, a special unit of marksmen in the Civil War, who used a Winchester carbine with an enlarged trigger guard (like that of Rooster Cogburn, in the 1970 film True Grit) to serve up justice to lawbreakers in every episode, helping Sheriff Michah Torrence (actor Paul Fix) as part of his civic duty. The Rifleman was a creation of Dick Powell's Four Star Television.
Connors next starred in NBC's post-Civil War-era series Branded (1965-1966) and the 1967-1968 ABC series Cowboy in Africa, alongside British actor Ronald Howard and Tom Nardini. In 1973 and 1974 he hosted a television series called Thrill Seekers. He had a key role as a slaveowner in the 1977 miniseries Roots.
The actor achieved notoriety for an incident on an NBC prime-time baseball telecast in the 1970s. The network regularly invited a celebrity commentator to join the regular play-by-play crew in the broadcast booth. Connors accidentally said the "f-word" during the live national telecast, stunning both the announcers and the audience.
Connors hosted a number of episodes of Family Theater on the Mutual Radio Network. This series was aimed at promoting prayer as a path to world peace and stronger families, with the motto, "The family which prays together stays together."
In 1983, Connors joined Sam Elliott and Cybill Shepherd in the short-lived NBC series The Yellow Rose, about a modern Texas ranching family. In 1985, he guest starred as "King Powers" in the ABC TV series Spenser: For Hire, starring Robert Urich. In 1987, he co-starred in the FOX series Werewolf, as drifter Janos Skorzeny. In 1988, he guest starred as "Gideon" in the TV series Paradise, starring Lee Horsley.
In 1991, Connors was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
Connors was a supporter of the Republican Party and attended several fundraisers for campaigns of U.S. President Richard M. Nixon.
Connors was introduced to Secretary General Leonid Brezhnev of the Soviet Union at a party given by Nixon at the Western White House in San Clemente, California, in June, 1973. Upon boarding his airplane bound for Moscow, Brezhnev noticed Connors in the crowd and went back to him to shake hands, and jokingly jumped up into Connor's towering hug. The Rifleman was one of the few American shows allowed on Russian television at that time; that was because it was Brezhnev's favorite. Connors and Brezhnev got along so well that Connors traveled to the Soviet Union in December 1973. In 1982, Connors expressed an interest in traveling to the Soviet Union for Brezhnev's funeral, but the U.S. government would not allow him to be part of the official delegation.
Connors died in Los Angeles at the age of 71, of pneumonia stemming from lung cancer. He had been married four times and was survived by his four sons.
The book Carl Erskine's Tales from the Dodgers Dugout: Extra Innings (2004) includes short stories from former Dodger pitcher Carl Erskine. Connors is prominent in many of these stories.
Stephen King's series "The Dark Tower" featured a gunslinger named Roland Deschain as the main character. King mentions in the foreword that Roland was modeled on Chuck Connors and the illustrations in the book that show Roland bear this out.