Pilot: Sharpshooter
  (The Shooting Match)

Writer: Sam Peckinpah

Director: Arnold Laven

Original Air Date: March 7, 1958

Episode 1: The Sharpshooter

Original Air Date: September 30, 1958

 

Guest stars:

Leif Erickson as Big Jim Lewis.  Erickson was an American film and television actor.  Born as William Wycliffe Anderson, he appeared in numerous films and television series.   Erickson appeared in THE RIFLEMAN pilot episode, "The Sharpshooter," as Big Jim Lewis.  He later went on to star in his own TV Western, playing patriach Big John Cannon in "High Chaparral."  He and Chuck Connors also appeared together in "Branded."  Previously, the two actors co-starred with John Wayne in "Trouble Along the Way."   His film credits include "College Holiday," "Conquest," "Ride a Crooked Mile," "Sorry Wrong Number," "The Snake Pit," "Fourteen Hours," "Invaders from Mars," "On the Waterfront," "Twilight for the Gods," "A Gathering of Eagles," "Roustabout," and "The Carpetbaggers."  Perhaps his most notable role was playing Deborah Kerr's macho husband in the stage and film versions of "Tea and Sympathy."

Dennis Hopper as Vernon Tippert, the young sharpshooter.  Dennis Lee Hopper was an American actor, filmmaker, and artist.  Hopper became interested in acting and eventually became a student of the Actors Studio.  He made his first appearance as an actor in 1955, appearing in two films co-starring James Dean, "Rebel Without a Cause," and "Giant."  Over the next ten years, Hopper appeared frequently on television in guest roles, and by the end of the 1960's had played supporting roles in several films.  He directed and starred in "Easy Rider," winning an award at the Cannes Film Festival.  He also was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay as co-writer of the film's script.  Hopper appeared in THE RIFLEMAN pilot episode, "The Sharpshooter," in the title role.  He also appeared in "Three-Legged Terror" (episode 30) as Johnny Clover.  By mid-career, he was unable to build on his early success for several years, until a feature role in "Apocalypse Now" brought him back to public attention.  He subsequently appeared in "Rumble Fish" and "The Osterman Weekend."   Hopper received critical recognition for his work in "Blue Velvet" and "Hoosiers," the latter film garnering him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.  He directed "Colors," portrayed King Koopa in the film version of "Super Mario Brothers," and he played the villain in "Speed."  Hopper's latest work included a leading role in the television series "Crash."  Hopper was a prolific photographer, painter, and sculptor whose works have been exhibited world wide.

Sidney Blackmer as Judge Hanavan.  Blackmer first portrayed Judge Hanavan in THE RIFLEMAN pilot episode, "The Sharpshooter," and reprised the role of Judge Hanavan in two other Rifleman episodes, "The Safe Guard" (episode 8) and "The Photographer" (episode 18).

Charles Arnt as Wes Tippert.  Arnt appeared in THE RIFLEMAN pilot episode, "The Sharpshooter," as Wes Tippert, uncle of the young sharpshooter played by Dennis Hopper.  Arnt was a veteran character actor whose career spanned 30 years.

R.G. Armstrong as Sheriff Tomlinson.  Armstrong appeared in THE RIFLEMAN pilot episode, "The Sharpshooter," as Sheriff Tomlinson.  He reprised the role in "The Marshal" (episode 4), which introduced the title character played by Paul Fix after Armstrong's sheriff was killed by marauding outlaws.  His filmography lists more than 180 credits spanning 50 years.

Mickey Simpson as Carl Lamprey.  Simpson appeared in THE RIFLEMAN pilot episode, "The Sharpshooter," as Carl Lamprey.  He also appeared in "The Indian" (episode 21) as Tub.  Over his long career in film and television, he appeared in many westerns, frequently cast as the villain.

Kathleen Simpson Mulqueen as Nancy Hanavan.  Mulqueen appeared in 4 episodes of THE RIFLEMAN—"The Sharpshooter" (the pilot episode) as Nancy Hanavan, "The Angry Gun" (episode 12) as Mrs. Peterson, "Eddie's Daughter" (episode 46) as Woman, and "The Actress" (episode 94) as Judge Hanavan's wife/sister/daughter.  She was a character actress, working primarily in film and television in the 1950s and 60s.

Victoria Aldridge as Waitress.  Aldridge appeared in several other western series of the 1950s and 1960s and appeared in several films.

 

About the pilot/first episode

Lucas and Mark decide to enter a local turkey shoot to raise money to buy a ranch.  The competition pits Lucas against the young sharpshooter, Vernon Tippert, who is sponsored by his bullying uncle, Wes Tippert.  Although Vernon is a crack shot, he is no match against Lucas's superior skills as a marksman.  The dramatic tension in "The Sharpshooter" turns on McCain throwing the match after the competition's promoter threatens to harm Lucas' young son should Tippert lose the competition.  The unfolding story shows Lucas McCain reconciling the moral dilemma of protecting his young son and participating in a rigged competition.

"The Sharpshooter" introduced not only the main characters, setting and back story for THE RIFLEMAN series, but also established its thematic distinctions from other popular western adventure programs produced during the Golden Age of television.   To be sure, the staples of the genre inform THE RIFLEMAN's storylines—law and order, right and wrong, pioneer spirit and rugged individualism—but the central themes revolve around the father and son relationship—the first primetime television series to portray a single parent raising a child alone—and nuanced morality plays that explored human nobility and very human frailties, foibles and failings, as well as the archetypal white-hatted good guys and black hatted bad guys and outlaws.

Production Notes

Arnold Laven created the concept for THE RIFLEMAN series and directed many episodes, including the pilot "Sharpshooter."  Mr. Laven established the four main themes for this classic western in the first program, and every single episode was built on these core pillars: the father-son relationship, family values, parables or stories with a moral lesson, and the customized Winchester rifle.  The name of the show was the inspiration of Jules Levy.

LGL Productions co-founder Arnold Laven met up-and-coming screenwriter and director Sam Peckinpah (pictured at right), and they struck up a rapport.  Peckinpah submitted a screenplay for THE RIFLEMAN, and after agreeing to making some changes, finished a script that would become the pilot for THE RIFLEMAN, which originally aired on CBS on Dick Powell's "Zane Grey Theatre" on March 7, 1958.  The title of the script for the pilot was "The Shooting Match," but the program aired as "Sharpshooter," with a slightly edited version debuting as the first episode of the series in the regular season; it was broadcast as "The Sharpshooter" on ABC on September 30, 1958.  Mr. Peckinpah went on to write and direct several other episodes (2, 4, 22 and 33) in the first season and one in the second season (52), basing many of the characters and situations on real-life childhood experiences growing up on a ranch.

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