Johnny Crawford’s hit songs of the Sixties were all closely tied to his work on The Rifleman. The cover photo on his first single record “Daydreams” featured Johnny leaning on a saddle wearing a cowboy hat. It was released in 1961, three years after Mark and Lucas McCain first appeared on TV screens.
Crawford’s first two full-length albums came out the next year. The Captivating Johnny Crawford contained “Daydreams” and other singles like “Your Love is Growing Cold” and “Patti Ann.” His second LP, A Young Man’s Fancy, connected directly with a Rifleman episode of the same name. Mark serenades a new girl in town with the song “Something Special” – track four on the album.
The tune was also the B-side of Crawford’s most famous single “Cindy’s Birthday,” which peaked at number eight on the charts in 1962. The record with both songs made another clear Rifleman connection through its cover art. The photo was a behind-the-scenes snap of Johnny posing with a script in a director’s chair. A camera on a dolly and a microphone on the end of a long boom pole can be seen behind Crawford.
One other interesting quirk about the album cover? Another actor walking behind Johnny. The man is obviously in costume, wearing a top hat and bowtie. Though his face is turned away, he appears to have a small mustache as well. All these clues point to the silent henchman in the episode “The Princess.”
This unique installment of The Rifleman follows a mysterious woman, Jennifer, and her younger brother who come to the McCain ranch for help. She begins to fall for Lucas as he hears rumors that a European princess and her brother recently ran away from their boarding school in Denver.
A well-dressed man and his silent, unnamed assistant come to town looking for Jennifer. They learn she is staying at the McCain ranch and ride out to confront Lucas. It’s a distinct episode that shows a tender side of The Rifleman’s tough titular hero.
The top hat-wearing assistant character, who goes unmentioned in both the episode’s credits and on IMDb, bears a striking resemblance to the man in the background of the “Cindy’s Birthday” cover photo. The timing works out as well. “The Princess” originally aired in January of 1962 and Johnny Crawford’s hit single was released a few months later.
One other season four Rifleman episode that has a similarly dressed character is “Sheer Terror.” However, the actor who plays the dapper criminal in that story doesn’t look nearly as much like the person in the record cover and the episode aired in October of 1961, about six months before the release of “Cindy’s Birthday.”
Without talking to someone who was there the day the photo was taken, it may be impossible to know for certain the circumstances surrounding this record cover image. But the timing of “The Princess,” not to mention the uncanny resemblance with one of the episode’s actors, seem to point to the fact that the cover art for Johnny Crawford’s best-known single was taken while filming this classic episode.
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