"It's no problem at all for me," he said in 1983. "My whole ability to make a living is derived from the fact that I was 'The Rifleman'." Los Angeles Times
It has been said that Irishmen have a gift for storytelling, a natural affinity for words. Such can certainly be said about Chuck Connors.
As a boy, Chuck was a good student at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Brooklyn – scoring a 95 in English on his 8th Grade report card. His excellence in academics continued into high school. An Adelphi Academy classmate remembered they used to call him Scoop because Chuck hoped to be a sports writer one day. That natural ability helped him win an elocution contest when he was at Seton Hall College. It took Freshman Chuck three weeks to memorize and prepare to dramatically recite Vachel Lindsay’s Congo. Chuck recalled what an honor it was for him when the audience applauded his performance. He was written up in the school newspaper that identified him as “a scholar, athlete and orator… with a masterful imagination and a phenomenal literary genius!”
His love of words carried over to his basketball and baseball days. He was in great demand as a dinner speaker. His recitation of Casey at the Bat was extremely popular.
Casey at the Bat
by Ernest Lawrence Thayer
The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day;
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A pall-like silence fell upon the patrons of the game.
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which prings eternal in the human breast;
They thought, "If only Casey could but get a whack at that-
We'd put up even more money now, with Casey at the bat."
But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a hoodoo, while the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat;
For thre seemed but little chace of Casey getting to the bat.
But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despised, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.
Then from five thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It pounded on the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.
There was ease in Casey's manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey's bearing and a smile lit Casey's face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt 'twas Casey at the bat.
Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt.
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance flashed in Casey's eye, a sneer curled Casey's lip.
And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy bats man the ball undeeded sped -
'That ain't my style,' said Casey. 'Strike one!' the umpire said.
From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm waves on a stern and distant shore;
'Kill him! Kill the umpire!' shouted some one on the stand;
And it's likely they'd have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.
With a smile of Christian charity great Casey's visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the dun sphere flew;
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said 'Strike two!'
'Fraud!' cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered 'Fraud!'
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn't let that ball go by again.
The sneer has fled from Casey's lip, the teeth are clenched in hate;
He pounds with cruel violence, his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey's blow.
Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are kight,
And somewhere men are laughing, and little children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville - mighty Casey has struck out.
Chuck was invited to be a guest speaker often, he added
The Face on the Barroom Floor to his repertoire.
'Twas a balmy summer evening and a goodly crowd was there,
That well nigh filled Joes' barroom at the corner of the square.
As songs and witty stories came through the open door,
A vagabond crept slowly in and posed upon the floor.
“Where did it come from?” someone said,
“The wind has blown it in.”
“What does it want?” another cried,“Some whiskey, rum or gin?”
Here Toby, sic’ em, If your stomach is equal to the work,
I wouldn't touch him with a fork, he's filthy as a Turk.
This badinage the poor wretch took with stoical good grace.
In fact, he smiled as though he thought he had struck the proper place.
Come boys, I know there's kindly hearts among so good a crowd;
To be in such good company would make a deacon proud.
Give me a drink, that’s what I want. I'm out of funds you know,
when I had cash to treat the gang, this lad was never slow.
What? You laugh as though you think, this pocket never held a sou,
I once was fixed as well, my boys, as any of you.
There thanks, that’s braced me nicely. God Bless you one and all.
Next time I pass this good saloon, I'll make another call.
Give you a song? No, I can't do that. My singing days are past.
My voice is cracked, my throat's worn out, and my lungs are going fast.
Aye, give me another whiskey and I'll tell you what to do
I'll tell you a funny story and in fact I'll promise two.
That I was ever a decent man, not one of you would think,
But I was, some four or five years back. Say, give me another drink.
Fill'er up, Joe, I want to put some life into this old frame.
Such little drinks, to a bum like meare miserably tame.
Five fingers, that's the scene, and corking and whiskey too,
Well, here's luck boys, and landlord, my best respects to you.
You’ve treated me pretty kindly, and I'd like to tell you how,
I came to be this dirty sap, you see before you now.
As I told you once, I was a man with muscle, frame and health,
But for a blunder, ought have made considerable wealth.
I was a painter, not one that daubed on bricks or wood,
But an artist, and for my age I was rated pretty good,
I worked hard at my canvas, and bidding fair to rise,
And gradually I saw, the star of fame before my eyes.
I made a picture, perhaps you've seen, it's called the “Chase of Fame.
”It brought me fifteen hundred pounds and added to my name.
It was then I met a woman, now come the funny part;
With eyes that petrified my brain, and sank into my heart.
Why don't you laugh it's funny, that the vagabond you see
could ever have a woman and expect her love for me.
But it was so, and for a month or two, her smiles were freely given,
And when her loving lips touched mine, I thought I was in heaven.
Boys did you ever see a girl, for whom your soul you'd give,
With a form like Venus De Milo, too beautiful to live,
With eyes that would beat the Koh-i-noor,
And a wealth of chestnut hair?
If so, it was she, for boys there never was, another half so fair.
I was working on a portrait, one afternoon in May,
Of a fair haired boy, a friend of mine, who lived across the way.
My Madeline admired him, and much to my surprise,
She said she'd like to know the lad, who had such dreamy eyes.
She didn't take long to find him, before the month had flown,
My friend had stolen my darling, and I was left alone.
And ere a year of misery had passed above my head.
That jewel I treasured so, had tarnished and was dead.
That's why I took to drink boys. Why, I never see you smile,
I thought you'd be amused boys, and laughing all the while.
Why, what's the matter friend? There's a teardrop in your eye.
Come, laugh like me. It's only babes and women that should cry.
Say boys, if you give me just another whiskey and I'll be glad,
I'll draw right here the picture, of the face that drove me mad.
Give me that piece of chalk with which you mark the baseball score;
You shall see the lovely Madeline upon the barroom floor.
Another drink and with chalk in hand, the vagabond began,
To sketch a face that well might buy the soul of any man.
Then, as he placed another lock upon that shapely head,
With a fearful shriek, he leaped and fell across the picture — dead!
Another Favorite Poem of Chuck's was
The Shooting of Dan McGrew
There's men that somehow just grip your eyes, and hold them hard like a spell; And such was he, and he looked to me like a man who had lived in hell;
With a face most hair, and the dreary stare of a dog whose day is done,
As he watered the green stuff in his glass, and the drops fell one by one.
Then I got to figgering who he was, and wondering what he'd do,
And I turned my head and there watching him was the lady that's known as Lou.
His eyes went rubbering round the room, and he seemed in a kind of daze,
Till at last that old piano fell in the way of his wandering gaze.
The rag-time kid was having a drink; there was no one else on the stool,
So the stranger stumbles across the room, and flops down there like a fool.
In a buckskin shirt that was glazed with dirt he sat, and I saw him sway;
Then he clutched the keys with his talon hands my God! but that man could play.
Were you ever out in the Great Alone, when the moon was awful clear,
And the icy mountains hemmed you in with a silence you most could hear;
With only the howl of a timber wolf, and you camped there in the cold,
A half-dead thing in a stark, dead world, clean mad for the muck called gold;
While high overhead, green, yellow and red, the North Lights swept in bars?
Then you've a haunch what the music meant. . . hunger and night and the stars.
And hunger not of the belly kind, that's banished with bacon and beans,
But the gnawing hunger of lonely men for a home and all that it means;
For a fireside far from the cares that are, four walls and a roof above;
But oh! so cramful of cosy joy, and crowned with a woman's love
A woman dearer than all the world, and true as Heaven is true --
(God! how ghastly she looks through her rouge, -- the lady that's known as Lou).
Then on a sudden the music changed, so soft that you scarce could hear;
But you felt that your life had been looted clean of all that it once held dear;
That someone had stolen the woman you loved; that her love was a devil's lie;
That your guts were gone, and the best for you was to crawl away and die.
'Twas the crowning cry of a heart's despair, and it thrilled you through and through
"I guess I'll make it a spread misere", said Dangerous Dan McGrew.
The music almost died away. . .then it burst like a pent-up flood;
And it seemed to say, "Repay, repay", and my eyes were blind with blood.
The thought came back of an ancient wrong, and it stung like a frozen lash,
And the lust awoke to kill, to kill. . . then the music stopped with a crash,
Chuck carried volumes of Shakespeare with him on the road and was
famous for quoting Shakespeare during a ballgame – often at the umpires. His teammates called him The Barrymore of Baseball.
In a 1951 interview while playing in the Pacific Coast League, Chuck was asked if there was any passage from Shakespeare that was particularly applicable to baseball and Chuck responded with the following quote from Macbeth:
“Out, out brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow,
A poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more;
It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury.
Chuck added, “That is a baseball player’s life in a nutshell – if he doesn’t save his money!”
Chuck wrote the following poem for his mother’s birthday
This festive eve is meant to bringSome joy and mirth to you
For being such a grand old girl It’s the least that I can do.
So make yourself a merry time Eat and drink – be gay.
You reign in regal splendor, dear
On this happy joyous day…
From the private collection of David Fury
Another poem written by Chuck was
A writer can pawn his typewriter,
A painter can pawn his oils,
A musician can pawn his instruments,
And a fencer can pawn his foils.
But when an actor is down on his luck,
And it's been some time since his last role,
If he should try to pawn the tools of his trade,
How much would he get for a sensitive soul?
Chuck also brought his vocal gifts to music by recording two songs with the Salvation Army Chorus, Seventy Times Seven and Somebody Bigger Than
You and I.
Chuck is also credited for writing professionally. He contributed to four episodes of The Rifleman.
The Boarding House
Chuck's writing contributions didn't stop with the Rifleman. He also helped write a two-part episode of Branded.
Chuck Connors was articulate, intelligent and very well-read. Added to his talents both in the field of sports and acting made him a force to be reckoned with in life.