The Rifleman
"Welcome to The McCain Ranch"

Joe Higgins

January 21, 1963
HOLLYWOOD (AP) ― Actor Chuck Connors and a friend were riding alone Sunset Boulevard Tuesday when who should run into them but the law.
Connors, 40, was in a car driven by Joseph Higgins, 37. It was struck broadside by a police car making a turn onto Sunset. No one was injured.
Boy I bet those two got a good laugh out of this!

'Sheriff' Higgins Riding High

     Hollywood (UPI) -- The squat sheriff in his trooper hat, steel rimmed dark glasses and khakis narrows his eyes and says "You inna heap o trouble boy."And right away the viewer wants to punch this drawling symbol of rural authority right in the mouth. You figure somebody had to drain a southern school to come up with a stereotyped redneck to play the role of 'J. W'., the abrasive minion of the law in the old Dodge commercials.

But Joe Higgins, who did the blurbs for six years, is a good ol' Ohio boy who earned a master's degree at Scotland's University of Edinburgh in social psychology and is a former are faster at the University of Dayton. Half Irish, half Jewish, Higgins is 100% ham. He is also a man of many surprising parts. Among other things he is a Brevet Major General in the Air National Guard. And while he is not much of a military man, the title does outrank an admiral in the Swiss Navy

Higgins also is a member of the Jet Pioneer Society, the American Fighter Pilots Association and the Society of Experimental Test Pilots. Though he's quit selling cars on the tube to become a TV spokesman for General Electric, Higgins will go to his grave as a Southern sheriff which, he acknowledges, is a testimonial to his acting talents. The high point of his life was visiting Helen Hayes backstage in New York where he was introduced to the beloved actress. Higgins becomes almost misty eyed when he relates their meeting.

"I told Miss. Hayes it was a great honor to meet her". Higgins said. "She was really delighted to see me and said," 'J. W. was one of the finest acting performances she had ever seen'. Then she asked Higgins to hit her with his catchphrase line. "You inna heap o' trouble boy." But the rotund character man couldn't bring himself to do it. He praised her in a southern accent and let it go at that.

Higgins is a man of many voices. Dozens. Several times a year he lectures on dialects for drama classes at a San Fernando Valley College. "I almost lost out on playing J.W. because the producers insisted on using an authentic Southern accent". Higgins recalled, "When I went in for my reading, I came on strong from the beginning with a deep South dialect". "The minute I opened my mouth they said, 'you're the guy".

As a result of his J.W. characterizations, Higgins has become the darling of law enforcement officials throughout the country. He is so closely associated with the constabulary that he lectures on highway safety and conducts classes in safe driving at U.S. Air Force bases. One of these days one suspects Higgins will arrest a speeder just for the hell of it.

"I was elected National Safety Sheriff by 3,200 Sheriff's of the National Sheriffs Association representing all 50 states", he said. "It's strictly honorary but I'm also an advisor to the Association". I have the finest badge collection in the world today. I've worked with 643 police and sheriffs departments all across the nation. And I've been sworn in to more than 400 departments as a legitimate deputy.

Higgins whipped out his wallet on which he had pinned a gold star issued by a Northern California hamlet attesting Higgins' deputization. "As one of a team I helped write the United States Air Force safe driving course", he said. "I am a pilot but not a military pilot. I became a bevel major general because I'm an educator. "In truth, I've been an actor all my life. I founded the theater arts department at the University of Dayton after the Second World War

"When I moved to California in 1952 I just wanted to live in the San Fernando Valley, raise kids and work at my craft, and that's what I've been doing. I've worked in television, movies and in the theater. I've done a lot of television commercials, but there's no doubt that I became an immediate national figure with J. W. Those commercials made me financially comfortable.

"I just finished a two part Disney television movie and I'm going to play Wallace Beery in "Rainbow", the TV movie biography of Judy Garland. J.W. made such a strong impression that people forget I had a running role in the "Rifleman" with Chuck Connors for five years. I played the village blacksmith, I was also a regular in the "Arrest and Trial" series, playing the owner of the bar and grill.

Higgins said he travels a quarter million miles a year for General Electric doing industrial films, TV commercials and giving speeches for civic, educational and industrial groups. Now he is a partner in FMS Productions and looking forward to becoming a power behind the camera thanks to good ol' J. W.
 


*Evansville....."this ones for you Jeff!"
In November, 1962, Chuck Connors was the featured guest star as The Rifleman at the Hadi Shrine Circus in Evansville which ran 4 days with 8 shows. I had just turned 6 years old but I remember it like it was yesterday.
Also, Joe Higgins who played Nils, lived in Evansville in 1955-56 and was the Assistant Manager at the Hotel McCurdy in downtown Evansville. Thanks Jeff!

Whatever Happened to the Dodge Safety Sheriff Joe Higgins?
 A phs collectorcarworld investigation
By: Patrick Smith

Sheriff Higgins - 1970 Dodge Challenger RT Commercial

Higgins made his mark as an actor

Joe Higgins as Nils Swenson

Character Actors Index Page
Have you ever been watching TV or a movie and wondered who is that guy?

Tragedy Among the Stars

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