The Rifleman
"Welcome to The McCain Ranch"

J
ulie Adams

Over the entire five year run of The Rifleman, only one woman fired Lucas's McCain's iconic Winchester rifle. Her name was Nora Sanford, and she used the rifle to commit murder. In the season two episode called "Nora," Lucas's old flame came to town sick and poor, needing the McCain's' help to get back on her feet, and still very much in love with Lucas. Or so we were led to believe. In reality, Nora wanted to use Lucas to do away with her secret lover's opponent at cards, which would also erase her lover's debt to this man. Nora was so heartless and deceitful that she even drew the boy Mark into her lies.

Julie Adams - The Rifleman

Nora was skillfully played by Julie Adams, a Hollywood veteran of over 10 years by the time she filmed this episode. In March 2014, I was fortunate to be able to attend the Williamsburg Film Festival, where a highlight of the festival for me was meeting Miss Adams. Her rich, vibrant voice was easily recognizable as I waited for my turn to talk to her. At her table, she chatted with guests, laughing easily and answering questions as people looked over the photographs and other things she had for sale. The item I was most interested in was her 2011 autobiography The Lucky Southern Star: Reflections From the Black Lagoon written with her younger son, Mitchell Danton, who was with his mother that day. It tells Julie's absorbing story of following her acting dream to Hollywood near the end of the studio contract era and finding success that has lasted over 60 years.

The book itself is visually enticing with a striking photograph of Julie on the cover. While technically a paperback, it is printed on heavy glossy paper with an even thicker paper cover that is doubled over front and back and lined with images of posters from the numerous movies in which she has appeared. In between the covers, the book has plenty of pictures, many taken with other stars in their film or television roles with Julie. She gives details on how she was cast, how she approached different roles, learned from more experienced actors, stunts that went right and wrong, and off the set fun with her many actor friends.

Julie Adams was born October 17, 1926 in Waterloo, Iowa, as Betty Adams. Her family moved a great deal; the longest time she lived in one town was eight years in Blytheville, AR. She loved going to the movies as a child and dreamed of becoming an actress herself. In 1946, as the reigning Miss Little Rock, Arkansas, she went to Hollywood.

A family friend owned a bathing suit shop which gave Julie connections to beauty pageants and talent scouts. Through this friend, Julie met a talent scout who helped her get her first acting role. One small job led to another and another until she was cast in 6 westerns which would film simultaneously over 5 weeks. She was then cast in Bright Victory, changed her first name to Julia and was given a Universal Studios contract. A few years later, she changed her first name to Julie.

An important role for Julie was in the western Bend of the River, when she appeared with James Stewart. She greatly admired him for his acting skills and as a person. She later appeared with William Powell, who would become one of the producers of The Rifleman, in Treasure of Lost Canyon. The list of Hollywood notables she worked with includes Tyrone Power, Rock Hudson, Glenn Ford, Natalie Wood, Tony Curtis, Charlton Heston, Walter Matthau, and Francis the Talking Mule!

The Bend of the River  Julie Adams - Arthur Kennedy - Jimmy Stewart

The Bend of the River Julie Adams - Arthur Kennedy - Jimmy Stewart

 Julie Adams - Creature From the Black Lagoon

Along the way, Julie continued to learn more about acting, lighting, cameras, and other aspects of making films. She sometimes performed her own stunts. She is perhaps best known today for her role as Kay Lawrence in the science fiction cult classic Creature From the Black Lagoon which was released in 1954.

The Big Valley/The Emperor of Rice  Harry Townes & Julie Adams/villainess

The Big Valley/The Emperor of Rice Harry Townes & Julie Adams/villainess

As the 1950s drew to a close, Julie's Universal Studios contract ended, and she concentrated more on television roles than movies. She appeared in the television western series Cheyenne, Maverick, The Rifleman, and later Bonanza and The Big Valley. She particularly enjoyed playing the evil Nora in The Rifleman episode of the same name. It was an interesting challenge to play such a villainous role, and she was glad to work with Johnny Crawford again. They had appeared together previously in a Playhouse 90 episode called The Dungeon, where she played Johnny's mother.

Playhouse 90/The Dungeon  Johnny Crawford - Dennis Weaver - Julie Adams

Playhouse 90/The Dungeon Johnny Crawford - Dennis Weaver - Julie Adams
Some highlights of the 1960s for Julie included guest starring roles on The Andy Griffith Show and Arrest and Trial starring Chuck Connors. She appeared in the movie Tickle Me with Elvis Presley, where she was "required" to kiss the king of rock and roll. In the 1970s she worked with Ernest Borgnine and Sammy Davis Jr. in the movie The Trackers. She was delighted to act opposite Jimmy Stewart again, as his wife in the short-lived TV series The Jimmy Stewart Show. She also appeared as John Wayne's ex-wife in the film McQ.

Julie Adams - The Jimmy Stewart Show

The Jimmy Stewart Show

In the 1970s Julie also began to perform onstage across the country, which had been a goal for her as she wanted to stretch her acting abilities in this different form. She continued TV guest starring roles in many popular series such as The Incredible Hulk. In the 1980s she appeared for five years on the daytime soap opera Capitol, and in 1987 began a six year run in a recurring role in Murder, She Wrote. A particularly unusual part came her way when she guest starred on Dick Van Dyke's Diagnosis Murder, playing the same character she had played over 20 years before on the series Mannix.

Some of Julie's most recent roles were on the TV series Cold Case, CSI: NY and Lost. In 1999 she was awarded the Golden Boot Award for her contributions to the western genre.

Julie's autobiography lists her appearances in 46 feature films, four television movies, and 91 television series, often in multiple episodes, in addition to stage plays. She was married to actor/director Ray Danton for over 20 years. They had two sons who both work in the entertainment industry today. She has four grandchildren. Julie enjoys meeting her fans at conventions and film festivals. The last weekend of March, 2014, she appeared in Burbank, CA at Monsterpalooza to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Creature From the Black Lagoon.

After the Williamsburg Film Festival was over, I was able to ask Julie a few questions about her role as Nora on The Rifleman, and she graciously gave them her full attention with detailed replies.

1. What do you remember about handling the rifle itself? How familiar were you with firearms before this role? As far as we can tell, Nora was the only woman to fire the rifle on-screen.

In the "Nora" episode the rifle was handled very carefully, so that no would get hurt, even though there were only blanks in the gun when it was fired. On the sets, things were always very well-managed in that way, and I was directed how to do it. When I was a teenager in Arkansas I learned how to shoot a rifle with my daddy. We used to go way out in the woods away from any people, and we would shoot at targets. My father was very careful that nobody could get injured. He taught me and I learned to be a pretty good shot.

2. In your book, you state that you were offered a recurring role as Lucas McCain's romantic interest in 1962, but you turned down the role due to your pregnancy. Do you know anything about the story line for the role you were offered?

After doing the original "Nora" episode in 1960, the producers and the fans liked the episode. So about a year and a half year later, the producers contacted my agent to offer me a recurring role in the series. As I recall, the Nora character shoots her lover's bill collector at the end of the episode, so it is assumed that she will be put in jail for the crime. I presume the writers had figured out a way to get her out of jail and bring her back to North Fork where Lucas McCain lives with his son Mark McCain. Nora was a rather mysterious character, and because I was unavailable to return to the show due to my pregnancy, her ultimate fate will likely forever remain a mystery.

3. What do you remember about the filming site(s) for the "Nora" episode?

I believe the entire episode was shot on a sound stage in Hollywood. The sets looked very realistic, but I remember them being all the creation of the set designers and art director -- and were shot indoors on the stage. Very few actual exteriors on location are seen in the episode, and those are probably stock shots used to establish scenes before they used the tighter angles with the actors in them.

4. How were you cast in the role of Nora? Was it related to your previous work with Arnold Laven?

My role on The Rifleman may have had something to do with Arnold Laven; we had both previously worked together on the Zane Grey Theater. (Nora) Director Ted Post may have also remembered me from Perry Mason. We both worked on multiple episodes, though not the same ones. Interestingly, after playing the deceitful Nora on The Rifleman, I was cast as deceptive characters in two other popular Westerns: Bonanza and The Big Valley. So my performance in the "Nora" episode was an audition of sorts, that I could play "bad girls" as well as some of the more wholesome characters I had played at Universal while I was under contract there in the 1950s. All of the these Western roles and many more are discussed in detail in my book, The Lucky Southern Star: Reflections from the Black Lagoon, which is available on my official website www.julieadams.biz. I loved playing Nora on The Rifleman, it would have been nice to play her character again on a later episode, but it never worked out. I'm glad fans of the show are still enjoying this episode many years later!

I wish to thank Julie Adams and her son Mitchell Danton for their help in putting together this tribute to Julie Adams.
Also a special thank you to Ava for her help in getting this information and for helping to put this tribute together. Ava is a member at The McCain Ranch messageboard

Julie Adams - Official Website

Julie Adams - on Facebook

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