"Welcome to The McCain Ranch"
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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