|LEE AAKERS AND JOHNNY CRAWFORD|
|Collectors found the month of April a shocker as we lost two favorite actors whose roles in atomic-era TV shows were made into enormously popular character figures.|
|LEE AAKERS by Rusty Kern
As Corporal Rusty on Rin Tin Tin, Lee Aakers found as much acclaim for his human portrayal as his canine pal, Rinty. Aakers had survived a wagon attack and was taken in by his rescuers, the cavalry from Fort Apache. The show found popularity when Louis Marx released the “Rin Tin Tin at Fort Apachje” Playset, too, with character figures representing Rusty, Rin Tin Tin, and James Brown as Rusty’s commander, Lt. Ripley 'Rip' Masters.
Lee made the 1954 “Who’s Who of Actors in Hollywood” and as the series ended, continued to find film roles in motion pictures. Hondo, a critically acclaimed 3-D Western featuring John Wayne put him high on the child actor ranks. He played in Red Chief as the capture title character in O. Henry’s The Ransom of Red Chief, and with Gene Barry in Atomic City among many others, and he never let up. IMDB takes over: “After the show's demise, however, Aaker did not make the transition into adult roles. He instead moved into the production end of the business, serving as an assistant to producer Herbert B. Leonard on the Route 66 (1960) series, then later dropped out altogether to become a carpenter until he found a new life teaching handicapped children how to ski. And living the life of a celebrity in Mammouth Springs, California.
Even then, he appeared on local television with local TV hosts doing interviews and talking about his life of fame in the old west. In one such episode we viewed, Lee was quite aware as an adult and appeared to enjoy his time on the show. He also attended celebrity conventions and was a "Kids of the West" honoree at the 2005 Golden Boot Awards” (IMDB). It was at this time that Playset Magazine editors attempted to track him down for an interview to appear in the Rin Tin Tin special issue. His handlers at that time were very protective, “Wary,” was the word that came to mind, and that interview did not occur.
Born Sept 25, 1943 in Los Angeles, Lee died April 1st, 2021 in Mesa, Arizona at 77 following complications of a stroke. There were rumors, eagerly spread by media, that Lee was destitute and died alone of alcoholism and a harrowing medical condition. In truth, the Screen Actors Guild tells us he was receiving a pension of $1500 a month, had full medical benefits, and supplemented by Social Security. He was last reported to have a net worth in excess of $2 million. Paul Petersen, who has looked after childhood actors, wrote “Lee Aaker passed away in Arizona on April 1st, alone and unclaimed...listed as an "indigent decedent."As an Air Force veteran Lee is entitled to burial benefits. I am working on that.God knows when a sparrow falls. Paul Petersen.”
Child star on 'The Rifleman,' Johnny Crawford, 75 Before his best known role, he was one of the original Mouseketeers
By: Harrison Smith Washington Post
Johnny Crawford, who reigned as one of television's most popular young actors while starring as Chuck Connors's sensitive son on "The Rifleman," then par layed his screen success into a string of Top 40 hits as a teenage crooner in the earJy 1960s, died April 29 at an assist ed-living home in the Sun Valley section of Los Angeles. He was 75.
He had Alzheimer's disease, said his wife, Charlotte McKenna-Crawford, and was in declining health after being hospitalized last year for COVID-19 and pneu monia.·
Crawford was 9 when he began per forming on national television, appear ing on "The Mickey Mouse Club" in 1955 as one of two dozen original Mouseke teers. Wearing mouse ears and match ing white shirts, he and his castmates charmed an audience of adolescent baby boomers while singing and danc ing between serials and educational segments. Episodes began with a roll call and ended with a farewell song: "Now it's time to say goodbye I to all our company."
|After the first season ended, Crawford was cut from the show. He suspected it was because he kept getting distracted while learning his dance steps, focusing instead on fellow Mouseketeer Annette Funicello. "That really broke my heart.... I was a has-been at 9," he told an interviewer in 1982. "I told my agent that I would have worked at Disney's for nothing. That's when she told me that I was working for them for nothing."
Yet he soon began appearing on episodes of "The Lone Ranger" and other shows, paving the way for his work on "The Rifleman." Running from 1958 to 1963on ABC and then for decades in syn dication, the western starred Connors as Lucas McCain, a sharpshooting Civil War veteran and widower looking after his son, Mark, who shouts for "Pa" whenever trouble appears at their New Mexico ranch.
The two actors maintained a close· relationship off-screen, with Connors sharing stories from his short career as a pro baseball player and teaching Crawford how to hold a bat and run the bases. “He tried to be a good influence for me, even off-camera," Crawford recalled. "And he treated me like an adult when we were working. He made it much easier than it might have been.”
Johnny was nominated for a coveted Emmy award, losing to Ken Curtis of Gunsmoke. That same year, two of his family members received nominations as well: his older brother, fellow child actor Robert Crawford. Jr., for an episode of "Playhouse 90"; and his father, Robert Crawford, for editing "The Bob Cummings Show."
Nursing musical ambitions of his own, Johnny signed with Del-Fi Records in 1961and recorded Top 40 hits such as "Rumors," "Proud" and the Pinocchio-inspired "Your Nose Is Gonna Grow.” In 1962, his song "Cindy's Birthday" reached No.8 on the Billboard Hot 100 even as he started learning rodeo techniques from cast and crew members.
"Some of those extras were really good ropers," his wife said in a phone interview. For about a decade, he competed in rodeo events such as calf roping, steer wrestling and bull and bronc riding, while appearing in film, television and stage roles.
He later traded his Stetson and blue jeans for a top hat and tuxedo, reinventing himself as the leader of the Johnny Crawford Dance Orchestra, which performed music from the 1920s and '30s in period style.
Johnny Crawford will always be remembered as one of television's most popular young actors. He died Thursday at age75.
Courtesy of and © The Washington Post, written by Harrison Smith, sent in by collector Ed Sponzilli
As a side note, we are told the first episode of The Rifleman is now on YouTube free, courtesy FilmRise. Thanks Brian Johnson. Just click here: The Rifleman Episode #1
On behalf of all collectors we pray for the souls and memory of these two fine men. Rest in Peace Johnny and Lee.