Hollywood gunsmith James Sydney Stembridge was old enough to remember the Wild West. Following the Spanish-American War, the East Coast native headed west to California. Sometime in the 1910s in Los Angeles, he met pioneering filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille, who asked Stembridge for help in making a movie.
DeMille was relatively new to the industry — but then again, the industry was just as new. In 1914, DeMille released his first movie, The Squaw Man. Well, it was not only his first movie, it was the first-ever feature-film considered to be shot in Hollywood. Naturally, Hollywood being Hollywood, it was the first movie to ever be remade. DeMille shot a remake of The Squaw Man in 1918. Yes, just four years later.
It is likely on this production that Stembridge and DeMille first collaborated. The two quickly founded Stembridge Gun Rentals to supply prop guns to the movie industry.
For the rest of the 20th century, Stembridge Gun Rentals became the major prop arms supplier in Hollywood. The company was responsible for everything from Han Solo’s pistol to Tony Montana’s “little friend” to Arnold’s shotgun in Terminator 2. You know, the one he flips around to cock.
Speaking of which, Stembridge was also responsible for perhaps the most iconic prop gun in TV Western history — Lucas McCain’s rifle. After all, the show was called The Rifleman.
As demonstrated every episode in the opening credits, McCain could quickly fire his custom rifle — and give it a little flip in his right hand, thanks to the large loop on the lever.
The Rifleman production used three prop guns. Two of them were Winchester Model 1892s. The third was “stunt rifle” of sorts, a Gárate y Anitúa “El Tigre,” a Spanish knock-off of the 1892. That one could be used to batter things, toss on the ground, etc. The Winchesters were more precious.
But that “1892” was no mere model number — it was the year that Winchester first manufactured the rifle.
So there’s one big problem. The Rifleman takes place in the 1880s. Need proof? In the episode “The Wyoming Story,” we see a plaque created by Lucas and Mark McCain at their home. The date reads “1881.”
How did Lucas get his rifle a decade early? We’ll never know.
Also, Chuck Connors was left-handed. Hollywood!