Now or never: Remembering ‘Rawhide’ star Eric Fleming

Jeremy Roberts
19 min readOct 5, 2016
The final 24 hours of Clint Eastwood’s “Rawhide” costar Eric Fleming are chillingly recalled by Nico Minardos in a vintage interview. Although this Dutch magazine article misspelled Fleming’s “Rawhide” character’s first name, it presents an awesome glimpse of the actor’s winning smile. “Rawhide” was the fifth-longest-running American television Western in prime time, exceeded only by “Gunsmoke,” “Bonanza,” “The Virginian,” and “Wagon Train.” Image Credit: CBS Photo Archive

On September 28, 1966, Eric Fleming perished in a horrific canoe drowning accident in the remote jungles of Peru, South America. Best known for playing the hard as nails, secretly tender-hearted trail boss Gil Favor on the long-running CBS Western Rawhide — the 1959–1966 series made costar Clint Eastwood a household name — Fleming was actually the star in spite of what you see on all the 21st century DVD covers where Eastwood’s face is plastered everywhere to the detriment of his fellow actor.

Renowned Time magazine critic Richard Schickel had earlier fueled the injustice by disparaging Fleming’s acting chops in his 1996 biography of the Dirty Harry protagonist. If you are convinced that Fleming simply got lucky in nabbing the trail boss lead, his bravura three-dimensional portrait of a gutted, guilt-ridden Mr. Favor in “The Lost Herd” episode (aired October 16, 1964) from his final season on Rawhide will readily transform your opinion.

Before his much too premature death at age 41, Fleming appeared in the so bad it’s good cult classic Queen of Outer Space with Zsa Zsa Gabor, The Glass Bottom Boat romantic comedy with Doris Day and Rod Taylor, as well as three well-received episodes of another perennial favorite Western series, Bonanza.

For the Cartwright horse opera, perhaps the best Fleming performance is his first appearance as unhinged visiting sheriff Wes Dunn in the 1966 episode “Peace Officer,” strengthened by compelling scenes with Michael Landon (Little Joe Cartwright). Incidentally, the other Bonanza episode was “The Pursued,” a two-part story about a hard-working Morman family backed into a corner over frontier prejudice which aired less than a week after the cowboy star’s demise.

Below is a story reprinted from Debra Hamel’s essential Rawhide resource website. Fleming was in Peru filming the ABC TV movie High Jungle. Day of the Evil Gun bandito Nico Minardos recounts the Huallaga River incident that claimed his comrade’s life to Screenland magazine reporter Dean Gautschy only three weeks removed. It’s a harrowing read.

Eric Fleming opts for a rare change in costume as he sports city slicker threads during an end-of-the-cattle-drive “Rawhide” episode circa 1962. The cowboy, who spent much of his down time in between scenes sans shoes, appeared in 203 episodes before he was let go in late spring 1965 along with fellow cast mates James Murdock [Mushy], Sheb Wooley [Pete], Rocky Shahan [Joe Scarlet], and Robert Cabal [Hey Soos]. Image Credit: CBS Photo Archive

--

--

Jeremy Roberts

Retro pop culture interviews & lovin’ something fierce sustain this University of Georgia Master of Agricultural Leadership alum. Email: jeremylr@windstream.net