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  • Writer's pictureFern

I Feel Bad for Eric Fleming

Anytime I, or my partner JR says, “Let’s get rolling,” we tend to break out in a very offkey version of the song… “Rolling, rolling, rolling,

keep them dogies rolling, though the streams are swollen, Rawhiiiide!!!”

This morning our badly rendered song was followed by my question, “What was the actor’s name, the star of Rawhide?” “Clint Eastwood” JR said. “No, no, he was the sidekick, who was the main guy?” “He was a big, rough looking guy.” “Whatever happened to him?” We pondered. “I feel bad for Eric Fleming. How most people only remember Clint Eastwood when they think of Rawhide, because he was the good looking one.” “Mmm, I just remember he was a big guy.” I recalled that the main guy had a kind of beauty mark near his lip, whatever his name was. I headed to Google. Rawhide, for those of you not as ancient as I, was an American Western TV series starring Eric Fleming and Clint Eastwood. The show aired on CBS from 1959 to 1965 and is fondly remembered by many for its theme …keep them dogies rollin’ Set in the 1860s, Rawhide portrayed the challenges faced by the drovers ( Droving is the practice of walking livestock over long distances, a type of herding) of a cattle drive. Most episodes began with a monologue by Gil Favor (Eric Fleming), trail boss. In a typical Rawhide episode, the drovers came upon people on the trail and involved themselves in other people's affairs, usually encountering various corrupt individuals. Rowdy Yates (Clint Eastwood) was Gil’s young sidekick and at times impetuous. Wikipedia Many young teen girls were absolutely smitten with Rowdy (Clint Eastwood.) I always liked Gil. An impressive, lengthy list of guest stars appeared over the life of the series; too many to name, but here’s some: Robert Blake, Dean Martin, Elizabeth Montgomery, Cloris Leachman, James Coburn, John Cassavetes, Martin Landau, Frankie Avalon, Kim Hunter, Frankie Lane, Beau Bridges… I found out that Eric Fleming was 6ft 3in tall and had had a tough life. Born in California, he had a club foot and needed crutches to get around. He was often severely beaten by his father, and at the age of eight, he attempted to kill his father, but the gun jammed. He left home shortly after, first to Los Angeles, and then to Chicago, where he lived roughly and associated with gangsters, doing odd jobs for them to make money. At the age of 11, after being wounded in a gunfight between some gangsters and hospitalized, he was returned home to his mother, who had recently divorced.

During the Depression, he dropped out of school and worked at various jobs, then joined the Merchant Marine, before joining the United States Navy in 1942 during World War II. He was a Seabee in the 88th Naval Construction Battalion as a carpenter. He served until 1945 and became a petty officer. He received severe facial injuries during a bet in which he was attempting to lift a 200-pound weight and had to undergo extensive plastic surgery to reconstruct his forehead, nose, and jaw. Before this, Fleming had always thought himself ugly and considered the incident a "wonderful balance of values."

So, what happened to Eric Fleming after Rawhide? In the year following his departure from Rawhide (Fleming was written out of the series in the last season, with Eastwood taking over the lead, but the series was cancelled that same year), Fleming was down in Peru starring in High Jungle, a two-part episode of the short-lived Off to See the Wizard. Six weeks into the location shoot in Peru, Fleming and co-star Nico Minardos were in a dugout canoe that overturned in the rapids of the Huallaga River. Minardos managed to swim to safety. Fleming was swept away by the current and drowned on September 28, 1966, at age 41, leaving behind fiancée Lynne Garber. He was due to marry two days later.

Rest in Peace Eric Fleming. Keep them dogies rollin’

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I have to disagree with you referring to Clint Eastwood as the good looking one. Eric Fleming was very handsome. While they were only 5 years apart in age, Eastwood was more youthful looking (I read somewhere recently that the character of Rowdy was supposed to be 19 yrs old, however I never heard his age mentioned in the show). Eastwood/Rowdy may have appealed more to the younger women, buying teen magazines, but hands down Eric Fleming was all man! He was clearly the better actor of the pair, just not the lucky one. I sometimes watch him on Rawhide and think about what might have been had he not met such an untimely demise.

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