Rawhide was a beloved Western television series that aired from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s. The show is known for pushing the envelope in a variety of ways including tackling difficult on-screen topics like racism and addiction. Take a look at this well-loved show and find out some little-known facts and behind-the-scenes drama!
A Super Long Cattle Drive
The first episode of Rawhide aired on January 9, 1959. The show ended up running for eight seasons, making it one of the longest-running Western series ever. Although it was not the longest-running series, Rawhide came in fifth behind Wagon Train, The Virginian, Bonanza, and Gunsmoke. Rawhidehad something else in common with some of the longest-airing Westerns too. The creator, Charles Marquis Warren, was a producer for Gunsmoke before Rawhide, and would later go on to The Virginian. Obviously, Charles found his calling when it came to Westerns on television.
The Rawhide Movie?
Clint Eastwood was one of the biggest stars to get his start on Rawhide. By the time the show wrapped up filming in 1966, he was already beginning to transition into film and make his mark on the silver screen. Interestingly, the same year Rawhide ended, one of his most well-known Western films, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, was released. At the time, the production company that was responsible for Rawhide attempted to piece several old episodes of Rawhide together in order to make a motion picture and to profit off their stars newfound fame. The episodes mainly used was “The Backshooter” which also featured Louis Hayward and Slim Pickens. The studio’s working title was “The Magnificent Stranger.” However, Clint got wind of the entire operation, sued, and the film plans were subsequently halted.
Know Your Audience
Before Clint Eastwood delved behind the scenes as a director and producer, he was the perfect example of an actor being typecast, yet not minding. Clint seemed to completely embrace his long career in Westerns, and although from time to time he branched out into other genres of film, the characters often had much in common. He has been known to play a tough, grizzly man whether or not the setting was Western in nature. Clint embraced his connection to Westerns so much that he played homage to his original role in one of his much later and most famous films. When Clint appeared in the 1990s film Unforgiven, which went on to become one of his most popular appearances, he actually wore the same boots that he wore while filming Rawhide as character Rowdy Yates.
Early Facial Reconstruction
It’s hard to believe, but Clint Eastwood was actually not the top-billed star of Rawhide. Handsome actor Eric Fleming was the lucky leading man of the show. This was also apparently not the first time that he was on the receiving end of luck in his life. Before Eric ever got into acting, he was serving in the United States Navy (as many men of that era did). While serving, Eric had an unfortunate accident after making a bet with his fellow sailors. He apparently bet that he could lift a two-hundred-pound weight which fell, completely destroying his face. He underwent emergency surgery to reconstruct it including on his nose, jaw, and forehead. It seems the surgery went pretty well for being many years before today’s modern medical advances and Eric apparently felt he was pretty lucky and even more handsome after the surgery!
The Luck Runs Out
Although leading man Eric Fleming seemed as though luck was definitely on his side throughout his life, it ultimately ran out. After Clint Eastwood began gaining notoriety for his Western films, he began to take precedence over Eric, which the latter was not too happy about. Eric Fleming ended up exiting Rawhide in 1965 to pursue his very own movie career. He was able to quickly book a job in a Doris Day film called The Glass Bottom Boat. The movie was filmed on location in Peru in the Huallaga River. As Eric took his place in a canoe for the shot, it sadly turned over and he was unable to survive the rough waters. He died in the Huallaga River that day not long after he left Rawhide for bigger dreams. In later years, crazy rumors surfaced that he was eaten by piranhas but that was merely gossip fodder and not based on any real facts.
Pushing The Boundaries
Rawhide was made in the late 1950s to early ‘60s, which was a time when America was shifting from the purity of the 1950s into the free love generation of the 1960s. It definitely reflected on the screen and the show was known to push the boundaries and deal with darker-than-normal subject manner. For instance, the episode entitled “Incident at the Top of the World,” which guest starred a character addicted to drugs played by veteran actor Robert Culp. During this time period, the use of drugs was rarely (if ever) shown on television. Several other episodes leaned towards the horror genre such as “Incident of the Murder Steer” and “Incident of the Haunted Hills.”
The Tough Issues
The show also portrayed a variety of other societal issues that were sometimes considered taboo. For instance, Hey Soos often faced racism because of his Mexican heritage. The show also portrays tensions between The Union and The Confederacy since the show is set several years after the Civil War. It is certainly notable that these issues were not commonly presented on television at this time. During the late 1950s into the mid-1960s, audiences, for the most part, were used to the sterility and properness that was typically presented to American audiences.
Interesting Character Back Stories
All of the characters were given backstories which allowed the audience to connect with the characters. The character of Robert Culp was known for being addicted to morphine. However, his backstory reveals his addiction stemmed from his time as an ex-soldier who had fought in the Civil War. The character of Hey Soos also has an interesting backstory. Hey often has to face racism in the aftermath of the Civil War. It is revealed that Rowdy was from Texas and also fought in the war at a very young age for The Confederacy and was later imprisoned for a time in a Union prison camp. Gil Favor was also formerly a captain in the Confederate Army.
Humanizing The Confederacy?
It is interesting to note that Rawhide was filmed right as the onslaught of the Civil Rights movement was going on in real life. In Rawhide, multiple characters had previously been on the Confederate side of the Civil War. Although the show doesn’t explicitly state that these characters were in favor of slavery, it could certainly be inferred. This is particularly interesting as an African American character is later introduced on the show. Also, in the episode called “New Confederacy of Panama,” it is revealed that the characters of Favor and Nolan were at the Battle of Fredericksburg and apparently felt ashamed for taking the lives of many Union soldiers.
In addition to pushing the boundaries on societal issues, Rawhide was also known for amping up the creepy factor. This is another notable facet of this Western as the genre didn’t usually show such dark material. In the episode “Incident with an Executioner,” a creepy, ghost-like headless horseman is shown in the background near the herd of cattle. In another episode called “Incident of the Haunted Hills,” the show goes full-on ghost mode and even shows an Indian burial ground which is of course haunted. In another, a steer keeps appearing that had previously had the word “murder” carved into it (The Shining, anyone?) and anyone who sees it drops dead! Apparently, this episode was actually inspired by a real-life ghost story.
Ladies Man Clint
Clint Eastwood has definitely garnered a reputation over the years as a ladies man in Hollywood. The 87-year-old has six children (that we know of) with different women. One of these children was apparently conceived while Clint was on the show Rawhide and while he was still married to his first wife Maggie Johnson. The truth about the child, his daughter Kimber, was not revealed until a tabloid broke the news. In the later 1980s, The National Enquirer ran the story about Clint’s love child. While on Rawhide, Clint became involved with one of the stunt women on set named Roxanne Tunis. The two ended up having a daughter together although he remained married to his wife for 20 more years before finally divorcing in 1984.
Rawhide’s Amazing Guest Stars
Rawhide was well known for having many actors who would later become major stars in their own right. Some of these famous faces included Elizabeth Montgomery, who is best known for playing the role of Samantha in Bewitched. Elizabeth played a role in an episode called the “Incident at El Crucero.” Other famous faces include Buddy Ebsen, Barbara Eden (Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie), Gavin MacLeod, Marion Ross, Martin Landau, Peter Lorre, and many more. Also connected to the show is another famous sci-fi series known as none other than Star Trek. Star Trek stars Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley both had their turn to appear on Star Trek. Basically, Rawhide became a well-worn stomping ground for actors to get their chops before moving on to their own gigs.
Famous Theme Song
The theme song is particularly memorable, even if you never tuned in regularly to watch the show. The singer of the theme song was a man by the name of Frankie Laine. Frankie even appeared in the episode “Incident on the Road to Yesterday.” For some reason, the song really caught on and crossed many genres of fans over the years. It is probably one of the most well-known Western theme songs. Some of the famous singers and bands who have covered the classic song over the years include Johnny Cash, The Blues Brothers, and even punk band The Dead Kennedys.
Interesting Character Names
Rawhide creators gave their characters some interesting names, which definitely aided in the memorability of the characters. Lead actor Eric Filming was given the name Gil Favor, his sidekick was Clint Eastwood who was named Rowdy Yates. There is another kind-of-funny-yet-borderline-offensive character name. Hawaiian actor Robert Cabal played the role of Mexican character named Hey Soos, which refers to the name Jesus (with a Spanish pronunciation). Creators felt that there would be outrage over a character named Jesus although it is quite a popular name within the Mexican community.
Rawhide, was one of many Westerns during the same time period. It was a particularly popular genre during the 1950s and the 1960s. For this reason, the show is often confused with another show called Wagon Train which also followed a cattle drive. The plots were very similar and both shows followed the main cast on a cattle drive as they came across a variety of characters and scenarios while traveling along. The cattle drive provided the same opportunity to come across many different people and situations. One of the most confused characters of the two shows is Rawhide’s cook named Wishbone and played by Paul Brinegar and Wagon Train’s cook named Charlie Wooster and played by Frank McGrath.
Sheb Wooley The Screamer
Actor Sheb Wooley played the character Pete Nolan on Rawhide. However, Sheb was also well known for quite a few other contributions to both music and Hollywood. Sheb was a singer and was the voice of the classic kid’s song Purple People Eater. He later reunited with Clint Eastwood for the movie The Outlaw Josey Wales. It is also a little-known fact that Sheb Wooley is responsible for the sound effect called the Wilhelm Scream. The Wilhelm Scream has been used in tons of TV shows and films over the years and has become an industry mainstay. It was even used in the most recent incarnations of Indiana Jones and Star Wars.
First African American Actor
Rawhide made history for a particularly important reason. They were the first Western to regularly feature an African American character. The character Simon Blake was played by actor Raymond St. Jacques in 1965, and was perhaps an on-screen reflection of the ongoing Civil Rights movement. Raymond continued acting after Rawhide ended. Throughout the 1970s he was involved in many theatrical productions including Othello, Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar. Raymond passed away in 1990 and his last performance was in the thriller film Timebomb which premiered after his death and starred Michael Biehn and Patsy Kensit. He was also an ongoing activist for African American roles in film and behind the camera.
It has been said that Rawhide was actually based on a variety of sources and not one individual inspiration. But Producer Charles Marquis Warren has said that the show was actually based on three main sources. First, was a film that Charles had previously directed in 1958 called Cattle Empire. The movie also had screenwriter Endre Bohem and future Rawhide actors Paul Brinegar, Stevie Raines, Rocky Shahan and Charles H. Gray. Charles also said they were inspired by the novel Chisholm Trail which is what the classic John Wayne and Montgomery Clift film, Red River” is based on. And lastly, the show is said to be based on the actual diary of real-life cattle driver George C. Duffield. George kept a journal while traveling from San Antonio to Sedalia in the late 1800s.
The Ladies of Rawhide
Rawhide was definitely a male-driven show and featured almost solely male characters and actors. Although, every now and again a woman would make an appearance. Some of the women who appeared on the show over the years include Elizabeth Montgomery, Barbara Eden, Nina Foch, Nan Grey and Lola Albright. Obviously, there were women on set since Clint Eastwood famously strayed from his wife and had a love child with one of the stunt women! Barbara Eden was apparently on set at the time of the affair and allegedly said that Clint and his wife Maggie were known to have a kind of open relationship during that time period.
Rawhide Trivia Tidbits
Rawhide also had quite a few interesting things taken place during its tenure on the air. Sometimes continuity errors happened. Other times actors made one-time only appearances. Rawhide is truly a television show for the ages. Actor Eric Fleming was spotted wearing jeans that are clearly the brand Wranglers. The only problem with this is the show is taking place in the aftermath of the Civil War and Wranglers weren’t made until 1947. Another interesting trivia tidbit is that Clint Eastwood never took another television role ever again. He has solely been working in film both onscreen and behind the scenes since Rawhide catapulted him to fame.