9 tough as leather facts about 'Rawhide'
Learn how plastic surgery, boots and Bewitched relate to Clint Eastwood's classic Western show.
Top image: CBS Television
Rollin', rollin', rollin'! It's been over half a century since Gil Favor and Rowdy Yates set out on their cattle drive, but the doggies keep on rollin'. Rawhide remains one of the most beloved Westerns — and television shows in general — of the late 1950s and early 1960s. The gritty action series made Clint Eastwood a household name, as his Rowdy character eventually became the central focus of the cowboy series.
To celebrate Eastwood's birthday, here are a fistful of things you might not know about the small screen show that made him a star.
1. It was the fifth longest running Western.
Eight seasons is a long time for a cattle drive. (Though, technically, the original drive reaches its destination in middle of the third season.) Wagon Train just edges Rawhide for longevity, having lasted eight years, with The Virginian clocking in at nine years. Of course, Bonanza and Gunsmoke logged the most episodes, running for 14 and 20 years, respectively. Rawhide creator Charles Marquis Warren had previously been a producer for Gunsmoke, and would go on to executive produce The Virginian. That's some resume.
2. Two episodes were slapped together to form a movie, until Eastwood prevented its release.
Rawhide finished its run in the first week of 1966. By that year, Eastwood was a star of small and big screen. The classic Spaghetti Westerns A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) revolutionized the genre. To further capitalize on Eastwood's fame, Jolly Film, the studio behind A Fistful of Dollars, pieced together a couple old episodes of Rawhide, primarily "The Backshooter" with Louis Hayward and Slim Pickens, and labeled the flick The Magnificent Stranger, the original shooting title for A Fistful of Dollars. However, Eastwood sued and had the 1967 film withdrawn.
3. Eastwood wore his 'Rawhide' boots in 'Unforgiven.'
No need for a wardrobe department when it comes to Clint. To bookend his career as a cowboy, Eastwood wore his same Rowdy Yates boots in his Oscar-winning 1992 masterpiece Unforgiven.
4. Eric Fleming died filming a canoe scene shortly after the series ended.
Eastwood's stature as an American icon overshadows the work of Fleming, the top-billed star of Rawhide. Fleming left the series in 1965 and began work on the big screen. He appeared in the Doris Day comedy The Glass Bottom Boat and then began work on location in Peru for the adventure High Jungle. When filming a scene on the Huallaga River, Fleming's canoe overturned and the actor perished in the rapids. Urban legends about piranha developed, but those are untrue.
5. Before becoming an actor, Fleming had facial reconstruction surgery.
It's hard to believe this handsome leading man once considered himself ugly. However, when serving in the Navy, Fleming mangled his face while attempting to lift 200 pounds in a bet. Plastic surgery reconstructed his nose, jaw and forehead. He considered the emergency work an improvement.
6. The series got darker than your average Western.
Rawhide dealt with heavy subject matter and also slipped into the occasional ghost tale. In "Incident at the Top of the World," Robert Culp famously guests as a morphine addict. In 1961, serious drug use was far from common on television. Episodes such as "Incident of the Murder Steer" and "Incident of the Haunted Hills" venture into eerie territory, made all the more effective by the black and white cinematography.
7. Clint Eastwood secretly had a child with one of the stuntwomen.
In 1989, The National Enquirer revealed that Eastwood and stuntwoman Roxanne Tunis had a child together, Kimber, a quarter century earlier. At the time of the birth in 1964, Eastwood was married to his first spouse, Maggie Johnson.
Image: AP Photo
8. Loads of soon-to-be-famous faces appeared on the show.
That's Bewitched star Elizabeth Montgomery taking aim in "Incident at El Crucero," in a guest role that would foreshadow her gig as Mrs. Sundance. Star Trek crew members Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley appeared on the Western, too. Sitcom legends Buddy Ebsen, Barbara Eden, Alan Hale, Jr., June Lockhart, Gavin MacLeod, Marion Ross and William Schallert also pop up — just to name a few. Then there's Martin Landau, Frankie Avalon, Anne Francis, Peter Lorre…
9. Dozens of unlikely acts have covered the theme song.
Singer Frankie Laine, pictured far left, appears in the episode "Incident on the Road to Yesterday." He sang the immortal theme song to the show. All sorts of musical acts would cover that classic cowboy tune over the decades, from punks (Dead Kennedys, the Meteors) to country singers (Johnny Cash, Riders in the Sky) to the Blues Brothers. Laine included the theme on his 1961 album Hell Bent for Leather!
Image: AP Photo