Here's how Clint Eastwood became trail boss on Rawhide
CBS put Rowdy Yates at the head of the herd.
Sometimes, our idea of a show isn't the same as the actual show itself. We might misremember certain details because of the way the show has grown in the zeitgeist. Certain aspects make their way into the culture, while other parts fall by the wayside. Some of us remember Gilligan's Island as being a show that was broadcast in color. However, its first season was originally broadcast in black and white.
We might look back on Rawhide and think that Clint Eastwood was the lead the whole time. He's grown to be one of the biggest stars in the world, so it should follow that he was the biggest star of his show. Surely, Eastwood's Rowdy Yates received top billing throughout the entire series, right?
The truth, though, is that for seasons 1 through 7, the star of Rawhide was Eric Fleming, the actor who played Gil Favor. Favor, the trail boss, began most episodes with a monologue. It was Favor who led the drovers, driving the cattle from town to town along each path they encountered. Especially in the earliest episodes, Clint Eastwood's Rowdy Yates was young and impulsive. Gil Favor, as the leader, had to keep Yates under control.
As the show progressed, though, the network began making a few decisions about the direction the series would head in. Specifically, in 1965, CBS began shaking up the cast to better suit their vision. Rawhide wasn't alone. That year, CBS also dramatically changed its show Hazel, switching up the family that Shirley Booth worked for as the title character. The series, to network executives, had grown stale, and the bright and shiny new couple was supposed to breathe fresh life into the show.
Rawhide saw some big changes at the behest of those same network executives. Eric Fleming was out, and newcomers Raymond St. Jacques and David Watson were in. These new faces were meant to punch up the series to hopefully attract new audiences.
Who was there to lead the new herd? Why, naturally, it was Rowdy Yates! Clint Eastwood became the top-billed star on Rawhide thanks to CBS interference. Yates was trail boss for Rawhide's eighth and final season.