‘Rawhide’ Star Eric Fleming Rode a Freight Train from California to Chicago After Running Away from Home

by Maria Hartfield

CBS television series Rawhide starring Eric Fleming and Clint Eastwood made history from 1959-1965. The series aired on Friday nights for eight seasons. Fleming left the show at the beginning of the eighth and final season.

Rawhide follows a crew of cowboys herding a group of cattle from San Antonio, Texas to Sedalia, Missouri. Eric Gil Favor, played by Eric Fleming, is the leader of the cattle drive. Favor and his right-hand man Rowdy Yates, played by Clint Eastwood lead the rowdy crew through different challenges facing cattlemen in the 1860s.

Apparently, the show completely failed once Fleming left the show. Executives at CBS made the decision to cancel the show after just one episode without the star.

As far as why Fleming decided to leave the show, it’s not what you would think.

“They fired me because they were paying me a million dollars a year,” Fleming said to TV Guide in 1965. Even though he was really earning $220,000. To summarize, it came down to money and the series declining viewership numbers.

Eric Fleming grew up with a rough background. One can only assume this aided him in playing the role of the hard-as-nails trail boss Gil Favor. His story is tragic and inspiring at the same time. Fleming’s story begins with when he ran away from home as a child.

Eric Fleming’s Difficult Childhood

When Fleming was just a child, he ran away from home and rode a freight train to Chicago. Fleming’s father abused him which aided his decision to break away from his childhood home. Friends of the actor say he was only 8 years old at the time. Others claim he was 11. Regardless, an experience like that is nothing a child should have to face at such a young age. Or ever for that matter.

Fleming hopped the freight train traveling from California to Chicago during the Great Depression. He lived on the streets as a teenager before entering into a world of crime.

Once Fleming left Rawhide, he appeared in a few episodes of Bonanza before landing a role alongside Doris Day in the 1966 comedy The Glass Bottom Boat. Shortly thereafter he traveled to South America to act in the film High Jungle. The film was shot on location deep in the Amazon.

Fleming’s co-star Nico Minardos kept a journal of the experience that ultimately ended with Fleming’s untimely death.

“Eric has been living in semi-retirement in Hawaii, and it was the role of the other adventurer that was to mark his comeback in Hollywood,” he wrote. “Deadly snakes, hordes of mosquitoes, ants two inches long and around-the-clock humidity that made it impossible to keep your clothes dry, were a constant menace.”

Keep in mind, they were shooting in “the most inaccessible regions of Peru.” Eric and Nico were filming a scene involving a hand-carved canoe. Rainclouds formed overhead as the crew struggled to capture the perfect shot. “Nico, now or never!” Fleming said.

Sadly, those were the last words Fleming ever spoke. After that, the actor disappeared from the small boat into the roaring Amazon river and drowned.