Happy Birthday Eric Fleming: Remembering the Late ‘Rawhide’ Actor Who Starred Alongside Clint Eastwood

by Keeli Parkey

Eric Fleming, an actor most famous for his role in “Rawhide,” was born on July 4, 1925. The television western also starred Clint Eastwood. Fleming played Gil Favor in the popular CBS series. 

Fleming was born in Santa Paula, California, according to IMDb. His given name at birth was Edward Heddy. The future television star did not have the happiest of childhoods. His father abused him, and in order to break free from this bad situation, Eric Fleming fled to Chicago when he was only 8 years old.

There, he was injured in a gang fight. His injuries were serious enough that he had to be hospitalized. After this incident, he returned to California. Back in his home state, Eric Fleming took a laborer job at Paramount.

Later, he became a Merchant Marine. And, like so many other Americans his age, he served in the military during World War II. Fleming served in the U.S. Navy and was in the Pacific during the war. He was in the Seabees and served as a Master Carpenter.

While in the U.S. Navy in 1942, the future actor was severely injured. He was struck in the face by a 200-pound piece of steel. The block came loose from a hoist. This injury required Eric Fleming to undergo four plastic surgeries on his face.

Eric Fleming Began Acting After His U.S. Military Service

In the years following World War II, Eric Fleming began his acting career. His career started on the stage. He had roles in plays that were staged in both Chicago and on Broadway in New York City. Between 1946 and 1957 he acted in such shows as “No Time For Sergeants,” “My Three Angels,” and “Stalag 17.”

The first time Fleming appeared on television in the early 1950s. These roles were in live productions of dramatic shows. Some of these were “Kraft Television Theatre,” “Hallmark Summer Theatre,” and “The Web.”

He returned to work for Paramount – this time as an actor – when he acted in the 1954 movie, “Conquest for Space.” He also acted in the Allied Artists’ film “Queen of Outer Space.”

Four years later, Eric Fleming began acting in “Rawhide” – the show that made him famous. He was cast as Gil Favor and played the role from 1959 until 1965. He exited the series before its eighth and final season. The actor reportedly left the show due to money issues.

“They fired me because they were paying me a million dollars a year,” Fleming told TV Guide in 1965, according to MeTV. Actually, he was making closer to $200,000. Either way, he was off the show.

After exiting “Rawhide,” Eric Fleming appeared in the film “The Glass Bottom Boat” in 1966. He also appeared in three episodes of “Bonanza” that same year.

Sadly, Eric Fleming’s life was cut short in 1966. While filming a television movie titled “High Jungle,” in Peru, Fleming drowned. He was only 41 years old.