‘Rawhide’: The Crazy Story That Led ‘Gil Favor’ Actor Eric Fleming to Go Into Acting

by Atlanta Northcutt

The original star of “Rawhide,” Eric Fleming lived just as wildly off-screening as he did on-screen.

The actor who played Gil Favor on the beloved Western TV show “Rawhide,” was first introduced to acting as a bet. Eric Fleming first began working on the Hollywood sets as a stagehand doing carpentry work. In 1946, he started a bet against himself and the other workers around him.

The Bet That Started A Career

“I saw a young actor flop in an audition at the studio. I told the guys I worked with, ‘I can do better than that!’ One word led to another I was goaded into making a $100 bet on my acting ability. I lost the bet,” he said. “And I was miserable.”

He explains how it was the first time he had ever tried acting. The man wasn’t used to failing. In fact, it intrigued Fleming even more seeing that the star was a previous “Seebee” during World War II. He’d never tackled something he couldn’t conquer.

“Besides, acting cost me that $100, and I made up my mind it was going to pay me back,” said Fleming.

The young up-and-coming actor traveled to New York where he took acting lessons. He then landed parts in Broadway plays, including “No Time for Sergeants” and “Plaint and Fancy.”

Fleming returned to Hollywood to continue on with his acting career. His 6′ 3″ height and previous acting experience made him a shoo-in for his most well-known role of a trail boss named Gil Favor on “Rawhide.” His voice was behind the well-known cry of “Head ’em up, move ’em out.”

He made his first TV appearance during the premiere episode in January of 1959.

“I’m convinced that Western stars are picked more for their stamina than their acting ability,” he said. “I’ve lost four teeth, have had 20 stitches for different kinds of cuts, have had several sprained wrists, ankles, and ribs, and I’ve been pierced with cactus more times than I’d like to remember.”

The “Rawhide” Actor Is As Raw As His Roles

However, his toughness well outdid his TV roles.

Previous to his Hollywood days, Fleming was struck in the face while previously working for the Navy in a Construction Battalion. These men were some of the toughest around. While lifting a 200-pound weight, it struck him in the head, leading Fleming to be forced to undergo extensive facial reconstructive surgeries. He was left with only slight scars.

The doctors must’ve been doing something right as they gave the man a brand new star-worthy face.

The actor passed away in 1966 while filming a movie in Peru. Fleming was lost to a rushing river deep in the Amazon at the age of 41.

Eric Fleming was as tough as his on-screen character of Gil Favor on “Rawhide.” The actor continued to ride it out until the end.