‘Rawhide’: Why Did Eric Fleming Leave the Hit Series?

by Josh Lanier

Eric Fleming’s character Gil Favor was, in a lot of ways, the heart of Rawhide. The trail-hardened boss took no guff and was willing to fight at a moment’s notice. So, when Fleming left the show at the beginning of the eighth season it shook up the show in ways that it never really recovered from.

Why he left the hit show is still a bit of a mystery. Though both sides have their reasons, the principal reason seems to come down to money.

“They fired me because they were paying me a million dollars a year,” Fleming told TV Guide in 1965 according to MeTV. Apparently, that was a massive exaggeration. Reports say he made a little more than $200,000 a year. But regardless of the price, it wasn’t worth it. Rawhide’s ratings were falling as competition crowded the market, and paying Favor that much was untenable.

Producers also cut cast members Sheb Wooley, James Murdock, Rocky Shahan, and Robert Cabal. Clint Eastwood’s Rowdy Yates was named trail boss after Fleming’s character was let go. The show’s internal logic was just that Favor had retired and Yates moved up the ladder. But it didn’t matter. The show was canceled at the end of the season.

Eric Fleming Got Into Acting on a Bet

Eric Fleming started his Hollywood career behind the camera, working as a carpenter. One day, they happened to see an actor bomb his audition. Then Fleming uttered those immortal words.

“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.”

Fleming wasn’t good at losing. So, he had to prove the guy wrong. 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.”

He would go on to become a Hollywood icon.