Nowadays, the classic Western television series Rawhide is most often brought up as being the vehicle that introduced the world to Clint Eastwood. However, though Clint was an important supporting player on the series, he wasn’t the star of the show. Instead, the star of Rawhide was a man by the name of Eric Fleming. Eric was a man whose machismo would give Clint Eastwood a run for his money at any age. Sadly, it was Eric’s rugged machismo that ended up doing him in. The performer’s machismo was a burden even before he got into the entertainment industry. During his time in the Navy, he attempted a show of strength that left him greatly wounded. Join Facts Verse as we explore why Rawhide star Eric Fleming needed surgery on his face.
Eric Fleming Was the Star of Rawhide
There are few television stars that have had lives quite as rough as the one led by Rawhide star Eric Fleming. The classic Western television series may have been the vehicle that introduced Clint Eastwood to the public, but it was Eric Fleming who drew audience’s eyes to the series back in the day. Eric was a performer whose machismo leaped off the screen. The man had a rough background, and it’s a miracle that he was able to find the success that he did in the entertainment industry. Still, his days were numbered.
Eric Fleming was born in Santa Paula, California, on July 4, 1925. He was an awkward child, and his father didn’t treat him very kindly. Instead of having compassion for his awkwardly developing son, Eric’s father simply made the issues worse by beating him profusely. The violence that Eric fell victim to at home caused him to run away at a young age. Around the age of 10, Eric Fleming ran away from his abusive household, stowing away on a train headed for Chicago. There, Eric would venture down a dark rabbit hole.
There wasn’t much for a young boy to do on the run, but Eric Fleming knew that any kind of life was better than suffering the abuse of his father. Eric ended up in Chicago, where times were tough for everyone. It was the Great Depression, and there were few opportunities for a kid like Eric to make it without turning to crime. Thankfully, the mafia was bigger than ever! The growing boy took up with the mob, and it appeared as if his future was going to be in organized crime.
Eric Fleming Worked for the Mob as a Kid
Eric Fleming began running errands for the Chicago mob. As he gained their trust, he was sent on increasingly dangerous missions. Eventually, the boy found that he had bitten off more than he could chew. On an exceptionally dangerous errand, Eric wound up in the hospital. As the boy was being tended to, the authorities were able to track down his mother. By this point, Eric’s mother had divorced his abusive father and was anxious to have her son home. Eric went home to California with his mother, and the remainder of his upbringing wasn’t nearly as tough as the first part had been.
After being rescued from a life of crime by his mother, Eric Fleming was able to lead a normal life. That is, until a tragic accident that occurred shortly after his coming of age. Once Eric became a man, he decided to join the Navy. Whether it was the beatings from his father or the years he spent in organized crime, Eric Fleming always felt the need to prove his masculinity. This habit would plague the man numerous times over the course of his life, and would eventually do him in. While Eric was in the Navy, one of his peers bet him that he couldn’t lift a 200-pound weight over his head. The man’s man that he was, Eric took the bet without question.
Eric Fleming was able to lift the 200-pound weight over his head, but he wasn’t able to hold it there. Just as soon as the future star cleared his head with the weight, it came crashing back down on him. The weight struck the man right in the face, causing serious injuries that would necessitate drastic plastic surgery. The actor looked quite a bit different before the accident. For most people, this would be a curse. However, the face that Eric ended up with after the plastic surgery was the same face that ended up making him famous. It seems like the surgeons did a pretty good job!
After his stint in the Navy, Eric Fleming didn’t jump right into acting. Instead, he began working in construction. Eric was working on the construction of a film set when an incident inspired him to start taking up acting classes. The rest is history! If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support! Also, subscribe to the channel if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!
How Eric Fleming Got Into Acting
One day, Eric Fleming was working as a carpenter on a film set when he made another fateful bet. This time, the bet wasn’t related to any heavy lifting. Instead, Eric bet one of the actors on the set of the film that he could act just as good as him. Eric ended up losing the bet. As one might imagine, the competitive man didn’t take the loss very well. It inspired him to start taking acting classes, and that’s how he got into acting! Eric Fleming’s big break as an actor came via the role of Gill Favor on Rawhide. After years of tough breaks, Eric had a hardened persona that perfectly fit the role.
Rawhide became a major success. Though most people remember it nowadays for introducing the world to Clint Eastwood, it was Eric Fleming who was the centerpiece back when the show was on the air. The show lasted for nine seasons, but Eric didn’t appear in the show’s final season. There are differing accounts as to why the star didn’t appear in the season. According to the late Eric Fleming himself, the reason that he didn’t appear in Rawhide’s final season was because the studio fired him. Eric claimed that he was making too much money per episode, and that the studio no longer considered it feasible to keep him on board.
This account from the late Eric Fleming is peculiar. What most people think actually happened is that the star asked for more money during the show’s final season, and then the studio refused. Eric then likely quit the show because they didn’t meet his demands. It’s also possible that the studio had threatened Eric with a decrease in pay that caused him to walk. Regardless, it seems most likely that the decision was Eric’s and not the studio’s. The studio certainly would’ve tried it’s best to keep the star on, though it’s also very possible that they would’ve considered it feasible not to continue producing Rawhide with the same high budget.
Eric Fleming’s Departure Killed Rawhide
Rawhide continued for one season without Eric Fleming, and it was a massive failure. Everyone missed the rugged star, and the show ended up being cancelled. Eric continued acting after his time on Rawhide came to an end, though his life would soon be cut short. Eric could continue to be seen on Western television via episodes of Bonanza, and he also appeared in a 1966 film alongside Doris Day. The film was called The Glass Bottom Boat, and it was a spy comedy.
Eric Fleming could’ve become a bigger deal in his career if it weren’t for the fact that the actor ended up joining the list of Hollywood stars that died all too young. Eric died on the set of a movie that he was filming, and the death harkened back to the actor’s penchant for biting off more than he could chew when it came to displays of machismo. The movie that Eric was filming at the time of his death was a mere made-for-television picture. However, the filming of the picture was being taken very seriously by it’s cast and crew. The movie certainly wasn’t your average made-for-television picture, as it was being filmed on location in South America instead of a cheaply decorated studio lot. The location filming ended up proving incredibly difficult. In fact, it was fatally difficult!
Eric Fleming Passed Away Filming in the Jungle
Accounts from the production of High Jungle suggest that the filming of the picture was no picnic. However, it wasn’t the generally poor working conditions that caused Eric Fleming’s demise. The shooting of one specific scene caused Eric’s death. In this scene, he and a costar were canoeing down some incredibly dangerous rapids. The crew tried to secure stunt doubles for Eric and his costar for the scene. They allegedly ventured into a nearby village and tried to find anyone they could. However, there was no one willing to canoe down the rapids. This should’ve been a warning sign for Eric. However, he was never one to turn down a challenge. Eric and his costar ended up doing the scene themselves. Tragically, Eric died during it’s filming.
As the scene was being filmed, Eric and his costar lost control of the canoe due to the insane pressure of the rapids. Eric jumped out of the canoe, believing he’d be able to make it back to shore. Instead, he wound up being found several days later by locals after washing up on some shore further down the river. At the age of 41, Eric Fleming was dead.
Though Eric Fleming’s rugged machismo helped him stand out in the entertainment industry, it also proved a curse. Now it’s time to hear from you: did you know that Eric Fleming had to have his face reconstructed before coming to Hollywood, and that he ran away from home at a young age and took up with the Chicago mob? Comment down below!