Fleming in 1961
Edward Heddy Jr.
July 4, 1925
Santa Paula, California, U.S.
|Died||September 28, 1966 (aged 41)|
Tingo María, Peru
|Cause of death||Drowned|
Born with a club foot, he needed crutches to get around and was often severely beaten by his father. At the age of eight, he attempted to kill his father with a gun, which jammed. He left home shortly after, first to Los Angeles, and then to Chicago, where he lived roughly and associated with gangsters, doing odd jobs for them to make money. At the age of 11, after being wounded in a gunfight between some gangsters and hospitalized, he was returned home to his mother, who had recently divorced.
During the Depression, he dropped out of school and worked at various jobs until he joined the Merchant Marine, before joining the United States Navy in 1942 for World War II. He served as a Seabee in a naval construction battalion.
He received severe facial injuries during a bet in which he was attempting to lift a 200-pound (91 kg) weight and had to undergo extensive plastic surgery to reconstruct his forehead, nose, and jaw. Before this, Fleming had always thought himself "ugly" and considered the incident a "wonderful balance of values."
After his facial reconstruction, he returned to Paramount Studios, where he had been working as a construction worker, grip, and carpenter. He made a bet with an actor that he could do a better audition. He lost the bet and it cost him $100 and "I lost a lot of pride too, which hurt but the $100 hurt worse." Upon deciding that acting had cost him $100, and acting would get it back, he entered acting classes at the studio in the evenings.
Fleming's acting debut came in a road company production of Happy Birthday. He appeared on stage in Chicago and in a number of successful Broadway plays, including the musical Plain and Fancy. He began acting in television shows about the same time. Fleming then moved to Hollywood and starred in several low-budget films, including Fright, Curse of the Undead, and the cult classic Queen of Outer Space.
In 1958, the 6-foot, 3½-inch (192 cm) Fleming landed the starring role as trail boss Gil Favor in Rawhide. Set in the 1860s, Rawhide portrayed the challenges faced by the men of the cattle drive from San Antonio, Texas, to Sedalia, Missouri. Producer Charles Marquis Warren called on the diary written in 1866 by trail boss George C. Duffield to shape the character of Favor: a savvy, strong, and fair leader who persevered and got the job done.
The top-rated Western, with co-stars Clint Eastwood, Sheb Wooley, and Paul Brinegar, ran from 1959 to 1966. Fleming and Eastwood more or less rotated in playing the lead from week-to-week, but the former was always billed first. Fleming also co-wrote two Rawhide scripts—"Incident of the Night on the Town" (season three, episode 29) and "A Woman's Place" (season four, episode 25).
Fleming, Wooley (trail scout Pete Nolan), James Murdock (Wishbone's clumsy meal assistant Mushy), Robert Cabal (wrangler Hey Soos), and Rocky Shahan (drover Joe Scarlet) were all dismissed by Ben Brady during Rawhide’s summer 1965 hiatus prior to shooting the eighth season. The recently installed sixth executive producer of Rawhide had been tasked with revitalizing the series and reversing declining ratings. Fleming boasted to TV Guide that "CBS fired me because they were paying me a million dollars a year" (only $220,000 to be exact). With Eastwood promoted against his better judgment to trail boss, the cattle drive continued for 13 episodes before CBS chief William S. Paley preemptively axed it that December. Another cancellation factor, according to Eastwood, was that "Rawhide had been the network's only show to get a rating on Friday night, so they switched us to Tuesday opposite a show with the same type of male audience, Combat!" (ABC's gritty World War II drama involving the Western Front).
The Glass Bottom Boat and Bonanza
Fleming rebounded with a supporting role as a suave spy in The Glass Bottom Boat, a Doris Day comedy vehicle, and also guest-starred in three episodes of the number-one rated, family-themed NBC Western Bonanza alongside Michael Landon (as Little Joe Cartwright) and action director William Witney. Effective as the sadistic Wes Dunn in the titular "Peace Officer" from season seven, Fleming was brought back by series creator David Dortort for the subsequent season to star as honorable Mormon rancher Heber Clauson in "The Pursued", a two-parter exploring religious persecution and intolerance. The first installment was aired only four days after Fleming’s untimely demise.
High Jungle and death
Fleming signed to topline High Jungle, an adventurous two-part episode of the short-lived MGM Television-ABC Off to See the Wizard anthology also intended for theatrical distribution in Europe. Six weeks into the location shoot in Peru, Fleming and co-star Nico Minardos were in a dugout canoe that overturned in the Huallaga River. Minardos managed to swim to safety. Fleming was swept away by the current and drowned on September 28, 1966, at age 41, leaving behind fiancée Lynne Garber. High Jungle remains lost, but photographs survive.
- Aaker, Everett (2017). Television Western Players, 1960-1975: A Biographical Dictionary. McFarland. pp. 164–165. ISBN 9781476662503. Retrieved 3 November 2017.
- Greenland, David R. Rawhide: A history of television's longest cattle drive. Albany, GA: BearManor Media. pp. 18–19. ISBN 9781593936273.
- Greenland, David R. Rawhide: A history of television's longest cattle drive. Albany, GA: BearManor Media. p. 19. ISBN 9781593936273.
- Eric Fleming- Rawhide Star, actor, trivia.ellenthorp.com; accessed May 1, 2018.
- The Legend of Rawhide – The Katy Depot, Sedalia Missouri
- "Rawhide Star Eric Fleming Had the Roughest and Most Rugged Life of Any TV Star", MeTV (Weigel Broadcasting). Retrieved March 4, 2020.
- "I Used to Watch Rawhide As a ...", TV Guide (CBS Interactive). Retrieved March 4, 2020.
- Schickel, Richard (1996). Clint Eastwood: A Biography. Vintage Books, a division of Random House. pp. 163–164. ISBN 0679749918.
- "Eric Fleming", Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Retrieved May 7, 2017.
- "St. Petersburg Times - Google News Archive Search".
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