Thursday, July 19, 2012

RAWHIDE'S ERIC FLEMMING

  
Copyright © 2004 by Sherry B. Hansley. All Rights Reserved.
                
     ERIC FLEMING: A Biography 

     There exist a number of encyclopedic publications that categorize Eric Fleming as a B movie actor whose sole recognition lies in the characterization of television trail boss Gil Favor in the CBS-TV series Rawhide. Mr. Fleming's career actually encompassed a broad range of the performing arts including a decade of stage performances, several films, television appearances in addition to his well-known persona, and collaborative screenwriting. His career biography reveals a steady series of varied roles from the time he was 23 to his premature death at 41. Prior to becoming an actor, Mr. Fleming toured the country, was a member of the Merchant Marine, served in the Pacific in World War II, was a master carpenter in the Seabees, and worked as a newsboy, miner, ambulance driver, short-order cook, waiter, soda jerk, oil field roustabout, stagehand, hod carrier, and stage manager. He appeared on stage in California, Chicago, and for nearly ten years in New York before becoming a television celebrity. He had decided to retire to Hawaii but contracted to one more television role in 1966 that led to his death. This biography is created in homage to a remarkable man.
     Early Years 1925-1948
     "The beginning wasn't so hot. I was born in Santa Paula, California. My father was an oil rigger and the best I can remember of him were the beatings he gave me."
    (Eric Fleming, 1956)

     Santa Paula, 15 miles east of Ventura, California, is an area of oil refineries and oil wells, approximately 60 miles up the coast from Los Angeles. This small town was the birthplace of Eric Fleming, who was born Edward Heddy on July 4, 1925. Mr. Fleming later referred to himself as "an ugly child with a tremendously large nose" who wore a brace on his right leg to correct a club foot. His early childhood was scarred by severe mistreatment through physical abuse by his father who was, according to Fleming, "quite sadistic" and even bigger than Fleming (6'3") as an adult. Fleming reported that in 1934, at the age of eight, he held a revolver to his sleeping father's head in an attempt to kill him. Fleming's father had beaten his son with the buckle end of a belt so severely that he was unable to get up for two days. Fleming stated "the reason I tried to kill him is because it was either him or me." (It is not known to what abuse Fleming's mother was subjected; he made no reference to her in subsequent years or to the extent that drugs or alcohol may have played a part in his father's extreme behavior. His mother was eventually granted a divorce on the grounds of mental and physical suffering and desertion.) The revolver misfired and Fleming left home by hopping a freight train in Los Angeles, a not unusual occurrence during the Depression years. Thousands of children over the age of eight or nine left home for numerous reasons - lack of work near home, because they were a burden to their parents, hunger, or, as in Fleming's case, to escape abuse. Hopping freights, living along railroad tracks, looking for handouts, and wandering the countryside created a homeless horde of youth throughout this country. As Fleming related, "there were a lot of kids running around loose during the Depression," a fact made easier for him because he "was larger than normal and looked older than [his] age."
 


    
From Los Angeles he traveled to Chicago where he "lived on the streets and learned to scrounge for food and shelter." Though a child, he ingratiated himself with gangsters who paid him to "mind their hardware" and run errands which included picking up and delivering liquor and drugsHe became a gang member as well, "learned the art of the switch blade and petty thefts", broke into houses and stores, and was "always one jump ahead of the law." By the time he was eleven, one of his gangster mentors had set him up "as an errand boy for an illustrious madam." Shortly after, he was badly injured in a gang fight and was hospitalized; because of his age, he was sent back to his father in California.
     "But the cops saw how afraid I was of him, so they sent for my mother... and I lived with her." Fleming's parents were by this time separated; they were divorced on December 29, 1936. While living with his mother, Fleming, an only child, worked as a soda jerk, oil field roustabout, and short order cook and attended school erratically. At 13 and "big for my age", he landed a job as a hod carrier (transporter of a trough holding bricks and mortar). His employer took an interest in him and, loaning him $25 to join the union, urged the young Fleming to work at the film studios in Hollywood "where it would be easier for me." He was hired by Paramount Studios as a construction worker, grip, and eventually, a carpenter.
     At 15 or 16, Fleming joined the Merchant Marine, served in the Pacific, and then enlisted in the U.S. Navy Seabees where he was rated a Master Carpenter. As the Seabees were not formed until 1941 when Fleming was only 15, he presumably lied about his age in order to enlist at 16 or 17. This may account for the discrepancies regarding his birth year in various publications. Whatever the circumstances of Fleming's enlistment, the U.S. Navy did not question the age of a physically fit recruit in the early years of the war. In 1942, at age 17,  Fleming was stationed in a Seattle foundry. He was attempting to balance a 200-pound block of steel when it slipped from the hoist and shattered his face; he narrowly escaped being killed or blinded. Forty stitches, facial reconstruction requiring four plastic surgical procedures, and an extended convalescence gave him a new face. In 1958, Fleming stated that the steel block "did not smash in the face of a good-looking youth" and explained that when it occurred, he "was an ugly kid so the last thing I was worried about... was my appearance. I was used to being ugly but was afraid I might lose an eye." The repeated surgeries left a small scar between his eyebrows that is particularly evident in some early photographs and in some close-ups on Rawhide. Prior to the accident, Fleming believed that "if I could look like a human being, I could lick the world. The things I valued most were money and looks." The accident ultimately changed both his perspective and priorities.
    

"I look altogether different; I had no idea I'd end up looking like this. I've learned that it's give and take all the way and I have the 'before and after' advantage which gives a wonderful balance of values."

     Following his lengthy recovery and discharge from the Navy in 1946, Fleming returned to Paramount and weighed the benefits of becoming a writer or returning to school. He made a $100 bet with an unknown actor that he could do better in an audition. The bet was taken, the audition was scheduled, and Fleming lost. "I was terrible," he recalled in 1959. "I lost a lot of pride too - which hurt - but the $100 hurt worse. I decided I would do something about it;  acting cost me that hundred and I made up my mind it was going to pay me back."

            On Stage   1948-1958....................................................
                                                             While working on the film studio lotFleming studied acting nights, appeared in bit parts in a few films at Paramount, and worked with small theater groups and stock companies on the West Coast from 1946 - 1948. During that time, Edward Heddy became known as Eric Fleming. At age 24, he joined The National Company, the touring cast of Happy Birthday. The Anita Loos comedy starred Miriam Hopkins, Philip Faversham, Margaret Irving, and Eric Fleming as Gabe. The tour took him to Chicago where he next appeared in All It Takes is One Good Break and Springboard to Nowhere, an avant garde psychological drama, at the Selwyn Theatre from October 9 - 21 in 1950. Though some of Fleming's stage performances were of limited run, months of auditions and rehearsal time preceded the performance dates. He left Chicago and travelled to New York where he was listed with the Harry Conover Agency. Portfolio stills from the early fifties show Fleming in various poses (photo left) and list him as an actor with the following statistics:
      Size - 42-44     Inseam - 33                        Shoe - 12D
      Height - 6'3"    Shirt Collar - 15 1/2 -16       Glove - 7 1/2
      Weight - 200   Shirt Sleeve - 36                   Hat - 7 1/4
                   
     Within a month of his appearance in Chicago, Fleming appeared in New York as the Queen's Guard in The Tower Beyond Tragedy with Judith Anderson, Alfred Ryder, and Robert Harrison at the ANTA Playhouse for 30 performances from November 26 - December 23, 1950.
    
In Spring 1951, he was signed by the DuMont Television Network to play the lead in a new weekly adventure series, Major Dell Conway of the Flying Tigers, to be aired live. The program, which debuted on April 7, featured Fleming as an American agent whose cover was that of Major Conway, a pilot for Flying Tiger Airlines. It was televised over the DuMont network through May 26 at which time the program changed networks and was off the air for two months. Upon its return in July, Ed Peck replaced Fleming and the show, now taped, became The Flying Tigers. Fleming, however, was already appearing in Stalag 17 at the Forty-Eighth Street Theatre under the direction of Jose Ferrer. The play opened May 8, 1951 and ran through 1952; Fleming played McKay and Witherspoon and was also stage manager during the 1952 season. Cast members included Harvey Lembeck, John Ericson, Allan McLain, and Robert Strauss.


    
Throughout the early fifties, New York was the television production center for the networks with the great advantage of having a readily available pool of New York-based theatrical performers. This led to a spate of live dramatic anthology series that featured stage actors and actresses and presented a broad range of dramatic, comedic, and musical plays and adaptations, often by well-known playwrights. Fleming appeared in several of these series, including Hallmark Summer Theatre (NBC), The Web (ABC), Suspense (CBS), and Kraft Television Theatre (NBC). On January 6, 1952, he was featured in a live television presentation of the Broadway musical Dark of the Moon on NBC's Cameo Theatre with Howard Richardson, Rita Gam, and Alfred Drake (see photo at left). Cameo was noted for its minimalist settings, unique camera angles and techniques, high quality scripts, and theater-in-the-round perspective.
     On March 11, 1953, Fleming opened at the Morosco Theatre in My Three Angels with Walter Slezak, Darren McGavin, and Joan Chandler. He played the young lieutenant throughout the play's long run.
     In 1954, he was signed by Paramount Pictures to co-star in the science fiction film Conquest of Space which was based on The Mars Project by Wernher von Braun and a book by Chesley Bonestell and Willy Ley. Due to expense considerations, the original concept was scaled down and the film was released in March 1955. Fleming played Barney Merritt, an astronaut whose father commands a space vehicle to Mars. Walter Brooke, the lead and commander, believes the concept of conquest to be heretical and attempts to sabotage the flight. He is accidentally killed by his son who becomes the target of the crew. The film was a financial disaster and marked the end of a cycle of relatively realistic space films until the success of 2001 - A Space Odyssey in 1968. Today the film is seen as simplistic with little development of characters; however, it is surprisingly uncluttered and imaginative compared to similar low-budget sci-fi films of the mid-fifties.
    


                                    Following filming, Fleming returned to the ANTA Theatre as Caspar Goodwood in Portrait of a Lady with Jennifer Jones on December 21; the play closed after only four performances.
     In 1955 at age 30, Fleming began rehearsals for a feature role in the musical Plain and Fancy on Broadway at the Mark Hellinger Theatre (photo left: Fleming with co-star Evelyn Page). In January 1956, he replaced Richard Derr in the role of Dan King which utilized his talents as singer and dancer. (A column item at the time suggested that Fleming could likely portray Captain Fisby in The Teahouse of the August Moon if a Spanish-language version toured South America "as Mr Fleming... speaks Spanish fluently.") When Plain and Fancy went on tour, Fleming left the company and took the lead in a revival of Pygmalion at the Downtown Theatre for a limited engagement of one week. He then returned to California to film Allied Artists' Fright in which he played a psychiatrist who regresses a suicidal patient. The film (aka Spell of the Hypnotist) costarred Nancy Malone and Frank Marth and was released in 1957.
         Upon his return to New York in Summer 1956, Fleming joined the cast of No Time For Sergeants as Irvin Blanchard, one of the lead characters (photo at right). 
The play, which starred Andy Griffith, Roddy McDowall, and Don Knotts, was a long-run hit that had opened October 20, 1955. Fleming remained with the show through 1957, at which time he appeared in CBS-TV's Studio One.
    
During the long run of No Time For Sergeants, Fleming was the subject of many New York articles and interviews and was deemed a success for his part in the play and various television roles. He was photographed working on a piece of sculpture, which was a hobby, and details of his abused childhood, early life on his own in Chicago, and facial reconstruction became public. In one interview, Fleming admitted that after becoming an adult, he had visited his father once but "he was so miserable that I realized nobody could hurt him as much as he had hurt himself so I just left." Fleming was consistently described by interviewers as soft-spoken, gentlemanly, and of a friendly disposition with a ready smile.


   
Sometime in 1957, Fleming again contracted with Allied Artists to play Captain Neil Patterson in Queen of Outer Space, which has become a cult classic and is arguably the worst film ever made. Released in September 1958, the movie co-starred Zsa Zsa Gabor and incorporated scenery, costumes, and props from such films as Forbidden Planet (1956), World Without End (1956), and Flight to Mars (1951). Its moronic script, male-chauvinist plot, and cheap effects unintentionally transformed it into a comedy for contemporary audiences.
     While filming Queen in California, Fleming also starred in Universal's Curse of the Undead with Michael Pate and Kathleen Crowley. The film, about a vampire in the Old West, was released in 1959 after Fleming had gained popularity as star of Rawhide. In Curse he played a preacher who destroys a vampire with a cross-embedded bullet and garnered good reviews despite the genre and budget level of the picture.



            Rawhide  1958-1965
     In the summer of 1958, the 33-year-old actor auditioned for the role of trail boss Gil Favor in the new CBS-TV Western series Rawhide. With his deep baritone, rugged good looks, and commanding presence, he was a natural to lead a 20-man crew and 3000 head of cattle from San Antonio, Texas to Sedalia, Missouri season after season. The cast costarred Clint Eastwood as ramrod Rowdy Yates, Sheb Wooley as scout Pete Nolan, Paul Brinegar as Wishbone the trail cook, and James Murdock as Mushy, the cook's louse. Fleming later admitted that he had decided in 1958 to return to the Pacific isles he had visited during the war but kept delaying the move because of acting jobs. When Rawhide came along, he "figured nothing would come of it. The first script was aimed at the guest stars and I was only one of eight regulars. I was astounded to see the final version and find Clint Eastwood and I were the stars." The hour-long show debuted as a mid-season replacement on January 9, 1959 and remained in the top twenty programs through 1962 in America, was number one in Japan and popular throughout Europe. Eric Fleming became a television celebrity with photo spreads in fan magazines accompanied by write-ups about his marital status, outside interests, and vital statistics. Photo captions in early sixties magazines focused on his dates (with actress Olive Sturgess pictured at left, companion Lynne Garber, and screenwriter Chris Miller) and love of reading, chess, fishing, swimming, oceanography, sculpture, art, and writing. In 1962 during a 10-day personal appearance tour of Japan, over 8000 fans greeted Fleming, Eastwood, and Brinegar at the airport and the actors were literally mobbed wherever they went. When asked if he tired of being asked for his autograph, Fleming replied, "A little, but it's better than not being asked."
 
 


    
In addition to starring in Rawhide, considered to be the best written and best directed Western on television, Fleming and screenwriter Chris Miller co-wrote two episodes - A Woman's Place and Incident of a Night on the Town. Both featured Miller's perspective of a strong female pitted against the resistant trail boss; Gil Favor's general aloofness and underlying respect for women made him particularly magnetic. For seven seasons, Fleming portrayed an honest, independent, strong, intelligent, and heroic cowboy in the tradition of the American West. He embodied the mythic hero whose sense of justice and morality overrode all other considerations. Fleming's presence as Favor was so dominant that it centered the entire show and provided the base around which all the other characters revolved. Additionally, the character was provided with a personal history that enhanced his leadership: Favor was a captain in the Confederate Army and a widower with two young daughters in Philadelphia. This added extra stability and maturity to the character, as well as a poignancy with strong romantic appeal. His was the voice of reason and responsibility; he took command and inspired confidence. The story lines were largely derived from the diary of an actual trail boss named George C. Duffield who made the drive from San Antonio to Sedalia in 1866. Producer Charles Marquis Warren, an authority on Westerns, modeled his trail boss on Duffield: a man tough enough to survive the pressures of a year-long trail drive. His crew often hated him but came to depend on him when the going was rough. In several episodes, most notably Incident of the Dog Days, Incident of El Toro, The Lost Herd, Incident at Dragoon Crossing, and The Long Shakedown, Favor makes several errors of judgment and becomes less a hero and more a man, capable of admitting mistakes, enduring the consequences, and realizing his limitations. In four episodes featuring Favor's interactions with children (Incident of the Fish Out of Water, The Boss's Daughters, Incident of the Hostages, and El Hombre Bravo), his warmth, sensitivity, and overt compassion are particularly evident, adding depth, realism, and a gentleness to the character. The series was mostly shot in Nogales, Arizona and the authenticity of the trail drive was staggering - enough to win The Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame four years in a row. The award named Rawhide the outstanding program of its genre for excellence in depicting the West.
    

 
The question remains how much of Gil Favor was Eric Fleming? From the early episodes, Fleming seemed to grow into the part, his size and manner conducive to the ruggedness and quiet strength of the character. The personal qualities developed over years of an abusive and neglected childhood were integrated into Favor's persona: determination, responsibility, independence, toughness, sense of survival, strength, and guts. Fleming's early work background - laborer, construction worker, carpenter, hod carrier - was physical; he worked with his hands and back and seemed totally comfortable in the trappings of a drover and in the camaraderie of a group of hard-working men. He appears at home on horseback and in the openness of the Texas range. Gil Favor's fabricated history of southern gentility, however, allowed him to move from trail boss to tuxedo as the occasion demanded; this element of class and distinction was inherent in Fleming's often noble portrayal. Favor and Fleming merged also in attitudes of healthy disrespect and suspicion of authority as well as an inner confidence that precluded having to explain or justify motivations or behavior to anyone. These personality traits later cost Fleming his role on Rawhide; he was regularly quoted making critical statements about the network hierarchy and had a penchant for needling people. He voiced his opinions about producers, writers, and directors at CBS and threatened to quit the show more than once. In 1965, following several changes in the production staff at CBS, Fleming was fired along with other cast regulars. Eastwood was promoted to trail boss but the show quickly deteriorated and was cancelled in 1966.
    

 Fleming meanwhile taped three episodes of Bonanza for NBC-TV which aired February 6 and October 2 and 9, 1966. The February episode was entitled Peace Officer, and Fleming starred as Wes Dunn (see photo). The October episodes comprised a two-part drama, Pursued, in which Fleming starred as Heber Clawson, a Mormon settler who was persecuted for his religious beliefs. The first episode aired on the day that wire services announced that Fleming's body had been found in Peru.
 
                                    1966...........................
     In 1965, Fleming initiated plans for his future and for his break with Hollywood: he purchased a ranch in Hawaii and on July 19, declared his last will in Beverly Hills. He specifically disinherited his father and bequeathed $30,000 to his mother, Mildred Anderson Heddy. A gift of $10,000 each was devised to his cousin Barbara Dodge, to Chris Miller, and to Lynne Garber, with all residual gift bequeathed to his mother. Reference was made to sell or liquidate any business belonging to his estate and it was clearly stated that arrangements had been made for donation of his eyes to the Estelle Doheny Eye Foundation and his body to the U.C.L.A. Medical Department. The final paragraph requested that in the event those arrangements were not possible, his body  would "be cremated in the most inexpensive manner possible and that no services of any kind be held."
     With paperwork in order, Fleming contracted with MGM to film The Glass Bottom Boat on location in the islands. "I'm learning to live again," he said at the time. "You can't imagine how pleasant it is to work with a washed face and have a rug under your feet. There is something deadly about working for seven years with a male cast."
     The Glass Bottom Boat starred Doris Day and Rod Taylor; Fleming played CIA agent Edgar Hill who is featured only in the final quarter of the movie. Released in 1966, the film is an interminable and inane slapstick comedy that is overly sentimental, filled with sight gags, and was anachronistic even upon its release. Fleming was largely drawn to the filming because of the location shots in Hawaii.


    
"I'm getting back to the things that interest me - art, writing, oceanography, fishing. This picture came along and I might do one in Europe where Rawhide was even more popular. But most of all, I want to get back to those islands... when I go this time, I will go to stay."

    
In mid-1966, Fleming contracted with MGM-TV to film a television movie that would be shown as part of ABC's Off to See the Wizard, an anthology series of adventure films. Selva Alta or High Jungle, which starred Fleming and Anne Heywood, was to be shot on location in Peru with Fleming playing a nineteenth century U.S. naval officer who rescues lost explorers in the Amazon jungles. On August 17, Fleming arrived in Lima with long-time female companion Lynne Garber and shooting began.
     The Andean foothills are referred to as "high jungle";  the Amazon's tributaries - approximately 1,100 major ones and countless others - charge down the 15,000-foot high mountain slope to the Amazon basin. Along the way, rapids, currents, and whirlpools are so savage that rafts with full crews have been trapped within the swirling water for days. Caimans, stingrays, eels, and piranhas inhabit still pools off the main flow; hidden rocks and submerged logs add to the treacherous currents. Around mid-September, Fleming, Heywood, Garber, and a film crew left Lima to shoot location shots in the high jungle around Tingo Maria, approximately 220 miles northeast of Lima. Tingo Maria, an area of lush vegetation, tangled vines, thorny bushes, and cana brava, is situated on the east bank of the Huallaga River. On September 28, Fleming and Greek-American co-star Nico Minardos were to shoot final stunt scenes on a stretch of river which Peruvians advised was dangerous and had not been previously used by the crew. Producer-Director Tom McGowan altered original plans because he considered the area too treacherous: instead of one shot, the scene was filmed in many cuts and all that remained was an exit shot from the rapids at a point where the river changed course by 90 degrees. The morning was spent in set-ups; two Peruvians forded the rapids in a canoe comparable to the one to be used by Fleming and Minardos. At about noon, the daily thunderheads developed, threatening lighting as well as safety in the raging water. Fleming said to Minardos "C'mon, Nico, now or never," partly in response to the successful navigation of the river by the two Peruvians and with resignation to complete the scene and proceed to other shooting. Lynne Garber remained on the bank of the river to watch the filming.

 

    
As Fleming and Minardos boarded the 35-foot-long cut-out log canoe, Fleming proposed an emergency plan of ditching all equipment similar to the surfer's technique to avoid being struck by a board in turbulent water; Minardos felt that it would be wiser to remain with the canoe. The two agreed to apply their own plans in case of trouble which proved to be a fatal decision. Both actors were dressed in clothing appropriate to the mid-nineteenth century: Minardos wore high heavy boots and a full-sleeved shirt; Fleming's clothing was lighter with bell-bottom trousers and a single-buttoned shirt. Fleming, in the prow of the canoe, paddled the nose into the turbulent rapids. As water quickly flooded the front of the craft, he dove from the canoe, causing the water to shift to the stern which sunk further, taking Minardos below the surface. Fleming appeared to be clear and in a relatively calm area, swimming rapidly towards the shore approximately 30 feet away. When Minardos surfaced, he saw that Fleming's efforts were suddenly negated by another surge of the powerful and changing current. Minardos managed to swim to the shore where Peruvian members of the crew were still seated on the bank, apparently thinking that Fleming was swimming to safety. Minardos related that Fleming could be heard screaming in the river so he pushed the shore party into the water to aid Fleming. Two Peruvians manning a canoe managed to reach Fleming and grab him by his hair, but he was unconscious and the rapids lurched the craft away. Fleming disappeared beneath the surging water. His body surfaced three days later and 15 miles downriver. Piranha thrive only in the lower regions where the water pools and remains calm. According to a source who grew up in the area, there are no piranha in the rapids, dispelling the many rumors throughout the years that Fleming was the victim of these carnivorous fish. The source stated that individuals caught in the rapids are swept downriver and become severely lacerated as they are smashed against the rocks. (See Documents for issues of La Prensa)
    
Minardos explained that no stuntmen were included in the crew and that there were "intangible pressures" which force conscientious actors to perform inherently dangerous stunts. "An actor wants to look good," Minardos explained after the tragedy. There exist subconscious desires to appear strong and resist appealing to the director about every hazard while filming dangerous scenes. Other pressures included primitive living conditions, sustained diarrhea, a lack of proper sunlight, and absence of any formal emergency plan, safety measures, or rescue equipment. By his own account, Minardos was exhausted when he reached shore and judged that, due to the raging current, Fleming's strength would have been equally sapped. The shore party had assumed that Fleming could reach shore and concentrated only on trying to maintain sight of him. The circumstances of Fleming's death gave added impetus to the Screen Actors Guild pressures for greater producer adherence to safety standards at the time.
    

 
 Both Fleming and Minardos were signed to two separate contracts - one covering the two-part television series and the other for the foreign release of the film version. Both were guaranteed ten weeks work and $25,000 salary, with a remaining 14-week schedule of pro-rated remuneration. One-half of the film had been completed.

     Lynne Garber and Eric Fleming were to have been married within two days of his death. In an interview following the tragedy, she explained that "the three years with Eric were the happiest of my life." She informed the press that Fleming's body was donated to the University of San Marcos in Lima for medical research in accordance with the provisions of his will. (According to La Prensa, October 8, 1966, Fleming's body was indeed donated to the Anatomy Department of the School of Medicine of San Fernando which is associated with the San Marcos University of Peru.)
    


Eric Fleming never married, had few close friends, and chose to live quietly outside the caste system that is Hollywood. He never lost the insecurity of his early years nor fully accepted his success. As late as 1964, Fleming stated that "staying alive is my primary concern." He described acting as an extremely selfish business: "You're selling yourself 24 hours a day. Rawhide keeps me at the studio 12 to 14 hours a day but it's steady work, which is the most important thing in the world to an actor." He lived modestly and eschewed the parties and social affectations that are general requirements of an acting career. He was an accomplished actor who was impatient with less professional colleagues and could easily memorize pages of dialogue, reducing his script to bits and scraps as he worked out his characterization. On the set, he spent much of his time alone and apart from the rest of the cast or preferred to read in his dressing room. In the roughly 190 episodes of Rawhide featuring Gil Favor, Fleming portrays anger, remorse, confusion, affection, frustration, indecision, strength, compassion. He is always convincing and true to the character yet continually changes, grows, and develops. He is appealing to watch because the viewer can believe him and believe in him; there is always consistency and truth in his performance. Ironically, Gil Favor represents a classic father-figure in the series, a concept presumably alien and conflicting to Fleming given his background. His life and career can hardly be understood without placing it firmly in the context of his dysfunctional family life, estrangement from his father, early nomadic and delinquent existence in Chicago, transient years in the Merchant Marine and Seabees, and his facial transformation - 24 years that formed the way he perceived and interacted with the world. He can thus be described as an individualist who questioned authority because the totality of his early experience proved authority to be flawed. He was outspoken and independent, maintained few family ties, possessed a well-developed sense of survival, and closely guarded his privacy. His dedication to his close friends and to his career was unwavering. In 1957, Fleming commented about his changed philosophy following his accident at age 17:
     "By then I was disciplined to things just happening to me. And I'd learned never to turn my back on life."
     He deserved better.
 
 
   

 
   Permission to use the above photographs granted by the following:
     Courtesy of The Billy Rose Theatre Collection of The New York
        Public Library for the Performing Arts/Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
      Courtesy of Allied Artists
     Author's Collection
      Courtesy of Old West Shop Publishing
     Fleming on location in Peru with producer-director Tom McGowan; one of the last photos taken of the actor.
                        


           Eric Fleming Information Base
                        Chronology
                                                   
Theater Credits
                                                                
Film Credits
                                         
Television Credits
               
Photographs
                               
In Memoriam

 
           
Acknowledgements
........................................  : neoluddite@att.net
                 
 

2 comments:

Martha Davis said...

Wow! I recently became a fan of Eric Fleming when one of our cable stations began running the Rawhide series one episode a week. That just wasn't enough for me, so I began looking online for more info. I found the series on youtube and started watching.
I, also, started reading about Eric Fleming; but your blog seems so well researched and informative. At first I thought he was just a good looking man, but began to see how truly complicated he was. He overcame so much. What an example. You can't help wander what he might have become-as an actor or artist.

josie abbott said...

I always liked and admired Eric Fleming as a fan. I felt that he was and Independent sort, but also a loner who was quite satisfied with that. Didn't know about his horrible childhood, but after I did, my admiration for this handsome man grew. The attributes described could have fit well with another "go it alone" actor who was a professional--Jack Lord!! Wonder if they knew each other.