The '50s and '60s were a glorious time for TV westerns. Has there been any other time in American television where we had such strong cowboy characters to watch every week? We had Bonanza, the Lone Ranger, Wagon Train, and Gunsmoke. But we also had the TV show that kicked off Clint Eastwood's western career: Rawhide.
The show is set during the 1860s, capturing the cattle drive lifestyle. Eric Fleming stars as trail boss Gil Favor. Eastwood stars opposite him as Rowdy Yates, the young and feisty accomplice, who Favor continually keeps in check. Sheb Wooley played scout Pete Nolan, Paul Brinegar played the cook Wishbone, James Murdock played Wishbone's assistant "Mushy," Rocky Shahan, played drover Joe Scarlet, and Steve Raines played drover Jim Quince. It was a great group of characters to follow season after season.
Viewers loved tuning in to see the cattle drivers help people out on the trail, defeat bandits, protect the cattle from wolves and more. It ran on Friday nights for six years before moving to Tuesday nights for its final stretch. The series ran 217 black-and-white episodes on the CBS Network across seven and a half years as one of the longest-running western TV series.
Here are some things you might not know about the classic western show.
1. Gil Favor was based on a real person
Series producer Charles Marquis Warren found inspiration for Gil Favor from the 1866 diary of real trail boss George C. Duffield which covered his cattle drive from San Antonio to Sedalia. The Gil Favor monologues at the beginning of each episode were similar to Duffield's diary entries.
2. Eastwood wore his boots from the show in one of his films
And not just any film. His Oscar-winning film from 1992, Unforgiven. The film brought home Best Picture and Best Director awards for Eastwood. And the whole film he's wearing his Rowdy Yates boots.
3. Eric Fleming died filming a TV show after the series wrapped
After Rawhide ended, Fleming was in Peru filming High Jungle, a two-part episode that was part of ABC's Off to See the Wizard. While shooting a canoe scene on the Huallaga River, the boat flipped. Fleming sadly drowned at the age of 41.
4. Clint Eastwood had an on set affair
Eastwood is well known for having children with multiple different women. While he was still married to first wife Maggie Johnson, Eastwood had a relationship with stuntwoman Roxanne Tunis. They had one child together, a daughter named Kimber in 1964.
5. There were lots of notable guest stars
The western series ran for seven years, so of course, it had some cool guest stars over the years -- Bruce Dern, Elizabeth Montgomery, Mickey Rooney, Dean Martin, Rip Torn, Leonard Nimoy, Beau Bridges and James Coburn to name a few.
6. The show dealt with controversial subject matters
Rawhide took place four years after the American Civil War and didn't mind tackling some of the gritty subject matter that comes with war. Robert Culp guest stars as an ex-soldier and morphine addict in "Incident at the Top of the World." Robert Cabal's character, the wrangler Jesús "Hey Soos" Patines, frequently dealt with racism from people outside of his team.
Sometimes the show would even touch on the supernatural in episodes including "Incident of the Murder Steer" and "Incident of the Haunted Hills."
7. The show was turned into a book
Frank C. Robertson published a novel based on the tv show in 1961. Fleming and Eastwood even appear on the cover of the book as their characters Favor and Yates. The story follows the main group of characters trying to beat a rival herd to Sedalia.
8. The theme song is still used
"Move 'em on, head 'em up, rawhide!"
The theme song, written by Ned Washington, became incredibly popular. It was sung by pop singer Frankie Laine for the show but is frequently used in modern films and shows, including The Blues Brothers and Shrek 2.