No Western TV Show Features More Golden Era Stars Than This One

No Western TV Show Features More Golden Era Stars Than This One


The Big Picture

  • Rawhide
    was a popular Western TV series that featured a continuous cattle drive and a diverse range of adventures and characters.
  • The show had over 100 recognizable guest stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood, including Mickey Rooney, Leif Erickson, and Barbara Eden.
  • In its eighth season,
    underwent restructuring, which led to the firing of the main star, Eric Fleming, and Clint Eastwood’s character, Rowdy Yates, taking on the role of trailboss.

Perhaps no classic Western television series has brought in more notable guest stars over the years than the eight-season CBS production Rawhide. Known for getting Clint Eastwood his start in the movie business, Rawhide became the sixth longest-running American Western series of its day, following the likes of Gunsmoke, Bonanza, and Wagon Train, to name a few. But as impressive as Rawhide‘s large catalog of episodes is, what’s more exceptional is the sheer number of recognizable guests who showed up to join the “fun” of the cattle drive. After all, there were few stars at the time who didn’t pivot into the Western genre at some point or another…


Gil Favor is trail boss of a continuous cattle drive. He is assisted by Rowdy Yates. The crew runs into characters and adventures along the way.

Release Date
January 9, 1959

Charles Marquis Warren


What Is ‘Rawhide’ About?

Of course, to better understand why folks were attracted to Rawhide in the first place, it’s important to take a step back and remember what the show was about. Set only a few years after the American Civil War, Rawhide follows trailboss Gil Favor (Eric Fleming), ramrod Rowdy Yates (Eastwood), and a host of other cowboys as they drive cattle across the American Midwest and into the West. The show, like many TV Westerns at the time, has a very basic structure that often feels as if it repeats itself. The drovers find themselves in a new place, something (or someone) threatens “the beeves” (their plural of “beef”), a fight ensues, and then Favor ends the episode with his trademark, “Head ’em up! Move ’em out!”

While many TV Westerns had a recurring structure at the time, Rawhide occasionally departs from its usual format. “Incident of the Fish Out of Water,” for instance, takes Favor to Philadelphia after driving the cattle to their new home, while “Incident of the Phantom Bugler” includes an outdoor night camp scene that was generally abnormal for the series. The cattle-centered Western was often known for diving into a vast array of topics such as dark riders, cursed cattle, horrible storms, and even anthrax (Yates barely made it out of that one). Of course, the show also deals with the aftermath of the Civil War, and the broken loyalties certain drivers had to their respective sides.

In many ways, Clint Eastwood’s career as a Western star and icon wouldn’t have happened without Rawhide. His dedication to the craft and willingness to stick with the series in the end (more on that later) only emphasizes the actor’s resistance (not unlike his TV character) and prepared him for roles in feature Westerns such as A Fistful of Dollars, Pale Rider, and even Unforgiven. But Eastwood isn’t the only Hollywood star to make his way to Rawhide, and certainly not the most famous in his day.

‘Rawhide’s Guest Stars Include Mickey Rooney & Barbara Eden

Throughout its 217 episodes, Rawhide had over 100 recognizable guest stars, many of whom made their mark on the Golden Age of Hollywood. Thespians like Lon Chaney, Jr., known for his work in horror pictures (particularly The Wolf Man), Debra Paget, of The Ten Commandments and Broken Arrow fame, and Claude Rains, from Casablanca, Notorious, and The Invisible Man, all appear in episodes of the show, playing characters outside their usual genres. But just because they are out of their element doesn’t mean they are any less delightful on the screen. In “Hostage Child,” Paget plays a woman married to an Indian-hating Colonel, all while secretly hiding her own Tonkawa heritage, and in “Incident of Judgment Day,” Rains plays a drunken ghost town judge who nearly sees Yates pay with his life.


Forget ‘Bonanza’ and ‘Gunsmoke,’ This Is the Coolest Classic Western TV Show

Someone tell Bon Jovi to stop singing that song, please. The name belongs to this show alone.

Of course, these weren’t the stars at the time to appear on Rawhide. Others such as Michael Ansara, Barbara Stanwyck, Iron Eyes Cody, Burgess Meredith, Mickey Rooney, Mercedes McCambridge, and I Dream of Jeanie‘s very own Barbara Eden all made their mark on the show as well. Some of these, such as Ansara and Cody, appear in multiple episodes over a few different seasons, and always as different and exciting characters. As the Golden Age of Hollywood was passing on, many of these stars didn’t find the same success in the New Hollywood era as they had before. In some ways, shows like Rawhide passed the torch from the old guard to rising stars like Eastwood, who would continue to redefine the film industry throughout their careers.

But just like Eastwood, Rawhide features a number of rising stars as well. Jack Lord of Hawaii Five-O fame appears in two episodes of the show’s early years, and future Love Boat star Gavin MacLeod shows up in “The Meeting.” And that’s not all. Jim Davis (Dallas), Elizabeth Montgomery (Bewitched), Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek), Beau Bridges (The Fabulous Baker Boys), Darrin McGavin (Kolchak The Night-Stalker), and even Eastwood’s future The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly opponent Lee Van Cleef, all show up at some point or another. It seems like from 1959 to 1965, Rawhide was just the place to be.

CBS Fired Eric Fleming, ‘Rawhide’s Star

Eric Fleming in Rawhide
Image via CBS

After seven years airing on CBS, the network decided that going into its eighth season, Rawhide needed some restructuring. So, they did what any normal network would do in that situation: fire their main star. Apparently, Eric Fleming (who has played trailboss Gil Favor for the entirety of the series) cost too much to keep around, and the actor even joked that he was let go because they were paying him a million dollars a year. Turns out, that was an exaggeration (it was closer to $220,000, according to MeTV), but the case remained that Fleming (and Favor) were gone, and Clint Eastwood, err, Rowdy Yates, took on the title of trailboss going into Season 8. At the very least, it helped him prepare for some of his future Western roles.

But Rawhide had already been struggling with ratings leading up to that, and no amount of impressive guest stars would save these drivers. The show was moved to Tuesday nights from its normal Friday (where it enjoyed a No. 6 spot in the ratings game), and on December 7, 1965, the final episode of Rawhide aired. Unlike previous years, which always boasted over 22 episodes per season, Rawhide was given a, well, raw deal in the end, with only 13 episodes making up Season 8. That’s less than half of Season 7’s 30-episode count from the year prior. But without Eric Fleming, and with its decreasing ratings, the show didn’t have a chance. Like the Golden Era stars who appeared in the series, Rawhide‘s time too eventually came to an end. Hopefully, Clint Eastwood will one day end his career where it began, with the Western.

Rawhide is available to watch on Pluto TV in the U.S.

Watch on Pluto TV


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