Tough as a Rawhide

The popular 1950s western spurned one of the most-famous TV theme songs. The theme song became very popular, and was covered several times and featured in movies such as “The Blues Brothers” and “Shrek 2.” .Even if you don’t know all of the lyrics (Yes, there are verses!), you probably know the refrain. The then-unknown but future Hollywood giant Clint Eastwood played a huge part of Rawhide’s success, in an era of multiple western-themed TV and radio programs.

With other westerns called “Wagon Train,” “The Virginian,” “Bonanza,” and “Gunsmoke,” why name another show “Rawhide?”  In 1951, the Tyrone Power movie, hard-hitting “Rawhide,” debuted in theatres. According to “The Rawhide Story,” by Philip Lindley, the “The Outrider” was the original floating title. The TV network preferred Power’s movie title, thus the successful show was dubbed “Rawhide.” Like rawhide leather, both the show, its creator and main character were strong and firm in their natural states.  They were reshaped from life events, which made them more flexible and pliable for future endeavors.

“Move ’em on, head ’em up
Head ’em up, move ’em on
Move ’em on, head ’em up

– Theme from TV’s Rawhide 1959 -1966

The creator of the show had been known for writing screenplays and novels. In 1955, the creator/writer/producer/director, Charles Marquis Warren, was part of the team behind the smash hit “Gunsmoke.” After leaving “Gunsmoke” Warren returned to the cinema in the horror and western genres. A decorated war veteran, Warren was involved in multiple radio and TV westerns, acting as a writer, producer and director. He focused on portraying realistic and historically accurate scenarios. Thus, “Rawhide” was born.

The show’s first star was Eric Fleming. Writer Ellen Thorpe says Fleming’s character Gil Favor was a “strong portrayal of an honest, strong, intelligent hero with a strong sense of justice and morality overrode all others.” Thorpe says Fleming’s rugged good looks and baritone voice “won him the part.”  A lesser known fact is the transformation that Fleming undertook before he won the part in “Rawhide.”

In 1942, Fleming worked at a foundry in Seattle, Washington. As Thorpe portrays the story, Fleming was hit in the face by a 200-pound block of steel, resulting in forty stitches and four plastic surgeries. He claimed to be “altogether different” and shocked not only by the accident but also by his final facial outcome. Like rawhide leather worked and reconditioned, Fleming found new opportunities in his changed appearance. He had years of success as trail boss Gil Favor, gaining fans for his acting ability and his persistence through adversity.

“Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’
Though the streams are swollen
Keep them doggies rollin’,

Rain and wind and weather
Hell bent for leather
Wishin’ my gal was by my side”

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