Fleming in 1961
Edward Heddy Jr.|
July 4, 1925
Santa Paula, California, U.S.
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 ran away from home shortly after, fleeing to Los Angeles and then 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.
Rawhide TV series
In 1958, the 6-foot, 3½-inch (192 cm) (half an inch shorter than his co-star Clint Eastwood) 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 in the episodes, but Fleming was always billed over Eastwood.
Bonanza TV series
In 1966, Fleming guest-starred as a Mormon rancher in "The Pursued", a two-part episode of Bonanza that dealt with religious persecution and intolerance. He also appeared earlier that year on Bonanza, performing in the title role of the series' episode "Peace Officer".
After Fleming left Rawhide at the end of the 1964–1965 season (the series continued for only 13 more episodes before it was canceled by CBS), he took part in a Doris Day vehicle, The Glass Bottom Boat, playing a suave spy. He was then signed to star in High Jungle, a MGM adventure film shot in Peru. During a scene in the final stages of the film's production, Fleming and co-star Nico Minardos were in a dugout canoe that overturned in the Huallaga River. Minardos managed to swim to safety, but Fleming was swept away by the current and drowned on September 28, 1966. Fleming was 41 years old when he died.
- 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
- "Eric Fleming", Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Retrieved May 7, 2017.
- "St. Petersburg Times - Google News Archive Search".
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