Eric Fleming was an American actor and writer best known for his role of the trail boss Gil Favor in the CBS television series ‘Rawhide’. Born with a club foot, the actor endured a troubled childhood with a brutally abusive father. At the age of eight, he left his home after an unsuccessful attempt to murder his own father and moved to Chicago where he was involved in various odd jobs. He was sometimes involved in working for criminals in order to support himself. Three years later, he returned to his recently divorced mother and received a little education during the Great Depression era. After serving in both the Merchant Marines and the US Navy during the World War II, the young man shattered his face in an accident and underwent extensive plastic surgery. He made his acting debut in a road company production of ‘Happy Birthday’ and then featured in many plays, TV series, and films. At the age of 41, he tragically drowned in the Huallaga River, Peru, and died.
At the age of eight, Eric Fleming ran away from his house to Chicago and started doing dead-end jobs which, at one point, included sweeping warehouses. During that time, he got involved with some criminals, working or running errands for them. For nearly three years, he committed petty thefts and delivered liquor and drugs before being hospitalized following a gunfight between some gangsters. He was ultimately returned to his mother. He then took up various menial jobs as a newsboy, miner, ambulance driver, waiter, stagehand, and hod carrier before joining the Merchant Marines. He served in the Pacific. He then joined the U.S. Navy serving as a master carpenter in the Seabees during the World War II in 1942.
Fleming made his acting debut in a road company production of the play ‘Happy Birthday’ (1946). In the ensuing years, he appeared in various plays with featured roles on Broadway in Chicago and New York, including ‘My Three Angels’, ‘Stalag 17’, and ‘No Time For Sergeants’. His TV career started in the early 1950s and included live performances in ‘Hallmark Summer Theatre’, ‘The Web’, ‘Suspense’, and ‘Kraft Television Theatre.’
In 1954, he left Broadway for the film world. His first film was Paramount's ‘Conquest of Space’, which was followed by ‘Queen of Outer Space’ and other low-budget films. In 1958, due to his tall height, he landed a lead role as the trail boss Gil Favor in CBS-TV's long-running western series ‘Rawhide,’ in which he appeared in seven out of eight seasons. He also wrote the scripts for two episodes in season three and four.
In 1966, Fleming appeared in the TV series ‘Bonanza’s episodes ‘The Pursued’ and ‘Peace Officer’. He appeared as a suave spy in ‘The Glass Bottom Boat.’ His last project was the two-part adventure program ‘High Jungle’ in 1966.
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Family & Personal Life
Eric Fleming was born on July 4, 1925, as Edward Heddy Jr. in Santa Paula, California. He was the only child of Mildred Anderson and Edward Heddy Sr., who was an oil worker. Born with a club foot, he needed crutches to walk and often severely beaten by his father. He once tried to kill his own father by pointing a gun to his head but it misfired. Terrified, the boy ran away from home and led a rough life for a few years. At the age of eleven, he was returned by the authorities to his recently divorced mother.
Later, during a bet, in an attempt to lift a 200-pound weight, he miscalculated and it fell directly on his face, resulting in severe facial injuries for which he underwent extensive plastic surgery. He considered the incident a ‘wonderful balance of values’ as previously he had believed that he was ugly.
After working for a while as a construction worker and carpenter at Paramount Studios, he joined acting classes in the evening before making his acting debut.
He died just two days before his wedding to his longtime girlfriend Lynne Garber.
On September 28, 1966, while shooting in Peru for the two-part episode of the ABC TV movie ‘High Jungle’, he went with co-star Nico Minardos in a dugout canoe that overturned in the Huallaga River. He drowned and was swept away by the turbulent currents. His mutilated body was recovered three days later and was donated to the University of San Marcos in Lima for medical research. According to his will, he left parts of his estate to his mother, a cousin, and a friend, but strictly excluded his father.