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Saturday, 30 June 2012

Living in the Rowdy Years

If not for Rawhide Clint Eastwood might have faded away into obscurity, just another actor who never quite made it. The actor has stated in several interviews that when the series came along he was all but ready to quit acting.

He always thought of the show as his show and according to friends he would refer to it that way in private, but Eric Fleming was very much the star, with Eastwood initially cast as his sidekick.

As actors the two men couldn't have been more different - Where Fleming was awkward, sullen and often difficult to work with the young Eastwood was eager for as much screen time as possible. So where Fleming, who thought. the show was beneath his talents was glad to be pushed into the background, Eastwood was only too happy to take center stage. And that's what happened after the first season when the writers started concentrating more on Rowdy's character.

The show ran from 1959 - 1966 and from the start there was tension between Eastwood and Fleming - on the very first day of filming, in Arizona in 1958, there was an unscripted showdown between Eastwood and Fleming. When the two argued they went behind a wagon and sorted it out man to man. Fleming was two inches taller that Eastwood and twenty pounds heavier but Clint, reportedly put him on his arse with one blow to the jaw. It took the intervention of studio bosses to get the two actors to even speak together. Years later Eastwood denied that he had a fist fight with Fleming but studio legend has it otherwise.

The rivalry between the two actors though helped Eastwood give his character an edge and so when his character grew, then so too did Fleming's character ossify. This was partly because Eastwood was becoming more and more popular with younger viewers, but largely because Fleming was growing difficult - In his book Clint: The Life and Legend, author Patrick McGilligan stated that Fleming was a torturous actor - all slow burns and rolling eyebrows. He was stiff - Charles Larson, one of the regular writers, said that he was told to make Fleming's speeches short and Charles Marquis Warren, the shows creator called Fleming a miserable human being.

As the show went on then so Eastwood's character developed - initially Rowdy had been a gawky foil to Fleming's stronger paternal role but eventually Eastwood would dominate - his character carried entire episodes to himself, Incident of the Running Man or deliver a memorable monologue in Incident of the Promised Land. Incidentally the latter episode was directed by Ted Post who Eastwood would work with several times in his film career.

Eventually though Eastwood became tired of being associated with Rowdy Yates, feeling that he was ready for more mature roles. He was after all now in his thirties and still playing this perpetual kid character. A trip to Europe to film a cheap Italian backed western was just around the corner and the rest is history.

Below we have embedded a complete episode of the classic series - enjoy

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