“Head ’em up, move ’em out.”
In the late 50’s, TV viewers were eating westerns up. There was Gunsmoke and The Rifleman and Maverick and Wyatt Earp, and that’s just the tip of the ten gallon hat. When CBS executives took note of Wagon Train’s wildfire success, they hatched a plan to take that ‘traveling team of good, hearty men’ device and plug it into a brand new show. Producer-writer-director Charles Marquis Warren, a key player in bringing Gunsmoke from radio to TV, was the network’s man for the job.
Warren cast as his leads Eric Fleming and a young studio contract player named Clint Eastwood. The plotline took its inspiration from the diary of a real life 1866 cattle drover, as well as a book called The Chisolm Trail and the John Wayne movie Red River. The show was to be a gritty, authentic look at cattle drives that went back and forth from North Texas to Sedalia, Kansas, through the eyes of trail boss Gil Favor and Rowdy Yates, his right hand man and eventual successor. But there were also roles for cooks, scouts and a flurry of other real life drover positions.
Though its ratings took a while to gather momentum, the show began to hit its stride by the end of its first season. After three seasons, Warren left the show and several other producers followed in his wake. Cattle drive authenticity gave way a bit, opening up room for more comedy and for Eastwood’s Rowdy Yates to step up to the trail boss lead. When the show was finally cancelled in 1966, Eastwood entered a whole other plane of success—the spaghetti western A Fistful of Dollars, shot during a Rawhide hiatus, led to a string of western roles that propelled our man Clint right into clenched-teeth, dusty-faced gunslinger iconography.
With sweeping locations, a handsome cast of regulars and an impossible-to-forget, Frankie Laine-crooned, rip-roaring singalong theme song, Rawhide rode its way through the pack of prime time westerns, wrangling a loyal audience all its own.
USA / CBS / 217×50 minute episodes / Broadcast 1 Septemebr 1959 – 1 April 1966
Creator and Executive Producer: Charles Marquis Warren / Theme Music: Ned Washington, Dimitri Tiomkin, sung by Frankie Laine
Clint Eastwood as Rowdy Yates
Eric Fleming as Gil Favor (1959-65)
Sheb Wooley as Pete Nolan (1959-65)
Paul Brinegar as Wishbone
Steve Raines as Jim Quince
Rocky Shahan as Joe Scarlett (1959-64)
James Murdock as Harkness “Mushy” Mushgrove (1959-65)
Robert Cabal as Hey Soos Patines (1961-64)
Charles Gray as Clay Forrester (1962-63)
David Watson as Ian Cabot (1965-66)
John Ireland as Jed Colby (1965-66)
Raymond St. Jacques as Solomon King (1965-66)