For those of you unacquainted with our hero, Eric starred as trail boss Gil Favor on the CBS television series "Rawhide" from 1959 to 1965. Sadly, Eric met an untimely death on September 28, 1966, at the age of 41, when he drowned while making a film in South America. His acting credits are, therefore, unfortunately few. He will, though, forever be remembered as Mr. Favor, the tough and handsome trail boss, ably guiding his beeves and drovers over the Chisholm and Sedalia trails.
Eric was born Edward Heddy, Jr. at 1:15 p.m. on the 4th of July, 1925, in Santa Paula, California (a short distance northwest of Los Angeles in Ventura County), the son of Edward F. Heddy (born in New York State and listed on the birth certificate as an oil worker) and Mildred Anderson Heddy (born in Minnesota and listed as a housewife). The physician in attendance was Dr. Benjamin E. Merrill. Eric's parents lived in Fillmore, California at the time of his birth and both were listed as being 28 years of age. Edward Heddy Sr. subsequently disappeared after Eric's parents divorce in 1935 when he was 10 years old, and was apparently never heard from again. There is no mention of any siblings.
Eric didn't finish high school and the New York Times article states he had been "self-supporting since he was 12". Interestingly, he claimed to have been an "ugly child" and wore a brace on his right leg in early childhood to correct a club foot.
Eric held a number of jobs prior to becoming an actor. He was a miner, an ambulance driver, a carpenter, a waiter, a short-order cook, a merchant seaman, a longshoreman and an oil field roustabout. He served in the SeaBees during World War II and for a time was stationed in Seattle. Of that period, he reportedly told an interesting story. It seems he was lifting a 200 pound steel counterweight on a dare, and it fell on his face, necessitating plastic surgery which created the face millions of early 60's Rawhide fans came to know and love. This bizarre little tale was recounted in both the AP wire service story on Eric's death, and in the short paragraph regarding his demise that appeared in the October 3, 1966, edition of Time Magazine. I'd be very interested to know if anyone else has heard anything about this story.
There's No Business Like Show Business.....
Eric entered show business after WWII as a stagehand and began taking acting lessions. His first acting job seems to have been with the road production of "Happy Birthday" with Miriam Hopkins (probably sometime in the late 40's). He later appeared in a series of Broadway productions including "My Three Angels" and "Stalag 17". In the mid 50's he went to Hollywood and had a series of roles in mostly sci-fi B-movies that have today become camp classics (see movie links ). He had several bit parts in TV shows and even starred in a short lived TV pilot (he was immediately replaced and the show was on the air for less than one month!) prior to landing the role he would forever be known for - Gil Favor on "Rawhide".
The first episode of "Rawhide" aired on CBS in the fall season of 1959. Eric starred on the program (along with other cast regulars Clint Eastwood, Sheb Wooley and Paul Brinegar among others) until he abruptly left the show five years later in 1964 to "follow his impulse to travel, paint, sculpt and act from time to time" according to the New York Times obituary. There has been a continuing controversy about the real reasons for his departure from "Rawhide" and rumours abound. Some accounts indicate he may have been fired for accepting a role in 1965's "The Glass Bottom Boat" in while still under contract to MGM and CBS for "Rawhide". That mystery remains. He was quoted in February of 1966 as saying "I don't want to act any more. I'd like to become a teacher. I was never a great actor. I never expected to be. I'd like to settle down on the beach in Hawaii."
Setting the Record Straight....
Unfortunately, though, he never got to realize those dreams. Following "The Glass Bottom Boat" his next acting venture unfortunately became his last. On August 17th of 1966 he arrived in Lima, Peru, to begin filming "High Jungle" for MGM. The cast and crew traveled into the jungle northeast of Lima to the Tingo Maria area of Peru, on the eastern slope of the Andes Mountains. There, on September 28th, while filming a scene, he drowned when the canoe he was in capsized in the swift current of the Huallaga River. His Peruvian co-star in the film, Nic Minardos, was also in the canoe but was able to swim to safety. Eric, who was by all accounts an excellent swimmer and scuba diver, drowned in full view of 20 crew and cast members.
The prevailing belief has long been that Eric's body was never recovered, but a brief paragraph in the October 2, 1966 New York Times indicates that was not the case. He was found, several days later, just downriver from the site of the accident.
I'm still uncertain of the disposition of Eric's remains after his death. Here, too, there are conflicting reports. A web site interestingly entitled Find-A-Grave indicates that he is buried in the Santa Paula Cemetery, 380 Cemetery Road, Santa Paula, California. There is indeed a Santa Paula Cemetery at that address but I can't at this time say whether he is really buried there or not because the 10/6/66 Santa Paula Daily Chronical states that in his will Eric willed his body to the UCLA Medical Center for research. The article goes on to say that "Flemings's family...would decide whether the body would be returned to this country and given to UCLA or left in Peru for the University of Peru." The reason for this decision is not elaborated upon, unfortuantely. The will further stated that if it were not possible to donate his remains for medical research that he wished to be inexpensively cremated and did not want a funeral service.
There is no mystery, however, regarding his estate or it's disposition. The Daily Chronical article is quite specific about these matters. The will was filed for probate in Los Angeles Superior Court on October 5th, 1966 by attorney A. Charles Wilson (who also drew it up and was presumably the executor). The bulk of the $125,000 estate was left to Eric's mother, Mrs. Mildred Anderson Heddy who was then 69 years old. $30,000 in cash was given to her outright at the time of probate. $10,000 each was left to his cousin, Barbara Dodge of Marina Del Ray, one Chris Miller of West Hollywood (relationship and gender not indicated) and to Lynn Garber, described in the article as an actress and as Fleming's "long-time girl friend". In his will Eric specifically disinherited his estranged father.
Some Thoughts and Comments.....
Eric, despite being a prominant TV star of his day, remains something of a mystery. Little is known of his personal life. He never married or had any children, and the only thing I've ever seen linking him romantically to anyone is the brief mention of Lynn Garber, noted above.
The 10/1/66 New York Times obituary states that "Until his success in "Rawhide, Eric Fleming lived a hand- to-mouth existence. He once said 'I've lived out of a paper bag all my life'. Even after attaining fame and considerable wealth, he continued to live quietly in a converted garage in the Hollywood Hills, and he had few friends among the movie colony's elite". He clearly shunned the typical Hollywood lifestyle and didn't appear to be all that happy with his career as an actor. One gets the impression he was a real free spirit who didn't want to be tied down. Who knows - maybe he was more suited to his alter-ego, Gil Favor's lifestyle than to his own.
One thing we can be sure of is that he was gone too soon. But at least we have 5 years worth of wonderful Rawhide episodes to remember him by.
My quest for further information continues and I'll post whatever I find here. If you have any information or perhaps a photo (which WILL be returned to you) that you'd be willing to contribute, please see below.
Links to other Eric Fleming Information:
I'm currently seeking information about, and particularly photographs of, Eric for this page. If you have anything you'd be willing to contribute, please e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, please feel free to e-mail me with comments, suggestions, etc. All contributions will be gratefully appreciated and appropriate credit and thanks will be expressed. Any photographs will be returned at the contributor's request.
And speaking of thanks, I have some I'd like to express. To see my humble attempt to thank my friends for all their help with this page, click here . A brief list of sources for the information included in this web page is available as well.
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