Rawhide has the unique distinction of being the sixth-longest-running American TV Western, so be sure to retain that fact the next time you play Trivial Pursuit. It is exceeded only by Wagon Train, The Virginian, Bonanza, Death Valley Days, and, obviously, Gunsmoke. Compared to other Hollywood actors, Rawhide star Clint Eastwood was in it for the long haul.
Eastwood's commitment to his series was a huge relief for producers. Some stars had used TV westerns as a way to elevate their profile, only to abandon the shows that made them famous. From 1957 to 1962, James Garner appeared on television as Bret Maverick in the acclaimed Western Maverick. While the show could've continued in perpetuity, Garner fought to get out of his contract so that he could return to the big screen and resume taking film roles. Another high-profile Western departure came years later after Bonanza's 1964-65 season concluded. Pernell Roberts, star and fan favorite as Adam Cartwright, failed to renew his contract in search of greener pastures.
Clint Eastwood, though, was built differently.
"I'll play Rowdy Yates in Rawhide until the cows come home, or as we say on the show, 'until we get the herd to Sedalia,'" Eastwood told the Daily News in '61. The profile was quick to note the rarity of such conviction and contextualized Eastwood's feelings by providing some key details about his background.
Clint Eastwood was not born to be Hollywood royalty. He was born, instead, about 375 miles north in San Francisco before moving out to Oakland, where he was raised. A post-high school stint as a lumberjack brought him further north to Oregon before he was drafted into the military in 1951. He was then assigned instructor duties for swimming and survival courses in California's Fort Ord. There, his life changed, as a happenstance meeting with a director working at the camp pointed Eastwood toward Hollywood.
"I had done some acting in school and little theatres in Oakland," said Eastwood. "But I never took it seriously. Just did it for fun. But the fact that it was fun made me start thinking seriously about it after the director talked to me." Upon completing his military service, Clint Eastwood opted to attend Los Angeles City College with the intention of studying drama.
Another accidental meeting led to his role as Rowdy Yates in Rawhide. Eastwood was visiting a friend in Television City when a producer noticed the young actor. That exec had just left a casting meeting wherein he and other producers were trying to find the face for Rawhide's second lead.
"I know it sounds too easy," Eastwood said some years later, "but that's exactly how it happened. Of course, the fact that I had studied acting for seven years didn't hurt any."
Clint Eastwood's success on Rawhide laid the foundation for a long and storied career in the pictures, which continues to produce incredible work.
"I've never had it so good since I've been playing Rowdy Yates," said Eastwood, "And I'll stick in the saddle as long as they let me."
Weekdays 9 AM Eastern