14 September 2004 | rcj5365
A Grand Western from the golden age of TV
"Rawhide" was one of the grandest westerns to ever grace the tube from the golden age of the television genre. From its premiere episode on January 9th,1959-to the last and final episode of the series on January 4th,1966,ran on the CBS network for eight seasons and from there producing an astounding 217 episodes,all filmed and broadcast in black and white. The year 1959,the peak year for the genre,the networks were producing over 23 shows,mostly Westerns and most of them were in the top ten of the Nielsen ratings,and despite what the critics said about this series and whatever else,the show stood shoulder to shoulder behind some of the best Westerns of their day. During its premiere episode,it reached the top 20 in the Nielsen ratings,where CBS guaranteed the family audience it needed,but still it was simply an "adult" TV Western aimed at mature audiences. During its run it rosed steadily in popularity until toward the end of the series' run,it was one of America's top ten shows. It was destined to become the fourth longest-running TV western,beaten only by nine years of "The Virginian",fourteen years of "Bonanza",and twenty years of "Gunsmoke".
The typical "Rawhide" story involved ther drovers coming upon people on the trail and getting drawn into solving whatever problem they presented or were confronting. Sometimes one of the members of the cattle drive or some of the others would venture into a nearby town and encounter some trouble or other from which they needed to be rescued. Some of the stories were obviously easier in production terms but the peak form of the show was convincing and naturalistic,and sometimes brutal. Its situations could be from the apocalyptic-parched plains,anthrax,ghostly riders,wolves,cattle rustlers,bandits,murderers, and so forth. Some of this were just simple,friendly in some aspects stories about the same Old West you read as a kid,but lets face it,during those times,especially if you're a drover in charge of a cattle drive in the Old West,you had to deal with some tough issues and face tough challenges--which is something the contestants on these reality shows like "Survivor" or "Fear Factor"-wouldn't have a clue about,especially with the conditions that those cattle drovers had to go through....for instance....What do you do when the local townsfolk are set to hang a cattle rustler who is guilty of taking their livestock,but you know he is innocent? What do you do when a disease comes between the livestock and threatens not only the herd,but one of your own? How do you cope with a slaughter of innocent people during an Indian raid and the only thing that is there is the only survivor--a child who is frighten to death and does not know that the identity of the parents? How do you cope with a proud boss when you need his best judgment whose wife has ran off with another man? What do you do when the local Sheriff is set to hang your man who is found guilty of murder,but do know he did not commit the crime?
These were stories that were powerful,and sometimes emotional drama,since this is a Western. The stories relied on an attention of plot and character by the viewer as necessary to the variety of presentation of morality that nowadays are a memory of the past,and those types of plays you don't see anymore. Since "Rawhide" was very realistic in its time,it was more on the endless cattle drive and it placed more emphasis on character study development and less emphasis on the degree of violence,since it was more rugged and more like another Western of its time:Wagon Train. The men on those drives encounter drought,plague,sickness,poison water,fatigue,strain of command,temperatures(heat and dust,not to mention the cold),and a host of characters. For eight seasons Trail Boss Gil Favor(Eric Fleming),and his assistant foreman,Rowdy Yates(Clint Eastwood)encounter a host of characters;a horse opera of guest stars that would appear which include:Barbara Stanwyck,Buddy Ebsen,Lon Chaney,Jr.,Frankie Avalon, Claude Akins,Robert Culp,Mary Astor,Earl Holleman,Alan Hale,Jr.,and Duane Hickman,along with regulars Sheb Wooley,Paul Brinegar,John Ireland,and during its run others including Raymond St. Jacques.
It was from this show that "Rawhide" launched the career of Clint Eastwood,whom when on the star in several features films and also become a Oscar-winning director and producer(for 1992's Unforgiven) and as a jazz musician as well. Yes,Clint Eastwood was the man! Currently,after years out of circulation,and the last time that "Rawhide" was seen was back in the early 1970's in syndication,cable's The Hallmark Channel is rerunning this legendary series every Saturday Afternoon during its Western Theatre Hour,so check local listings.