have been putting off the Clint Eastwood page far to long. Clint Eastwood holds
a very personal place in my being. And any arbitrary comments on my part would
only cheapen that. So I'll write this as a special homage to Clint.
I come from a broken home and spent my young years with my grand parents. My Nana
and Grandpa were wonderful people, but were not very firm in my upbringing. Nana
died of cancer in 1969 and I went to live with my father and step mom who already
had 2 children, I made 3. I wasn't used to living with other kids and didn't know
how to share. I was trouble for them. When I got into high school it got worse.
Then I saw a movie in school that changed my life forever.
That movie was
called "A Fist Full of Dollars". It stared a scruffy looking guy named
Clint Eastwood. After that Clint became my hero and roll model. My best friend
at the time was Glenn who came from a broken home too, so we could relate on several
levels, Clint became a common bond between us.
Glenn and I would search all
of Portland for theaters playing Eastwood movies. We got to know that city better
then most, and of course where all the theaters were. Glenn and I became film
experts not just for Clint flicks but Charles Bronson, Redford and Newman, Peter
Sellers, and many others. Eastwood was the alpha male, the man's man, his portrayal
of strong confident characters had a great impact on me. Because of Clint I joined
a Boy Scout explorer horse troop where I learned to ride horses and the cowboy
Eastwood didn't just make westerns, he was a bad ass cop in the "Dirty Harry"
Films a DJ in "Play Misty for Me, an assassin in the "Eiger Sanction",
a soldier in "Where Eagles Dare" and "Kelly's Heroes", then
in 1976 he came back to the western with "The Outlaw Josey Wales".
My interest in movies and westerns in particular started at that time. I didn't
just want to see the films, I also wanted something from them. So I started asking
theaters for the 1 sheet posters they displayed in the windows, I would pay 1
or 2 dollars apiece for them. So started my collecting fever. It didn't stop with
posters, oh no, magazines, news paper adds or articles books, (movie tie ins and
biographies) anything I could find with his likeness or information on him.
In 1977 I joined the army and was shipped off to Germany. Clint went with me.
I met my wife there and brought Clint Eastwood into her life. I found a little
theater in the town where she lived and was surprised to see the movie they were
playing was "A Fist Full of Dollars" I just had to hear Clint speak
German. His German voice was different then his own, they had a guy with a hard
deep voice do the synchronization. Afterwards I talked to the theater owner (who
spoke no English) and I not a word of German, yet I convinced him to let me have
the posters and lobby cards for the film.
The first time he spoke
lines to a camera, he blew them. A couple of pictures later he spoke his lines
perfectly, but he was buried so deep in a dark scene that he couldn't be seen.
Toward the end of his first year as an actor, he had a nice little scene with
a major star on a major production, and he found a good-looking pair of glasses
that he thought gave him a bit of character. But Rock Hudson thought the same
thing when he saw the kid wearing them, and Clint had to surrender his specs to
the leading man.
was Clint Eastwood's life as an eager young contract player at Universal circa
1955, and it turned out to be a short one--the studio dropped him after a year
and a half. On his own, he did what young actors do: played scenes in acting classes,
worked out at the gym, went on auditions, did odd jobs (mostly he dug swimming
pools under the hot sun of the San Fernando Valley). Every once in a while he
got an acting job--on Highway Patrol, on Death Valley Days. Once a big time show
flew him east to work on location on West Point Stories. He got to bully James
Garner on an episode of Maverick. A couple of times his heart leapt up: he got
good billing in a feature, The First Traveling Saleslady, playing opposite Carol
Channing; and he thought for awhile that he had one of the leads in another feature,
Lafayette Escadrille. But the first film was a flop, and he had to settle for
a much smaller role in the second. When he finally got a decent part in a movie,
it was in a B western so bad it almost caused him to quit the business.
short, his was the archetypal show-biz struggle. It ended archetypically, too.
He was visiting a friend at CBS and strolling down one of its long corridors of
power, when a man in a suit, an executive, popped out of a door, took a long look
at this nice-looking kid and asked, "Are you an actor!" Turned out he
was looking for someone to play the second lead in a western series called Rawhide
that the network was about to produce. Thus was Rowdy Yates born. Thus did Clint
Eastwood achieve his first fame and, if not fortune, then the security of a running
part in a series that lasted seven years.
was like most everyone else Clint played in those years--a nice young man, politely
spoken and highly principled, but to him, not very interesting. He once told an
interviewer that he knew he "wouldn't make any impact until [his] 30s"
because in those days he still looked like he was about 18 and "had a certain
amount of living to do." Alas, he was still playing Rowdy, still in effect
a juvenile, when he reached his early 30s, which was terribly frustrating to him.
Which is why he agreed to spend the 1964 Rawhide hiatus in Spain making a western
for an unknown Italian director. The money was poor, the prestige nonexistent,
but the film that was eventually released as A Fistful of Dollars offered him
a character he had never played--a grizzled grown-up, tough and morally ambiguous.
Clint has never been given sufficient credit for the imaginative leap this
undertaking represented, for the courage it required to willfully subvert his
safe, boyish image of the time. By taking this long shot, he not only ended his
long apprenticeship, he became a true rarity--an entirely self-made star.
never considered myself a cowboy, because I wasn't," Clint Eastwood once
said. "But I guess when I got into cowboy gear I looked enough like one to
convince people that I was."
To put it mildly. For actors, more than
most people, genetics is destiny. Historically, we may be sure, there were short,
chubby, talkative cowhands. Bur not in the movies, where the classic western heroes
have always been tall, thin, laconic--and flinty-eyed. Or perhaps one should say,
Clinty-eyed. Anyway, he looked the part, and he gained his first featured roles
(The First Traveling Saleslady, Ambush at Cimarron Pass), his first fame (as Rowdy
Yates in television's Rawhide, the beginnings of international stardom (in the
three spaghetti westerns he made with Sergio Leone) and his Academy Awards (for
Unforgiven) by acting the cowboy. When he went off to Italy to make A Fistful
of Dollars, he was thinking "the western was in a dead place, encrusted with
myth, poetry, stale pictorialism and simple moralizing." The thing that drew
him to this unlikely, low-paying project was the quality that earned it and his
other Leone films so much disapproval when they first appeared--their straightforward,
darkly comic insistence on the primitive and entirely ignoble nature of frontier
impact on the genre was ultimately liberating--to Clint Eastwood as well as to
others working in the form. In the first of the Leone films, Clint's character
was styled as "a grizzled Christ figure" (to use critic Richard Corliss'
phrase) who undergoes a calvary and a resurrection before bringing redemption--at
the end of his gun barrel--to the hellish Mexican border town of San Miguel. In
the first film Clint's Malpaso Productions produced, Hang 'Em High, his character,
Jed Cooper, is hanged and left for dead in the movie's opening minutes. Rescued,
he becomes a lawman who liberates an entire frontier territory from lynch law.
In High Plains Drifter, the first western Clint directed, his character quite
possibly represents a figure reincarnated to bring justice to a town every bit
as evil as San Miguel. In Pale Rider, his Preacher is unquestionably such a figure--returned
from the grave to defend the meek and the weak from their earthly tormentors.
In the two most aspiring of the films he has directed, The Outlaw Josey Wales
and Unforgiven, he plays a man broken in spirit who finds redemption through altruistic
actions reluctantly undertaken (and in the latter, more ambiguously stated).
aspect of the western landscape obviously moves Clint Eastwood to thoughts of
regeneration, for it is not a subject his other films take up. Perhaps such meditations
can be traced back to his boyhood, when his parents took him to Yosemite, and
he first "looked down into that valley" and was moved to something like
a spiritual experience by the silence, the emptiness, the beauty of the place.
If ever a man were lost and needed to find himself, it is in such a place that
he might begin the search. For we find in his westerns, harsh and "realistic"
as they are in tone, that a whispered yearning for--dare one use the word--transcendence
can sometimes be heard.
you once describe yourself as a bum and a drifter!" someone asked Clint Eastwood
a decade ago. "No," came the reply. "What are you, then?"
"A bum and a drifter."
Not really. Not in grown-up life, certainly.
But as a child of the Depression, he was obliged to move about constantly as his
father looked for work--most of it marginal--all over California. As a young man
trying to find himself, Clint spent a couple of years drifting around, doing hard
manual labor-lumberjacking, working in steel mills and aircraft factories. Moreover,
his lifelong passion for jazz drew him at an early age into the low dives where
the music he loved was played. All of this gave him the sympathetic sense of working-class
life, neither patronizing nor indulgent, that marks some of his best, and possibly
most enduring, work.
For most movie stars, humble beginnings are something to allude to briefly when
an interviewer is looking for a little background story. Very few of them return
to those beginnings in their work, and none have done so as consistently as Clint
Eastwood. Just about everyone at the studio advised him not to do Every Which
Way but Loose, his lowbrow comedy about Philo Beddoe, the bare-knuckle boxer whose
best pal is Clyde, an affable orangutan. But Clint saw in the project something
of his hang-out-with-the-guys past, and audiences found in this rough, funny,
hugely profitable movie (and its sequel, Any Which Way You Can) a goofy, likable
character they could more easily take to heart than, say, his grimly taciturn
westerners or larger-than-life Dirty Harry Callahan.
Loose loosened Clint
up. It made it possible for him to relax the set of his jaw, let the ice in his
eyes melt a little, allow the droll side of his nature some play. The film helped
launch a line of work that includes two films that Clint always lists among his
own favorites: Bronco Billy, the story of an erstwhile New Jersey shoe salesman,
honchoing his rag-tag Wild West Show along the backroads to nowhere; and Honkytonk
Man, the tragi-comic saga of Red Stovall, a country singer whose largest talent
is for self-destruction. Neither ranks among his most popular films, but both
pay sweet tribute to the power of American dreaming. Both recognize, as most movies
do not, that blue-collar people can be possessed by those dreams, too.
By S.W. Pickens