From the moment he rode his mule into San Miguel five decades ago, Clint Eastwood took cinematic lore into his own hands. Variously dubbed a serial adulterer, feminist filmmaker, Mr Sexy and The Biggest actor in the World, he has created characters to rival his own tempestuous nature and given the screen some of its most compelling heroes. “Anybody that doesn’t want to get killed best clear on out the back…”
“Robert De Niro puts on a personality the way someone else might put on a suit.” mused Sergio Leone. “Clint Eastwood hurls himself into a suit of armour and lowers the visor with a rusty clang.”
After nonchalantly proposing that three coffins be prepared, the expressionless cheroot-chewer says to the baroque bushwhackers who have laughed at his mule: “My mule don’t like people laughing at him, so if you’d kindly apologise.”
They don’t, so he plugs them calmly but remorselessly with lead. “When the producers saw the rushes they thought I was doing nothing, that it was a disaster,” recalls Clint Eastwood of his time on A Fistful of Dollars.
“The opposite of playing to the gallary, I showed no emotion whatsoever.” Sergio Leone reasoned: “When Michelangelo was asked what he had seen in a particular block of marble, which he chose among hundreds of others, he replied that he saw Moses.But what I saw in Clint was simply a block of marble.”
Leone had also seen the opportunity to save wads of cash on his low-budget film that would redefine the western and launch the movie career of the man who was once Hollywood’s richest star.
Originally, Leone had wanted Henry Fonda to play his anti-hero, then James Coburn, Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson or Ray Cohoun. But Clint would do the dirty work for $7500, $4500 less than the others wanted, and would also bring along his own costume and enthusiasm for Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (which inspired A Fistful of Dollars).
Leone had spotted Clint as Rowdy Yates in “The Incident of the Black Sleep” – episode 91 of Rawhide. He was the right man for the job. He stripped all motivation, background and history from The Man With No Name, at one point persuading Leone to cut three pages of dialogue down to two sentences:
“I knew someone like you once. She had no one to help her.” The script got shorter and shorter and the pauses longer and longer, and the enigma that is Clint was off and running. yet what answers are available for the dying bandit who pleaded: “Who are you?”
The Man Behind The Man With No Name has had countless names. A hefty hunk of baby, 11lbs 6oz at birth, Clinton Eastwood Jr was called “Samson” and “Our Diaper Model” by maternity ward nurses.
Oh, how his mother (to who he later dedicated his Unforgiven Oscar) must have thrilled with pride. In 1957 the ex-lifeguard and ex-lumberjack, now 27, was billed incorrectly – by an asshole at TV Guide – as Cliff Eastwood. But by the early seventies, having portrayed The Magnificent Stranger (or several of them) and Nietzschean policeman Dirty Harry, Clint was The Biggest Actor in The World (to quote Life Magazine).
He has been called The Worst Husband in Hollywood by Screen magazine; His Highness by daughter Kimber; The Pope by his staff; and The Tallest Man At The Party by Princess Diana.
He remains “Il Cigarillo” to Italians, despite his hatred of cheroots. (Before shooting For A Few Dollars More, he begged Leone not to use cigars again as props, having wanted to vomit during Fistful.
But Leone insisted: “The cigar’s playing the lead, Clint.”). More aptly, he was also dubbed The Judge of Sheer Assholes.
Assholes have long been a part of his life. In the mid-to-late Fifties, having been successfully screen-tested in a jockstrap for agent Arthur Lubin (“That’s all he did.
That’s all he could do”), Clint is said to do have challenged a gun-pulling Latino out Trader Vic’s in Hollywood. He replied: “Go on and pull the trigger, you son-of-a-bitch asshole and I’ll kill you before I hit the ground.”
This was a tasteful precursor to Harry Callahan’s stern calm, and the sense is recreated in 1972’s Joe Kidd, which marked his return to period Westerns after Don Siegel’s modern take on the genre, Dirty Harry.
Clint once told Normal Mailer (who called him The Most Important Small-Town Artist in America) that to play anger, all he had to do was remember his early days looking for work in Hollywood.
“I hated it. I wanted to pull people out of their seats and say, “Don’t talk to me that way.” He was first spotted (for a bit part) by the director of Tarantula while delivering a truckload of dirt at Universal Studios.
But his contract was not renewed because his voice was too soft, Adam’s apple too prominent and eyes too squinty (“If I lose my squint I think my whole career would go down the tubes,” he said later)… so he moved on to digging swimming pools.
The anger was retained offstage years later. “For a guy who’s as cool as Clint is, there are times when he has a temper,” noted director Don Siegel.
While ex-girlfriend Sondra Loke said, “He’s one of the most sensitive, gentlest men… with the most horrifying temper”, and reported seeing him put his fist through a doot.
Clint might undertake relaxing transcendental meditation every day, but he was happy to drive through Paramount’s unopened gates when the security guard took too long to open them. He wears a fishing hat in public to avoid recognition, but when he was ignored by James Dean, he shouted into his face: “Goddamn it fella, stand up when I speak to you!”
David Brown, co-producer of The Eiger Sanction, declared, “Clint abhors violnce”, but Eastwood has bankrolled an (unsuccessful) incursion of mercenaries into Loas and once destroyed his fireplace when he couldn’t light the fire.
He also trashed the contents of his private office when the asshole phone played up.
Critic Pauline Kael fiercely called Clint “the reductio ad absurdum of macho”.
And Clint responded, “My idea of a good evening is to have a couple of beers then squeeze the cans. It makes you feel kinda macho.” The same year he and his first wife Maggie finished building their epic dream home, Clint severed their relationship over the height of the showerhead in their ensuite bathroom. It was too low.
Clint’s professional unpredictability has seen him move – in five years (1984 to 1988) – from mid-life crisis and hard sex in Tightrope to big guns and buddy jokes in City Heat; from dusty western Pale Rider to the marine battle of Heartbreak Ridge; from jazz in Bird to radio-controlled toy car bomb-chasing Harry in The Dead Pool.
“I liked Cagney and Bogart because they did crazy things,” he says of his film heroes. “They’d play a romantic lead in one film then a real bad guy in another. They were fearless.”
He has further explained, “There’s no master plan. Just one long improvisation,” referring to himself as “a bum and a drifter”.
“I want to have a well-rounded career that lasts 40 years and beyond and strive to expand all the time,” says Clint, weighing up westerns, thrillers, mysteries, adventures, war pics, comedies, and – in old age – romances. “I have taken chances; never relied on keeping the hot hand when I had one.”
Richard Burton praised Clint’s “marvellously dynamic lethargy”. Working with him on Where Eagles Dare, clint wisely proposed: “Burton has a magnificent voice. Let him do the talking, I’ll do the killing.”
But when it comes to using his vocal cords musically, Clint is prepared to perform. Most impressive are stories that, in his twenties, Clint would play the piano at parties until his bony fingers bled and that he sneaked into a Charlie Parker concert at the age of 15. He went on to make a biopic of Charlie Parker called Bird 43 years later.
President Reagan also wanted to be Clint (using his Dirty Harry slogan during a tax battle with congress); then, George Bush Snr. wanted Clint as his presidential running mate in 1988.
But Clint only wanted to be Mayor of Carmel, posting “Go ahead – Make Me Mayor” stickers all over town, paying $100 for every voter in promotion, and billing himself as “A perfect Californian Liberal”. After winning, he attended the first local council meeting in a Dirty Harry jacket and repealed local ordinances that banned women from wearing high-heeled shoes and eating ice-cream cones outdoors.
Clint has been known to take the law into his own hands. In two road-rage-inspired acts, he jumped up and down on the roof of a car that sneaked ahead of him into a public car park and drove into the car of a woman he discovered in his private parking space.
In Unforgiven, he finally bagged the Oscar he’d told a friend he would never get because he was too successful, wasn’t Jewish and couldn’t give a shit). Clint had his biggest cake and ate it.
His character temporarily leaves his young children to go make some money for them by tracking and killing the man who mutilated a frontier prostitute. En route, he declares a fear of death and guilt about his past and reports that he is not going back to mindless violence.
His partner in vengeance is Morgan Freeman, and when his partner is tortured and killed by the sheriff (Gene Hackman, who considered the script too violent), Clint finally lets rip, seemingly fearlessly, against multiple assholes in Big Whiskey. Some critics viewed the film as his anti-violence western swansong.
“John Wayne wouldn’t shoot a man in the back – but I’m not John Wayne”, he once noted, old Wayne having sent him a message proposing that High Plains Drifter showed the antithesis of the American frontier spirit.
“It’s a whole number nowadays to make people feel guilty on different levels,” Clint once told an interviewer.” “It doesn’t bother me because I know where the fuck I am on his planet, and I don’t give a shit.”
Clint’s ex, Sondra Locke, Had a few choice things to say about Clint in her autobiography “From The Good, The Bad & The Very Ugly;
CLINT AND COMPARISONS
“I had watched the OJ Simpson trial to TV and as a portrait of the real OJ emerged, his resemblance to Clint was chilling.”
CLINT AND CARPENTRY
“Clint’s closet door made the mistake of sticking, and all hell broke loose. In the blink of an eye he’d punched his fist through the door, then looked sheepishly at me and began to snicker. Later at dinner, someone who could read palms insisted on reading Clint’s. The reader said, “You are a very tranquil man.” The back side of Clint’s hand was still bleeding.”
CLINT AND MONEY
“I had learned well that CLint was more than economical; he was downright cheap – but then, that was something I’d known about him from the beginning.”
CLINT AND COKE
“Clint agreed to direct The Karate Kid for Columbia, but only if his son Kyle could play the lead, But they refused. Clint then banned Coca-Cola from his sight forever more (Coca-Cola and Columbia Pictures were connected).”
CLINT AND CREATURES
“I asked my attorney to plead with Clint to return my pet parrot, Putty because I was worried about him being alone in the dining room all the time. Clint’s response came through an attorney. “Notwithstanding any feelings of affection that Sondra may have developed for it, the parrot named Putty was a gift to CLint”. I never saw Putty again, and Clint changed its name to Paco.”
CLINT AND KIDS
“For the last four years of our relationship, Clint had been living a double life, going between this other woman and me, having children with her. Two babies had been born in the last three years of our relationship, and they weren’t mine.”