A look at the fascinating life of this talented actor, renowned for his way-out-west rugged charm and his portrayal of Dirty Harry.
With a diverse career that spans over six decades, from television and blockbuster movies, to writing film scores, and winning Academy Awards, Clint Eastwood has established himself as one of the most respected actors and directors of his time.
Eastwood’s decision to get into acting came in 1953 whilst he was serving as a G.I. and boot camp swimming instructor in the US Army. Based in Northern California, he was encouraged by fellow Army friends, David Janssen and Martin Milner, to move to Los Angeles and try acting. They saw that he had the rugged good looks and mysterious aura that might impress the big shots in Hollywood.
There was also a new girl in his life, Maggie Johnson, who was going to be moving back to her hometown of LA shortly after graduating from the University of Berkeley. She also had a hand in persuading him to head south to Hollywood. Smitten, the 23-year-old Eastwood married her just six months after they met. It was a marriage that would last 26 years, an impressive length of time for any Hollywood couple.
A few months after arriving in LA in 1954, Eastwood landed a contract with Universal Studios earning $75 a week playing small parts in B-grade movies such as 'Revenge of the Creature' (1955) and 'Tarantula' (1955). He was later dropped, on the same day as Burt Reynolds, because his Adam’s apple was too big!
Eastwood brushed off the dismissal and persisted with his acting career. In order to support himself financially, Eastwood earned a living for the next few months digging swimming pools in the Hollywood Hills. He managed to secure one-off appearances in TV episodes such as 'Death Valley Days' (1956) and 'West Point' (1957).
Then, in 1958, whilst going to visit a friend of Maggie’s at CBS, it seemed his luck had finally changed. He was approached by a man in a suit, a studio executive. He took a long look at Eastwood and asked, “Are you an actor?” It turned out that they were looking for someone to play the second lead in a western series called 'Rawhide' and Eastwood looked just like a cowboy. He could be the handsome cattle-driver, Rowdy Yates! Eastwood accepted and filming started shortly after.
Rawhide was one of forty other Western TV series in competition on our screens at the time it begun. It became a lasting success and its longevity brought Eastwood financial security and fame. The series, which ran from 1958 – 1966, also featured a number of other notable actors including Charles Bronson, Mary Astor, Dean Martin, and Cesar Romero.
A fashionable thing for TV stars to do during this period was to release a pop record (providing you could actually sing!). When Rawhide limped into its seventh series, Clint Eastwood was keen to diversify and decided to put his vocals recording three pop songs, called 'Unknown Girl', 'Rowdy', and 'For You, and For Me, For Evermore'. An LP was later released called 'Rawhide’s Clint Eastwood Sings Cowboy Favourites', which was perhaps not the most memorable and inspiring record of 1962.
After Rawhide, Eastwood landed the role as “The Man With No Name” in the Dollars’ trilogy, which would lead him to stardom in the ‘spaghetti westerns’. Italian director, Sergio Leone desperately wanted to cast Henry Fonda or Charles Bronson for the lead, but he was on a very tight budget and simply couldn’t afford them. Eastwood agreed to take $15,000 and off he went to Spain, poncho in toe, to film 'A Fistful of Dollars' (1964). Leone’s trademark style of using little dialogue, extreme close-ups and a sense of gritty realism, suited Eastwood’s style of acting perfectly and the film was a surprise box-office smash.
The next two films in Leone’s trilogy, 'For a Few Dollars More', (1965), and 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly', (1966), received considerably more funding due to the success of the first film. All three of Leone’s films were a commercial success in both Europe and the US. On returning home from Spain and Italy in 1966, Eastwood had become a fully-fledged movie star, the only post-1960 Hollywood cowboy.
Eastwood went on to star in another western, 'Hang ‘Em High' (1967) and then, in 'Coogan’s Bluff' (1968), where he played a deputy chief who doesn’t get on with his boss, and doesn’t do things by the book. This film marked the beginning of a long and prosperous collaboration with director, Don Siegel.
After starring with Richard Burton in 'Where Eagles Dare' (1968), and performing in the musical, 'Paint Your Wagon', Eastwood became irritated about how much money was being wasted during the making of such productions. He longed for more creative control of the movies in which he starred and so he decided to form his own production company. In 1968, Malpaso Productions was born.
Malpaso – known as ‘bad step’ in Spanish - is derived from the name of a creek, south of Carmel, where Eastwood spent much of his life. The name came to him after recalling the time his agent warned him not to agree to work on the Dollars’ trilogy, saying it would be a ‘bad step’. An ironic but funny choice.
Malpaso’s first film, directed by Don Siegel, was 'The Beguiled: The Storyteller' (1971), ranked by many critics as a veritable work of art. Based on the novel by Thomas Cullinan, it tells the story of an injured Civil War bluecoat who is given sanctuary in a girl’s finishing school. 1971 was a productive year for Eastwood. Not only was Don Siegel directing Malpaso’s first movie, Eastwood finally got to direct his first film, a thriller called 'Play Misty For Me' (1971), in which he plays an affable DJ stalked by an obsessed female fan.
Eastwood then starred in what was his most famous debut since the ‘Man With No Name’: Inspector Harry Callahan, the toughest, trigger-happy cop in town, armed with a .44 Magnum and an explosive personality. The film was 'Dirty Harry' (1971).
"I know what you're thinking. Did he fire six shots or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I've kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a 44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clear off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya punk?"
This tough-guy, anti-hero approach cemented Eastwood’s reputation as an electrifying talent but also as an actor who only appears as the archetypal violent American. Moreover, according to some critics, films like Dirty Harry, which was released during the Vietnam War, had underlying political connotations.
Eastwood has always maintained that all of his films are apolitical and what he has in mind when making a film is whether it's going to be entertaining and compelling. He’s been quoted as saying:
"People jumped to conclusions about Dirty Harry without giving the character much thought, trying to attach right-wing connotations to the film that were never really intended. I think it was interpreted as a pro-police point of view, as a kind of rightist heroism, at a time in American history when police officers were looked down on as 'pigs', as very oppressive people - I'm sure there are some who are, and a lot who aren't."
Eastwood is, however, open about being a Republican and in 1968, attended President Nixon’s landslide victory celebrations along with fellow actors, John Wayne, Charlton Heston and Glen Ford. Eastwood has also given his support to environmental causes, proving he’s a conservationist as well as a conservative!
Before, and after Dirty Harry, Eastwood’s love life was often the subject of much discussion among his peers and in the media. Photographs show him with a string of beautiful women by his side, but never with his wife, Maggie. Unsurprisingly, he was dubbed a womaniser and a “sexual cowboy”. Maggie had heard the rumours about her husband’s extra-marital affairs but never questioned him. She later said in one interview, “Other women? I was never realistic about some things. I used to always hope for the best… I didn’t dwell on it because it would probably have driven me insane. I just preferred to hang in there and not worry too much about it”.
After 15 years of marriage, Maggie finally persuaded her husband to give her a child. In 1968, their son, Kyle Clinton was born. But as Maggie was to find out in 1972, he had already fathered a child to Roxanne Tunis, an occasional extra on Rawhide, four years earlier (1964). They had both kept the birth a secret, and Eastwood promised to provide Roxanne continued financial stability for her and their daughter, Kimber.
In the same year that Maggie found out about Clint’s other family, another woman entered her husband’s life. Sondra Locke, who rose to fame in 'The Heart is a Lonely Hunter' (1968), was cast by Eastwood to star with him, in 'The Outlaw Josey Wales' (1976), which he also directed. It was during the production of this film that they began a romantic relationship. Locke was to star in five further movies with him, including 'The Gauntlet' (1977), 'Any Which Way You Can' (1980), 'Bronco Billy' (1980), 'Sudden Impact' (1983), and 'Every Which Way But Loose' (1978), the latter being the third biggest box office hit for Warner Brothers (following 'The Exorcist'), earning more than $60 million. Eastwood treated himself to a $100,000 Ferrari.
Having lived for the past two years with Sondra Locke, who was also married to someone else, Eastwood and Maggie Johnson finally decided to separate in January 1979. It was an amicable split, unlike the one Clint was to face nine years later with Locke, who leaked her lawsuit to the world’s media showing her entitlement for his two houses in LA and a chunk of his $140 million fortune.
In 1986, Eastwood ran for mayor of Carmel in Northern California, one of America’s richest communities. It was reported that his decision for running was due to a series of clashes he had had with the council because they refused planning permission to renovate his restaurant, the Hog’s Hearth. Once elected (he won with three quarters of the votes), he promised to take two years out of making films, to concentrate on his new role as mayor. Like many politicians, he didn’t live up to his promises, and went ahead and did two poorly received films: 'Heartbreak Ridge' (1986) and 'The Dead Pool' (1988).
During this period, Eastwood had two further children, this time with former air stewardess, Jacelyn Reeves. Scott Eastwood was born in 1986 and Kathryn Eastwood in 1988. He then had one more child out of wedlock in 1992, with actress Frances Fisher. Their daughter is called Francesca-Fisher-Eastwood. That same year Eastwood won an Academy Award for Best Director for 'Unforgiven' (Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman), considered by many to be one of the greatest Western films of all time.
The 1990s also saw Eastwood appear in movies including 'In The Line of Fire' (1993), 'A Perfect World' (1993), 'The Bridges of Madison County' (1995), 'Absolute Power' (1997) and 'True Crime' (1999). He kicked off the new millennium by teaming up with Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and James Cromwell for 'Space Cowboys' (2000), which he also directed. The film won a Blockbuster Entertainment Award nomination for favourite action team and performed well at the box office.
After performing poorly at the box office with his next film, 'Blood Work', (2002) Eastwood went on to achieve great critical and commercial success with his subsequent projects as a director. 2003’s 'Mystic River', which starred Sean Penn and Tim Robbins, won him Academy Award nominations for best director and best picture. 'Million Dollar Baby' (2004), in which he also starred alongside Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman, delivered the goods by winning four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Eastwood’s innovative take on the Battle of Iwo Jima, which saw him direct two movies released in 2006, delivered more award nominations and critical praise. While 'Flags of Our Fathers' portrayed the American viewpoint of the battle, 'Letters from Iwo Jima' told the story from the Japanese point of view and won a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, before being nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. 'Grace Is Gone' (2008), as well as 'Changeling', 'Gran Torino' and 'Invictus', which were released in 2009, all won award nominations.
Although he is cutting back on screen time, Eastwood does not appear ready to down his tools yet behind the scenes and directed 2010's 'Hereafter' and 'Dave Brubeck: In His Own Sweet Way', with J. Edgar set for release in 2012.
His personal life also appears successful. In March 1996, Eastwood got married for the second time. He exchanged vows with former TV anchor Dina Ruiz, whom he met in 1992 after the success of 'Unforgiven'. They have a daughter together, called Morgan, and currently live a happy, settled life at their Pebble Beach residence near Carmel.
Looking back over Eastwood’s impressive career, there is no doubt that his success on both sides of the camera has assured him a place in cinema history. The lean, laconic legend shows no signs of hanging up his Stetson just yet, with more projects still in the pipeline.