Clint Eastwood (born 1930) ranks among the world's best known and most successful movie stars. Most of his films have done well at the box office and he has established himself as a director of note.
A 1971 Life magazine cover carried his picture with the tag line "the world's favorite movie star is—no kidding—Clint Eastwood." After that he continued to win box-office and financial success—as well as increasing critical acclaim—well into the 1990s. Born Clinton Eastwood, Jr., on May 30, 1930, in San Francisco, California, he had a tough childhood because of the Great Depression, as his parents moved frequently in search of work, finally settling in Oakland. There he went to high school, graduating in 1948. Striking out on his own, he held various menial jobs before being drafted into the army. Discharged in 1953, he enrolled in Los Angeles City College as a business administration major, supporting himself with various odd jobs which included digging swimming pool foundations.
Bit Parts in "B" Movies
Army friends in the film business urged Eastwood to try his luck. He did, was screen-tested by Universal, and on the basis of his good looks was hired as a contract player in 1955. His salary was $75 a week, and his assignments included minuscule roles in forgettable movies, including Tarantula and Francis in the Navy). After Universal dropped him in 1956, the roles briefly got bigger but not better: Eastwood has described the 1958 Ambush at Cimarron Pass, in which he had a substantial part, as "maybe the worst film ever made."
Notwithstanding an occasional unimpressive role in television series such as "Highway Patrol," by 1958 Eastwood found himself again digging swimming pools for a living. As the result of a chance meeting, he was chosen to play Rowdy Yates, the second lead in the CBS television series "Rawhide." Characterized as "an endless cattle drive," the series lasted seven years (1959-1966), owing much of its success to Eastwood's popular "punk ramrod."
Gains Stardom with "Spaghetti Westerns"
During a hiatus from "Rawhide" in 1964, Eastwood filmed A Fistful of Dollars in Spain for Italian director Sergio Leone. Eastwood portrayed a hired gun, a nameless man, who successfully manipulates—and then ruthlessly kills— rival gangs of bandits. The film catapulted Eastwood from a dead-end television career to stardom in the movies. Over the next two years, Eastwood returned to Europe to film two equally popular sequels, both also featuring the "Man with No Name": For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966).
These films defined the Eastwood screen persona which, as New York Times reporter John Vinocur pointed out, was "a western hero without the westerner's traditional heroic characteristics." Eastwood's character was callous, violent, cynical, tough. Facets of that character were present in his best westerns, such as The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) and Unforgiven (1992), both stark bloody films about an outsider.
The same toughness also characterized many of East-wood's non-western roles. His appeal lay (to use Eastwood's words) in his ability "to hack his way through" because such a person "is almost … a mythical character in our day and age" as everything "becomes more complicated." That capacity underlay what has been described as one of Eastwood's "enduring screen figures"—Harry Callahan, a contemporary San Francisco detective who roams the city defying a legalistic bureaucracy and practicing a vigorous populist brand of justice. Callahan was introduced in Dirty Harry (1971), which critic Pauline Kael found imbued with "fascist medievalism."
No matter what the critics thought, the American public flocked to see Dirty Harry, and the role was reprised in 1973, 1976, 1983, and 1988. All but the last did well at the box office, if not critically, because they (in the words of one writer) seized "the mood of many Americans frustrated by … an ineffectual law enforcement system."
His career, which by 1997 encompassed almost 40 roles, was not without weak spots. He co-starred with an orangutan in the critically attacked comedies Every Which Way But Loose (1978) and Any Which Way You Can (1980), among Warner's highest grossing films in those years. Less successful theatrically but critically well-received was The Beguiled (1971), a Gothic tale about a crippled Union soldier murdered by southern school girls. Critics and moviegoers both agreed the musical Paint Your Wagon (1969) wasted his talents. He had flops in 1989 (The Pink Cadillac) and 1990 (The Rookie).
Eastwood made a striking comeback with Unforgiven (1992) and In The Line of Fire (1993), a taut tale about a Secret Service agent and a potential presidential assassin. Both films won critical plaudits and were among their years' highest grossing films. Unforgiven won Eastwood numerous directing and acting awards, including Oscars for best picture and best direction and a nomination for an Oscar as best actor.
Eastwood's interest in directing reached back to "Rawhide," but CBS allowed him only to direct trailers. He made an auspicious directorial debut in 1971 with Play Misty for Me, a thriller about a psychotic obsessed woman. It received good notices and did well at the box office, as did many of the over one dozen films he directed after it. Most starred him, but one of his finest efforts did not: Bird (1988) dealt movingly with the downbeat life of the jazz great Charlie Parker. Eastwood was a life-long fan of jazz, and jazz music and songs have been a frequent presence on the soundtracks of many of his films.
Eastwood's direction has been described as "a lean location sense of realism"; his technique shows economy, vitality, imagination, and a good sense of humor. In 1993 he said that "favorites among his own films" were Play Misty for Me, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Unforgiven, and Bronco Billy, a sweet 1980 movie about an ex-shoe-salesman from New Jersey (played by Eastwood) who has formed a wild West show with a group of misfits.
Finally Earns Critical Acclaim
From the early 1980s. the critical community began to reassess Eastwood's contribution to cinema. Open hostility turned to grudging acceptance and finally to admiration. More and more people began to appreciate Eastwood's contribution as producer and director, especially in his smaller, more personal films, including Play Misty for Me and Honkytonk Man. While Eastwood told the New York Times Magazine that he "never begged for respectability," he nonetheless flew to Paris in 1985 to accept the honor of Chevalier des Arts et Lettres, a French national award.
In 1992, with Unforgiven, Eastwood finally won his first Academy Awards. After the ceremony, Eastwood told reporters that the wait for the award had been worth it. "I think it means more to me now," he was quoted as saying in the Philadelphia Inquirer. "If you win it when you're 20 or 30 years old, you're wondering, "Where do I go from here?' … You learn to take your work seriously and not yourself seriously, and that comes with time." Three years later, at the 1995 Academy Awards, the film community reaffirmed its respect for Eastwood's body of work. The Academy bestowed upon him the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, which is given to producers or directors for consistently high quality of motion picture production.
Eastwood has not, however, rested on his laurels. In the summer of 1995, he directed and starred in The Bridges of Madison County. The film, based on the best-selling novel by Robert James Waller, follows a National Geographic photographer as he is sent on assignment to photograph covered bridges in Iowa. While there he has a passionate three-day affair with an Italian-born farm wife, played by Meryl Streep. The film enjoyed success as a classic "three-handkerchief weepie." It also received favorable notices from critics. Many praised Eastwood's even-handed and sensitive depiction of the brief affair and, especially, of the farm wife, who came across as much more realized character on screen than she did in the novel.
Absolute Power released in early 1997, was less of a triumph with the pubic and with critics. Eastwood once again directed but played a less romanic lead. His character, an aging Washington, D.C. burglar, accidently watches the president of the United States kill a woman during a sexual tryst.
Seeks Privacy in Personal Life
"Not a Hollywood type," as a 1993 profile explained, Eastwood has made his home in Carmel, California, far from filmdom's party circuit. There he lived a private life, spending time with friends who were not involved in the entertainment industry. And he is known as a loyal employer whose production crew included people who had worked for him for 15 years.
Politically conservative, Eastwood was several times approached by the Republican Party for various positions but he eschewed any public political stance except for a two-year term (1986-1988) as mayor of Carmel. Eastwood sought the position because he disapproved of zoning laws in the village. After serving one two-year term—and changing the laws—he stepped down with no regrets.
Eastwood married Maggie Johnson in 1953; they had a son Kyle (born 1968) and a daughter Alison (born 1972). They separated in the late 1970s, and the marriage ended in 1984, with Maggie Johnson reportedly receiving a settlement of $25 million.
After separating from Johnson, Eastwood spent more than a decade living with actress Sandra Locke, who appeared in many of his films. That relationship broke up acrimoniously at the end of the 1980s, resulting in a palimony suit eventually settled out of court at a cost to Eastwood of more than $7 million. He then established a relationship with Frances Fisher, an actress who appeared in The Pink Cadillac. The two had a baby girl in August 1993, whom they named Francesca Ruth.
In April 1993, Eastwood was interviewed by Dina Ruiz, a television news anchorwoman in Los Angeles, California. Three years later, in March 1996, Eastwood, then aged 65, married Dina Ruiz, 30, in a small private ceremony at the Las Vegas, Nevada, home of gambling casino magnate Steve Wynn.
By 1997, Eastwood had appeared in more than 40 motion pictures and directed 19 of them himself. Over the years his talents, both in front of and behind the camera, have been reevaluated. He won newfound respect for his talents as actor and director. He remained a potent force in the film industry through the 1990s, and for the public he became (to use Newsweek's phrase) "An American Icon."
Further Reading on Clint Eastwood
For additional reading about Eastwood see Boris Zmijewsky and Lee Pfeiffer, The Films of Clint Eastwood (1993), which provides an up-to-date overview of Eastwood's career; C. Frayling, Clint Eastwood (London, 1992), a better than average popular biography; and Paul Smith, Clint Eastwood (1992), a somewhat overheated attempt to deal with Eastwood's impact on American culture. There is a fascinating interview with Eastwood in Focus on Film, 25 (Summer-Autumn 1976), undertaken when Eastwood talked with almost no one. There are also useful and interesting articles such as Bernard Weinraub, "The Last Icon," GQ (March 1993); and John Vinocur, "Clint Eastwood, Seriously," New York Times Magazine (February 24, 1985). An intellectual approach with some good Eastwood quotes is Richard Combs, "Shadowing the Hero," in Sight and Sound (October 1992).
Bingham, Dennis. Acting Male: Masculinities in the Films of James Stewart, Jack Nicholson, & Clint Eastwood (Rutgers University Press, 1994). Clinch, Minty. Clint Eastwood (Hoder & Stoughthton, 1995). Gallafent, Edward. Clint Eastwood: Filmaker and Star (Continuum, 1994). Knapp, Laurence. Directed by Clint Eastwood: Eighteen Films Analyzed. (McFarland, 1996). Munn, Michael. Clint Eastwood: Hollywood's Loner (Parkwest, 1993). O'Brien, Daniel. Clint Eastwood Film Maker (Trafalgar Square, 1997). Schickel, Richard. Clint Eastwood: A Biography (McKay, 1996). Tanitch, Robert. Clint Eastwood (Studio Vista Books, 1995). Thompson, Douglas. Clint Eastwood: Riding High (1992).