Authors: Marc Eliot
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Cary Grant: A Biography
Song of Brooklyn: An Oral History of America’s Favorite Borough
Death of a Rebel: Starring Phil Ochs and a Small Circle of Friends
Down Thunder Road: The Making of Bruce Springsteen
Roconomics: The Money Behind the Music
Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince
The Whole Truth
To the Limit: The Untold Story of the Eagles
Down 42nd Street: Sex, Money, Culture, and Politics at the Crossroads of the World
You go to an Eastwood movie with definite expectations. From the comically crude … to the gentler epithets of his later films, you know what you’re going to get and, even more important, what you’re
going to get. You’re not going to get everything.
Clint Eastwood is a tall, chiseled piece of lumber—a totem pole with feet … Eastwood seems to be chewing on bullet casings.
Eastwood has a particular grace, every inch that of a “star,” in the old sense … the taut, lean, powerfully built body, the sensitively chiseled unsmiling face, a voice surprisingly soft, the shock of tawny hair, the lithe walk (the most distinctive of any actor’s since Fonda’s), the famous squint and glacial eyes which … produce a certain inarticulate melancholy.
People can know him for years and never be sure of what he’s thinking. He’s one of the warmest people in the world, but there’s a certain distance, a certain mystery to him.
There is something intransigently irreducible in Eastwood, some corner of his soul that no shrink can penetrate … Clint Eastwood is an interesting screen personality because his essence is more interesting than his existence. The screen functions to freeze life styles into myth rather than to adjust life forces into art. The beauty of actors is that they are basically vain enough and stupid enough to allow themselves to be embalmed for the edification of their audience.
I’m an actor playing roles; all of them and none of them are me.
FROM AIMLESS TO ACTOR
FROM ACTOR TO AUTEUR
FROM AUTEUR TO OSCAR
I grew up watching movies in an era when there wasn’t even television, nothing else even to listen to. I was shaped by John Ford, Howard Hawks, Preston Sturges, those were the guys, plus a ton of other people we don’t know the names of who made “B” movies
lint Eastwood stands tall among the most popular and enduring stars Hollywood has ever produced. He has been making movies for more than fifty years, ranging from small, meaningless, and forgettable parts as a Universal Studios contract player to acting in, as well as producing and directing, many Oscar-caliber blockbusters that will one day, sooner rather than later, take their place among the best-loved American movies.
Early in his career, Clint spent seven and a half years costarring in TV’s
, and his Rowdy Yates became one of the most popular TV cowboys of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
By the time
ended its eight-season run he had also become an international movie star, following his appearance in three wildly popular spaghetti westerns made and distributed throughout Europe; when they were finally released in America, they made him a big-screen star in the States as well. For the next quarter-century Clint appeared in dozens of entertaining movies that made him a household name anywhere in the world that films could be seen. He was undoubtedly a crowd-pleaser, but at the time the Hollywood elite considered his movies too genre-heavy to be Oscar-worthy.
Then in 1992 Clint produced, directed, and starred in
, a western to (literally) end all westerns, made by his own production company, Malpaso, that he had created to operate as a ministudio in the service of its resident star.
won four Academy Awards, including two for Clint (one for Best Director and one for Best Picture), and the Midas-touch Oscar-style was suddenly his; nearly everything he made for the next fifteen years was deemed award-or
nomination-worthy by the Academy, including
Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima
. Throughout Hollywood’s post-studio era, the first rule of filmmaking has been that youth equals box office—young people go out to the movies, older audiences stay home and watch them on cable and DVD. It is, therefore, even more remarkable that he made all of these movies past the age of sixty.
erhaps more than for any other Hollywood star, the double helix that is Clint’s creative and real-life DNA is so intertwined it is nearly impossible to separate the off-screen person from the on-screen persona. The two feed off each other so thoroughly, it is often difficult to tell where the lives of the characters in his movies end and the life of the man playing them begins.
In the movies that he has thus far acted in, produced, or directed, in various combinations wearing one or more of these hats, three essential Clint Eastwood screen personae continually reappear. The first is the mysterious man without a past who is resolute in his loneness, the Man with No Name, who appeared in the three Sergio Leone westerns
—A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly—
then reappeared slightly altered in
Hang ’Em High
The Outlaw Josey Wales
, and took several other guises and variations all the way through to
. The second persona is “Dirty” Harry Callahan, whose essentially nihilistic loner personality continually reemerges up to and including
. And finally, there is the good-natured redneck, who uses his fists the way a more thoughtful person uses words and who makes his first appearance as Philo Beddoe in
Every Which Way but Loose
and returns again and again on the way to
All three characters in their various incarnations are viscerally connected to the real-life Clint. All three are quintessential loners, unlike any other in the canon of American motion pictures. The other cinematic “men alone” who most immediately come to mind are not really loners at all—that is to say, they are loners Hollywood style, buffered with the idealized images of the actors who played them. Probably mainstream films’ greatest “loner” is Gary Cooper as the isolated sheriff in Fred Zinnemann’s
(1952). Yes, Will Kane
heroically stands alone to face his enemies, but in truth he is not alone at all, as in the end he relies on the love of his wife, and her reluctant use of a gun that saves his life; and when all the fighting has ended, the two of them ride off together into the sunset. Another who comes to mind is Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine, the neutral American caught in the crosswinds of World War II in Michael Curtiz’s
(1942). He proudly boasts that “I stick my neck out for nobody” and then does precisely that for the woman he loves, in this case Ingrid Bergman, in an act so unselfishly noble that the very idea that he was ever a loner is so absurd it becomes laughable. James Bond appears to be the ultimate loner, but we now know that he lost his one true love early on and both seethes with revenge and longs with lust, no longer for any single woman but, apparently, all of womankind. On a nobler plane, Charlton Heston in Cecil B. DeMille’s
The Ten Commandments
(1956) is isolated from his family, his people, his land, and his heritage. Yet he still needs someone to lean on, in this case the Almighty himself, who provides the love, guidance, and moral sustenance that establish quite profoundly that even Moses did not go it alone.
Clint’s movie characters need nothing and no one more than or beyond themselves. Whether he is surrounded by vicious killers or predatory women (oftentimes one and the same), faceless adversaries (as opposed to the Man with No Name), by serial man-hunters pursued and ultimately defeated by someone dirtier (and therefore stronger) than they are, or even by buddy-buddy orangutans, the Man with No Name, Dirty Harry, and Philo Beddoe all arrive alone at the start and leave alone at the end. They rarely, if ever, win the heart of any woman because they almost never pursue women. On the few occasions when a Clint character reluctantly finds himself to be involved with one, the relationship remains distant, cynical, unromantic, and for the most part nonintimate; the so-called love story is always the least interesting part of any Clint Eastwood movie. His loners are unable, unwilling, and therefore unavailable to fulfill the wishes of those men or women who want to be with him, but not of those in the audience who dream of being like him. With this brand of character, Clint delivered something original and provocative to American motion pictures.
In real life, too, Clint has frequently been described as something of a loner, even in his early and undistinguished film appearances, even when married and playing the role of the happy Hollywood husband. All through his first marriage’s thirty-one years,
there were loud whispers that he was not the family man he appeared to be but a lone-wolf womanizer—a role certainly not unique in a town that sees womanizing as something glamorous, even heroic, and where the locker-room lingo of beer-boosted braggadocio is often raised to the level of bad poetry. Perhaps the label stuck harder to him because of how closely his few on-screen romances overlapped with his many real-life ones. Clint’s off-screen life has always been filled with women, some might say too many, others might say none really at all. While married to Maggie Johnson, he fathered a child out of wedlock, the first of four,
and took numerous lovers. Several of them were costars, in affairs that often began when production on the film commenced and ended after the final shot was completed. Relatively late in his game, at age sixty-six, he finally married, for only the second time, twelve years after his divorce from Maggie became finalized, to a woman thirty-five years younger than himself, this time finding some measure of peace and happiness.
In his salad days he hung out in the seedy bars in and around San Francisco, drinking, playing jazz on house pianos, and in the vernacular of that time and those places, kicking ass in barroom brawls, whose circumstances and resolutions would later be reprised in many of his films. A tough guy in real life, Clint easily and realistically played the tough guy on film, someone who usually settles disputes with a knock-down, drag-out brawl or, as in
A Fistful of Dollars, Dirty Harry
, and many others, with cinema’s classic metaphorical extension of the fistfight, the final, decisive shoot-out.