26 May Clint Eastwood History – Rise to fame
Like all great achievers Eastwood’s life have been ups and downs, a bit of luck and a lot of hard work. His life is a reminder of what a man can do if he finds his right place in the world. It just so happens that this man was made to be a badass western actor and director. Fortunately for us it all came together for Eastwood so that he was able to deliver the countless classics that we still enjoy to this day.
Clinton “Clint” Eastwood Jr. was born on May 31st 1930 to parents Clinton Eastwood Sr. and Margaret Ruth Eastwood. The family moved around a lot due to Eastwood Sr.’s work, however, Clint spent most of his childhood in Piedmont, California. He attended Oakland Technical High School and during his high school years he had different odd jobs in the local area including lifeguard, logger, forest firefighter and gas station attendant. In 1951 he was drafted into the US army and served as a swimming instructor at Fort Ord in California. Some say he avoided being sent to Korea by dating the daughter of one of the officers at Fort Ord but this rumor is unconfirmed. In those days it was normal for serving men to hitch a ride on the army planes when they were going home on leave. During one of such flights Eastwood’s life almost came to a horrific end when the plane he was on, a WWII Douglas Skyraider, ran out of fuel and crashed into the ocean near Point Reyes in California. His skills in the water came in handy as he and the pilot had to swim 3 miles through shark infested waters to reach the shore. Eastwood has later said that at the time he didn’t know that there was sharks in the area and that if he had known he probably wouldn’t have made it. We are glad he did though! In the army Eastwood made friends with actors David Janssen and Martin Millner who exposed him to the idea of moving to Hollywood which he did after ending his time in the military in 1954. In Hollywood he had a few minor roles in movies such as Tarantula and Revenge of the Creature. He had some rough years with not much luck as an actor and at one point he had to resort to digging swimming pools for the rich people in the hills. He got his first big break in 1958 when he landed the role as Rowdy Yates in the popular western series Rawhide.
”So we went swimming. It was late October, November. Very cold water. I found out many years later that it was a white shark breeding ground, but I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time or I’d have just died.” – Clint Eastwood
Allegedly he got the role when he went to visit a friend at CBS in Hollywood and a studio executive called him out because he had the “cowboy look”. Eastwood was hired for 750$ an episode. As the show’s popularity rose through the early sixties, so did Clint Eastwood’s and soon he was known far and wide in the US as the young and foolhardy Rowdy Yates. Eastwood, however, did not feel comfortable in this role as his he felt his temperament was more fitted for an older and more experienced character. He stayed in the job for 8 seasons and even became the lead actor of the series when Eric Fleming quit before shooting the final season, skyrocketing Eastwood’s salary to 119.000$ pr. episode. Eastwood had some of the longest days of his career while working on Rawhide, up to twelve hours a day. This drastically changed when he himself started directing as he is known to run a tight shooting schedule. One or two shots and it’s done, everyone goes home after lunch. While shooting Rawhide, Eastwood already started tinkering with directing. He shot a few trailers for the show and even tried convincing the producers to let him direct an episode but to no avail. While he was still doing Rawhide, an offer came to Eastwood. A guy called Sergio Leone was making a western in Spain and he needed a cowboy. A bunch of Hollywood actors, including Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson and James Coburn, had declined the job before it was offered to Eastwood on recommendation of Richard Harrison. The movie was A Fistfull of Dollars and as we already know, this was the beginning of a great career for Clint Eastwood.
“In Rawhide I did get awfully tired of playing the conventional white hat. The hero who kisses old ladies and dogs and was kind to everybody. I decided it was time to be an anti hero.” – Clint Eastwood
The Dollars trilogy
A Fistful of Dollars was the first of three movies that would come to define both Eastwood’s acting career and the genre of western movies. Sergio Leone was looking to reinvent the genre which had become repetitive and unoriginal. He wanted to bring something new to the picture, something raw and violent yet believable. This became the Man With no Name, the anti hero character that Eastwood was searching for at the time. It would soon be apparent that Eastwood fit the role perfectly. His macho and non-verbal demeanor became a hit among western fans and suddenly everybody wanted to be like him. The follow up, For a Few Dollars More, was also a success but it was the third and final movie, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, that really hit home. It became a classic not only of the genre but of the art form of movie making. The scenes, the characters, the costumes (particularly Clint Eastwood’s poncho), the infamous soundtrack, it all became cultural reference points that we still use to this day. It became the essence of the wild west and it revived the genre for many decades to come.
”[The Dollars trilogy] were stories that hadn’t been used in other Westerns. They just had a look and a style that was a little different at the time. I don’t think any of them was a classic story like [John Wayne’s 1956] The Searchers or something like that. They were more fragmented, episodic, following the central character through various little episodes.” – Clint Eastwood
Ensuing success and directing
The Dollars trilogy wasn’t shown in the United States until 1967. Despite its bad reviews it turned out to be a huge success that made Clint Eastwood a major star. The year after Eastwood starred in another western picture, this time the American produced Hang ‘Em High, which was also a success. He also started experimenting with other genres while still sticking to his trademark acting style. He starred in Coogan’s Bluff, a detective story with western influences, and Where Eagles Dare, a WWII flick. By this time Eastwood had founded his own production company, Malpaso Productions, in order to realize his ambitions as a director. This company would be the center of activity for the rest of Eastwood’s career, producing the majority of his movies. In 1971 he directed his first movie, Play Misty For Me, a psychological thriller about a radio DJ (Eastwood) who gets stalked by a female fan. ’71 was also the year of birth of another iconic Clint Eastwood character, Dirty Harry. Eastwood was quickly becoming an institution in Hollywood. He had a lot on his plate in those days but he kept making classic westerns throughout this period. Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970), Joe Kidd (1972) and High Plains Drifter (1973), the first western directed by Eastwood himself. He did one more western in the 70’s, The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976). The movie was based on the novel Gone to Texas by Forrest Carter which Eastwood was allegedly given by Burt Reynolds. The movie was well received and Eastwood considers it one of the highlights of his career. After The Outlaw Josey Wales Eastwood didn’t make another western for almost a decade. In 1985 he returned to the genre with the movie Pale Rider which became the highest grossing western of the 80’s. In 1992 Eastwood put the final dot on his western career with the critically acclaimed Unforgiven. It is considered one of the best and most real westerns of all time and many even believe it to be even better than the classic Dollar trilogy. Eastwood has said that the romanticizing westerns of the 40’s and 50’s were great but he wanted to show the real gritty west and how he imagined it would really have been with this picture. On the topic of making another western, Eastwood has neither dismissed nor confirmed anything, however, he has said that he will continue making movies for as long as he lives so there is still hope!
”Everyone says why don’t you do another western, well that’s easier said than done because if you don’t have the material [the story] and if people don’t write an interesting take on it then it doesn’t add up to anything except repeating yourself or imitating somebody else.” – Clint Eastwood