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EASTWOOD, CLINT: A Hollywood Legend

The man with no name became the man with an ironic name: by rights, he should be called Westwood. From delivery boy to cinematic icon, Clint Eastwood is a Hollywood legend who started in Westerns and then went wherever he wanted. PAUL LePETIT traces his career on the occasion of a new Clint Eastwood Collection out on video from Warner Bros Home Entertainment.

Clint Eastwood was a delivery man when he got his first break: delivering to Universal, he got offered the standard actor's option of $75 a week - not a bad salary in those days, but he did have to appear in films like Revenge Of The Creatures (1955), Francis In The Navy (although he had the inimitable Donald O’Connor as the co-star as well as a mule), Lady Godiva, Tarantula and Never Say Goodbye. There were a couple of small parts at RKJP but his first real break was in Ambush At Cimmarron Pass where he was the second lead to Scott Brady.
"It was the lousiest western I ever made," he said of it.

The movies ground on but television was the new lone star and he was picked by CBS for a new show called Rawhide. He was Rowdy Yates for eight years - but Eastwood the film actor was off the screen for the moment.

"first western leading role"

But the moment passed and in 1959 Eastwood gained $15,000 for his first western leading role - in a film called Per Un Pugno Di Dollari. Good pay when you consider the total budget for the film was $200,000.

But director Sergio Leone knew exactly what he was doing - the surly, violent and visceral cowboy became a hit. As did the style of violent bleak westerns.

By the time the next film rolled around he was earning $50,000 (plus a percentage) and by the time he made The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, he was earning $250,000 (plus that percentage).

By this stage he had made his role model work. He was straight, he was quick, physical and taciturn. Scriptwriters didn’t have a lot to do for Clint. And the model worked again and again in films like Hang ‘Em High, Coogan’s Bluff , the daft war thriller Where Eagles Dare - and Paint Your Wagon where he was a refreshing contrast to Lee Marvin and an even more refreshing contrast to Marvin’s singing.

"he was an individual"

Even before this, however, Eastwood had earned a reputation - he was an individual. Even if his characters on screen didn’t look so different, he was.

So he turned up in the thriller Play Misty For me and broke the mould. He broke it twice by directing the film as well. He broke it again to play Dirty Harry, after Frank Sinatra pulled out with a broken wrist - imagine what a different film that would have been.

"A superhuman character who has all the answers, is doubly cool, exists on his own without society or the help of society’s police," was how he summed up his most successful adventures in the film trade.

And that is the image that Eastwood projected. And probably the image most of us carry with us when we think of Clint Eastwood, the rugged unreconstructed man. A man of action, a fighter not a lover.

"With Dirty Harry he cleaned up and became No 1"

In 1971 the nondescript actor had become No 2 at the box office. With Dirty Harry he cleaned up and became No 1.

By this stage he had been compared to Gary Cooper, another sturdy individual who played a lot of roles that appeared to be similar.

Telly Savalas who appeared in Kelly’s Heroes (1970) with Eastwood summed it up as: "Cooper was perhaps more a man of instinct than Clint, but they both project one thing beautifully: the American hero."

Eastwood was still box office, even if not yet recognised as a major player. But things were changing. His talents as a director were being noted. His screen presence could not be dismissed in the same way as other tough guys' were. And he showed himself to be a master of modern filmmaking in his choice of subject matter and the way he expressed it.

By 1980 he was being given a retrospective by the Museum Of Modern Art in New York. He became Mayor of Carmel (his typically Clint-like quote on the matter was: "Being Mayor of Carmel was a little bit time consuming but there were some things that needed doing.")

"Unforgiven was a reworking of the traditional western"

And by the time the 90s rolled around he had established himself as a star and as a director making Bird, an art house picture about jazzman Charlie Parker and then possibly the last great western, Unforgiven.

With its violence and its bleak outlook on the world, Unforgiven was a reworking of the traditional western. Eastwood played the shooter - but he couldn’t hit the side of a barn (a fact he showed first thing in the film). He took his audience, as it were, to the frontier, and shoved their noses in the squalor, the sad and savage reality of the west.

Even if the audiences came out a little stunned from the experience he won himself and the film Oscars for his efforts.

In the seventies Eastwood had told Variety the essential difference between his style of cowboy and the traditional.

"I do all the stuff that John Wayne would never do"

"I do all the stuff that John Wayne would never do. I play bigger than life characters but I’ll shoot a guy in the back. I go by the expediency of the moment.’’

He proved he could change tack again and again. In a Perfect World he had Kevin Costner in an escaped convict story that challenged the tradition; and in The Bridges Of Madison County, Eastwood took on a romantic lead role opposite Meryl Streep.

The box office still revels in an Eastwood film. Absolute Power, Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil and True Crime all enjoyed success with his name on the banner.

And there’s more to come.

On his private life Eastwood, is as taciturn as a gunfighter in a spaghetti western. He wouldn’t admit it but he has been in turn married to Maggie Johnson, had relationships with Roxanne Tunis and co-star Sondra Locke (his most publicised affair) and a few years ago married Dina Ruiz, 35 years younger.

"Eastwood remains, even around 70, a hero to many"

But Eastwood remains, even around 70, a hero to many. He is a hero to his fans who like his all American approach to problems, a hero to jazz aficionados, a hero to the film industry and to actors because he got out there and did things that were hardly considered before he did them.

And his body of work remains long, large and fruitful. He has made a lot of days.

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To coincide with the video release of Clint Eastwood's tense drama, True Crime, you can WIN an autographed poster of Clint in a silver frame (value $500), plus a copy of True Crime and one of four video libraries of 25 Clint Eastwood movies on VHS, including Dirty Harry and Fistful of Dollars.


True Crime


Mr and Mrs Eastwood Senior made Clint’s (birth)day on May 31, 1930; Mr Eastwood senior was an accountant who had to pump gas through the depression. Following his father’s work he attended a number of schools and then mucked around working as a lifeguard, a lumberjack and in the army a sports coach.


Young Eastwood

Dirty Harry

Fistful of Dollars

Outlaw Josey Wales

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