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
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
"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
"Unforgiven was a reworking of the traditional
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
"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
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.