In a career spanning 65 years, there can be no doubt Clint Eastwood has established himself as an incredibly enduring cultural icon of masculinity, Hollywood’s prototypical male enigma, an eagle in a world of vultures and magpies. Like a couple of other big, taciturn screen legends — John Wayne and Gary Cooper, for instance — only a fraction of who or what Clint Eastwood is has ever shown above the surface. And like Wayne or Cooper, Eastwood is a charismatic, somewhat underrated actor who wasn’t born to play Lear.
While Eastwood, who has turned 90 years of age, is perhaps best known for his pioneering work in the Spaghetti Western genre and Dirty Harry films, his fascinating if slightly controversial life has proven that he is just as legendary off-camera.
I was never too enamoured by those macho laconic types like Clint when I was a kid, dismissing him out of hand as an example of my parents’ generation of idols, despite Eastwood featuring in name and spirit on a song on the very first album I owned, which I’ll come to later.
However, over time I couldn’t fail to notice that Eastwood has proven to be a highly talented director in the later stages of his career, with many of his films being gritty examinations of contemporary issues. In addition, he’s won dozens of awards for his work in the film industry, but this only scratches the surface of what makes Eastwood such an iconic and beloved figure.
As he joins the notable nonagenarian club, here are 10 lesser known facts about the man they call Clint; one for each of the decades he’s been on this planet. Perhaps he’ll even join the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh and make it lucky 13. Then again, as he himself said in Absolute Power, tomorrow is promised to no one.
10. He was fired for having a big Adam’s apple, possibly
The film-making industry can be incredibly harsh for those trying to break through, which is something that Clint learned the hard way. After being encouraged to pursue a film career due to his chiselled good looks, Eastwood was incredibly fortunate and managed to secure a contract with Universal Studios in 1954. He landed a few uncredited roles, but was soon fired for, allegedly, having an Adam’s apple that was too prominent. He was also criticised for the Clint squint and hissing through lines, mannerisms which would go on to become his trademark. Not one to give up, Eastwood supported himself by digging swimming pools in Hollywood Hills.
9. His first role was an uncredited part in Revenge Of The Creature
It is hard to imagine Clint Eastwood in any role that isn’t a tough, gun-slinging anti-hero, but even Hollywood’s greatest have to start somewhere. In 1955, Eastwood took on a minor and uncredited role in Revenge Of The Creature, the sequel to monster-horror classic Creature From The Black Lagoon. Eastwood was cast as a soft-spoken lab technician named Jennings, who thinks that his experiment has gone disastrously, as he has lost one of his test rats. Comically, Jennings then becomes flustered after discovering that the rat is hiding in his lab coat.
8. He became the poster boy for Spaghetti Westerns
A string of minor roles followed this first one, and Clint eventually got his big break in 1958, when he was cast as Rowdy Yates for the Western television series Rawhide. When casting him in the role, it was said that Eastwood looked like a cowboy, which would later help him to become the poster boy of Spaghetti Westerns, and paved the way for him to star in A Fistful Of Dollars, which finally sparked his career (he was already in his mid thirties), and was a major milestone in the history of the movie genre.
7. He had a fanboy thing for Cary Grant
Talk about opposites attract. I have to admit, the lighter, wittier, more verbose matinee idols like the home-grown self creations Cary Grant and Roger Moore were much more my thing when growing up. So I was pleasantly surprised to find Clint happens to be a big fan of Grant as well.
“Well, of course Cary Grant was a huge star when I was growing up, so it was a great pleasure to meet him. I loved some of his pictures, His Girl Friday, North By Northwest and even Arsenic And Old Lace and all those things. I thought he was great, a terrific guy. I grew up watching Cary and James Cagney and that generation where the female actors were Bette Davis and Joan Crawford and Ingrid Bergman.”
They became friends, and Cary Grant’s final televised appearance was in 1986, just three weeks before he died, honouring Eastwood with a telegram from the then President of the United States, the former b-movie actor Ronald Reagan.
6. He ran for Mayor, won, and overturned a ban on ice cream parlours
Eastwood also has a keen interest in politics. He’s far more complex than the right-winger some would have you believe. He’s an environmentalist, former Republican turned member of the Libertarian Party, albeit one who’s sometimes supported Democrats, such as endorsing Michael Bloomberg’s campaign to run against Herr Trump this year.
He even made a successful foray into that arena in 1986, when he was elected mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea, a small wealthy Californian town with a rich artistic history that he got to know during military service in the 1950s. He said he always told himself as a young man that if he “saved any dough he’d buy land there.”
Located in Monterey County, Eastwood considers Carmel his adopted hometown. One focal point of Eastwood’s campaign was to overturn an infamous “ice cream cone” law, which restricted the sale of ice cream cones and fast food. In addition to overturning the ice cream cone law, Eastwood also supported small business interests and constructed a library annex, beach walkways, and public restrooms.
Also, despite what his on-screen persona would have you believe, Eastwood is pro-gun control and has made a point of incorporating anti-violence and anti-gun messages into his films.
5. He told Leonardo DiCaprio he is pro-gay marriage
In a 2011 issue of GQ magazine the steely-gazed slab of machismo told Leonardo DiCaprio this:
“I was an Eisenhower Republican when I started out at 21, because he promised to get us out of the Korean War. And over the years, I realised there was a Republican philosophy that I liked. And then they lost it. And libertarians had more of it. Because what I really believe is, Let’s spend a little more time leaving everybody alone. These people who are making a big deal out of gay marriage? I don’t give a fuck about who wants to get married to anybody else! Why not?! We’re making a big deal out of things we shouldn’t be making a deal out of. They go on and on with all this bullshit about “sanctity”—don’t give me that sanctity crap! Just give everybody the chance to have the life they want.”
He said a similar thing to Ellen Degeneres on her chat show too.
4. He composes film scores, plays the piano, and sings
It’s common knowledge that Eastwood is an immensely talented actor and director, and if you didn’t know, a quick glance over his filmography and award list will bring you up to speed. However, as his former cohort, the distinguished Hollywood actress Sondra Kerr Blake was keen to remind me after posting the GQ meme, if you took a closer look at his film credits, you would also notice that Clint is also a highly talented musician.
He’s played the piano, sung and composed scores to many different films, including Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Flags Of Our Fathers, Grace Is Gone, Changeling, Hereafter and J. Edgar. He also wrote and performed the credits theme for Gran Torino. Eastwood has had a passion for music all of his life, especially jazz and country (and western). One of his sons, Kyle Eastwood, is now a successful jazz bassist and composer too.
3. He has at least 7 Children with 5 Women
There’s a lot more little Eastwoods than just Kyle. Clint has quite the brood, with at least seven children from five different women. He and actress Roxanne Tunis had a daughter, Kimber, in 1964, and she was followed by Kyle (1968) and Alison (1972) with his then-wife Maggie. Eastwood and Maggie divorced in 1984, and in 1986 he then had Scott (who wouldn’t?) and Kathryn (1988) with a flight attendant named Jacklyn Reeves. In 1993, actress Frances Fisher gave birth to his fourth daughter, Francesca. After that, Eastwood married news anchor Dina Ruiz in 1996, with his seventh child, Morgan, born later that year. He was also in a turbulent relationship with the actress Sondra Lerche for 14 years.
2. He’s been immortalised in song by Adam And The Ants, Visage, Gorillaz and more
Malpaso, the name of Clint’s production company, comes from a Malpaso Creek that runs through Carmel. In 1980, Clint was immortalised on record twice, first on Malpaso Man on New Romantic combo Visage’s self-titled debut album, shortly followed by the filmic Los Rancheros on Adam And The Ants’ second album Kings Of The Wild Frontier, which happens to her the first LP I ever owned.
Rancheros trades out the bleak cityscape of the crumbling 1970s for the wide-open sunset vistas of Sergio Leone‘s Spaghetti Westerns, its drifting Morricone breeze riding a shuffling backbeat and gorgeous guitar from Marco Pirroni backing a rare baritone vocal from chief insect warrior Adam — all cowboy song, home on the range and westward bound on horseback — before slipping instantly into that trademark rockabilly help. Plus, you get the amusing thrill of ricocheting six-gun shots in the chorus and the realisation that the backing vocals are simply repeating Clint… Eastwood.
The Ant man was such an admirer of Clint that he dressed up as him in the video for Prince Charming the following year, and as you can see, the likeness was uncanny.
Lastly, due to its similarity to the theme music of The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, in 2001, Clint Eastwood was also the title of the debut single by Damon Albarn’s virtual combo Gorillaz.
1. He made a film across the road from my house and my partner was in it
In 2010, Eastwood shot a portion of his latest film across the road from my house. Written by Peter Morgan (The Queen, The Crown), Hereafter is a supernatural thriller that explores strange phenomena and the afterlife and stars Matt Damon as a reluctant psychic. Some of the London footage showing characters seemingly communicating with their loved ones beyond the grave was shot in the Dulwich area of the capital, at Honor Oak Crematorium (1:14 in the above clip), one street away from the house I’d just purchased.
Not only that, but my co-owner and then partner had a minor supporting role in the film. Thanks to David, I was allowed special dispensation to visit the set one crisp winter’s morning. No photos were permitted but I did get a brief “Hello” and a half-smile from the then 80-year-old auteur. What made it fascinating was being able to observe the lensman’s directing style at close quarters. With an unusual stooped posture, Eastwood was very low-key in his approach, merely mumbling quietly under his breath “All right, go ahead,” instead of shouting “Action!” Tom Hanks, whom Clint later directed in Sully, told Graham Norton that he’d developed that softly spoken approach because “when he did the ’60s series Rawhide, the director would shout ‘Action!’ and all the horses bolted.”
No “Cut!” either. Merely a “That’s enough of that.”
I couldn’t agree more. Happy birthday Clint.
Cover image: Clint Eastwood, Cannes, 1994. © Anton Corbijn