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Authors: Richard Schickel

Clint Eastwood

BOOK: Clint Eastwood
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Acclaim for

“Fascinating … Schickel doesn’t know how to be dull.”

Entertainment Weekly

“A highly readable and nuanced portrait.”

Boston Sunday Globe

“An introduction to a complex, intriguing man of significant accomplishment and seriousness of purpose.… Well worth the price of admission.”

Baltimore Sun

“No mere celebrity bio, this is a beautifully written, comprehensive and astonishingly insightful study.… Outstanding.”

Publishers Weekly


The World of Carnegie Hall The Stars
The Disney Version
Second Sight: Notes on Some Movies, 1965–72
His Picture in the Papers
The Men Who Made the Movies
Another I, Another You
Cary Grant: A Celebration
D. W Griffith: An American Life
Intimate Strangers: The Culture of Celebrity
James Cagney: A Celebration
Schickel on Film
Brando: A Life in Our Times


Richard Schickel has been reviewing movies—first for
, then for
—for exactly as long as Clint Eastwood has been starring in them. He is the author of many books about film and filmmakers, among them
The Disney Version; His Picture in the Papers; D. W. Griffith: An American Life; Brando: A Life in Our Times;
and a collection of essays,
Schickel on Film
. He has held a Guggenheim Fellowship and won the British Film Institute Book Prize. For more than two decades he has been making television documentaries, mainly about the history of movies. He lives in Los Angeles.

© 1996
by Richard Schickel

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, in 1996.

Grateful acknowledgment is made to Hal Leonard Corporation for permission to reprint an excerpt from “Rowdy” by Jesse Lee Turner, copyright © 1963 by Painted Desert Co. International copyright secured. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

The Library of Congress has cataloged the Knopf edition as follows:

Schickel, Richard.
Clint Eastwood : a biography / by Richard Schickel.
p.   cm.
eISBN: 978-0-307-78813-9
1. Eastwood, Clint.   2. Motion-picture actors and actresses—United States—Biography.   3. Motion-picture producers and directors—United States—Biography.   I. Title.
PN2287.E37S35     1996
791.43′028′092—dc20     [B]     96-32836

Random House Web address:


Helen Schickel
Frances Grace Freeman


ne day in December 1982, when he was in New York on business, Clint Eastwood called and invited me to join him for lunch at his hotel. We had met some five years earlier, at the home of mutual friends, and had since kept in touch in just this casual way—the random meal, the casual note or phone call—our agreeable but scarcely intimate relationship surviving even an unfortunate
cover story I had written about him and Burt Reynolds.

As we entered the restaurant this noon we were observed by another acquaintance of mine, a television executive, who was seated at a table with three other men. Putting it mildly, the greeting he waved in my direction was more enthusiastic than I might otherwise have expected. As our meal proceeded I became aware, as well, that he was keeping an eye on Clint and me.

As it happened, both parties rose to leave at the same moment and intersected on the way to the exit. Introductions were now inescapable, and it turned out that one of the men dining with my friend was Abba Eban, the Israeli statesman. As Clint extended his hand to him, Eban, instead of grasping it, dropped into a slight crouch, drew his hand up from an imaginary holster, pointed a finger at Clint and gave a very passable imitation of a six-shooter being fired.

Clint did not catch Eban’s name or recognize him (foreign affairs are not his strongest suit), thus did not see this gesture for what it was in part—an invitation to bonding between the two most celebrated figures present. To him, this stranger was just another in a long line of temporarily unhinged fans to be gently turned aside. True to his image, he remained cool under fire, smiling bemusedly until Eban shook off his fit of boyish regression and, at last, shook hands.

I record this anecdote not to embarrass a man whose ebullience is, I imagine, quite unembarrassable, but to suggest that even sophisticated people have a tendency to understand Clint too quickly, too easily. In
those days, of course, it was convenient to see him simply as a cowboy or a cop. Now, having won his Oscars for
and his Irving Thalberg Award two years later, having in 1996 received his Life Achievement Awards from the American Film Institute and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, having simply been before us, on the screens of our theaters, on the screens of memory, for so many years, there is a tendency to think of him as “an American Legend” or “an American Icon,” empty phrases that help us to evade his singularity in another way.

The truth about Clint Eastwood obviously lies somewhere between the old simplicities and the new pieties. But it is not easily arrived at. For he likes to think of himself as a simple man, operating mainly out of straightforward instincts, sharing with the rest of us the habit of avoiding his own complexities. Whatever the ambiguities of his screen presence, off the screen, in interviews and public appearances, he has presented himself primarily as a nice guy—casual in manner, tolerant of other people’s lifestyles and opinions, sensible in the management of his career, unassertive in the conduct of a celebrity’s life.

Certainly the man I met for the first time in the summer of 1977 wished to be apprehended that way, which proved to be not at all difficult. The appraising taciturnity of Clint’s screen character, not without its occasional menacing undertones, gave way in our friends’ living room to a more agreeable kind of reserve. He spoke quietly and listened attentively. He was curious; he had opinions; he expressed them with a certain irony—and a certain surprising volubility. But he did not have the star’s typical need to dominate the occasion. More important, he was without that anxious pretense, that desperate desire to be understood as a serious—even an intellectual—fellow, that so many major Hollywood players manifest around journalists.

These qualities, the intervening two decades of friendship have taught me, are authentic. But if they were his sum and substance he would have made no large claim on our attention; in America, nice guys finish anonymously. But our attention he surely had. For his rise to movie stardom out of television, whence in those days few stars arose, by the circuitous route of spaghetti westerns, where stars were not born, but rather went to die, intrigued with its novelty. And the largely fatuous controversy over
Dirty Harry
’s alleged “fascism” had made him seem a dangerous character, a subject for much cheap moralizing in what were then regarded as the better critical circles.

As a reviewer I had been as wary of him initially as any of my colleagues
(though not as hostile as some of them), but by the time we met I had started to come around. I had not written about
Dirty Harry
, but I had liked the movie and liked his work in it—that arresting combination of coolness, ferocity and isolation.
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot
reinforced the conviction that he was a more supple and humorous actor than he was generally credited with being;
The Outlaw Josey Wales
demonstrated that he was a director of more power, range and ambition than most people had so far noticed. You could sense in these movies an intelligence and a restlessness, a desire to test the limits of star expectations and genre conventions that suggested he was not going to be trapped forever within the limits other people set for him.

A decade later, Richard T. Jameson, the editor and critic, caught some of Clint’s qualities in words of a kind I couldn’t quite find earlier: the nice guy, he wrote, was not “
an uncomplicatedly nice guy, nor a warm and cuddly one. No movie star of his magnitude has ever been so private at the center of celebrity, or played so openly and artfully with the mysteriousness, the essential unknowability, of his personality.”

But I no more than Abba Eban or virtually anyone else wanted to embrace such complexities just then. So during the next few years, I settled comfortably for the knowable Clint. That was particularly easy for me, since we are of the same generation and we come from similar backgrounds—Wasp and the striving edge of the middle class. Growing up, we had gone to the same movies, listened to the same radio shows, devoted more of our reveries than we ideally should have to the likes of Linda Darnell and, of course, to those masculine exemplars with whom they shared screen time in our inner lives.

BOOK: Clint Eastwood
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