Clint Eastwood has been one of the few Hollywood actors to rise from almost anonymous “hunkdom” to a lofty position of fame and power in the movie capitol. At the age of sixty-seven he still seems capable of further development and of being able to surprise his audiences. His success has been all the more interesting because so much of it seemingly came almost by serendipity and without burning ambition on his part. Or perhaps he was just adept at concealing it.
After some drifting during his early years, the tall, handsome Eastwood was taken into Universal Studio’s young talent program where his biggest film role came in one of the many “Francis, the Talking Mule” pictures. In other films of the 1950’s you could blink and miss him completely. His first major break—the role of cattle driver Rowdy Yates on the popular television series RAWHIDE (1959-1965)—also seemed to come without much effort on his part.
This pattern continued when Italian director Sergio Leone cast him as the “Man with No Name” in the first of Eastwood’s so-called “spaghetti westerns,” A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964). The film’s success, and that of its two sequels, allowed the journeyman actor to break into major American films and eventually into co-starring status with more prominent actors. Unpleasant experiences at the hands of various directors, except for his fruitful relationship with Don Siegel, convinced him he needed to take matters into his own hands. He founded his own production company, the Malpaso Company, and the rest, as the cliche has it, is history.
Although Eastwood has often been dubbed a rightwing zealot for his portrayal of rogue cop Harry Callahan (“Dirty Harry”) and his well-known political views, he is far more complex than that. Author Richard Schickel has done a good job of peering behind the actor’s well-known reticence about both his professional choices and guarded personal life. Although a friend of Eastwood’s and clearly and admirer, Schickel does not hesitate to point out some of his poor career moves and less than fully moral behavior in some (rare) instances. On the other hand, the author’s referring to him as “Clint” throughout and his apparent careful treading in some cases makes the reader wish there was somewhat less personal involvement with his subject.