Vintage Hunk: Clint Eastwood

By: Mike McCrann

Clint Eastwood is now the grand old man of American films. An actor who has found greater success in directing, Eastwood has won multiple Academy Awards. But back in the day Clint was a major cutie. His rise from junior star to popular actor to acclaimed director is an amazing story.

Clinton Eastwood, Jr. was born in 1930 in San Francisco. His dad was a migrant worker and his mother a factory worker. Hospital nurses nicknamed the baby "Samson" as he weighed almost 12 lbs at birth. Moving around the west coast as a child due to his father's job status, Eastwood excelled at sports in high school. Drafted in 1950, he was stationed at Fort Ord where his swimming expertise landed him a swimming instructor's job. This skill would save his life the following year when he survived a plane crash and swam 3 miles to shore.

Moving to Los Angeles, Eastwood met and married college student Maggie Johnson and supported them both by working as a gas station attendant and managing an apartment house. Then in 1954 he secured a contract at Universal Studios. A few bit parts followed and even though his contract was terminated, Eastwood found work in small roles for the next few years.

His big career break came in 1958 playing Rowdy Yates in the hour-long TV western series Rawhide. This show became a huge hit and ran for six years. Nobody thought much of Eastwood as an actor but the show's success led to his being cast in the Italian western A Fistful of Dollars. Almost every male star, big and small, had declined this B movie to be directed by the unknown Sergio Leone. However, this film would be the start of the "Spaghetti" westerns and Eastwood would become a movie star as "The Man with No Name." As Eastwood's acting talent was pretty limited, it probably helped that he didn't talk much in this film and its various successors.

Eastwood starred in a number of action films and became close friends with director Don Siegel. These two would find box office heaven in the various Dirty Harry movies (right) they made together. Playing the macho cop Harry Callahan perfectly fit Eastwood at this stage in is career. Critics pretty much hated the violence and called the films fascist, but Dirty Harry ruled at the box office. Eastwood was now a huge star.

In 1971 Eastwood directed his first film: the wonderful thriller Play Misty for Me. Starring Jessica Walter (The Group) as the ex-one night stand from hell who stalks disc jockey Eastwood, this film not only made a fortune but garnered some great reviews for Eastwood's directorial skills. Eastwood would direct a number of films in the following decade, most co-starring Sondra Locke who became the director's love interest even if his marriage was still officially intact.

While Eastwood's skills as a director were definitely improving, most of his films were pretty much ignored by critics. One of his few financial failures, Bronco Billy, was actually one of his best and Locke was charming as the heroine. But his career reached a new level with 1988's Bird, a biopic about jazz musician Charlie "Bird" Parker. Although the film was a commercial flop, he won the Best Director Golden Globe.

With The Unforgiven in 1992, Eastwood was finally considered a major film director; he not only starred in the movie but gave a John Ford quality to its direction. The Unforgiven won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Eastwood won for Best Director. After that he made a number of Academy-nominated films like Million Dollar Baby, Letters from Iwo Jima, The Changeling and Gran Torino. Million Dollar Baby not only won Best Picture but netted Eastwood his second Best Director Oscar. However, the finest Eastwood film is undoubtedly Mystic River. This great film may not have received the Academy Awards it deserved but it is the finest, most richly imagined film in the Eastwood résumé. Mystic River has a true John Ford feeling. Everything is wonderfully elegiac and low-key; Eastwood even composed the lovely musical score. There is no fancy camera work or shock cuts, just a great story told by a master craftsman. The acting, including Oscar-winning Sean Penn, is extraordinary.

Like a fine wine, Clint Eastwood seems to be improving with age. To those of us (shall we say) "mature" men, this is heartening news! He was divorced in 1984 and by all reports had as many affairs as any of the past movie idols. He has fathered seven children by five different women and apparently still has the sexual appetite of a teenager. Now that is a hunk- vintage and current!