ANTHONY COSTELLOE profiles the American actor, film director and producer who rose to international fame with his role as the ‘Man with No Name’ in Sergio Leone’s ‘Dollars Trilogy’ of Spaghetti Westerns during the mid-1960s.
Renowned Oscar-winning director, producer, actor and composer, Clinton Eastwood junior (Clint) celebrated his ninety second birthday on May 31st. Clint was born into an affluent family in San Francisco, California. He has Irish roots.
His mother, who lived to be ninety seven, was of Dutch-Irish lineage. Her ancestors, on her mother’s side, came from the town of Eastwood in Co. Monaghan and Clint was brought there as a child. Tragedy struck when he was forty. His father Clinton Eastwood senior died suddenly of a cardiac arrest. He did however live to see his son become a global movie great.
Clint’s rise to stardom was not an overnight meteoric event. The twenty-four-year-old signed a contract with Universal Studios for one hundred dollars a week. Yes, he had an imposing 6’ 4” stature, but he was awkward and lifeless in front of the camera and spoke through gritted teeth.
He failed many screen tests but got some ‘bit-parts’ in movies such as ‘Francis in the Navy’, a comedy musical and the horror movie, ‘Revenge of the Creature’.
His lucky-break came when he was cast as Rowdy Yates in the TV series ‘Rawhide’ (1958). He received third billing as the kind, compassionate ‘good guy’ who befriended old ladies and had a fondness for animals. He found the six years very challenging, coping with a six, twelve hour day week.
Sergio Leone, who was born in Rome in 1929 and died there sixty years later, revolutionized the American concept of the ‘Wild West’. He could not speak English and the irony is he never set foot on American soil. His knowledge of the American West came from the cowboy movies he watched as a child.
The cowboy hero was quick on the draw, a moral man, clinically clean, who sorted out the baddies and in the final scene rode away with his lady-love into the sunset. Leone’s persona was the antithesis of the Randolph Scott, John Wayne, Gary Cooper type. He was actually an anti-hero, unshaven, sharp tongued, a cigar gripped between gritted teeth, had a lightning draw and, oh yes, he did have a love interest – the dollar.
A ‘Fistful of Dollars’ was the first of the Spaghetti trilogy westerns directed by Leone, who was virtually unknown at the time. He had studied the acclaimed Japanese director Akira Karosawa’s movie, ‘Yojimbo’ and based his western on the plot. The Japanese director contested this and Leone had to surrender Asian rights to him in addition to 15% of international box-office takings.
Leone’s movie was a 200,000 dollar low-budget venture, consequently he could not pay Henry Fonda’s salary and Charles Bronson, his second choice, turned it down, deeming the script too uninspiring. A ‘Rawhide’ co-star suggested to Leone that Clint would make the perfect leading character, bounty-hunter ‘man with no name’.
Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own