Eastwood at 88

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Good morning, it’s Thursday, May 31, 2018. Eighty-eight years ago today in San Francisco, a little boy came into the world who was so big and strong the maternity room nurses at St. Francis Hospital nicknamed him “Sampson.”

His mother named him Clinton, after the boy’s father. Unless you live in Carmel, California, you know him as Hollywood leading man Clint Eastwood. In that lovely seaside town, however, he is still sometimes affectionately greeted as “Mr. Mayor.”

Eastwood is a Republican, which is rare enough in Hollywood circles, although he didn’t exactly show his team to good effect at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, when he pretended to address President Obama while talking to an empty chair on stage. He knows it, too, and later expressed regret for “that silly thing.”

But this was neither Clint Eastwood’s first rodeo, nor his last.

Clinton Eastwood Jr. was born in San Francisco on May 31, 1930 and kicked around Northern California with his family while his father took what work he could find during the Great Depression. In the 21st century, the Bay Area became a beacon of the New Economy, with its high-tech start-ups, Pacific Rim banking institutions, and imposing housing prices. It wasn’t like that in the 1930s, and when Clin Eastwood narrated Chrysler’s gritty, Detroit-based Super Bowl ads in February 2012, he was speaking from a familiar place — his own childhood.

In the 1920s, Clinton Eastwood Sr. was a star athlete for the academically rigorous Piedmont High School in the East Bay, but as his introverted but rebellious son was preparing to enroll there he was “disinvited to attend” (in the words of a later principal) for tearing up a newly sodded athletic field with his bike.

So Clint went to Oakland Tech instead. Educators there saw something in him and asked him to audition for school plays. He did, but only occasionally, although in a classic Hollywood story, the young man was serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War and was stationed at Fort Ord when he was noticed by a casting director from Universal Pictures.

Image result for clint eastwoodOne thing led to another, and by the late 1950s, Eastwood was co-starring as a tall silent cowboy — “Rowdy Yates” was his name — in the long-running television series “Rawhide.” During a break in the shooting in 1963, Eastwood accepted a more morally ambiguous role in a movie to be filmed in rural Spain by little-known Italian director Sergio Leone. By the time “A Fistful of Dollars and the other so-called spaghetti westerns were finished, both Leone and Eastwood had conquered the world of feature film.

“In ‘Rawhide I did get awfully tired of playing the conventional white hat — the hero who kisses old ladies and dogs and was kind to everybody,” Eastwood later explained. “I decided it was time to be an anti-hero.”

Such roles turned out to be a better fit for his on-screen persona, and his off-screen politics. In the “Dirty Harry series, Eastwood played a San Francisco police detective frustrated by bureaucratic red tape and court-imposed barriers while searching for a psychotic serial killer who is terrorizing the city.

Audiences loved Harry Callahan, but influential liberal commentators were appalled. New Yorker magazine film critic Pauline Kael, herself a Northern California native, attacked the pictures. The action movie genre, she wrote, “always had a fascist potential,” and in these movies “it has finally surfaced.”

Although Eastwood was stung by this criticism, as his career continued he displayed, both in his filmmaking and interviews, to be a more thoughtful social critic than many of his detractors — and even some of his allies. Despite his proven box office appeal, Eastwood ran into a little trouble getting Warner Bros. to let him make “Million Dollar Baby.”

“They saw it as a ‘boxing movie.’ I saw it as a love story,” he told CBS’ Lesley Stahl in a 2009 interview.

Image result for clint eastwood million dollar baby

Million Dollar Baby

“Well, which is it?” she asked him.

“It’s a love story,” he answered. “It’s a father-daughter love story. And it’s about hopes and dreams. And it’s about people and the fragility of life.”

When Stahl gently expressed surprise at how sensitive Harry Callahan had become, Eastwood pushed back, but gently — with words, and not a .44-Magnum.

“Well, I don’t think he was insensitive then,” he said. “I think ‘Dirty Harry’ was probably sensitive toward the victims of violent crime.”

Several years ago, an East Bay writer named Paul Kilduff interviewed Piedmont High School’s principal, a celebrated educator named Richard Kitchens. The interviewer wondered aloud whether Eastwood would have made different kinds of movies had he gone to Piedmont instead of Oakland Tech.

“You never know,” answered the principal.

“No ‘Rawhide.’ No ‘Dirty Harry,'” Kilduff said, pressing the principal. “I mean he would have been some intellectual.”

“Well,” replied the educator. “I don’t think Clint would have changed too much.”

Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)

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