The Kennedy Center

Clint Eastwood


(actor and director, born May 31, 1930, San Francisco, California)

As a director Clint Eastwood has the reputation of being one of the best in the world and of knowing exactly what he wants and how to get it. He's been called "the most important small-town artist in America," by Norman Mailer. As an actor he is a superstar, "perceived by audiences to be playing himself while turning that self into a receptacle for other folks' fantasies," says the Los Angeles Times.

Eastwood grew up in depression-era California, worked as a lumberjack in Oregon, taught swimming in the US Army, studied at Los Angeles City College on the GI Bill, and celebrated his 25th birthday by landing a $75-a-week contract at Universal Studios. His first three years in the movies were not especially encouraging, playing bit roles in a string of B-movies, including Revenge of the Creature, Francis in the Navy, and Ambush at Cimarron Pass. In 1959, while visiting a friend at CBS, he was spotted by a network executive and cast as cattle driver Rowdy Yates in the long-running series "Rawhide." Though that show was not exactly an acting showcase, it did get him cast in the role that would make him a star-the man of few words and no name at the center of Sergio Leone's legendary trilogy A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (made in Italy in 1966, released in the U.S. in 1967). It took courage to leave the comfort of a weekly hit television series to go work in Spain with an unknown director for little pay and zero prestige. But that move resulted in a dazzling transformation of image for Eastwood: from boyish, lovable, and highly principled to tough, grizzled, and morally ambiguous; from television juvenile to international movie icon. "Sex and violence rolled into one lean, inscrutable superstar package," as the Los Angeles Times put it. The Western itself was also transformed and Eastwood and Leone together led this most American of movie genres into the modern era.

He came back to the States to play more tough guys in Hang 'Em High, Coogan's Bluff, Where Eagles Dare, and Kelly's Heroes. By 1969 he was the world's top box office draw.

For Eastwood, directing was something he was determined to do from his earliest days as an actor, and aside from Woody Allen, no contemporary star has directed more often than he has. In 1971, he made his debut behind the camera with the well-received thriller, Play Misty for Me. Since then he has directed just about every kind of movie-westerns, comedies, cop dramas, romances, and even a biopic.

Also in 1971, Eastwood introduced one of the screen's most controversial and most crowd-pleasing characters ever in Dirty Harry. The fiercely independent, pistol-packing Detective Harry Callahan, who found it easier to shoot suspects than to interrogate them, would return four more times in Magnum Force (1973), The Enforcer (1976), Sudden Impact (1983), and The Dead Pool (1988).

"Critics have increasingly come to recognize how Eastwood, from the beginning of his career, has played with and reworked his star persona through his films, now viewed as highly reflexive works," notes the New York Times. He's alternated adrenaline-pumping action movies such as Escape from Alcatraz and The Eiger Sanction, which exploit his macho image, with more personal and romantic films such as Honkytonk Man, Bronco Billy, and The Bridges of Madison County.

"I've played an awful lot of characters and they're all different," said Eastwood. "You always hoped the audience would follow you into expansion." They did and so did the critics. He has been honored with film retrospectives in museums in Paris, Munich, London, and New York. In 1985, Pale Rider, which he directed and starred in, opened the Cannes Film Festival. In 1992, his masterful Western, Unforgiven, made almost all year-end "best ten" lists. The National Society of Film Critics as well as the Los Angeles Film Critics Association awarded Unforgiven best picture of the year and Eastwood best director. Nominated for nine Academy Awards, Unforgiven won four, including best film and best director.

"Today, Eastwood is blessed with mass audience appeal and critical respect that have afforded him a career rare in its longevity, even rarer in its artistic and personal freedom," says the Los Angeles Times. "Most people who remember me, if at all, will remember me as an action guy, which is OK," says Eastwood. "There's nothing wrong with that. But there will be a certain group which will remember me for the other films, the ones where I took a few chances. At least, I like to think so."
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