Biography of Clint Eastwood: Actor and Director

Clint Eastwood
1993 Oscars.Clint Eastwood (Photo By Paul Harris/Getty Images).

Actor-director Clint Eastwood (born May 31, 1930) is best known for his portrayals of various "tough" characters on film, including cowboys and San Fransisco police officer "Dirty" Harry Callahan. Later, Eastwood became an Oscar-winning director and producer. He has also served as mayor of a California town.

Fast Facts: Clint Eastwood

  • Occupation: Actor, film director, and composer
  • Born: May 30, 1930 in San Francisco, California
  • Education: Piedmont High School and Oakland Technical High School 
  • Key Acting Roles: Rawhide (1959-1965); The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966); Dirty Harry (1971); Million Dollar Baby (2004); Gran Torino (2008)
  • Notable Films Directed: Unforgiven (1993), Mystic River (2003), Million Dollar Baby (2004), Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), American Sniper (2014)
  • Fun Fact: In 1986, Eastwood was elected Mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea. He served one two-year term.

Early Life

Eastwood was born in San Francisco, CA. His father, Clinton Sr., moved the family because of work during Clint's early life. During Clint's teen years, the Eastwoods lived in Piedmont, California, where Eastwood attended Piedmont Middle School and Piedmont High School. He later transferred to Oakland Technical High School. 

After high school, Eastwood was drafted in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He served as a lifeguard at Fort Ord in California. While stationed at Fort Ord, Eastwood met a contact who later helped him get a job as a low-paid actor with Universal Studios.

Early Career

In 1955, Eastwood made his first film appearance: an uncredited role in Revenge of the Creature, the sequel to the Universal Monsters movie Creature from the Black Lagoon. He appeared in small roles in several films over the next few years, including in the Francis the Talking Mule movie Francis in the Navy, Tarantula, and Never Say Goodbye (his first Western).

Not knowing what to do with the 6'4" actor with his squint-eyed, clenched-teeth delivery, Universal released him from his contract in October 1955. Eastwood struggled to find work over the next four years but gained a confidant in Irving Leonard, a financial advisor who also helped Eastwood with his career moves. He advised Eastwood to find new management, advice that led to Eastwood's breakthrough role.

Rawhide and The Man With No Name

Eastwood had his first major role on the TV series Rawhide, which helped establish his reputation as a Western actor. He starred as the heroic Rowdy Yates from 1959 to 1965. Toward the end of his time on the series, Eastwood was offered a deal to star in a Western movie in Spain with Italian director Sergio Leone. Though his agent advised him not to do the low-budget project, Eastwood took the part because it allowed him to play an anti-hero.

The resulting film, A Fistful of Dollars, was an international box office hit, and popularized the harsher, darker tone of Italian-made "spaghetti westerns." Eastwood and Leone made two more Westerns together with Eastwood playing the same character (dubbed "The Man With No Name"): For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966). Both films are considered two of the best Western films ever made.

From Actor to Director and Dirty Harry

In 1967, Eastwood used the money he made from The Man with No Name films and founded a production company with Irving Leonard: Malpaso Productions. Eastwood was intrigued by the tighter, lower-budget productions he had seen on television and in Europe. Malpaso produced many of Eastwood's films, beginning with Hang 'Em High (1968). Another Malpaso production released that year was the Coogan's Bluff (1968), in which Eastwood plays an Arizona sheriff who visits New York City to extradite a murderer in a fish-out-of-water story. The film was directed by Don Siegel, who served as a mentor to Eastwood and directed him in several films.

After nearly two decades in Hollywood, Eastwood fulfilled his ambition of directing a movie with 1971's Play Misty for Me, using much of Siegel's crew. Eastwood portrays a disc jockey who is stalked by an obsessive fan. The low-budget film was a minor box office hit and earned strong reviews for Eastwood as a director. Eastwood finished the film under-budget and ahead of schedule, which became a trademark of his filmmaking style. Part of the film was shot in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, where Eastwood maintains his residence.

Eastwood debuted his second signature character, the reckless San Fransisco police officer "Dirty" Harry Callahan, in the 1971 action-crime film Dirty Harry, which was directed by Siegel. The movie was a major box office hit and Eastwood's line "'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do you, punk?" became one of the most famous lines of dialogue in film history. Eastwood played Dirty Harry in four sequels. The final sequel was 1988's The Dead Pool.

Other notable roles for Eastwood during this period were High Plains Drifter (1973), Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974), The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), Every Which Way But Loose (1978), Escape from Alcatraz (1979), and Any Which Way You Can (1980).

Oscar Success

Eastwood's 1988 biopic of jazz great Charlie Parker, Bird, received considerable acclaim although it was not a box office success. His next film, White Hunter, Black Heart (1990) also failed at the box office, and another 1990 film that he directed and starred in, The Rookie (1990), essentially broke even.

In 1992 Eastwood released Unforgiven, a dark Western featuring him as a former outlaw who returns to his former life of violence for one last job to support his family. The film was widely praised by critics and a box office success; it won four Oscars, including Best Director and Best Picture for Eastwood. Eastwood's next release as an actor, In the Line of Fire, was another major hit. He starred opposite Meryl Streep in his 1995 romance film, The Bridges of Madison County, based on the best-selling novel. He had another hit with 2000's Space Cowboys, about an aged crew of astronauts.

In the 2000s, Eastwood's acclaim as a director grew. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director for Mystic River (2003) and Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) (which was shot almost entirely in Japanese and won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film), and won Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture for Million Dollar Baby (2004), a boxing drama starring Hilary Swank, Eastwood, and Morgan Freeman. Swank and Freeman also won Oscars for their performances. He also directed and starred in the well-received drama Gran Torino (2008) as a widowed Korean War veteran who becomes a neighborhood vigilante after befriending a teenage neighbor. Starting with Mystic River, Eastwood composed the scores and other original music for many of his films.

In 2014, Eastwood scored the biggest box office success of his career with American Sniper, a biopic about decorated U.S. sniper Chris Kyle starring Bradley Cooper. It was also nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. Eastwood followed up with another film about a notable American, Sully, which told the story of pilot Chesley Sullenberger's daring landing on the Hudson River. Continuing the biopic trend, Eastwood directed The 15:17 to Paris about three Americans that stopped a terrorist attack on a train. The film starred the three men who stopped the attack.

While starring on Rawhide, Eastwood also toured as a musician performing Western music.

Awards

In addition to Eastwood's four Academy Awards, he has also received the Academy's Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, the America Film Institute's Life Achievement Award, the Kennedy Center Honors, and the National Endowment for the Arts National Medal of Arts. In 1999, Warner Bros. Studios, which has released nearly all of Eastwood's films since 1976, named its scoring stage the Eastwood Scoring Stage in his honor.

Sources and Further Reading

  • Schickel, Richard. Clint Eastwood: A Biography. Vintage, 1997.
  • Eliot, Marc. American Rebel: The Life of Clint Eastwood. Crown Archetype, 2009.