< Return to Adherents.com's Guide to Movies
The Religious Affiliation of actor/director
Clint Eastwood was raised in a middle class Protestant home. He regularly attended church services on Sundays with his mother and siblings at whatever Protestant church was nearby. The family appears to have had no specific denominational loyalty. Around the age of 12, Clint joined his father in staying home from church on Sundays, and since then has never been active in any denomination.
Clint Eastwood's ancestors dating back to Colonial times were almost entirely Protestants living in America. Most of these ancestors were actively religious, many of them were churchbuilders, pastors or church leaders. His ancestors in America include Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and a Christian Science practitioner (his great-grandmother). But Congregationalism seems to be the predominant religious affiliation of Eastwood's relations before him. Eastwood's first marriage took place in a Congregationalist church.
As an adult Eastwood evinced little interest in traditional religion or theological matters, but when asked about his religious beliefs he noted a reverence for nature. Eastwood described his personal spirituality by invoking his thoughts and feelings about majestic, inspirational outdoor settings.
From: Richard Schickel, Clint Eastwood, Alfred A. Knopf: New York (1996), page 27:
Clint [Eastwood] describes [his parents] as extremely tolerant, entirely free of... bigotry and paranoia... "My parents never looked down on anybody. They were always fairly open-minded--conservative in handling their own lives, but liberal in their approach to other people's existence," including that of their children.
They were uninsistent religiously and politically. Ruth [Clint Eastwood's mother] and the children quietly attended whatever Protestant church was near at hand wherever they settled. Politically, she and her husband apparently supported Roosevelt for two terms, then broke away to vote for Wendell Willkie in 1940. But there is no defining passion to be found in these commonplace religious and political convictions. It was common sense and common decency that rules their lives, and it was those qualities that they passed on to their children. There were, one gathers, no hidden agendas in the Eastwood family, no dark, twisting pressures, just simple, straightforward expectations and affections, clearly expressed.
Schickel, pages 35-36:
As Clinton Sr. had doubtless hoped, the demands cars placed on his son's wallet taught Clint the value of uncomplaining toil. "You get nothing for nothing," his father would tell him. Or "Don't think the world owes you a living, because it doesn't." When Clint would apply for his after-school jobs, his father would always tell him: "Forget about the dough. Go in there and show them what you can do. Make yourself so valuable that they just gotta have you."... Many years later, discussing his moderately troubled passage through later adolescence, Clint would tell an interviewer, "although I rebelled, I never rebelled against that."
From: Patrick McGilligan, Clint: The Life and Legend, St. Martin's Press: New York (1999), page 29:
He did, however, rebel against conventional piety--very early and, in part, because of his hardworking life and his dad's. During the war [at which time young Clint Eastwood would have been about 11 to 13 years old], Clinton Sr. was obliged to give up his agreeable life as a jewelry salesman. He was classified 1-A in the draft, and knew that if he was called up his family, with no savings to fall back upon, would be devastated. His only choice was to get a job in a vital defense industry. So he applied for work in a shipyard--not knowing "one end of a boat from the other," Ruth laughs--and somehow got taken on as a pipe fitter.
The pay was excellent, but the hours were long and exhausting, as he pointed out to his son one day when Clint asked him why he did not join the rest of the family when they trekked off to church on Sunday. "It's my only day of," the elder Eastwood said simply. Clint thought that over and replied, "Well, it's my only day off, too." As a matter of fact, he didn't even have that day entirely to himself, since he had to be up at dawn working his paper route. "Well,then don't go," said his dad. "There's all kinds of ways to get a feeling of God, however [He] exists for you."
This squared with Clint's instincts. The Bible stories he had listened to in various Sunday schools had never appealed to him. They seemed terribly remote, and they struck him as distressingly violent, too--"the whole idea of religion based upon impaling somebody, the whole center, torture and torment." Critics of Clint Eastwood's subsequent screen career, marked by so many bloody confrontations, may make what irony they care to out of this, but he says these views had begun to take shape even before this conversation, when he found himself contrasting the discomfort Christian myth stirred in him with the experience of visiting Yosemite National Park with his family.
"You looked down into that valley, without too many people around," he says, "and, boy, that was to me a religious experience." And not an uncommon one for a person of his birthright. "Born again," the naturalist John Muir wrote in his diary upon seeing the same sight for the first time. This Pacific Rim Transcendentalism, a belief that nature in the several majestic aspects that California presents it, is the ultimate source of spiritual renewal widely shared by its citizens and has remained a major force in determining the way Clint has lived his adult life.
Strangely, for a family whose genealogy as sprinkled with church-builders and devout religionists, Clint doesn't show up in Bay Area baptismal or Sunday School records. All that moving around created another deprivation in this category.
About Clint Eastwood's first marriage, from: McGilligan, pages 55-56:
Although later he would try to define himself as a morally complex hero in his films, Clint would have to admit that he didn't believe in God or subscribe to any special organized religion. He was not a churchgoer, even as a boy. When David Frost mulled over the subject of God with Clint in one of his prestigious television interviews, Clint grew mumbly, falling back on nature as his main spiritual source.
'Is it [religion] important to you?' asked Frost. 'God?'
'I take it in a personal way very much,' said Clint. 'I'm just not a member of an organized religion. But I've always felt very strongly about things, I guess. Especially when I'm out in nature. I guess that's why I've done so many wide open films in nature. But religion is, I think, a very personal thing. I've never really discussed it to philosophize out loud about it.
'I just kind of . . . you're sitting on a beautiful mountain, or in the Rocky Mountains, or wherever, and you . . . the Grand Canyon is something . . . and all of a sudden you can't help but be moved. An awful lot of time has gone by on this planet, and mankind's part of it was all about like that [snaps fingers]. And so you think, "How did that all come to be?" So you can go on for ever, within your mind, but it's fun to philosophize on it, as long as you don't, it doesn't drive you to jump off the cliff.'
It was a fast-paced engagement. A week before Christmas, 1953, Clint and Maggie were married in South Pasadena by a Congregational minister, Rev. Henry David Grey.
Schickel, pages 64-65:
...acting was still an exotic thought. Besides, there were distractions, most notably Maggie Johnson. Clint had continued to see her since arriving in Los Angeles, and their relationship was deepening... At the time Maggie was living in Altadena, working for a manufacturer's representative. The long distance separating them, and their busy work schedules, helped to make the idea of marriage more attractive to them. Clint thinks he was more reluctant than she was to take the step. He thought they were too young, not well enough established. But, when it comes to marriage, "Guys never have much say about it." Clint shrugs. After all, Maggie came from a nice middle-class background, and in those days young women like her expected to marry after a courtship had proceeded for a certain length of time. Clint, being the obliging young man that he was, never overtly rebellious against social conventions, was not hard to win over, especially since he had the example of his parents' youthful marriage before him.
Schickel, page 5:
Above all, marriage "was doable." Clint was still managing the apartment house on Oakhurst Drive, assuring them an affordable rent. If they combined her salary and his odd-job money he could continue his education at City College and they could get by. So on December 19, 1953, they were married in a respectable church wedding, after which they honeymooned in Carmel for a few days.
So during the next few years, I settled comfortably for the knowable Clint [Eastwood]. That was particularly easily for me, since we are of the same generation and we come from similar backgrounds--Wasp [i.e., White Anglo-Saxon Protestant] and the striving edge of the middle class.
Schickel, page 19:
Talking to the writer, Clint [Eastwood] stressed the lack of grandeur in his background. "My dad was Scots-English; my mother's Dutch-Irish. Strange combination. All the pirates and people who were kicked out of every place else." In other words, there are no Eastwoods in the Society of Mayflower Descendants. It is sometimes Clint's pleasure to slightly overemphasize his lack of early promise...
About Clint Eastwood's ancestors, from: McGilligan, pages 2-3:
It isn't quite true, as Richard Schickel wrote, that 'there are no Eastwoods in the Society of Mayflower Descendants', although that nicely burnishes the aura of an underdog. The first paternal forebear arrived in America early in the seventeenth century, and Eastwoods were among the early pioneers heading West. Originally, Yankees, Puritans and Easterners, family relations spread out and pushed into New York, Ohio, Michigan, Virginia, Illinois, Louisiana, Kansas, Colorado, Nevada, California and Alaska... They chartered new towns, erected prairie churches, held local office, wore peacekeeping badges...
More about Clint Eastwood's maternal ancestors, from: McGilligan, pages 11-12:
The first American-born male with the surname was Lewis Eastwood, who was born more than a quarter-century before the Revolutionary War, in 1746, in Long Branch, New Jersey. Lewis's parents had come tot he New World from England where the Eastwoods were respectable property owners who claimed antecedents dating back to the seventeenth century, from Dublin and Louth in Ireland.
...nearby [Lewis Eastwood's home] as the Third Presbyterian Church, where the Eastwoods probably worshipped, for they were a churchly clan - one of the family characteristics, curiously, that would evolve to disappear in Clint. Lewis Eastwood shows up in documents pledging fifteen shillings for the salary of an Allentown, New Jersey, clergyman in 1784...
Lewis managed to sire five children, including John, a builder of boats who lived in Sackets Harbor, New York; Enos, a sea captain...; and Asa, born in Allentown in 1781. Eastwoods had a fondness for Biblical names, which were common among the Puritans streaming to America.
Clint's maternal forebears were among the first settlers of New England, where they organized their lives around land, community, authority and public worship.
More about Clint Eastwood's maternal ancestors, from: McGilligan, pages 13-14:
William Bartholomew - the first recorded American ancestor on the Runner side of the clan [on Clint Eastwood's mother's side] - was the well-born son of a Burford, England, family... William sired William Jr., probably the first Bartholomew born in the New World, in 1640 or 1641... William Jr wed Mary Johnson, and their son Andrew married Hanna Frisbie of Branford, Connecticut... In his lifetime Andrew was able to amass large quantities of real estate in [Connecticut]... he was well known locally for being active in church and civic affairs...
The intermarriage of the Bartholomews and the Kelloggs more than qualifies Clint for the Mayflower Society. The first Kelloggs had arrived in America during the height of the Puritan emigration, from 1620 to 1640... One famous descendant was W. K. Kellogg of Michigan, the king of breakfast cereal foods [and a devout Seventh-day Adventist].
More about Clint Eastwood's maternal ancestors, from: McGilligan, pages 15-16:
The Kelloggs and Bartholomews would erect Newburg's first schoolhouse and Congregational church... 'These were the days of the log schoolhouse, the spelling bees, and the singing schools and the little community church.'
...After leaving from Galesburg, Illinois, in April 1849, the Bartholomew-led group arrived in Salt Lake City in September, too late to explore the frigid northern route across the mountains. A tracker offered to take them by the Old Spanish Trail to the south. 'There was divided judgment about whether to continue westward or to winter in Salt Lake City because it was too late in the season... A previous Donner Pass winter disaster crated the hesitation. [This part of the family tree next went from Salt Lake City to Sacramento, California.]
Early in 1863 a Bartholomew caravan set out for Mound City, Kansas... Older brother Noyes Ellsworth [Bartholomew]... followed with his wife and children in 1866... The Bartholomew bothers were founding members of the 1866 society that built the town's firs Congregational church. Noyes Ellsworth acted as the church's first deacon and served in that capacity for twenty-four years.
More about Clint Eastwood's maternal ancestors, from: McGilligan, page 17:
...Linn County [Kansas] had one of the first 'Women's Rights' associations, and Cordellia Bartholomew was among those who helped to organize what was probably the first women's club west of the Mississippi, the Ladies' Enterprise Society of Mound City, which had as its goal the erection of a Mound City Free Meeting House for religious worship, educational meetings, scientific, literary and political lectures... the matter of a new building for school, Sunday school, church, lecture-room was of vital importance to them.
C. C. Runner was one of the rascals of the dynasty... C. C. was born in 1857, probably in Virginia. Inevitably he fell in love with Edward Franklin's eldest daughter Sophia, and C. C. and Sophia were married in 1881, probably at the Congregational church in Buena Vista, where Samuel Dana Bartholomew, her uncle, had just been elected deacon. Their first child was born in Buena Vista, Colorado, on 17 February 1882: that was Waldo Errol Runner, Clint's maternal grandfather.
More about Clint Eastwood's maternal ancestors, from: McGilligan, page 19:
Sophia [i.e., Clint Eastwood's maternal great-grandmother: Sophia Franklin Runner] converted to Christian Science, which wasn't such a radical departure from Congregationalism, but according to relatives her fervent beliefs disrupted the family. At one point, following Christian Science dictates, she refused to call a physician for a seriously ill daughter, who later died. Religion held no allure for C. C. [Clint Eastwood's maternal great-grandfather], and fatherhood had outlived its glow. The Yukon gold rush sounded its siren call, and by 1898 C. C. could be found in Alaska in the company of a woman named Lizzie Burke. Sophia was so outraged by his desertion that she began to list him as 'dead' on official records. It is doubtful she ever laid eyes on her vagabond husband again.
Among Clint Eastwood's ancestors, the one that seems most like a prototypical Clint Eastwood movie character was Henry Green Boyle, a devout Latter-day Saint whose interesting story is recounted in McGilligan's biography of Eastwood. From: McGilligan, pages 20-21:
In July of 1903, Waldo Errol Runner - C. C. and Sophia's firstborn [Clint Eastwood's maternal grandfather] - had married Virginia May McClanahan, in a ceremony presided over by the pastor of the First M. E. Church in Pueblo, Colorado. ["First M. E. Church" is probably a Methodist Episcopal Church.]
Although many of Clint Eastwood's most recent ancestors were Congregationalists, and his great grandmother was a devout Christian Scientist, the preference of his family for general Protestantism without loyalty to any specific denomination was in evidence when Eastwood's parents were married in an "Interdenominational" church. From: McGilligan, page 22:
Virginia May was a product of the Pennsylvania and St Joseph, Missouri, Boyles and the Virginia McCorkles and McClanahans... Boyles in Virginia served as notable doctors, preachers and legislators...
The Boyles were rugged, righteous folk, who acted like some Clint screen characters. Henry Green Boyle, born a Methodist, was converted to Mormonism, and one day in the early 1840s, he chanced to meet a Virginia town constable, a notorious 'bad man' named Henry McDowel, who spoke ill of Mormons and taunted him. 'I did not want any trouble with him, & told him that I did not, but nothing but a row would Satisfy him,' he wrote in a diary.
After a heated exchange of insults, Boyle knocked the constable down. 'He got up,' wrote Boyle, & I knocked him down the Second time after Strikeing him three times. I struck him in the face & eyes & mouth until the blood poured from him, but he managed to get up with me (for he was a Stout man, & weighted 180 lbs) & throwed me back over a chair into the corner of the counter among Some nail keggs & castings.
'McDowel was getting out his knife to use it on me, when I picked up an oven lid that happened to be near, & I Struck McDowel three times . . . This laid him out lifeless . . .
'I was not hurt a particle, but it was a long time before McDowel was brought to his right Senses. He did not speak for two days, & he did not get well for Six Months. Most all the people in the community were glad that I had used him up.'
The marriage of Waldo Errol Runner and Virginia May McClanahan would eventually produce three children... [including Clint Eastwood's mother] Margaret Ruth (b. 1909) [who] didn't come along until California, to where the Runners had moved by 1904.
This [move] included Sophia Bartholomew, Clint's great-grandmother [Waldo Errol Runner's mother], who materialized in the Oakland City Directory of 1910, advertising her occupation as 'Christian Scientist practitioner'...
Although Waldo and Virginia May initially lived in Oakland neighborhoods, they steadily improved their lot in life, and their 1920s address at 169 Ronada was situated in Piedmont [next to Oakland, California] about six blocks away from Burr Eastwood's home; not only did the Runners and Eastwoods have similar backgrounds in mining and business, but their children attended the same neighborhood churches and mingled in school classes.
Ruth's father Waldo [Clint Eastwood's maternal grandfather] had done a C. C. [i.e., done the same thing his father did] when Ruth was about sixteen, leaving his wife and separating from her geographically, moving down to Los Angeles... essentially Ruth Runner [Clint Eastwood's mother] was left fatherless, just as Clinton [Clint Eastwood's father], whose mother had die din 1925, was motherless. This common lack must have forged a bond between them...
Schickel, page 20:
The Eastwood-Runner [Clint Eastwood's parents] marriage certificate of 5 June 27 shows that Ruth, eighteen, toiled as an accountant for an insurance company while Clinton was working as a cashier. The clergyman who presided over their exchange of vows was Rev. Charles D. Milliken, pastor of Piedmont's Interdenominational church.
Still, Clint [Eastwood]'s heritage is far from piratical. It is essentially middle class, marked by the kind of modest strivings, setbacks and successes common to that class. His father and mother, Clinton Sr. and Margaret Ruth Runner--always known by her middle name--were sweethearts from a very tender age. He was fifteen, she thirteen, when they met in Piedmont, California, not long after her family moved from San Francisco to this prosperous Bay Area suburb, which lies due east of Oakland, due south of Berkeley. His father, Burr, built a house there soon after Clinton Sr. was born and worked as a manager in a wholesale hardware concern. Ruth's father, Waldo, had been a railroad executive--she moved back and forth across the country several times as a child because of his work--and then founded, with a partner, the Graybar Company, which manufactured automobile bumpers and luggage racks.
Schickel, page 32:
Treasured among these films and stars [that Clint Eastwood saw while growing up] is one slightly more exotic title, Forty Thousand Horsemen. The story of an Australian cavalry brigade that fought in Palestine in World War I, it starred Chips Rafferty, was made in 1940 and entered the world market a couple of year later. Its dialogue contained a few mild, but in those days shocking, cuss words. Clint remembers going to it with his family and, when the first "hell" or "damn" was heart, being aware of respectable citizens leaving the theater. The Eastwoods soon followed, but "I snuck back later, because I wanted to see the whole movie; it had a lot of action--horses, and lancers and what have you."
McGilligan, page 64:
Interestingly, here, in his first public exposure [his first film appearance, in Revenge of the Creature], Clint [Eastwood] was already advertising his affection for animals and small, helpless creatures. This, one of the most over-publicized 'facts' about the actor, turns up in countless interviews and articles, and inevitably will find its way into any conversation with friends or colleagues about Clint. Apparently it is a Clint truism, or 'Clintism.'
McGilligan, page 224:
Rats in pockets would also turn up in Escape from Alcatraz. Pet dogs and squirrels on park benches and other cute animals were guaranteed cutaways in Clint films. But the very first one, the laboratory rat in Revenge of the Creature, was in the original script. Did this Clintism originate in boyhood, as is often claimed, or did it, perhaps, start here, in Revenge of the Creature? One thing that quickly became clear about Clint is that as an actor he was always borrowing from other people's ideas of him. And when something clicked for Clint, it was absorbed and integrated into the persona.
Roxanne Tunis was still in the star's life [as one of Clint Eastwood's many girlfriends] - and frequently in the background of his films. She was given menial parts so that she could be with Clint on the set... In the early 1970s, however, Tunis declared herself a full-time follower of 'a higher spiritual path', and told Clint she didn't want the karmic responsibility of poisoning his marriage. She and her daughter Kimber soon moved to Denver where Kimber entered private school. There, according to sources sympathetic to Tunis, mother and daughter saw Clint on his regular skiing trips, probably more often than before.
McGilligan, pages 231-232:
There was one member of the Eastwood family actually living a true-life love story.
McGilligan, pages 337-338:
Just after Breezy was completed, two years after the death of her husband, Clint's mother, Ruth Eastwood, entered into a second marriage with John Belden Wood...
Their wedding with a Hawaii theme was held in the chapel of the Robert Louis Stevenson School at Pebble Beach in October 1972. Clint, a pragmatist about love, was happy for his mother - he beamed, escorting her up the aisle.
The film's [Firefox] partisans might point to the humanistic subplot involving the plight of Soviet dissident Jews. This was an unexpected theme, considering that Malpaso was one of the most goyish [i.e., non-Jewish] companies in all of Hollywood, the exception being Clint [Eastwood]'s accountants, attorneys and agent. (He would joke, in anticipation of a legal battle, 'I'll put my Jews up against theirs any time.')
About Megan Rose, one of Clint Eastwood's many girlfriends, from: McGilligan, pages 354-355:
Many of the Warner executives were Jewish, of course, excluding Clint's friend at the top, Frank Wells. Wells, in any event, would resign from the studio in late 1981, to take a break and fulfil his dream of climbing seven of the world's highest mountains. Clint's constant differences with the studio departments, especially with marketing, led him to gripe sometimes that the way he was treated was owed to the fact he didn't belong to their exclusive club. He and Fritz Manes had their own nicknames for studio officers who happened to be Jewish - 'Wejs' (pronounced 'Wedges') or 'Jews' spelled sort of backwards. 'The Wejs are coming!' is what they'd say to each other, with a wink, when one of the Jewish executives called to say he was coming over for a talk.
When Megan Rose met Clint in 1982, she was already a fan, a big fan. From Junction City, Kansas, Rose had adored Clint and followed his career since the first time she saw him, on 9 January 1959, when he made his debut as Rowdy in the premiere of Rawhide. Rose says she had a premonition that she would meet this tall, handsome actor and fall in love with him. She was all of fourteen years old.
McGilligan, page 489:
...She was a stunning blond [when she met Clint Eastwood for the first time thirteen years later at a Warner Brothers staff party in 1982], fifteen years younger than Clint, not bookwormish in her looks; her personality was also bright and effervescent, and she was brimming with New Age notions and ideas.
Around this time  Clint's relationship with Frances Fisher was reverting to 'its former troubled state', according to Richard Schickel. Since giving birth to Francesca, Fisher had become more demanding. 'He, in his turn, was beginning to find some of her "New Age" ideas - which included strong reformist impulses about traditional masculine modes as well as theories o feminism - puzzling, irritating and, as they applied to his own ways of thinking and being, impossible to adopt,' explained Schickel.
Early in Clint Eastwood's acting career he had a major supporting role as "Rowdy Yates" on the Western TV series Rawhide. The premiere episode of the series co-starred Terry Moore, the devout Latter-day Saint movie star. From: Schickel, pages 108-109:
The typical Rawhide story involved the cowboys coming upon people along the trail and getting drawn into solving whatever issues they presented or were confronting. As a variant, someone from the trail drive (usually Rowdy) would venture into a town or to a ranch on some errand and encounter some trouble he needed to be extricated from before the herd could move on. The idea, obviously, was to come in from the great outdoors as soon and as often as possible into more easily managed environments.
McGilligan, page 371:
The episode chosen for the premiere was shot at a studio ranch and diners from the series norm because trouble comes to the drovers without their having to look for it. The tumbleweed wagon referred to in the title is a sort of jail on wheels, used to gather lawbreakers from far-flung prairie locales and transport them (in this case) to a territorial capital for a trial. It pulls up to a streamside campsite where Favors cowboys are settling down for the night, carrying human cargo mixed in the usual way: a man accused of selling illegal liquor to Indians, an army deserter, a silent Indian who has murdered his wife when he caught her with another brave and, more significantly, an English remittance man also accused of murdering his wife, a member of the Luke Storm bandit gang and a hellcatish woman named Dallas (Terry Moore, the program's top-billed guest star), who is Luke's wife, and a classically bitter good-bad woman (she has turned outlaw because her father was lynched by a vigilante mob for a crime he did not commit).
An escape is attempted, in the course of which the marshal in charge of the wagon is grievously wounded, his deputy killed. Gil and Rowdy are obliged to leave their herd and escort the wagon to the nearest fort. Two more escapes are tried, and eventually Storm and his gang catch up with the wagon as the cowmen are trying to get it across a stream. The outlaw leader, who is a standard-issue psychopath, decides to murder Gil and Rowdy, but Dallas intervenes and is killed by her husband, who, in the subsequent confusion, is shot dead by Favor. The episode ends with a low-angle shot of Gil and Rowdy riding off past the crude cross that marks Dallas's grave.
The failure of this episode to do much with Rowdy Yates was not entirely atypical, particularly in the early seasons. He is seen to be attracted to the captive woman, seen to be quietly rebellious toward Favor (instructed not to try chatting up Dallas, Rowdy tells the trail boss, "After dark, when I'm not on night herd, my time is my own"), and he gets the chance to wrestle with Dallas during the first escape attempt-sexless sexiness of the old-movie, old-TV kind. But for the most part Rowdy takes orders and seems to like them. "Rowdy Yates, trail flunky," is how Clint says he used to describe his character, when he wasn't calling him "Rowdy Yates, idiot of the plains."
It wasn't any single film that won critical respect for Clint [Eastwood]. Individually the productions looked modest, especially compared with the achievements of other major US film-makers during the 1970s and 1980s: Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen, Francis Coppola, Sidney Lumet, John Cassavetes, even [Mormon filmmaker] Hal Ashby. Only once, in a survey of 50-100 US critics, done annually, throughout the decade of the 1980s, would a Clint film be ranked in the top 20 - Bird, in 1988, placed as number nineteen that year.
Clint Eastwood had a peculiar experience with Bo Gritz, a highly-decorated Green Beret and a devout convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Gritz was later ran for U.S. President as an independent candidate. Not long after Gritz's presidential run, he left the Church because he disagreed with its teachings that American citizens must pay their legally-obligated income taxes. From: Schickel, pages 379-381:
Warner Brothers succeeded not only in focusing critical attention on Clint's 'body of work' as a film-maker, but in narrowing the debate so that Clint was compared mainly to himself. Every move the star made could be touted as artistically adventurous if it was defined within the parameters of limited expectations.
But even as he hobnobbed with the elite, Clint found himself drawn into less elevated circles. Urged on by Fritz Manes, whose nostalgia for his Marine Corps service had transmuted into a romantic regard for paramilitary adventuring, he had in 1979 and 1980 been introduced to Bob Denard, who had mounted a successful mercenary invasion of the Comoros Islands, a former French possession off the east coast of Africa, and Mitchell Werbell III, one of the inventors of the silencer-equipped Ingraham Model II submachine gun and the proprietor of a counter-terrorist school. Both entered public, if dubious, claims that Clint was interested in developing screenplays about their adventures, but nothing came of these brief encounters.
More about Clint Eastwood's experiences with Latter-day Saint Green Beret Bo Gritz. McGilligan, pages 334-337:
Not so his connection with James G. (Bo) Gritz, a sometime Green Beret lieutenant colonel much decorated for his service in Vietnam. He approached Clint sometime in 1982 seeking financial support for an incursion into Laos from Thailand in search of American soldiers officially listed as missing in action, but according to Gritz (and to widespread fantasies of the time) actually being held in secret prison camps. His first idea, according to Clint, was to have him make, or pretend to make, a movie on the Thai border as a kind of diversion during which Gritz and friends would slip away on their mission. "Geez, that doesn't sound too smart," Clint replied, but still he kept listening. He was told that the Carter administration had deliberately hushed up evidence that the MIAs were still alive so that it "would not have to take official action on their behalf. This sounded plausible to Clint, ever suspicious of government actions and inactions, and Gritz was "a really good salesman." At some point he found himself saying, "Boy, I'll tell you, I would not be able to sleep at night if I thought there was one person being held against his will and knowing that something could be done about it."
If Gritz was not exactly his kind of guy, he was certainly his kind of problem solver--impatient with talk, eager for direct action. So Clint offered him money--variously reported at thirty thousand dollars and fifty thousand dollars--and help rounding up other support as well. He did not approach William Shatner, who also gave the colonel ten thousand dollars in the form of an option on his life story, which he unsuccessfully tried to place with the TV networks, but Clint admits, "I did a lot of stuff for them, a lot of legwork"--mostly asking corporate CEOs to donate equipment to the would-be invaders. What he could not secure was the support of the Reagan administration, even though he called the president and got his pledge to look into the matter. The report Reagan got back from Robert McFarlane, chief deputy to the national security adviser, was that Gritz "was not somebody we ought to be involved with."
This word was evidently passed to Clint (though Gritz would later claim that he received back-channel intelligence support from the Pentagon). By this time, Clint was beginning to have his own doubts. He visited Gritz s training camp in northern California and was distinctly unimpressed by what he saw. When the local sheriff busted them for trespassing on somebody's back forty, he began to think, as he understates it, "These guys were maybe not all they were written up to be."
He did not feel, however, that he could back out honorably. So off Gritz and his little band flew to Thailand, which by this time was beginning to resemble a convention site for right-vying crazies, with about twenty groups poised there for expeditions into Laos. Gritz, accompanied by four Americans and fourteen Laotian guerrillas, pushed off on what he called Operation Lazarus in late November--"Like Laurel and Hardy or the Marx brothers go to Cambodia," as Clint ruefully puts it. They were ambushed three days later. One Laotian was killed, and one American was taken prisoner (he was later ransomed) in this fiasco, and much of their materiel was lost. Gritz retreated and regrouped and in February 1983 launched another, smaller foray. While he was gone Thai police arrested the radio operators he had left behind, and then Gritz himself was apprehended when he strolled out of the jungle empty-handed a couple of weeks later. He spent five days in jail, teaching the local police chief karate and making himself available to Good Morning, America for an interview. By this time, one of his compatriots had sold his story to Soldier of Fortune for five thousand dollars, generating much press attention and much paranoid irritation from the colonel.
Gritz has since spun completely out of control. He is the founder of a survivalist real estate development in Idaho, which he calls Almost Heaven, where he awaits the Apocalypse and rants against the New World Order, that conspiracy of the Rothschilds, the queen of England and the world bankers that he and his ilk imagine is planning to stamp every American citizen with a bar code, the better to control their lives.
Clint, who "was making contributions to groups supporting the Equal Rights Amendment around the same time he was giving money to Gritz, obviously learned a lesson in caution from this incident. Aside from his two years as the nonpartisan mayor of Carmel, he has generally avoided public identification with causes and candidates, though he did admit casting a quixotic vote for Ross Perot (incidentally, another of Gritz's suckers) in the 1992 election. His response to rumors of larger political involvements--as late as 1995 there was hopeful talk in California Republican circles of a run for governor--is to cite his unwillingness to embrace the tedium of politics or to submit his private life to the kind of scrutiny the press now devotes to candidates for major office.
In the long line of this career, both Firefox and Colonel Gritz are aberrant; nothing like them had occurred before, and nothing has since. Indeed, even as Gritz was rounding up his troops, Clint was working on a movie that was in scale and tone far from its immediate predecessor, in spirit as far from the lunatic Southeast Asian adventure, as it is possible to get.
Honkeytonk Man is based on a novel by Clancy Carlile...
Clint got his start in Elsenhower's America; he had blossomed during Nixon's presidency; now, in the Ronald Reagan era, he would cement his position in the pantheon of Hollywood immortals. And the political tide during his career would be reflected, now more than ever, in films that slouched towards Republicanism.
One of Clint Eastwood's earlier big-budget Hollywood movies was Paint Your Wagon, a musical Western in which he stars as a miner who marries a Mormon woman (a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) played by Jean Seberg. As of 2005, Paint Your Wagon was still the top-grossing feature film ever in which the lead actress plays is overtly identified as a Mormon character. From: Schickel, page 202:
Clint had backed Reagan for president in 1980 and supported his re-election in 1984. Reagan, who liked to relax by watching movies, was said to enjoy Clint's films as much as Nixon did. 'Go ahead, make my day!' the one line of dialogue worth reciting from Sudden Impact - would become the President's battle cry. Reagan wielded it, memorably, in his March 1983 showdown with Congress over the issue of raising taxes.
Just as there were covert activities in Reagan's White House, there was covert Reaganism in Clint's Malpaso. The hard-working, obscurely titled Fritz Manes finally got credit for something in Richard Schickel's biography of Clint as the man who, in the late 1970s/early 1980s, introduced the star to mercenaries who were working to make the world safe for democracy - a coup here, a bloodbath there, whatever. These included Bob Denard, a French soldier of fortune who had led a successful invasion of the Comoros Islands off the coast of east Africa; Mitchell WerBell III, an international arms dealer 'who specializes in the crafts of assassination and the freelance coup d'etat' (Jim Hougan, Spooks: The Haunting of America: The Private Use of Secret Agents); and one-time Green Beret James G. 'Bo' Gritz, a freelancer leading the charge on the issue of MIAs ('Missing In Action' soldiers) presumed - never proved - to be held captive in Vietnam.
Denard was flown to Hollywood by Clint, who optioned the rights to his life story, and Bo Gritz took the star on a VI P tour of his counter-terrorist school in northern California. According to one account, Clint lent Gritz and his foot soldiers his ranch for a 'communications check' one day. 'With [Fritz] Manes supervising,' reported Josh Young in George magazine, 'the Warner jet in Burbank was flown to the ranch, loaded with M-16s, state-of-the-art communications systems, and camouflage gear. Later that day, Gritz and his men were detained and questioned for testing their equipment.' Manes told George that when the local sheriff contacted Clint, he told them the men were testing radio equipment for his next film.
These were dangerous people. Anyone who has read Soldier of Fortune magazine or seen a Chuck Norris movie will recognize the species instantly. But Clint identified with such macho soldier-types, he bonded with them, and that led to at least one episode of grievous folly.
Gritz was planning a raid into Laos to ferret out supposed prisoners of war. The US government had encouraged Gritz initially, then his official contacts began to shy away, compromising the prospects of the mission. Gritz couldn't seem to get a definitive go-ahead from Ronald Reagan. Clint, because he and the President conversed now and then - how often and about what precisely has never been revealed - had Reagan's private telephone number at his Santa Barbara ranch. Gritz asked Clint: would he phone the commander of the free world and bring up the topic?
Clint did so, phoning Reagan in late 1982, trying to enlist support for this half-baked scheme. 'The actor told Reagan that the government should be officially involved in POW rescue efforts, according to the testimony of those who briefed the [Senate Intelligence] committee,' the Los Angeles Times reported, 'and the federal government ought to help Gritz, not leave the matter up to individuals such as Eastwood.'
Reagan, however, consulted with his advisors, who warned him that Gritz was not to be trusted. That didn't stop Gritz - or Clint. According to subsequent press reports, Clint pledged to contribute $50,000 of his own money to Gritz's errand of patriotism. (Gritz's associates insisted the sum was lower, maybe $30,000.) A few other Hollywood celebrities came up with some of the operating budget, including a contribution from Star Trek Captain William Shatner.
His skullduggery partly financed by Clint, Gritz went ahead in November 1982, leading a dozen Americans and anti-Communist guerrillas from Thailand into Laos. Their incursion did not detect any MIAs but they did encounter a hostile patrol, which attacked them, with the result that one guerrilla lost his life. The irrepressible Gritz tried another raid in January 1983, with similarly hapless results: another life lost. When, one month later, the press reported these deeds, Gritz was roundly denounced by all sides as 'less a bloodied hero than an embarrassing nuisance', in the words of Newsweek.
Clint knew when to go into his man-of-few-words schtick. He refused to comment publicly on the debacle he had helped bankroll. It wasn't until a few years later that he felt comfortable saying it was all an ill-advised, patriotically intended gesture.
In truth, his exertions on behalf of Bo Gritz could have been written off as a 'business expense'. With his next Dirty Harry movie on the back burner, Clint was browsing around for a project that would ennoble counter-intelligence agents. The Bob Denard possibility came a cropper when the script Clint had commissioned proved unsatisfactory. Fritz Manes was acquainted with James H. Webb, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, active in veterans' affairs and Republican circles, who had written Fields of Fire. Clint also considered adapting one of Webb's novels, which anguished over the mistakes and compromises of Vietnam, before thinking better of it.
Bob Denard was a dubious character: seen as a liberator by some, as a gangster in fatigues by others. It would have been interesting to see how Clint approached that subject. Inevitably, the star preferred his heroes in uniform simplified. When Clint finally found what he was looking for - in British adventure novelist Craig Thomas's 1977 bestseller Firefox, and, later on, in Heartbreak Ridge - he fell back on comfortable stereotypes.
Thomas was known for his espionage stories pitting Western forces against the iniquities of the Soviet system. Firefox was about a retired Air Force special forces expert recruited for a dangerous espionage mission in Moscow. His assignment: steal a Soviet supersonic war plane. This book, the ultimate 'airplane read', had been recommended to Clint by a Carmel lady friend; two others who read Firefox and recommended it were friends James W. Gavin and Thomas Friedkin - the former, a pilot who had assisted with second-unit 'aerials' over the, years; the latter, the wealthy former president of Pacific Southwest Airlines and CEO of Gulf States Toyota, at whose Colorado residence Clint sometimes 'comped' his skiing vacations.
Clint had been fiddling around Firefox even before Bronco Billy. He was filming Firefox even as he was shaking hands with the true-life mercenaries. And Firefox would be finished and released by the summer of 1982, around the time Gritz was making final preparations for his POW liberation raids. Did Clint think this involvement with Gritz would amount to a publicity tie-in, and is this one of the rare times his usually astute salesmanship backfired?
A little more than a month after finishing Coogan's Bluff (and months before either it or Hang 'em High was released) [Clint Eastwood] was off to Europe to make Where Eagles Dare (reported salary, $500,000), after which he was scheduled to start Paint Your Wagon (reported salary, $600,000).
More about Paint Your Wagon, in which Clint Eastwood plays a miner married to a Mormon woman (Jean Seberg) in a California gold rush town. Interestingly enough, although the lead female character in the movie is a Mormon (albeit an unorthodox one, in some ways), and the film is set against the backdrop of the California Gold Rush of 1849, the film has no mention whatsoever of the fact that Mormon settlers at Sutter's Mill started the Gold Rush. From: Schickel, pages 211-223:
It was to be a musical - a lavish, no-expense-spared musical, a form that Hollywood, looking back on the midsixties grosses of My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, had decided represented the high, if risky, road to vast profits. Camelot, Star! and Doctor Doolittle had thrown doubt on this supposition, but at this moment the game was still on, and Paramount was determined to get in on it.
More about Paint Your Wagon, from McGilligan, pages 173-176:
The creators of My Fair Lady and Camelot, Alan J. Lerner and Fritz Loewe, had one more property in their trunk, the least successful of their Broadway collaborations, Paint Your Wagon, a saga of the California Gold Rush. Lerner, who signed to produce the project, assured Paramount that playwright Paddy Chayefsky could rewrite and update it so that it appealed to the sensibility of the sixties, especially since he would be working under the guidance of director Joshua Logan, who had shared a Pulitzer Prize for his work in adapting South Pacific to the stage.
How could anything possibly go wrong? As it happened, almost everything did. It began the first day Clint reported for work on the Paramount lot. Logan had decreed a week or two of rehearsals on a Hollywood soundstage before the company left for location on East Eagle Creek, in Oregon's Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. Clint drove up to the gate in his customary underwhelming vehicle, in this case a tan pickup truck, gave his name to the guard and was told that there was no pass for him. "Well, you know, I'm supposed to be here," Clint replied mildly. "They're kind of expecting me down there."
The guard said he'd have to make a U-turn, find a phone somewhere and call a number he'd be glad to give him. Clint was now afume:
"I'll tell you what, buddy. I'm gonna go over to Universal - here's my number there. If anybody calls here asking for Clint, just tell them I'm over there, because I can get on that lot."
One imagines a screech of tires, the smell of burning rubber. When he arrived at his Universal office he told his secretary to inform callers that he was out, then withdrew into his office to read some scripts. The phones began jangling, and after a time his assistant appeared: "God, they're going crazy down there."
Clint accepted the next call, playing dumb. "You know, fellas, I couldn't get on, and I thought maybe I'd been replaced."
When he returned to Paramount he found Logan, the rest of the principal cast and key department heads, like William Fraker, the cinematographer, gathered in a corner of a cavernous soundstage, with the actors, scripts in hand, reading their lines as they moved about at Logan's command. He was blocking action as if this were a theatrical production. It was essentially busywork, since the crucial element in movie staging, the camera, was missing.
Elsewhere, other lunacies were occurring. Tom Shaw, a veteran and expert assistant director, who specialized in complex, large-scale productions, had signed on as the film's associate producer, and one day found himself at the center of a perplexed and angry group of horsemen and stuntpeople. They had been called in for auditions, because, even though they would not have speaking parts, they had to look like the citizens of a mining camp. But they found themselves grouped with chorus boys and, like them, being asked to take their pants off so that the casting people could study their legs. This was not something these rough-and-ready types were accustomed to. Worse, Shaw got the distinct impression that someone in the production hierarchy was perhaps thinking of saving a few dollars by having the dancers double as riders and as drivers of the film's many horsedrawn vehicles. It was ridiculous - musical-comedy performers trying to master the arcane (and dangerous) art of driving a six-up or an eight-up, every bit as ridiculous as asking one of the riders to attempt a jete.
Shaw quickly straightened out this confusion of realms, but not without a sense of foreboding, which elsewhere, for different reasons, Clint was also entertaining. For a man who did not like to overthink a performance, Logan's rehearsals were intolerable, and Clint found himself wondering if he had made a terrible mistake when he signed for this picture.
He had been drawn to the project for two reasons: because it offered him a chance to sing and because he liked the first script he was shown. Musically, he would not encounter serious problems. Lerner had at first thought Clint might have to talk his songs, as Rex Harrison had in My Fair Lady, but then he listened to some of his old records and had a session at the piano with him, where Clint handled the Paint Your Wagon melodies well enough. He knew, of course, that he didn't have a big musical-comedy tone, but thought, I'll try to sing what the character is, not try to come out with a booming voice, which he feels works better anyway on-screen. It had always worked for Fred Astaire, hadn't it?
The screenplay, on the other hand, turned into a growing issue. Chayefsky, who was struggling with a writers block at the time, had signed on largely for the money (his fee was $150,000 plus a percentage of net profits that never emerged) and for the opportunity to practice his craft on something that did not involve him emotionally. This strategy worked for the writer; when he finished the job he found that his block had dissolved. Moreover, he produced something that attracted not only Clint, but Lee Marvin, then regarded as an even more bankable star.
Chayefsky's work bore no resemblance to the book Lerner had written for the 1951 Broadway production, which recounted the adventures of a widower and his daughter searching for new lives, new wealth (and in her case a new love) in a California mining camp during the Gold Rush era. The playwright retained the setting of the original show, and found a place for most of its songs (plus some new ones that Lerner wrote with Andre Previn) but threw out everything else. His was a story about the creation of a frontier menage a trois involving an old miner, Ben Rumson (Lee Marvin); his friend, known only as Pardner (Clint); and a young woman named Elizabeth (in which role, after much dithering, Jean Seberg was cast). [Jean Seberg's character, a Mormon, marries both Lee Marvin's character and Clint Eastwood's character, an inversion of the traditional plural marriage practiced by a small proportion of Mormon families up until the practice was banned in the late 1800s.] No-Name City, the site where this nonaction takes place, eventually, literally, collapses as a result of rampant greed (Ben and some friends secretly tunnel under the town searching for gold, weakening its foundations).
"Not an up story at all, kind of a moody piece, very dark," is the way Clint characterized it. Indeed, in the first draft he read, Marvin's character actually died at the end. "I'd never seen a musical with this kind of a story line before," he says, and he remembers thinking. This is very bold - maybe these guys are on to something.
Possibly so, although even in Clint s fond description this early draft sounds, at best, like a Tin Pan Alley version of the Weill-Brecht Mahagonny. At worst, it seems to be about what one might expect from some older Broadway types trying desperately to refurbish a decrepit property and use it to bridge the then-notorious generation gap. What he seems to have seen here was something like the Fistful of Dollars scenario. If the western had then seemed tired, the movie musical, despite its recent commercial success, now seemed positively moribund, the glory days of the first postwar decade, when Hollywood was making originals like Singin' in the Rain, long gone. It was therefore reasonable for him to think, based on what he had read initially, that this project might revitalize this form as the Leone pictures had the western.
This was perhaps naive of him, but not totally so. The deal memo he signed before going off to make Where Eagles Dare prudently provided an escape clause; if he did not approve of Paint Your Wagon's final shooting script he could leave the project. As his work in Europe dragged along, Clint spared an occasional thought for this revision, and finally he called Hirshan to inquire after it. In a matter of days it was in his hands - the work of Lerner, who would eventually receive writing credit on the finished film, with Chayefsky, whose services had now been dispensed with, getting an adaptation credit.
"I get this thing, and I start reading it, and it's now totally different. It has no relation to the original, except the names of the characters. They had the threesome deal, but it wasn't a dark story at all. It was all fluffy. Fluffy, and running around talking, and they're having Lee do Cat Ballou II." This accords with Chayefsky's recollection that no more than six pages of his work remained in Lerner's version. So Clint called Hirshan immediately and said, "This has really gone haywire. Just get me out of this. Get me totally, completely out this."
That was not easy to do. People had committed to Paint Your Wagon because Clint had. "The next thing you know, here come Lerner and Logan," flying into London to argue that musicals have to be upbeat, cheery. That's what audiences expected. "Yeah, but it was so interesting," said Clint, making a hopeless plea for a return to the first draft.
They, of course, misunderstood him. They thought he was signaling disappointment at the size of his role in the new script. They assured him that they were willing to do still more rewriting in order to "make your character more important," which, apparently, they did in the next draft.
But that was not at all the message Clint was trying to send: "I'm trying to explain to everybody that I don't need a big part. Bigness isn't bestness; sometimes lessness is bestness."
The next revision was, he thought, "somewhat better." But it was "still 180 degrees from where we started." His impulse to pass was still large. But his agency and the studio were pressuring him to sign the contract. A green light had been flashed; the vehicle was now moving; people were counting on him. Implicit in this argument was another one: You don't want to become known around town as difficult, and you especially don't want to discommode a major studio. And because there was a romance in his part, it remained a good career move, something that might ingratiate him with an audience that had not yet seen him. So he gave in: "I'm taking it on as sort of a Rawhide deal: How can I make this interesting, if at all?"
It is possible that Clint s attempts to rescue what he had originally valued in the Chayefsky script ultimately did both himself and the production a disservice. What the huge company went off to shoot in the summer of 1968 at an eventual cost of some $20 million (more than anyone had ever spent on a musical) was neither the revisionist film he wanted to make nor the lighthearted entertainment everyone else wanted to do. The movie they eventually made veered constantly, hopelessly, from one tack to the other; what humor and romance it offered was dour, and its other aspirations were so vaguely stated as to be indefinable.
In situations of this kind, the hope is always for a miracle, and these are always centered on the director. But Logan was no miracle worker. He was, from the first day to the last, overwhelmed by the task at hand:
"He was a terrific guy," Clint says, "I really liked him, but he just knew nothing about film - nothing."
Certainly he knew nothing about making this kind of film. He was, of course, a highly regarded theatrical director, whose shows had been among the signature hits of postwar Broadway, but his relatively few movies had been made in carefully controlled situations and had involved very little complicated action. He was totally out of his element in this wilderness, making what amounted to a quasi-western. One of Shaw's enduring memories of Logan on location is of a man in a hat, topcoat and delicate shoes, all more suitable for a stroll down the Great White Way, picking his way through the mud and horse droppings of the set, trying to line up a shot he could only vaguely imagine.
This situation was not completely of the director's making. In his autobiography he says he had argued strongly against location work, except for exteriors, preferring the more comfortable alternative of back lot and soundstage shooting. But he says production designer John Truscott had argued strenuously for "realism," and had won everyone else over - possibly because it would give the production a unique visual quality, possibly because extensive Austrian location work had contributed much to the success of The Sound of Music. So, while Logan was preoccupied with rewrites, Shaw and Truscott crisscrossed the western states in a Paramount jet, looking for a location, finally settling - somewhat dubiously - on this isolated area in Oregon. The nearest accommodations were in Baker, some sixty miles away, and the road between it and the production site was narrow and twisting, which meant that supplying the shoot was a logistical nightmare; above the line people were ferried in and out by helicopter every day.
That, as it turned out, was not the worst of the problems. When Shaw and Truscott had scouted the location in the spring it was still covered with snow, which mantled an extremely rocky terrain. This was crucial information, for to achieve the movie's Sodom and Gomorrah climax Truscott planned an elaborate hydraulic system, which would enable his sets to collapse on cue. But installing it with bedrock so close to the surface proved to be an expensive nightmare. Clint recalls that it cost $300,000 to rig the system on the town saloon alone. "It's a lot of money now," he says mildly, "but it was a lot hotter then."
Such problems might have annoyed a director used to marshaling large, rough forces in remote areas, but it would not have daunted him. Clint remembers thinking, the first time he saw the Eagle Creek site, Boy, this is fabulous. John Ford would go crazy in a place like this.
"The first day was kind of slow," Clint says, "and I figure, well, they're just kind of getting their feet on the ground." But the days that followed were no better. He observed Logan consulting extensively with his immediate staff - an invitation to disaster. A director may ask questions of his cameraman or AD - but only from a position of strength. If his inquiries are too needy or clueless, if they betray a lack of command, others will quickly arrogate his power.
Especially if you are as tensely wired as Alan J. Lerner. To Logan he seemed "pieced together by the great-great-great grandson of Dr. Frankenstein from a lot of disparate spare parts." He openly questioned some of Logan s choices for setups on the first day of shooting, and once simply stepped forward and started lining up a shot, telling the extras where to stand (and move) while Logan was still thinking it over - the movie equivalent of lese-majeste.
Very early in production Lerner called Clint in to tell him that he was thinking of replacing Logan. Clint was dismayed. "Replace him," he remembers saying. "He's only shot a couple of days' worth of stuff."
"Well, he just doesn't understand the thing."
"Let me ask you something, Alan. You guys worked together, and he's prepared this thing for a year. How come now you're deciding he's not the guy for this picture?"
Lerners answer was not entirely satisfactory; Clint thinks that, at least in part, the producer was shifting blame for his own failures to the director. He simply was not knowledgeable enough or secure enough in himself to organize this curiously misshapen project or to give Logan the support he desperately needed.
Soon after this conversation a planeload of men in suits arrived from the studio offering Logan reassurances, but also looking grim and worried as they tried to ascertain the extent of the chaos that had been reported to them by Lerner. It is one of the reliable constants of motion-picture life that studio executives never know what to do when a production is in trouble. In fairness, it must be said that their choices are often limited, and firing the director is the most difficult of them. It taints a film, often irreparably, especially in this day of the sacred auteur, and, of course, it makes it appear that they didn't know what they were doing in the first place. They came, they conferred, they departed silently, leaving authority still divided between an indecisive director and an equally insecure producer.
The production was now "a ship, literally, with no captain on the deck," as Clint describes it, a condition particularly upsetting to that very queasy sailor Lee Marvin. An alcoholic exactly the opposite of Richard Burton in that he showed the effects of drink almost immediately, he was, as Clint says, a man who needed to know on a daily, perhaps hourly, basis what course they were on. "The minute you said, 'Well, I'm not sure about this or that,' Lee immediately went, 'Pour me a double:"
In his autobiography, Logan was still speaking of Marvin as a courtly Southern gentleman, at heart not very different from the director himself, and that, unfortunately, was the way he treated him on the set. Only once did he let his true feelings publicly slip, when he told Marvin's biographer, Donald Zee, "Not since Attila the Hun swept across Europe leaving five hundred years of total blackness has there been a man like Lee Marvin."
What Marvin obviously needed, what he had received from other directors when he did his best work, was stern discipline administered by a man's man. To Lerner and to Tom Shaw that suggested Richard Brooks, a literate, tough-minded character, as blunt in conversation as Logan was circumspect, who had a reputation for handling complex productions (among them Elmer Gantry and Lord Jim), and difficult actors (among them Lee Marvin, whom he had directed without incident in The Professionals).
Brooks, who had a powerful collegial feeling for others of his profession, refused to take over the picture. Naturally, this whetted everyone's appetite for his saving presence. Everyone except Clint's, that is. When Lerner mentioned Brooks to him, he responded, "I've always liked Richard Brooks. I'd love to work in a picture with him. But I don't think you should write this guy off. I don't really think you're being fair to the guy. Why doesn't everybody who's not being supportive of him right now get together and be supportive of him, and lets try to get this movie on track."
Anxious Alan Lerner (he frequently wore white cotton gloves to prevent himself from picking and gnawing at his cuticles), however, was still determined to hire Brooks, and flew to Los Angeles to plead with him directly. The director told Lerner that if he had not informed Logan of this approach he was acting unethically. He also repeated Clint's argument; it was late in the game to be discovering that he had hired the wrong director. At the end of the meeting Brooks believed that he had heard the last of this matter.
He had not. Marvin now called to support the producer's plea; Brooks responded by urging cooperation on him. Then Joyce Haber, the gossip columnist, printed an item claiming that Logan was on the verge of dismissal and that Brooks was the "likeliest candidate" to replace him. This leak was obviously not accidental. Haber was being used by Lerner to provoke Logan into quitting, which he may have imagined would still Brooks's qualms about replacing him. In this he reckoned without Brooks s most salient qualities - his stubborn rectitude and his almost comically paranoid certainty of everyone else's deviousness. He might consider taking over for a director who had left of his own volition, or had fallen ill. But he would not angle for another man's job. Nor would he be placed in a position where he might seem to be doing so. Now, even if Logan could be forced to leave the production Brooks would never replace him.
There, finally, the matter ended, and everyone went back to work - for five endless months. The snows would be flurrying again before the company quit its location and moved back to the studio (where, as it turned out, they had to rebuild the saloon set that had caused them so much trouble and expense earlier). Disorganization being ever the mother of more disorganization, "all the things that could go wrong did go wrong," as Shaw put it later. The horses drawing a stagecoach that was carrying a group of women extras, who were playing hookers, ran away heading for a ravine, and only a quick response from the horsemen (Buddy Van Horn among them) averted a tragedy. The bright idea of hiring hippies as extras (they lived in a temporary tent commune on site) didn't work out; they were frequently in a near-mutinous state over pay and living conditions. Day in, day out the actors were engaged in shots that struck them as ludicrous. Clint remembers warbling one of his songs - seeking authenticity, playback was not used - in a scene with Seberg so far out in a field that they could barely see the camera, on which was mounted a 1,000-mm lens; this made for a radically foreshortened shot, supposedly making them appear to be at one with nature. Of course, the opposite effect was created; the shots looked jarringly artificial.
In general, however, realism was heavily stressed - Clint remembers much fuss about costumes, the details of which were rigorously authentic to the period, but which the camera could not see - and distinctly misplaced: Who needs realism in musical comedy? And that, finally, is what's wrong with Marvin s performance. He was properly grizzled and disheveled looking, this hard-used man, but called upon to play a dirty old man, he stubbornly, charmlessly remained... a dirty old man. When rolling his eyes and broadly commenting on his own raffishness, his performance is clumsy, unfunny, distancing. He is, finally, the opposite of a star; he is a black hole, swallowing this little universe.
Another metaphor occurs to describe his working behavior. Overt rebelliousness eventually disappeared and Marvin became something like a scary ghost haunting the productions by-ways, spreading chaos whenever he appeared. Clint credits Michelle Triola, Marvin's longtime companion and eventual initiator of the famous "palimony" action against him, for doing her best to restrict his intake of alcohol, but she could not be everywhere with him. Typically, Clint says, "His stand-in would come over to my trailer and say, 'Lee's going to come by here in about ten or fifteen minutes asking for a beer. Tell him you don't have any.' So I hid all the beer and it became this kind of game all the way."
Except that whenever possible Clint chose not to play in it. Logan would later describe Clint as "warm and decent," his words correctly implying that, as much as possible, Clint distanced himself from the ongoing hubbub. He did his job and maintained a pleasant, cooperative, but reserved, manner. He had rented a farmhouse and did chores around the place. He found some locals who knew where the good fishing was and often joined them on their expeditions. One of the helicopter pilots ferrying him in and out of the set was an instructor, and when Clint showed an interest in learning to fly the contraption he started teaching him to do so, inspiring a stubborn ambition to fly that, almost two decades later, Clint would realize. Some nights, Clint would bunk in his trailer on the set and enjoy the peace of the wilderness.
Eventually, he found himself keeping more and more company with Jean Seberg. "Jean and I were close buddies." Pause. "I really liked her a lot." Another pause. "I was kind of nuts about her." He has had his share of location romances, but this is the one he speaks of most tenderly.
It was her fragility and vulnerability that attracted him, a sense that this was a woman who needed protection, as both her professional and personal histories seem to prove. As a college freshman from a small Iowa town, she had won a nationwide talent search for the title role in Otto Preminger's production of Saint Joan, for which she received disastrous reviews. After appearing in another Preminger production, Bonjour Tristesse - in this period the producer-director specialized in a kind of wooden sensationalism, adapting popular, slightly scandalous novels in a metronomic manner - she rescued her career as Clint had by appearing in a marginal European film that became a surprise international success, Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless. She confirmed her abilities with her complex work as the schizophrenic heroine of Robert Rossen's Lilith and continued to divide her time between European and American filmmaking. Married (not entirely happily) to Romain Gary, the French novelist and diplomat, she had involved herself in various radical causes (notably supporting the Black Panther movement), but yet retained the saving air of innocence that had marked her work for Godard.
Clint seems to be correct when he comments, "She just wanted a peaceful life," and they achieved a semblance of it by absenting themselves from the chaos of production whenever they could. Clint had a motorcycle with him, and when they were not required on set they spent many days together. Seberg was sufficiently smitten that in a later interview she dropped an obvious hint about their affair to a gossip columnist, but, given their other commitments, it could only be a thing of the moment. In the years that followed, her unhappiness and confusion deepened, and after a decade of troubled relationships she died of an overdose of sleeping pills in 1979.
Their performances do not so much reflect their affection for one another as their remoteness from the production process. Sometimes it almost seems as if they're working in a different picture. He is more a juvenile than a potent romantic lead; she's more an ingenue than a mature sexual being. But, in a curious way, this "worked for them; their romantic passages are little islands of calm and sweetness in a sea of desperation and discontent. And by and large they would escape responsibility for the picture's failure. Critics mostly dismissed their work with a bland sentence or two, while Hollywood blamed Logan, who would never direct another picture.
But in another way, Paint Your Wagon did have a major, and continuing, effect on Clint's career. As the muddle persisted right up to the very last days on location, he firmly resolved never again to place himself in such circumstances. "That's when I came to the conclusion, after the fifth month, that I was going to be really active with Malpaso. I was going to go back to doing just regular movies."
That is to say, relatively small-scale films employing good, but not necessarily big-name, actors, and certainly none that carried with them any explosive personal baggage. By this he also meant that he would direct at least some of these films himself. As he put it on one public occasion, "If I'm going to make mistakes in my career, I want to make them, I don't want somebody else making them for me." Or, as he put it a little more colorfully later on, "if these guys can blow this kind of dough and nobody cares about it, why not take a shot at it, and at least if I screw up I can say, well, OK, I screwed up, and take the blame on it." This realization, and this resolution, constituted for Clint "a turning point in my career."
It was the most important decision, in fact, since accepting A Fistful of Dollars. For the moment, however, this was a largely negative turning point; knowing now what he didn't want to do - further pursuing the stardom-by-association strategy - he still didn't know precisely what he wanted to do, beyond making more manageable films. What their subject matter might be, what developments he might permit his screen character, when, exactly, he would begin to direct, remained unclear to him. And, in fact, he was at the moment committed to two rather routine movies, neither of which would advance him along the path he was beginning to imagine for himself.
But at least he was done with Paint Your Wagon, except for recording his songs, attending to the usual looping chores and showing up for the premieres in New York and London. "Gulp," he said when confronted by Nelson Riddle and a full orchestra on the recording stage, but he persevered. When he finally saw the film in completed form he thought it was "cut defensively," meaning that wherever there was a choice the more conventional material was used to make a film that was without energy or sense of movement. It contained very little dancing, and what there was of it was not integrated into the plot. The songs (some of which, like "Wanderin' Star" and "They Call the Wind Maria," were agreeably melodic) were clumsily staged and sometimes simply played over other action, almost as if they were a kind of narration. Its attempts at spectacle were glum and distant, and the big finish, the town collapsing, was unpersuasive. "Fiascoesque" was Clint's neologistic final judgment.
Some reviewers, like Vincent Canby, were surprisingly tolerant of it; "amiable" was his word for it. Here and there Clint got a good notice. The Los Angeles Times's Charles Champlin wrote favorably of him (his "stoic and handsome dignity stands out and he sings in an unscholarly baritone which is fine"). The reviewers who liked his work "were responding to Clint's strategy of polite reserve - the old Rowdy Yates manner, come to think of it. "People were so favorable to me," Clint now observes, "because they didn't like anything else about it."
This was essentially true. "Coarse and unattractive" was Champlins summarizing phrase. "Rarely has a film wasted so much time so wantonly," said Newsweek. In this chorus of disapproval Pauline Kael's voice was the most devastating, and her savage, career-long dislike of Clint - not just his work, but, it often seemed, his very being - was enunciated here. She discerned his strategy - "he hardly seems to be in the movie" - but unlike some of her colleagues, viciously chastised him for his withdrawal: "He's controlled in such an uninteresting way; it's not an actors control, which enables one to release something - it's the kind of control that keeps one from releasing anything. We could stand the deadpan reserve of Nelson Eddy's non-acting because he gave of himself when he sang, but Eastwood doesn't give of himself ever, and a musical with a withdrawn hero is almost a contradiction in terms. . . ."
If her case against Clint's work in this instance is perhaps justifiable, her larger generalizations about him as an actor are wrong, and her endless animus against him remains, like so many of her curious passions, inexplicable. Perhaps no more so, however, than her notion that films like Paint Your Wagon evidenced the terminal decadence of the whole Hollywood system.
It, along with the other expensive musicals of the moment had "finally broken the back of the American movie industry," she gleefully crowed. The major studios, part of "a rotting system" she insisted, "are collapsing, but they're not being toppled over by competitors; they're so enervated that they're sinking under their own weight" - rather like No-Name City itself, one might say. This ludicrously overdramatized the situation. All that was coming to an end was a mode of exhibition, road showing, in which overlong, overstuffed movies like Paint Your Wagon were made to be shown on a reserved-seat, two-shows-per-day basis at advanced prices - mostly because the public felt it had too often overpaid for too many big, bad movies.
That did not mean, however, that the whole Hollywood system was tottering, only that it was once again in transition. Indeed, Paint Your Wagon did not turn out to be the insupportable disaster Kael imagined it would. It was certainly not worth the trouble and anxiety it caused, but eventually it returned $15 million of its $20 million cost in domestic rentals and probably made back much of the rest overseas and in television licensing. Nor did it bring down Paramount's management, which skipped blithely on to the profitable likes of Love Story and The Godfather. Like all radical critics of capitalistic enterprises, Kael underestimated their adaptability and their capacity for survival.
Her opinions about his work aside, Clint agreed with many of Kael's judgments on Paint Your Wagon. In a general way, indeed, he agreed with her view of the Hollywood system; it was slow, cumbersome, often stupid in its decisions. He did not, however, think it was ripe for revolution. What he guessed was that a cooler, more amiable and self-interested kind of subversion might be practiced on it by a man increasingly confident of his own skills, power and judgment, and increasingly wary of other people's opinions about what he should and should not be doing.
Clint's next project would also have the added insurance of box-office names, although it couldn't have been more unalike. Surprising some ln Hollywood, Clint signed to sing a starring role in Paint Your Wagon, Lerner and Loewe's gold rush musical, which had originated during the Broadway season of 1951. His part of Pardner didn't even exist in the original show, and had been built up with Clint in mind. He would play a 'moral' and 'green' Rowdy type, a peaceable ex-farmer from Michigan who forms a partnership with a grungy, boozing, cussing gold miner.
McGilligan, pages 184-185:
Lee Marvin was Paramount's choice for the grungy, boozing cuss and Jean Seberg was Malpaso's approved casting for the leading lady. By July Clint had to be up in a fork-in-the-road called Baker, Oregon, where the sets were being built. The Hollywood trade papers noted that the redoubtable Irving Leonard had extracted a half million dollars in salary for his client's musical comedy debut - before percentages and other fillips - to be paid out in annual fifty-thousand-dollar increments.
In Hollywood history there have been few fiascos to compare with Paint Your Wagon.
All the horrors descended. Weather wreaked havoc on the locations and outdoor sets. Director Joshua Logan was unstable and constantly rumoured to be on the verge of replacement (Paint Your Wagon would spell the end of his Hollywood career). The 'super-budget', which besides accommodating the star salaries had to absorb hundreds of chorus and extras along with the film's extravagant 'earthquake' climax, would rise above $20 million.
But the worst horror may have been the miscast stars. The only intriguing element of the story - two husbands and one wife in a G-rated menage a trois - was created for the film version by Lerner, after he had split up from Loewe. Seberg, playing the double-duty wife, was a sophisticated actress with a facility for projecting wild innocence on the screen. Born in Iowa, she had made a second home for herself in Paris after her Hollywood debut as Joan of Arc in Otto Preminger's Saint Joan and Preminger's equally disappointing follow-up, Bonjour Tristesse. A starring role in Jean-Luc Godard's nouvelle vague hit A Bout de Souffle, or Breathless, along with a second marriage to novelist Romain Gary, had recharged Seberg's career in Europe.
She would prove distinctly uncomfortable in her hapless part however; and although Lee Marvin, one of Hollywood's premier heavies, cast against type, seemed more at ease in his, he played to the rafters, blasting Clint's mild mannerisms off the screen.
Clint's singing is one of the all-time cringing embarrassments. Incredibly, he was awarded four songs to sing. One of them, 'I Still See Eliza', was an established hit that had been sung in the original show by Ben Rumson, the Lee Marvin character. Nobody in the film version is named Eliza, however, so Marvin covers this discrepancy by asking, 'Hey Pard, is that the name of your girl?'
Another song was particularly thankless, with Clint strolling in the woods as he warbles, 'I talk to the trees, but they don't listen to me . ..' The mood was conveyed by a gauzy long shot for pastoral effect. Clint's pale voice, when put to the test of Nelson Riddle's lush scoring, proved barely serviceable.
Later Clint would point to Paint Your Wagon as inspiring his low-cost, no-nonsense approach to producing his own films. But his $50,000 annuity was part of the inordinate budget, and no matter what the critics eventually said ('a monument to unparalleled incompetence' was how Rex Reed described the film when it was released in August 1970), the man who played Pard probably had fond memories of the shoot for at least one reason . . . maybe why he took the role in the first place.
Clint was always interested in the actresses and leading ladies who populated his films. His friend from boyhood and later, the producer of a number of Malpaso films, Fritz Manes, said that sometimes Clint would emerge from a casting conference and exclaim about an actress he had just encountered, 'Oh, that sh--'s hot! Did you see the way she was looking at me? I could have that in a minute!'
'The little head was always thinking for the big,' Manes explained. 'If you look at the films [that Clint stars in], you can see recurring women [players]. These are usually the ones brought back because it was a good piece of ass last time.'
The pattern was long established with Clint that location work meant a respite from marriage. On Hang 'Em High, he had a fling with Inger Stevens; on Coogan's Bluff, according to Dean Riesner, who held script meetings after hours with Clint in his hotel, 'I'd leave his suite, and I'd be going down the hall and there'd be some girl coming down the hall from the opposite direction and heading into dint's room.' Added Riesner: 'There were always a bunch of girls around him, I'll tell you that. Gals from the office, gals around the set, gals in the picture. He's a pretty good man with the ladies.'
The little dolly on the Paint Your Wagon set, at least up in Oregon, was Jean Seberg. Offscreen, she was another of Clint's blonde gamine types. She looked a little like Maggie, with full lips, prominent cheekbones and an aura of feverish androgyny.
Seberg's affair with Clint has been well documented. Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes (another of her lovers) refers to it in his roman a clef, Diana: The Goddess Who Hunts Alone. Film-maker Mark Rappaport made it a caustic focal point of his 'pseudo-documentary' From the Journals of Jean Seberg. Biographer David Richards reported it in depth in his authoritative book, Played Out: The Jean Seberg Story, published a few years after Seberg, just 40, died, a probable suicide, in 1979.
In his authorized version of Clint's life, Richard Schickel treats the affair coyly. He quotes Clint as saying that he and Seberg were 'close buddies' up in Oregon, which comment is followed by one of Clint's studied pauses, then - 'I really liked her a lot' - another pause, then - 'I was kind of nuts about her.' According to Schickel: 'It was her fragility and vulnerability that attracted him, a sense that this was a woman who needed protection, as both her professional and personal histories seem to prove.'
Clint and Jean Seberg took long motorcycle rides together whenever they were not obliged to be on camera. Her marriage to Romain Gary happened to be conveniently on the rocks. Clint's 'I'm-happily-married' line might have been a little time-worn, but he had the advantage of being able to update that with the recent news of fatherhood.
Indeed, Maggie showed up on location with three-month-old baby Kyle, making her brief, ritual visit to one of her husband's sets. Seberg disappeared from Clint's side, while none-the-wiser Maggie expounded for the press.
'I want Clint to get better acquainted with his son,' Maggie informed one fan magazine correspondent. 'He really hasn't gotten a good look at him lately. What with the new picture stating so soon after the last one, Clint managed to get into town only once or twice. The last time he got back from location, it was night. Kyle was asleep, and Clint just got a glance at him in his crib. That's pretty rough on a new father.'
'After Maggie left Oregon, Clint and Seberg's relationship faltered. 'Given their other commitments,' the Clint-Seberg romance 'could only be a thing of the moment,' wrote Schickel. Played Out: The Jean Seberg Story states plainly that the Clint-Seberg romance tapered off in October, when the production was forced to quit Oregon and retreat to Hollywood soundstages. 'Dropping temperatures and the threat of early snow sent the company back to the Paramount lot, where No Name City was partly reconstructed at additional expense,' according to David Richards.
'Once they got back to Paramount,' Jerry Pam, Seberg's Hollywood publicist (also, at the time, Clint's), is quoted in Played Out, 'it was as if Clint didn't know who she was. Jean couldn't believe that he could be into indifferent to her, after everything that had gone on in Baker. She was a very vulnerable woman, and it was a terrible trauma for her.'
Seberg never publicly identified Clint as the man who broke her heart, but Played Out notes that she confider 'her disappointment' to a few friends, and then made apparent reference to Clint a year later in a newspaper dispatch from Rome...
In his book, intended to reflect Clint's perspective, Schickel added a sorrowful postscript: 'In the years that followed' their affair, the actress's 'unhappiness and confusion deepened, and after a decade of troubled relationships she died of an overdose of sleeping pills.' This not only minimizes any betrayal of Maggie, shortly after the birth of Kyle, but overlooks, the fact that Seberg's 'decade of troubled relationships' started with her Clint romance during Paint Your Wagon.
Clint took time for interviews to promote Paint Your Wagon, then balked at staying a few extra days to perfect some things for Kelly's Heroes.... Two Mules for Sister Sara and Kelly's Heroes both played theatres during the mid-summer of 1970. Each earned approximately $1.5 million. Ironically - something Clint couldn't have anticipated - he had a third film in release that summer. Paint Your Wagon had been playing in movie houses for almost a year, and more than doubled the ticket sales of Two Mules for Sister Sara and Kelly's Heroes, ultimately,. with nearly $7 million gross.
Webpage created 9 July 2005. Last modified 2 September 2005.
We are always striving to increase the accuracy and usefulness of our website. We are happy to hear from you. Please submit questions, suggestions, comments, corrections, etc. to: firstname.lastname@example.org.