In a career that spanned over half a century, actor-director Clint Eastwood managed to become both a top box office draw and an Oscar-winning director, while managing to shrug off the trappings of Hollywood. Never one to worry about critical or audience reception, Eastwood amassed a staggeringly impressive body of work both in front of and behind the camera, while at the same time starring in two film series that were both legendary and notorious. After breaking through on television on "Rawhide" (CBS, 1959-1966), he personified the laconic Man With No Name in a trilogy of Spaghetti Westerns made by Italian director, Sergio Leone: "A Fistful of Dollars" (1964), "For a Few Dollars More" (1965) and "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" (1966). While continuing to churn out revisionist Westerns throughout the 1970s, Eastwood essayed another taciturn loner bucking the system in "Dirty Harry" (1971). Spawning four sequels throughout the years, Eastwood's loose cannon police detective became both scourge and hero to audiences. Though he made his directing debut with "Play Misty for Me" (1971), Eastwood reached full fruition as a filmmaker with his Oscar-winning Western, "Unforgiven" (1992). As unpredictable as he was indefinable, Eastwood branched out into unchartered territory in the new millennium, helming such moving and deeply rich films as "Mystic River" (2003), "Million Dollar Baby" (2004) and "Letters From Iwo Jima" (2006), all of which earned considerable acclaim, while cementing Eastwood as one of the truly great creative talents in cinematic history.
Born on May 31, 1930 in San Francisco, Eastwood grew up in Depression-era California, where his parents, Clinton and Ruth, were itinerant workers. Because of his father's difficulty in finding steady work, Eastwood moved with his family from one Northern California town to another, attending some eight elementary schools in the process. The experience profoundly affected him to the point of turning Eastwood into an isolated and lonely child. By the time he was attending Oakland Technical High School, he was excelling at swimming and basketball, while playing jazz piano for meals at a local club. After graduation, he worked as a firefighter and lumberjack in Oregon, as well as a steelworker in Seattle. In 1951, Eastwood was drafted into the U.S. Army, where he was a swimming instructor during the Korean War. It was at Fort Ord near Carmel, CA that Eastwood first became interested in acting, thanks to his friendship with actors David Janssen and Martin Milner, who encouraged him to pursue a career in Hollywood after serving in the military. Taking their advice, Eastwood made his way to Southern California, where he studied at Los Angeles City College on the G.I. Bill.
Upon his arrival in Hollywood, Eastwood signed with Universal Studios as a contract player. Soon he began landing bit parts in rather inane movies, most notoriously in "Francis in the Navy" (1955), one of several comedies featuring Francis the Talking Mule. Also that year, Eastwood made a brief appearance as a lab technician in "Revenge of the Creature," the sequel to "Creature from the Black Lagoon" (1954), which was years later lampooned on the popular cult television show, "Mystery Science Theater 3000" (Comedy Central/Sci Fi Channel, 1989-2000). After more small roles in B-movie fare like "Lady Godiva" (1955), "Star in the Dust" (1956) and "Never Say Goodbye" (1956), Eastwood was dropped by Universal, forcing the young actor to make ends meet digging swimming pools and pumping gas while he contemplated a return to college. But while eating lunch with a friend at the CBS cafeteria, Eastwood was approached by a producer who asked him to audition for a new Western television series, "Rawhide." Despite blowing his lines at the audition, Eastwood was cast as Rowdy Yates, a ramrod under the command of trail boss Gil Favor (Eric Fleming) who helps lead a group of cowboys solving various problems while driving cattle along the Sedalia Trail.
Over the years, "Rawhide" steadily became a top-rated show, turning the unknown Eastwood into a television star. But film stardom, however, still remained out of his reach until he was handed a script written by up-and-coming Italian director, Sergio Leone. Though reluctant at first to read a script for a film to be shot by an Italian company in Spain, Eastwood was convinced by his agent to give the screenplay a once over. He was immediately drawn into a revisionist take on the classic Western, which featured a nameless antihero out to get what he wants rather than helping those in need. On condition that he be allowed to cut some of his dialogue - the rare instance of an actor requesting fewer lines - Eastwood traveled to Spain to film what became the first in a trilogy of Spaghetti Westerns, "A Fistful of Dollars" (1964), a remake of Akira Kurosawa's "Yojimbo" (1961). Eastwood played the laconic and lethal Man With No Name, who finds himself in a nameless town torn apart by two feuding families. Hiring himself out as a mercenary, the lone drifter plays one side against the other until nothing remains of either side. Onscreen, Eastwood started to develop a minimalist acting style for which he soon became famous.
Eastwood went on to revive the nameless drifter in "For a Few Dollars More" (1965), a richer, more mythologized film that focused on two ruthless bounty hunters (Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef) who form a tenuous partnership to hunt down a wanted bandit (Gian Maria Volontè). Perhaps because it was the middle film, "For a Few Dollars More" was less appreciated than its predecessor, despite enhanced character motivation, visual style and production values. But it was the last film, "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), that placed the Man With No Name into the cinematic pantheon. Set during the waning days of the Civil War, Eastwood's enigmatic loner, nicknamed Blondie, teams up with Tuco (Eli Wallach), a.k.a. The Ugly, an oafish bandito with a price on his head in search of $200,000 in Confederate coin. Since both possess one-half of the location, they are forced into an uneasy partnership. Visually stunning and stylistic - particularly the legendary three-way standoff in a circular graveyard - "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" was an immediate hit upon its American release in 1967 and caped a trilogy of films that were inspirational for generations of future filmmakers.
Returning Stateside an international star, Eastwood was in demand for lead roles in Hollywood films, several of which cemented his status as a top box office draw. After forming his production company, Malpaso, he starred in a pseudo-Western, "Hang 'Em High" (1968), playing a former lawman-turned-rancher who seeks revenge on nine men after they wrongfully accused him of stealing a herd of cattle and hang him by the neck, leaving him for dead. In "Coogan's Bluff" (1968), a smart urban Western that marked the beginning of a long and successful collaboration with director Don Siegel, Eastwood played an Arizona sheriff sent to New York City to extradite an escaped killer (Don Stroud). He next starred in his first bona fide blockbuster, "Where Eagles Dare" (1968), a World War II espionage actioner that followed a group of British special forces lead by a secretive major (Richard Burton) on a dangerous operation behind German lines to rescue a captured American general (Robert Beatty). But the major knows more about their mission than he lets on, until it is finally revealed after members of his squad get killed one by one, that the operation was designed to ferret out a high-level traitor inside British intelligence. Despite the costly budget, "Where Eagles Dare" was a financial hit and became one of Eastwood's most revered films of his early career.
By the time that the 1960s were coming to a close, Eastwood had become one of the biggest stars in the world. He did, however, get a chink in his armor from his next film, "Paint Your Wagon" (1969) a much-maligned, but ultimately enjoyable Western musical set during the California gold rush about two prospectors (Eastwood and Lee Marvin) who somehow wind up married to the same woman (Jean Seberg). Despite the strong leading cast, "Paint Your Wagon" suffered from all three stars being unable to carry a tune. Eastwood proved especially embarrassing with his strained wailing on "I Talk to the Trees" and "Gold Fever." Somewhat redeeming himself, he took one of his first romantic leads in "Two Mules for Sister Sara" (1970), playing a tough cowboy who rescues a woman (Shirley Maclaine) from being raped. But while escorting her to a band of anti-French revolutionaries, he's surprised to learn that she's a nun who may or may not be what she claims.
Eastwood then joined forces with an all-star cast, including Telly Savalas, Don Rickles, Carroll O'Connor and Donald Sutherland, for "Kelly's Heroes" (1970), a World War II action comedy that depicted a motley crew of Army soldiers who go 30 miles behind enemy lines to steal a cache of gold bars from the Nazis. Despite a discordant convergence of black comedy, anti-war commentary and action sequences, coupled with a middling critical reception, "Kelly's Heroes" went on to become another hit for Eastwood. Then with the encouragement and guidance of mentor Don Siegel, Eastwood made his directorial debut with "Play Misty for Me" (1971), a sexual thriller about an obsessive woman (Jessica Walters) who pursues a jazz deejay (Eastwood) after they had what was supposed to be a one-night stand. Though Universal was doubtful about Eastwood in this sort of lead role, he offered his directing services gratis. The result was a successful take at the box office and confirmation that the actor's talents extended into other avenues.
While he was laying the foundation for what turned out to be an acclaimed and award-winning career as a director, Eastwood joined forces again with Siegel to create one of the most memorable and controversial characters of the late 20th century. In "Dirty Harry" (1971), he played Inspector Harry Callahan, a loose cannon San Francisco detective who liked to shoot first and ask questions later. Eastwood injected both a seething callousness and deep sense of morality into his rogue cop, who runs afoul of the system while ridding the streets of punks and degenerates, often in an unflinchingly violent way. Both actor and director were wholly unprepared for the reception they received; they simply thought they were making an exciting action movie. Despite the controversy over the hardcore violence - film critic Pauline Kael called it a "right-wing fantasy" and "fascist medievalism" - "Dirty Harry" was an enormous success at the box office, while the character himself entered the halls of cinematic infamy with the line, "[B]eing as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do you, punk?
After starring in an Americanized version of Leone's Spaghetti Western, "Joe Kidd" (1972), Eastwood revived Dirty Harry Callahan in "Magnum Force" (1973), which followed the wayward detective as he tracks down a vigilante group that kills scofflaws set free by the courts. Not as stylistic or as memorable as the first installment, "Magnum Force" proved successful enough to warrant another sequel. In the meantime, Eastwood returned to the director's chair for "High Plains Drifter" (1973), a bleak, apocalyptic Western in which he offered a variation on his Man With No Name, playing a mythical stranger who sweeps into a desolate town ravaged by a group of outlaws. Eastwood borrowed heavily from his experiences with Sergio Leone to create an unsettling tale about an antihero hell-bent on exacting revenge, which was publicly criticized by old school Western hero, John Wayne, for offending his sensibilities. Nonetheless, "High Plains Drifter" was the biggest box office draw of that year. Exploring new territory, Eastwood directed "Breezy" (1973), a long-forgotten romantic drama about a recently divorced middle-aged man (William Holden) who develops a love affair with a younger counterculture girl (Kay Lenz). Despite the chemistry between the two leads and sweet nature of the story, "Breezy" ranked low on the list of Eastwood's directorial accomplishments.
In 1975, following a turn as a retired thief who teams up with an innocent drifter (Jeff Bridges) on a cross-country journey after a robbery gone bad in "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot" (1974), Eastwood once again directed two films in differing genres. Returning to the Western, he directed and starred in "The Outlaw Josey Wales" (1975), another revisionist take on the classic movie staple that saw him play a peaceful farmer driven to revenge after his family is murdered by gunmen. He then turned to an action thriller for "The Eiger Sanction" (1975), playing an art history professor who moonlights as a hired assassin for an international intelligence consortium. For a third time, Eastwood played Dirty Harry; this time in "The Enforcer" (1976), an underappreciated installment to the series that paired Harry with a female detective (Tyne Daly), while inserting a much needed comedic tone with several funny and memorable verbal exchanges. Back in the director's chair, he directed and starred in "The Gauntlet" (1977), an action comedy that was a subtle spoof on his Dirty Harry persona. Eastwood played Detective Ben Shockley, an alcoholic do-nothing tasked with escorting a Las Vegas hooker (Sandra Locke) to a mob trial in Phoenix.
By the late 1970s, Eastwood began to break away from his tough guy characterizations by diversifying his resume with more comedies and romantic roles. Despite the shift in focus, he remained one of the biggest box office draws in the world, while simultaneously adding more colors to his directing palette. In "Every Which Way But Loose" (1978), he played a bare-knuckle boxer who pals around with his orangutan, Clyde, while falling for a country-and-western singer (again, Eastwood's off-screen girlfriend, Locke). Despite the threadbare plot and overall goofiness of the concept, the film nonetheless proved to be another gigantic hit for Eastwood. Turning to prison drama, he starred in Siegel's tense thriller, "Escape From Alcatraz" (1979), playing real-life convict Frank Morris, who in 1962 managed to escape from the famed island prison with two other cons (Fred Ward and Jack Thibeau), only to disappear without a trace. The following year, he scored again with the sequel "Any Which Way You Can" (1980), then showed touches of a sweeter, gentler side with his modern Western, "Bronco Billy" (1980), a light-hearted look at a traveling Old West show led by a loveable loser yearning for freedom and days gone by. Despite his deft direction, "Bronco Billy" was a rare box office failure for Eastwood.
In 1982, Eastwood churned out two more films as a star and director: the Cold War-themed spy thriller, "Firefox," in which he played an American pilot who gets smuggled into the Soviet Union in order to steal a top secret supersonic jet fighter, and "Honkytonk Man," a touching drama about a farmer who gets one last chance at musical stardom in Nashville. Eastwood then stepped behind the camera to direct himself as Dirty Harry in "Sudden Impact" (1983), a lesser installment to the series that nonetheless bestowed the immortal line, "Go ahead, make my day," upon the collective conscience. Always one to try a different take on a familiar character, Eastwood starred in "Tightrope" (1984), a crime thriller in which he played a New Orleans detective on the trail of a serial killer whose penchant for prostitutes and S&M mirrors his own. Eastwood then made another rare misstep with the period comedy "City Heat" (1984), playing a police detective trying to take down a mob boss with a roguish private eye (Burt Reynolds). Eastwood jumped back into the saddle again for the bleak Western "Pale Rider" (1985), in which he played the Preacher, a mysterious drifter who rides into a small gold mining town and helps the locals fight back against corporate interests threatening to take their land.
Never one to be pulled into the claptrap of Hollywood, Eastwood chose to make his residence in Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA, a wealthy town and artist enclave where in 1986, he ran a brief, but successful campaign for mayor. Frustrated by politics as usual, the actor decided to enter the race late in the election cycle, promising better relations between business and the community. Surprisingly, he won with an astounding 72 percent of the vote, and proceeded to strike a balance between conservationists and business development. During his two-year term, Eastwood continued to make films, starring in "Heartbreak Ridge" (1986), in which he played a tough-as-nails Marine drill sergeant tasked with straightening out a squad of misfits, then returned for a fifth and perhaps last time as Dirty Harry in "The Dead Pool" (1988), the least enjoyable installment of the series. Back to directing, his portraits of tormented men with intense inner lives and little ability to communicate reached an apogee with "Bird" (1988), a moody look at troubled jazz musician Charlie "Bird" Parker (Forest Whitaker). A longtime fan of jazz, as well as an accomplished musician and composer in his own right, Eastwood was a natural fit to direct the film. One of his most accomplished features, "Bird" marked the first time that Eastwood opted to break away from straightforward narrative in favor of a more impressionistic style.
By the time the 1990s rolled around, Eastwood began to see signs that he was becoming less of a box office draw. After starring in the forgettable "Pink Cadillac" (1989), Eastwood encountered two significant financial failures: "The Rookie" (1990), a formulaic cop thriller about a veteran detective schooling a rookie (Charlie Sheen) while trying to track down a drug dealer, and "White Hunter, Black Heart" (1990), an interesting, but ultimately flawed fictional take on the shooting of John Huston's "The African Queen" (1951). Eastwood directed the latter, which proved to be another welcome departure stylistically, though the engaging film barely made a peep at the box office. But Eastwood enjoyed a popular and critical rebirth with "Unforgiven" (1992), a so-called anti-Western which earned him Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director, as well as several other major awards. A spellbinding morality tale about the effects of killing on a man's soul, "Unforgiven" took both an ironic and sentimental view of several of Eastwood's earlier gunfighter incarnations. Dedicated to his mentors "Sergio" and "Don," the film was a commercial hit, grossing over $100 million during its long run, while single-handedly reinvigorating a favorite Hollywood genre that had seemingly run its course.
Eastwood's next star vehicle, "In the Line of Fire" (1993), was an immediate hit, turning the tide against the decline in his box office prowess. The taut political thriller pitted a veteran Secret Service agent (Eastwood), still troubled by his inability to protect John F. Kennedy in Dallas, against a brilliant, but obsessed assassin (John Malkovich) determined to kill the current president (Jim Curley). Eastwood directed his next feature, "A Perfect World" (1993), in which he played an experienced law man tracking down a dangerous escaped convict (Kevin Costner) with an eight-year-old hostage (T.J. Lowther). Even the most jaded of critics praised Eastwood's restrained adaptation of "The Bridges of Madison County" (1995), which took an overwrought bestseller and honed it into a finely acted adult love story. A mature look at passion, "Bridges" not only exhibited Eastwood's subtle directorial touch, but also provided him with a romantic lead that he played with confidence and charm. Starring opposite Meryl Streep, he exuded a low-key sexuality while revealing a soft, yet masculine side. Eastwood also contributed original compositions to the soundtrack, which were released on his newly launched Malpaso Records. That same year, Eastwood made an uncredited cameo in the children's fantasy, "Casper" (1995).
With "Absolute Power" (1997), Eastwood began to address the issue of growing old. In this uneven thriller, he portrayed a thief out to commit one last crime before retiring, but witnesses a murder involving the President of the United States (Gene Hackman). Also that year, he stayed behind the camera for "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" (1997), a slow-moving adaptation of the acclaimed true-life novel about a shocking murder in Savannah, GA that gets pinned on a high-society figure (Kevin Spacey). For "True Crime" (1999), Eastwood portrayed a burnt-out reporter who finds a last shot at redemption when he becomes convinced a death row inmate (Isaiah Washington) is innocent. He made his most blatant attempt to deal with aging with his next directorial effort, "Space Cowboys" (2000), in which he played the leader of a quartet of veteran astronauts called out of retirement to fix a satellite first sent into space 40 years earlier. In 2002, he directed and starred in "Bloodwork," a competent, but standard thriller with Eastwood as an FBI agent taunted by a clever serial killer (Jeff Daniels).
Eastwood received high praise when he stepped behind the camera for "Mystic River" (2003), an adaptation of Dennis Lehane's crime novel which explores the interwoven history of three men (Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon) and the terrible events from their boyhood that later force them to make irrevocable choices. Considered one of his best pictures since "Unforgiven," the film earned six Oscar nominations, including Eastwood's second as Best Director. Oscar buzz ignited anew with his follow up, "Million Dollar Baby" (2004), which was an even more effective effort than "Mystic River." Eastwood played Frankie Dunn, an old-school boxing trainer afraid of intimacy after a painful rift with his daughter. With the pointed advice of his friend and former boxer (Morgan Freeman), Dunn gets a last shot at coaching a champion (Hilary Swank), who in turn becomes the daughter he never had, only to be faced with a moral choice after a sudden tragedy. Praised by critics as an exquisite and subtle film, "Million Dollar Baby" received wide acclaim after earning five Golden Globe nominations, including Best Director, which Eastwood ultimately claimed. Meanwhile, the film earned seven Academy Award nods, including Best Picture, Best Director and a surprising Best Actor nomination for Eastwood - only the second of his long career. He failed to win the acting award, but did take home Best Director and Best Picture Oscars.
As he mellowed with age, Eastwood became more ruminative and thought-provoking on a variety of themes, echoes of which were seen in his examination of violence in "Unforgiven." With "Flags of Our Fathers" (2006), an epic World War II drama that focused on the three surviving U.S. servicemen who raised the American flag during the battle for Iwo Jima, Eastwood used the war genre to explore how a single image can rally a nation in a time of great need, while cynical politicians callously disregard the truth. Leapfrogging from the violence of the black sand beaches to the war bond campaign back home, "Flags of Our Fathers" focused on two Marines (Adam Beach and Jesse Bradford) and a Navy corpsman (Ryan Phillippe) being shuttled across the nation by the government to raise money as they cope with the official sanitized version of events.
Even before the film was released, "Flags of Our Fathers" was considered to be a top contender for Oscar consideration, including Eastwood, whose rich and deeply engaging direction seemed to poise him for a third straight nomination. But it was the companion film, "Letters from Iwo Jima" (2006), which was shot on the heels of its predecessor and focused the oft-told tale from the unique perspective of the Japanese defenders led by an ingenuous general (Ken Watanabe), that earned Eastwood major award recognition. "Letters from Iwo Jima" received Golden Globe Award nominations in 2006, including one for Best Director for Eastwood. He also earned a second Best Director nod for his work on "Flags of Our Fathers." He took one out of three nominations, winning a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film for "Letters from Iwo Jima." He went on to earn yet another Best Director nomination at the Academy Awards, but predictably lost out to Martin Scorsese for "The Departed."
An intensely private person, Eastwood was rarely featured in the tabloid press. His only real brush came in 1989 when former co-star and live-in lover, Sandra Locke, filed a palimony suit after the couple split. Then in 2008, Eastwood was publicly criticized by director Spike Lee for not presenting a single black character in either Iwo Jima film, despite their active participation in the battle. Eastwood shot back, saying that the film was about the flag-raising and told Lee to "shut his face." Later in the year, Eastwood was earning press for what he did best - acting and directing. He first helmed the period thriller "Changeling" (2008), starring Angelina Jolie as a distraught mother who battles a corrupt Los Angeles Police Department in 1928 after they claim to find her missing son, whom she knows is still missing. Then he directed and starred in "Gran Torino" (2008), a low-key thriller about a widowed, hateful and unhappy old man (Eastwood) who tries to reform a neighborhood Korean boy (Bee Vang) after he tries to steal his prized 1973 car, only to find himself protecting the boy's family from a local Asian gang. Eastwood earned a Golden Globe nomination for his "Changeling" score, and also earned a nod at the same awards for the title song to "Gran Torino."
Eastwood next directed "Invictus" (2009), the true story about how South African president Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) helped unite a fractured nation by inspiring rugby captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) to lead his sub-par team toward an unlikely World Cup championship in 1995. Hailed by critics, "Invictus" was another inspired effort by the director, who earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Director. In his role as a producer, Eastwood earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Nonfiction Special for "Johnny Mercer: The Dream's On Me" (TCM, 2010), while he stepped behind the camera again to direct "Hereafter" (2010), a supernatural drama about three divergent people (Matt Damon, Cécile De France and George McLaren) who are brought together by their profound experiences with death. The film earned mixed reviews and suffered from meager box office totals. Eastwood moved on to direct one of his most ambitious films, "J. Edgar" (2011), a biography of enigmatic longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) that focused on his scandalous career and controversial private life. While critics were split over Eastwood's directing, praise was near unanimous for DiCaprio's sterling performance, which included being aged 40 years to depict Hoover as an older man.
Although a registered Republican since the early-1950s, Eastwood's politics, like the man himself, were that of a true iconoclast. Over the years he had voted for candidates from both parties and publicly denounced the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. And while he had initially wished President Barack Obama well during the start of his first term in office, Eastwood, became a vocal booster for Republican candidate Mitt Romney in the 2012 election, dissatisfied with what he viewed as Obama's inability to govern. After attending a fundraiser for Romney's campaign earlier in the month, Eastwood made an appearance as the surprise guest speaker at the close of the Republican National Convention in August. In a display that bordered on theater of the absurd, the 82-year-old actor embarked on a free-form discussion with President Obama - represented by an empty chair on the stage - during which he expressed his dissatisfaction with the president and his endorsement of Romney. So odd was this discourse with an imaginary Obama, pundits were stunned and Eastwood became a particular target of comedians and the subject of mocking Internet sites and memes .
Eastwood's personal life returned to the headlines in October 2013, when his wife of 17 years, former TV news anchor Dina Eastwood, filed papers for legal separation. In 2012, Dina had starred in "Mrs. Eastwood and Company" (E! 2012), a short-lived reality series about her work as the manager of an a cappella singing group and her life raising their teenage daughter Morgan. Celebrity gossip reporters claimed that the show had strained the couple's marriage. Dina Eastwood withdrew the separation papers and on October 24, 2013, filed for divorce, claiming irreconcilable differences and asking for sole physical and joint legal custody of their daughter. Plowing ahead with his directing work amid the personal drama, Eastwood directed two more films in quick succession. "Jersey Boys" (2014) was a screen adaptation of the hit musical about the career of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, while "American Sniper" (2014) told the story of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), an elite Navy SEAL during the Iraq War whose work with struggling fellow veterans came to a shocking end in 2013.