I interviewed Clint Eastwood, and I have to say he’s one of the most decent guys I’ve ever met.
Eastwood brought beer from the refrigerator at his Mission Ranch property, a former dairy ranch converted into a hotel. He asked me what kind of beer I preferred. This immediately endeared him to me.
I didn’t want him to think I was just your average cluck. I asked for a Mexican beer, Pacifico.
“Good choice,” Eastwood said, in that sinister-sounding, whisperish hiss of a voice movie-goers would immediately recognize. “Know why Mexican beer is so good?”
I shook my head.
“Because in the old days, Germans moved to Mexico. They opened breweries.”
I had steeled myself before the interview that I would not flatter Eastwood like the sycophants who invariably surround movie stars. However, when he walked into the room, my mouth dropped. He looked just like himself in the movies, only older.
I guess it’s like meeting Mickey Mouse. You’ve seen this personage so many times over the years it’s hard to remain calm. You find yourself fumbling and saying stupid things.
Eastwood, a patient man, must have recognized this moment from countless experiences before.
“Gosh. Gee whiz Mr. Eastwood. I just love your movies. I’ve seen every one since I was 16 years old.”
I was determined not to be that kind of silly person.
You know you’re a big movie star when they start giving you honorary doctorate degrees from colleges you’ve never attended for no other reason than you’re famous.
Of course, there’s a down side to being famous. Somebody is probably stalking your wife if you are. Then there’s always the proverbial drunk in the bar who sees you, walks up, slaps you on the shoulder and says, “you’re not so tough! Let’s see what you’ve got.”
To keep from getting nervous, the best way to interview Eastwood, I decided, was to adopt a polite, but hostile stance. I felt like I was watching myself in some kind of nutty movie. I sat down opposite him like I was a bad guy in a western, and we were at a poker table in the Old West. I squinted my eyes like he did.
“You think you’re tough, you’re not so tough,” I said silently to myself.
The theme from the Good the Bad and the Ugly resounded in my head.
My words came out sounding goofy, not scary like his. I wondered, who taught him to talk like that? It couldn’t be natural. I mean, he didn’t go around when he was five years old, hissing “make my day……punk!”
We talked about Eastwood’s plans for Pebble Beach, gorgeous golfing property he owns with others on the Central Coast of California. Building projects as conversation quickly turn boring. What I really wanted to ask him was how he’d lucked into becoming a movie star, and what he thought of other famous actors he’d worked with.
I refrained because I thought it would be prying.
However, Eastwood conceded that only by the most improbable set of circumstances, had he become a star.
“Fate took a hand,” he said.
Eastwood, stationed as a soldier at Fort Ord, was involved in an airplane crash. He escaped serious injury, but had to remain at the base to testify at a hearing on the causes of the crash. Thus, he was prevented from being shipped to the Korean War like some of his pals.
Later, while attending a business school in Los Angeles, as a lark he accompanied a friend to an evening acting school in which the friend had enrolled.
From that chance beginning came a part on the 1950’s TV show, Rawhide. After Rawhide closed, Eastwood’s career appeared finished.
Once again, fate took a hand.
On a hunch, Eastwood traveled to Europe and took an offered role in a cheaply made, darkly-violent cartoon-like Italian spaghetti western, just in time for the cowboy craze in Europe.
The spaghetti western bonanza spread worldwide. Career revived, Eastwood returned to the U.S a star. He’d managed to do what few TV actors ever had, successfully transition to movies.