Clint Eastwood Biography

Part 5 of 6

Backroads & Barrooms

"Did you once describe yourself as a bum and a drifter!" someone asked Clint Eastwood a decade ago. "No," came the reply. "What are you, then?" "A bum and a drifter."

Not really. Not in grown-up life, certainly. But as a child of the Depression, he was obliged to move about constantly as his father looked for work--most of it marginal--all over California. As a young man trying to find himself, Clint spent a couple of years drifting around, doing hard manual labor-lumberjacking, working in steel mills and aircraft factories. Moreover, his lifelong passion for jazz drew him at an early age into the low dives where the music he loved was played. All of this gave him the sympathetic sense of working-class life, neither patronizing nor indulgent, that marks some of his best, and possibly most enduring, work.

Clint & Clyde

For most movie stars, humble beginnings are something to allude to briefly when an interviewer is looking for a little background story. Very few of them return to those beginnings in their work, and none have done so as consistently as Clint Eastwood. Just about everyone at the studio advised him not to do Every Which Way but Loose, his lowbrow comedy about Philo Beddoe, the bare-knuckle boxer whose best pal is Clyde, an affable orangutan. But Clint saw in the project something of his hang-out-with-the-guys past, and audiences found in this rough, funny, hugely profitable movie (and its sequel, Any Which Way You Can) a goofy, likable character they could more easily take to heart than, say, his grimly taciturn westerners or larger-than-life Dirty Harry Callahan.

Loose loosened Clint up. It made it possible for him to relax the set of his jaw, let the ice in his eyes melt a little, allow the droll side of his nature some play. The film helped launch a line of work that includes two films that Clint always lists among his own favorites: Bronco Billy, the story of an erstwhile New Jersey shoe salesman, honchoing his rag-tag Wild West Show along the backroads to nowhere; and Honkytonk Man, the tragi-comic saga of Red Stovall, a country singer whose largest talent is for self-destruction. Neither ranks among his most popular films, but both pay sweet tribute to the power of American dreaming. Both recognize, as most movies do not, that blue-collar people can be possessed by those dreams, too.