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Clint Eastwood: From Celebrated Cowboy to Distinguished Director
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Clint Eastwood: From Celebrated Cowboy to Distinguished Director

Picture of Justice Boles
Updated: 9 January 2017
Clint Eastwood is easily one of the most recognizable faces to hit the big screen. His roles have led many to see him as a cultural icon as well as the pinnacle of masculinity. Besides his celebrated on-screen personas, his work behind the camera has made him one of the most enduring icons of not just American cinema, but the entire world of filmmaking.
Clint | © Siebbi/Flickr
Clint | © Siebbi/Flickr

Clint Eastwood was born in San Francisco in 1930. During the Great Depression, Eastwood and his family moved around the West Coast, eventually settling down in Piedmont. After graduating from Oakland Technical High School, Eastwood was drafted into the army and stationed at Fort Ord; where a new western television show, Rawhide, was being filmed. Eastwood was able to audition and get cast as Rowdy Yates, where he starred in 216 episodes over the course of 8 seasons. In 1963, after Eastwood’s co-star turned the role down, Sergio Leone approached Eastwood to portray the main character in A Fistful of Dollars. Eastwood had grown tired of playing black-and-white morality cowboys and was more than willing to tackle a more morally ambiguous role. These new “Spaghetti Westerns” jettisoned Eastwood to international recognition and world fame. Eastwood performed in 3 of Leone’s films under the moniker of the Man with No Name, and helped define a whole new genre of filmmaking. What the Dark Knight did for superheroes, the Dollars Trilogy did for cowboys. There’s easily 2 faces of the American Cowboy known the world over; John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.

Eastwood continued his acting career. However, in 1971, less than a decade after the Dollars Trilogy, Eastwood starred in a film that made him even more recognizable and beloved, only this time his character had a name, and that name was “Dirty” Harry Callahan. An anti-heroic loose-canon cop toting a bigger revolver than his previous roles. Instead of a desolate frontier, it was set in then modern-day San Francisco. Eastwood had come home, and brought to screen another morally-ambiguous genre-defining badass. Dirty Harry was an instant hit, and many experts attribute it as a progenitor of action movies, especially ones with loose-canon detectives who play by no one’s rules but their own. With the Dollars Trilogy under his belt and the face of his most famous role yet (He starred in a total of 5 Dirty Harry movies over the years in an era in which a trilogy would exhaust most moviegoers) Eastwood became the de facto face for the American anti-hero. He embodied a nuanced man who did the right things the wrong way. The influences of his characters in popular media cannot be measured in any sort of logical manner, only the ripples can be felt.

Man with No Name | © WikiCommons
Man with No Name | © WikiCommons

Even though Eastwood had sat in the director’s chair before Dirty Harry, he didn’t begin making his most famous films until afterwards. While many of his films stood outside of the western genre, directing and acting in westerns like High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josey Wales, and Unforgiven still allowed for him remain a cowboy icon. Although he’d been directing films for decades, it wasn’t until 1992’s Unforgiven that he garnered such wide acclaim as a filmmaker and not just a star. After that, Eastwood continued his success behind the camera, making the twin films Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, tandem films about one of the bloodiest battles of World War II from the perspective of both sides. Flushed with even more nominations and praise, Eastwood continued his streak with films such as Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, and even as recently as last year, his film American Sniper was nominated for six Academy Awards. At the tender age of 85 years young, Eastwood is still pumping out films that garner critical acclaim.

Clint Eastwood has an incredible history of acting and directing spanning more than five decades. He’s one of this nation’s most prolific film directors garnering more awards than most stand-alone directors will receive in a lifetime. More often than not, Eastwood is synonymous with gruff cowboys and renegade cops. But whether he’s a sharpshooter on the frontier or a badass with a badge, let it be remembered that Clint is first and foremost, a Bay Area native.

Harry Mural | © Joxin/Flickr
Harry Mural | © Joxin/Flickr