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c. 1955-57

Introducing Clinton Eastwood

At first, he struggled to be cast. The bit parts kept getting bittier. Then came his big break.

LOS ANGELES - JUNE 1: Actor Clint Eastwood lies on a towel and looks over his sunglasses at home on June 1, 1956 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Clint Eastwood was not simply born a movie star. One would like to believe that Clinton (yes, Clinton) Eastwood, born in 1930, experienced a challenging upbringing. But no — his parents had a swimming pool and belonged to a country club in a wealthy part of Piedmont, California. 

That said, the edge of rebellion was also very present. Clinton was expelled from high school for an ‘obscenity’ involving a chalk message on an athletic score board.

Then came a random sequence of low-level occupations including grocery clerk, golf caddy, and — and here’s where it gets interesting — lifeguard at an army base.

Lifeguard become reluctant actor

Eastwood had never shown any interest in drama up to that point, having brushed aside invitations even to join school plays. But at the base, Universal Studios was filming, and Eastwood — physically impressive and, at 6′ 4”, with undeniable presence — was invited to meet the director.

He moved to Los Angeles, where the army base contact introduced Eastwood to other Hollywood moguls. Acting suddenly looked like a career-option, so Eastwood took drama lessons and landed his first contract.

Not the usual leading man

But his physical charisma was at odds with his manner on camera. Eastwood was called stiff, stilted — even lazy — plus softly spoken. He seemed to hiss his words through his teeth. These were not the standard traits of a Silver Screen leading man.

As a result, he struggled to be cast. Eastwood’s first real role was, improbably, as a lab technician in the sequel to Creature from the Black Lagoon. The bit parts kept getting bittier, despite Eastwood’s charismatic appearance, captured in these early shots — until, out of nowhere, he got his big break as Rowdy Yates in TV’s Rawhide.

Clint Eastwood, antihero

It was a big time role, but also one Eastwood found restricting. He was a 34-year-old man playing an eternally goodnatured near-teen. All that changed when director Sergio Leone happened to notice Eastwood in Rawhide, and was captivated by his stiff, stilted style — and his laziness.

Seemingly effortlessly, Eastwood stole every scene. He was cast in 1964’s  A Fistful of Dollars, lazily hissing his lines through his teeth. A new type of (anti) hero was born.

John Kobal Foundation / Getty Images
Earl Leaf / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images
Earl Leaf / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images
Earl Leaf / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images
Earl Leaf / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images
Earl Leaf / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images
Earl Leaf / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images
Earl Leaf / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images
Earl Leaf / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images
John Kobal Foundation / Getty Images

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