Clint Eastwood ’49

Clint Eastwood, Class of 1949

The information below on Eastwood’s life before 1951 is from American Rebel: The Life of Clint Eastwood by Marc Eliot (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2009)

Clint Eastwood’s parents, Clinton and Francesca Ruth, met as students at Piedmont High School and after graduation in 1927, got married at Piedmont’s interdenominational. Clinton Jr. was born on May 31, 1930 at St. Francis Hospital in San Francisco. Desperate for work in the Depression, Clinton Sr. moved his family to Sacramento and to LA in 1934 after the birth of a second child named Jeanne. By the time Clint was 9, they were back in Piedmont where he attended Piedmont Junior High School. At Piedmont High, Clint played basketball and played the lead in a one-act play his English class put on for the entire school. Clint is quoted in the book as saying, “We muffed a lot of lines. I swore that that was the end of my acting career.” Because Clint was working a number of physically exhausting jobs after school to pay for maintenance and gas on the “beat-up cars” he loved (one of which he called “the bathtub” because it had no top!), he fell behind in his work at Piedmont High School and his parents transferred him to Oakland Technical for his senior year so that he could take vocational courses and, they believed, have a better chance of graduating.

1966: American actor Clint Eastwood squints while smoking a cigarette between his teeth in a still from director Sergio Leone's film 'The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.' Eastwood wears a wide-brimmed leather hat. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Clint Eastwood from director Sergio Leone’s 1966 film ‘The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.’

According to Eliot’s book, at Tech, Eastwood took “aircraft maintenance… After school, Clint hung out with a crowd of tough-looking teens decked out in leather and T-shirts, with greased back long hair. All strong, tall, and lean, they tucked cigarettes behind their ears and held bottles of beer in one hand while they drove, usually to the local dives where the hottest girls hung out. And they were all into jazz. Most often they found themselves at the Omar, a pizza and beer dive in downtown Oakland where Clint liked to play jazz on a beat-up old piano in the corner.” Clint liked going to the small clubs in Oakland to hear Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Flip Phillips, Lester Young, and Charlie Parker. His favorite was Parker. After he graduated in January, 1949, Eastwood’s parents and younger sister moved to Seattle, WA, but he stayed in Oakland with his childhood friend Harry Pendleton. Until the Korean War broke out in 1950, Eastwood worked tending blast furnaces for Bethlehem Steel and then for Boeing Aircraft. Since he wasn’t enrolled at a 4-year college (his grades weren’t good enough for him to enroll at Seattle University), in the spring of 1951, he was drafted into army at age 20 and sent to Fort Ord for training.

clint-eastwoodClint Eastwood went on to become an Academy Award winning actor, producer, director, pianist, and composer. While stationed at Fort Ord, he survived a plane crash near Point Reyes by swimming three miles to shore. A movie executive filming at Fort Ord noticed Eastwood, and made connections that led to him signing a contract with Universal for $100 a week, and the first of several uncredited bit parts in 1955. From this humble start, Eastwood went on to become one of the best known and most revered actors in American film, heading franchises in the 60s and 70s like the Fistful of Dollars and Dirty Harry series (though he turned down the offer to play James Bond when Sean Connery retired from the role.) He was closely associated with Westerns and the roles he played were often of anti-hero, complex characters whose goodness was not without shadows of pain.

By the 80s, while still acting as a leading man in films like Sudden Impact and Tightrope, Eastwood was also turning his hand to directing. He continued to mix directing and acting, often starring in his own projects; his 1993 film In the Line of Fire is the last in which he starred, but did not also direct.

Eastwood added “politician” to his list of job titles in 1986, when he became mayor of Carmel by the Sea near Monterey. He held the job for two years, and remains active in politics, serving at different times on the California State Park and Recreation Commission and the California Film Commission. A self-professed Libertarian, Eastwood has thrown his support to both Democratic and Republican causes.

The list of awards given to Eastwood is formidable. He is one of the few actors-turned-directors to win an Academy Award for directing, and is one of only three living directors to have directed two Best Picture winners. Eastwood has also directed five actors in Academy Award–winning performances: Gene Hackman in Unforgiven, Tim Robbins and Sean Penn in Mystic River, and Morgan Freeman and Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby. He has also won awards from the Directors Guild of America, Golden Globes, and People’s Choice, not to mention awards from the governments of France and Japan. Eastwood was inducted into the California Hall of Fame in 2006, and Oakland Tech’s Hall of Honor in 2015.