Clinton Eastwood Jr. achieved fame and fortune as the personification of old-fashioned American male bravado playing a taciturn gunslinger in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Western Dollars trilogy in the 1960s. He kept on acting through the years and decades, jumping from genre to genre, as he also became an Academy Award-winning director and an outspoken political figure. Here are some facts about Eastwood, who turns 86 years old today, that may or may not make your day.
1. HE WAS A SWIMMING INSTRUCTOR IN THE U.S. ARMY.
After graduating high school, Eastwood has said he worked as a lumberjack and forest firefighter in Oregon, and a steelworker in Texas. He was drafted during the war in Korea and sent to Fort Ord on Monterey Bay in California for basic training. He was never deployed for combat; he stuck around as a swimming instructor, and spent his nights and weekends working as a bouncer at the NCO club.
2. HE SURVIVED AN EMERGENCY PLANE WATER LANDING.
Returning to Fort Ord from Seattle following a weekend leave in the fall of 1951, Eastwood ran into some trouble. “On the way back, they had one plane, a Douglas AD, sort of a torpedo bomber of the World War II vintage, and I thought I’d hitch on that,” Eastwood recalled. “Everything went wrong. Radios went out. Oxygen ran out. And finally we ran out of fuel up around Point Reyes, California, and went in the ocean. So we went swimming. It was late October, November. Very cold water. [I] found out many years later that it was a white shark breeding ground, but I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time or I’d have just died.”
3. HE DESPERATELY WANTED TO PLAY CHARLES LINDBERGH IN THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS, SO HE WROTE BILLY WILDER A LETTER.
Eastwood was still looking to make his movie debut on October 26, 1954 when he wrote a letter to Oscar-winning moviemaker Billy Wilder, thanking the director for taking the time to meet with him the previous week and warning him that the one video Universal could provide of him was a “difficult” interview where he was “not very good, even though I was given a contract on the strength of it. When the time comes for casting, I would appreciate so much your letting me talk with you rather than seeing this test, for I have improved in every way since that time. I feel the qualities you might be seeking can better be found in a personal interview.” Wilder cast Jimmy Stewart in the role.
4. EASTWOOD WAS FIRED AS A CONTRACT PLAYER AT UNIVERSAL PICTURES BECAUSE OF HIS LOOKS.
Eastwood and Burt Reynolds were both contract players at Universal, and both were fired in 1959. According to Reynolds, Eastwood “was fired because his Adam’s apple stuck out too far. He talked too slow. And he had a chipped tooth and he wouldn’t get it fixed. And I said, ‘Why are you firing me?’ And they said, ‘You can’t act.’ … I said to Clint, ‘You know, you are really screwed, because I can learn how to act. You can’t get rid of that Adam’s apple.'” Reynolds then added with a laugh: “And it’s held him back. It’s held him back.”
5. HE HAS JAMES COBURN AND CHARLES BRONSON TO THANK FOR GETTING THE LEAD IN A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS.
James Coburn (The Great Escape) wanted $25,000 to star in the movie, which was more than the producers could afford. Charles Bronson might have taken the role if he didn’t think the script was “just about the worst I’d ever seen.” Eastwood agreed to star for $15,000.
6. HE NEVER WASHED THE MAN WITH NO NAME’S PONCHO.
When asked whether it was true that he wore the same poncho in A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)—and never washed it—Eastwood said yes, and explained that, “If you washed it, it would fall apart.” Eastwood still has the poncho, too.
7. THE NAME OF HIS PRODUCTION COMPANY COMES FROM HIS AGENT’S BAD ADVICE.
Eastwood’s agent told him that appearing in Leone’s trilogy would be a “bad step” for his career. “Bad step” in Spanish is Malpaso. Since Malpaso Creek is also a body of water located south of Carmel-of-the-Sea, California, where Eastwood makes his home, he named his company Malpaso Productions.
8. HE LANDED THE ROLE OF HARRY CALLAHAN BECAUSE FRANK SINATRA COULDN’T HOLD A GUN.
Robert Mitchum and Steve McQueen were in the running to play San Francisco detective Harry Callahan in Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry (1971), but Sinatra was deemed their man. Then Eastwood received a phone call asking if he was still interested in starring in the movie. When he asked what happened to Sinatra, Eastwood was told that Sinatra had a hand issue and couldn’t hold a gun. “That sounded like a pretty lame excuse,” Eastwood admitted, “but it didn’t matter to me. I said, ‘I’ll do it.'”
9. HE FILLED IN FOR CHARLTON HESTON AT THE 1973 OSCARS. AND IT WAS AWKWARD.
Charlton Heston was already running late to the 1973 Academy Awards when he got a flat tire on the way to the ceremony. So Eastwood was asked to fill in for him and read Heston’s bit during the opening segment, which was full of references to Heston’s films. To everybody’s relief, Heston arrived to save Eastwood from having to finish the speech.
10. HE DID HIS OWN MOUNTAIN CLIMBING STUNTS FOR THE EIGER SANCTION.
For The Eiger Sanction (1975)—which Eastwood directed and starred in—he trained in Yosemite National Park, where he climbed the 1200-foot Lost Arrow Spire. But the Eiger’s “White Spider” section was one of the most dangerous climbs in the world, so Eastwood and a crew of professional climbers were transported to a 12,000 foot elevation first, then lowered onto the rock face by tether lines. Sadly British rigger David Knowles, who had climbed the Eiger before, was killed in a rockslide on the second day of filming.
11. HE HAS PRACTICED TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION FOR MORE THAN 40 YEARS.
Eastwood first revealed, to the laughter of some in the studio audience, that he had been meditating for “three or four years” on a 1975 episode of The Merv Griffin Show, on which the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was also a guest. Eastwood credited his daily practice of transcendental meditation with helping him press on with filming The Eiger Sanction following Knowles’ tragic death. In 2013, Eastwood told GQ that he has been meditating twice a day for the last 40 years, explaining that, “I believe in whatever self-help you can give yourself, whether you believe in Buddha or whatever. I used to be much more of an agnostic. I’m not really a person of an organized religion. But I’m now much more tolerant of people who are religious, because I can see why they got there. I can sympathize.”
12. HE TURNED DOWN PLAYING JAMES BOND, SUPERMAN, AND JOHN MCCLANE.
After Sean Connery left the 007 franchise, Eastwood was offered the iconic role, but he declined. The president of Warner Bros. asked him to play Superman, but he declined that, too. “I was like, ‘Superman? Nah, nah, that’s not for me,’” Eastwood explained. “Not that there’s anything wrong with it. It’s for somebody, but not me.”Francis Ford Coppola asked him to play Martin Sheen’s character in Apocalypse Now (1979), but he didn’t want to go the Philippines for 16 weeks. Eastwood owned the movie rights to Nothing Lasts Forever, the book Die Hard (1988) was based on, with the intent to star in the film version.
13. HE WAS MAYOR OF CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA, CALIFORNIA FROM 1986 TO 1988, AND BROUGHT ITS RESIDENTS ICE CREAM.
Eastwood felt disrespected by the seaside town’s administration after his plan to build a small building was automatically rejected. He won an out-of-court settlement that allowed him to get it built anyway, but the incident motivated him to run for office. Eastwood got 72.5 percent of the vote over the two-term incumbent mayor Charlotte Townsend. During his term he made it easier to build or renovate property, got a tourist parking lot constructed, opened a library annex for children, and repealed a weird law on the books that prohibited the selling and eating of ice cream on public streets. Some residents didn’t like all of the new tourists that arrived after he took office, and Eastwood didn’t seek reelection.
14. AS A DIRECTOR, HE ONLY LIKES TO SHOOT ONE TAKE.
When Eastwood directs, he doesn’t storyboard, rehearse, change the script after it’s finished, or listen to test screening results. He doesn’t say “action” because “even the horses get nervous.” He says “Let’s move on” instead of “Cut.” When Matt Damon once asked him for a second take, Eastwood said, “Why, so you can waste everybody’s time?” When Kevin Costner took his time coming out of his trailer during shooting on A Perfect World (1993), Eastwood just had an extra pretend to be Costner’s character in a shot of him walking through a field, with the camera up close so his image was blurred. Costner was not happy.
15. HE OWNED THE COUNTRY’S LARGEST HARDWOOD TREE.
Eastwood was the proud owner of a blue gum eucalyptus, thought to be the largest hardwood in America in 2000. In 2002, the National Register of Big Trees announced that another blue gum eucalyptus 200 miles north of Carmel was nearly 49 feet around and 141 feet tall, and the new champion.
Less than two months after his tree was dethroned, Eastwoodwas sworn in as a state parks commissioner at the Big Basin Redwood State Park, California’s oldest state park.