Born on May 31, 1930, in San Francisco, California, Clint Eastwood got his big break with a starring role on the television program Rawhide. He then became immensely popular by portraying tough characters in a string of Sergio Leone movie Westerns and the Dirty Harry franchise. Eastwood has since earned widespread praise for directing such Academy Award–winning films as Unforgiven, Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby.
Early Life and Career
Actor, director and producer Clint Eastwood was born Clinton Eastwood Jr. on May 31, 1930, to Clinton Sr. and Ruth Eastwood, in San Francisco, California. He has one younger sister, Jeanne. After traveling and looking for work throughout California during the Depression, the family settled in the Bay Area city of Piedmont. Eastwood attended Piedmont High School and then Oakland Technical High School, graduating in 1949.
Eastwood worked odd jobs during and after high school, with stints as a hay baler, logger, truck driver and steel-furnace stoker. In 1950, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and stationed at Fort Ord on the Monterey Peninsula, where he served as a swimming instructor.
After his discharge in 1953, Eastwood wound his way down to Los Angeles, where he took classes at Los Angeles City College and worked at a gas station. Tall and handsome, he landed a screen test with Universal and signed a contract despite minimal acting experience. His first roles were bit parts in films like Revenge of the Creature and Francis in the Navy, both released in 1955.
In 1958, Eastwood scored his big break with a major part in the TV Western Rawhide. Playing Rowdy Yates, second in command to Eric Fleming’s trail boss, Eastwood slid seamlessly into the role of a hotheaded young cowboy. His character matured over the course of the program’s eight seasons, with Yates taking over as trail boss toward the end.
In the 1960s, Eastwood traveled to Italy to star in a trio of Westerns directed by Sergio Leone. The role Eastwood took—the cool, laconic “Man with No Name”—had been turned down by James Coburn and Charles Bronson. The trio of films included 1964’s A Fistful Of Dollars (a remake of the Akira Kurosawa classic Yojimbo), For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). Nicknamed “spaghetti Westerns” due to their Italian production, these films gained worldwide popularity, and Eastwood became internationally known.
Acclaimed Actor and Director
Back in the United States, Eastwood set up his own production company, Malpaso, and again took on the role of a tough-guy cowboy with Hang ‘Em High (1968). Though he would quickly branch out into other genres and filmmaking roles, Eastwood would be involved with numerous popular Westerns, including High Plains Drifter (1973), The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) and Pale Rider (1985).
In 1971, Eastwood starred in his directing debut, Play Misty For Me, which generated favorable reviews. Also that year, he took on the character of Harry Callahan, a contentious San Francisco cop, for Dirty Harry. The gritty, violent film proved immensely popular with the public, eventually spawning the sequels Magnum Force (1973), The Enforcer (1976), Sudden Impact (1983) and The Dead Pool (1988).
During this period, Eastwood also took detours into comedic roles, headlining Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974), alongside Jeff Bridges, and Every Which Way but Loose (1978), alongside an orangutan. In a more serious and notable appearance, he also portrayed real-life convict Frank Lee Morris in Escape from Alcatraz (1979).
Eastwood indulged his love of jazz music when he directed the Charlie Parker biopic Bird (1988), which garnered critical acclaim. He also earned accolades for directing and starring in the 1992 western Unforgiven, which won the Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director. Subsequent acting-directing projects included A Perfect World (1993), The Bridges of Madison County (1995), Absolute Power (1997) and True Crime (1999).
August of 2000 saw the release of yet another directorial and acting project for Eastwood, Space Cowboys, with co-stars James Garner, Donald Sutherland and Tommy Lee Jones. In 2003, he focused his energy behind the camera to direct and score Mystic River. This haunting film, about former childhood friends intertwined in a murder investigation, earned Academy Awards for stars Sean Penn and Tim Robbins. That same year, Eastwood was honored with the Life Achievement Award by the Screen Actors Guild.
In 2004, Eastwood delivered another signature achievement with Million Dollar Baby, starring as an aging boxing trainer. The powerful film cleaned up on the awards circuit, earning Best Picture and Best Director Academy Awards for Eastwood, as well as Oscars for actors Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman.
In 2006, Eastwood directed two World War II dramas, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. These companion films viewed the conflict from two distinctly different perspectives: Flags of Our Fathers explores the American side, telling the story of one man’s efforts to learn more about his father’s involvement in the raising of the American flag at Iwo Jima—a moment captured in a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph. The film featured a number of young Hollywood actors, including Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford and Paul Walker.
Drawing from correspondence found on that island battlefield, Letters from Iwo Jima looks at the experiences of Japanese soldiers during World War II. While both films earned wide praise, Letters from Iwo Jima garnered four Academy Award nominations, including for Best Picture and Best Director.
Next for Eastwood was the 2008 family dramatic thriller Changeling, which starred Angelina Jolie as a mother of a kidnapped child. Jolie’s character in the film—which is based on a true story—suspects that the child who is returned to her is not, in fact, her son. Several widely acclaimed directorial projects followed, including 2008’s Gran Torino (in which Eastwood also starred) 2009’s Invictus (starring Matt Damon and Freeman as Nelson Mandela) and 2011’s J. Edgar, which featured Leonardo DiCaprio as the controversial former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.
Eastwood directed two films that were released in 2014: He adapted Jersey Boys from the Broadway musical about the rise to fame of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. He followed that biopic with the box office hit American Sniper, which depicts the career and family life of Navy SEAL operative Chris Kyle and earned a slew of Oscar nominations.
Eastwood next got behind the camera for another biopic, Sully. Released in 2016, the film follows the heroic actions of pilot Chesley Sullenberger, who landed a troubled plane safely on the Hudson River in 2009. Sully earned widespread praise for both Eastwood and its star, Tom Hanks.
Political Career and Activism
The actor made headlines when he spoke at the 2012 Republican National Convention in support of its candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. During his narrative, Eastwood addressed an empty chair next to him, which seated an imaginary President Barack Obama, and said it was time for him to step aside. At one point during the unusual speech, Eastwood pretended that Obama was speaking to him: “What do you want me to tell Romney?” he asked the chair. “I can’t tell him to do that. I can’t tell him to do that to himself.”
Beginning in 1975, Eastwood became romantically involved with co-star Sondra Locke, a relationship that ended bitterly with a palimony suit in 1989. While still living with Locke, he had two children with Jacelyn Reeves, Scott (1986) and Kathryn (1988). He and actress Frances Fisher had a daughter, Francesca Ruth, in 1993. Around that time, reports surfaced of another Eastwood daughter, born just before the start of his Hollywood career.
In 1996, Eastwood married Dina Ruiz, a 30-year-old TV newscaster, who gave birth to daughter Morgan in December. The couple separated in 2013, and their divorce was finalized in late 2014. A few months later, Eastwood went public with his new girlfriend, restaurant hostess Christina Sandera.