The most successful star in Hollywood talks about his films, 67 years of life in America, and politics, politics, politics.
The first year Clint Eastwood was named a top-ten box office star (in 1968), he was among the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Julie Andrews, and Dean Martin--names that have long since faded from theater marquees. Yet Eastwood not only endures as an actor today, but has added additional feathers to his cap as a director.
Eastwood is a rarity in another respect, too: he's a Republican in an industry dominated by liberal Democrats. Like his one-time Hollywood colleagues John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, and Ronald Reagan, Eastwood came to his quiet conservatism not through study of political philosophy but by observing life. Like Reagan, Eastwood eventually felt called into politics, when in 1986 he was elected mayor of Carmel, California, a post he kept for one term.
Eastwood is one of very few in today's Hollywood with a blue-collar, traditional American background, which perhaps accounts for his resounding popularity. Born Clinton Eastwood, Jr., in San Francisco in 1930, his family moved up and down the California coastline, struggling to make ends meet, during the Depression. Drafted into the Army in 1951, he later attended L.A. City College.
Running through many of Eastwoods pictures is the theme of an independent American man dealing with the damage and confusion wrought by post-World War II liberalism. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Eastwood's latest picture as a director, has just opened. TAE contributor John Meroney caught up with Eastwood while he was putting the finishing touches on the film at the Warner Bros. studios in Burbank, California.
TAE: When did you become a Republican?
EASTWOOD: The first time I ever voted. I was enthusiastic about Eisenhower. But today both parties are now so melded in philosophy. There's a conservative, moderate, and a liberal section in both parties. Clinton has undermined everything. He's taken all the Republican causes and made them his causes. Or certainly a lot of them.
The Republicans have probably won out philosophically--now everybody's anti-tax. But I think the Republicans have been guilty of not following through on some of their promises. They had real momentum going after 1994. Some people make fun of the Contract with America, but the plain fact is the public voted it in. I think not to live up to it, to every aspect of it, is a bad thing.
TAE: Have they caused you to consider changing parties?
EASTWOOD: Oh, no, no. Absolutely not.
TAE: Were you ever approached by Republican officials to run for office?
EASTWOOD: Well, I was when I held office as mayor of Carmel, California. Several people came by--Bob Dole was one. They thought, "The President is Ronald Reagan, a former actor, maybe Clint Eastwood's going to do something like that." Quite a few people asked, "What about state senate or governor or something?" And I said, "No, you've got me confused with someone else. I'm interested in my own community, and I'm interested in running on that basis, but I don't have any other ambitions at this time."
TAE: Speaking of politicians, your 1997 movie, "Absolute Power," was all about a corrupt president. You had to think in making that film that audiences would naturally make comparisons between your fictional president and the man who's really in the Oval Office.
EASTWOOD: Well, it wasn't meant that way. It's strictly a fictional story. It wasn't patterned after anything the current president has done--at least I don't think so. (laughs)
TAE: Now that you've had your own experience as a politician up in Carmel, do you understand where they're coming from?
EASTWOOD: Well, I can understand enough that I wouldn't want to be more involved with it. Carmel's government is non-partisan so we didn't have the bickering. It was strictly small and local, but the problems are pretty much the same as on a larger scale. …