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Locke Feels Vindicated After Lawsuit

Film: Eastwood's ex speaks about life with the star and directing again.

September 29, 1996|ANN W. O'NEILL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HOLLYWOOD — Here, in a cramped cutting room off Melrose Avenue, is where it could begin again--life after Clint, after cancer, after an all-consuming legal war.

Sondra Locke, who says her professional reputation was vindicated last week in court, is making a movie called "Do Me a Favor." It is, she says, "a little movie" with a budget of about $1 million, and Locke, who was paid just $10,000 to direct, plans to screen it at next year's Sundance Film Festival.

A little movie perhaps, a little paycheck for sure, but "Do Me a Favor" marks Locke's return to movie-making after standing up to some of Hollywood's most powerful men. For years after her acrimonious 1989 breakup with Clint Eastwood--her lover and mentor until, she says, her hunger for creative independence drove them apart--nobody was doing her any favors. She was a pariah, untouchable.

But last week, Locke won back a measure of respect, persuading jurors in Burbank that although she had the talent to direct, the politics of the bedroom and the back lot had stalled her career. She had sought more than $2.5 million in a civil lawsuit against Eastwood.

Several jurors said they were ready to decide in her favor when Eastwood settled, for an undisclosed sum. In the case, Locke had alleged that Eastwood cheated her by secretly financing a sham development deal for her to direct films for Warner Bros. She'd accepted the deal under a settlement of an earlier palimony suit. At the time, Locke says, she was still undergoing chemotherapy after a double mastectomy and grasped at the offer like a life preserver.

Some jurors later said they had believed Locke but had trouble with the testimony of Eastwood and the studio executives who testified that they wanted Locke to succeed. One juror said later it was clear that the executives were more interested in appeasing Eastwood, one of Hollywood's biggest stars, than in giving her projects.

So, as Locke reviewed a scene for her movie's first cut, the irony was inescapable. On the monitor, Rosanna Arquette was stomping and fuming.

"Men!!!" hissed Arquette.

"What about them?" asked Devon Gummersahl, who plays the other lead.

"----ing idiots!!!" Arquette spat.

The room filled with peals of female laughter as Locke, her editor and a production assistant found new humor in a scene they had scrutinized dozens of times before.

Men: They still get the lion's share of directing jobs in Hollywood. Last year, for example, of 175 films produced, women directed only 14, or 8%, according to the Directors Guild of America. The year before, they fared a little better, directing 9% of the feature films.

Though women are increasingly getting work in television, progress in the film industry has been much slower, according to Jennifer Reed, co-chairwoman of the Women's Steering Committee of the DGA. Locke was among the 11 female filmmakers in 1990, the year she made her second feature, "Impulse."

"Being a filmmaker is difficult even if you are gifted and blessed and have the silver spoon," said Donna Mungen, a director and freelance writer whose short film, "Success Avenue: Watts" showed at last year's Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles.

For women--especially minorities--it's particularly hard, said Mungen, who is African American.

"When I look at my male contemporaries, the ones I went to film school with, it was very apparent to me there were two tracks," said Mungen, a graduate of the American Film Institute. "Theirs was to direct and mine was to be a nonplayer."

Locke, who directed her first film, "Ratboy," in 1986, said some of the harshest criticism of her work has come from other women. She believes some women have not taken her seriously because she was Eastwood's live-in companion.

In a wide-ranging interview, Locke spoke about her life with the famous older man who she says used to call himself "Daddy," their breakup, the lawsuit and her future. She was careful to avoid "bashing" Eastwood and says she has no regrets.

She wore not a speck of makeup on skin so flawless it seems translucent and dressed like someone half her 48 years in an oversize faded-denim shirt, baggy striped pants and baby-blue hightops.

Much of her life and career seems like a fairy tale. Some of it seems like a nightmare.

She never knew her father, and she spent much of her childhood at the movies or with her face buried in a book, biding her time while plotting to leave tiny, rural Shelbyville, Tenn. Her best friend was Gordon Anderson, the man who would become her husband in the early '70s. Anderson is gay, she says, and to this day he continues to be her "anchor" and closest friend. The two have never divorced but live separately.

She was discovered in Shelbyville by Warner Bros. during a nationwide talent search and cast alongside Alan Arkin in the 1968 film, "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter." She was nominated for an Academy Award.

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