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Clint Eastwood: From wide-eyed kid to Oscar winner

MOVIES

New DVD collection of his Warner Bros. films showcases the actor-director's work. A LACMA retrospective opens Friday.

February 11, 2010|By Susan King
  • He brings in films early and under budget.
He brings in films early and under budget. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles…)

It's hard to picture Clint Eastwood as a "wide-eyed kid," but that's the way the iconic actor-director describes himself as a fledgling actor in the 1950s when he first visited the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank.

"There is a great history there," says the 79-year-old multiple Oscar winner. "I remember going over there as a young man, and I started thinking about all of those pictures with Cagney, Bogart and Bette Davis that were made there. Those were the pictures I grew up with."


FOR THE RECORD:
Clint Eastwood: An article on actor-director Clint Eastwood in Thursday's Calendar section said that his latest film "The Hereafter" is a co-production of Warner Bros. and DreamWorks. DreamWorks is not involved in the film, although the studio's co-founder, Steven Spielberg, is an executive producer on the film. —

These days, young filmmakers and actors probably feel the same about Eastwood and the venerable studio where he's been hanging out his shingle since 1976, when he did the classic western "The Outlaw Josey Wales."

Though he's never been exclusive to any one studio, Eastwood has made 35 films for Warners including 1992's "Unforgiven" and 2004's "Million Dollar Baby," his two Oscar-winning best films. Warner Home Video is celebrating that relationship with the lavish new gift set, "Clint Eastwood: 35 Films 35 Years at Warner Bros," which will be released Tuesday on DVD. The only Warner Bros. film missing from the set is his latest, "Invictus," which opened in December.

"I have been hanging out awhile," Eastwood joked about his long-term association with Warners.

On Friday, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art film department is kicking off a monthlong retrospective. Eastwood will discuss his career Wednesday evening at LACMA with film writer and historian Richard Schickel after a screening of Schickel's new documentary "The Eastwood Factor." The short film is also included in the DVD set.

Speaking by phone from England, where he's directing "The Hereafter" -- yet another Warner Bros. film, this one co-produced by DreamWorks -- Eastwood recalled his early days in the business, scrounging for work until he got a regular role in the TV western "Rawhide."

"That was my first steady job. While I was still shooting 'Rawhide,' I went over to Italy and started making those pictures with [ Sergio] Leone. By the time I finished shooting 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,' the series was finished for good. I came back to the United States and went under contract to Universal."

In 1971, though, he went to Warners to make one of his seminal films, "Dirty Harry," in which he played the tough, gun-toting San Francisco police detective Harry Callahan, a part he would play in four sequels. Five years later, he moved his Malpaso Productions to Warners.

"At that time, Warners was young and enthusiastic with John Calley and Frank Wells," he recalls.

Warners, he says, "was very flexible. They seemed to have more material than Universal and seemed to be looking for more."

Among the material Eastwood has brought Warners are such stellar works as "Unforgiven," "Million Dollar Baby," "Mystic River" and "Letters From Iwo Jima" (and yes, some turkeys like "Pink Cadillac" and "The Rookie"). Over the decades, scripts have come to him in various ways. In the case of "Million Dollar Baby," producer Al Ruddy had given him F.X. Toole's book of short stories, "Rope Burns," and told the filmmaker to pay attention to the story "Million Dollar Baby."

"I said if anybody can get a script on that I would love to see it," he recalled. A few years later, he got a call from Ruddy telling him about Paul Haggis' script for the film.

"I read it and liked it very much, but I didn't go into rewrites because I liked it the way it was."

The same was true with the scripts for "A Perfect World," "Bird" and "Unforgiven" -- "pictures like that I left pretty much alone. I do little things along the way with scripts. I add or subtract little ideas. I don't necessarily jot things down; I just keep it in my head."

His directing style is similarly no-nonsense. Eastwood is a director of economy who doesn't like multiple takes and is known for bringing in his films early and under budget. Though Eastwood has been known to storyboard his films if visual effects are involved, he said: "By and large, I just have the stories in my head. I read the script, I digest it, read it again, and think about it, read it again and finally one day you are making it. All of a sudden, it's part of your psyche, at least for that period of time."

Eastwood credits his directors Leone and Don Siegel, who directed him in several films including "Dirty Harry," for teaching him the ropes.

"I think that you learn something from everybody you work with," Eastwood explains.

"Even some of the directors I worked with back in the early days, the 'Rawhide' days, some of them were really good and some of them weren't so good. I always maintain you learn something from the ones who aren't so good. When someone does something you like, you put that in the old folder and say, 'I'll use that one day.' "

For information on the LACMA festival go to www.lacma.org.

susan.king@latimes.com

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