1990 Sundance Film Festival program cover

For, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Clint Eastwood, who will turn 90 next May, is everywhere this week, publicizing ‘Richard Jewell,’ the 38th film he’s directed (he’s appeared in more than 60). He’s actually more accessible these days than he has been in the past, always a reluctant interview subject at best. But he did grant the press a presence at the Sundance Film Festival nearly 30 years ago to talk about his first starring roles and filmmaker Sergio Leone. This interview story was published in the Deseret News on Jan. 25, 1990, and is followed by a short ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column item that was published three days later.


PARK CITY — Jane Fonda canceled at the last minute and Robert Redford was nowhere to be seen — he’s off making a movie. But one of filmdom’s superstars did show up to give the Sundance United States Film Festival a boost this year.

Clint Eastwood met with the public — and a massive collection of reporters — in the Yarrow Hotel in Park City Wednesday afternoon to talk about the late Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone.

It was a brief news conference — about 20 minutes. In fact, Eastwood probably spent as much time graciously signing autographs and speaking with people who crowded around him afterward as he did at the microphone.

Leone, who died just over a year ago, is being honored by the festival in its “Gone But Not Forgotten” section with showings of “Duck, You Sucker,” a typically overblown Leone comic Western epic that had a different title in its abridged American version — “A Fistful of Dynamite.”

Eastwood and Leone fans can tell you why the title was changed. It has to do with an attempt to cash in on the title of Eastwood’s first starring film.

In 1964 Eastwood was just another TV cowboy — co-starring in “Rawhide” — when Leone cast him as the Man with No Name in his low-budget ($225,000) western “Per un Pugno di Dollari,” known in America as “A Fistful of Dollars.”

“Somebody sent him (Leone) an episode of ‘Rawhide’ in Rome,” Eastwood said, adding that he was offered only $15,000 for the role. Eastwood naturally asked his agent why he didn’t negotiate for more money. “He said, ‘You’d better take it. They have Rory Calhoun in the wings.’ Well, I’d never seen Europe, so I decided to do it.”

The film was scheduled to shoot during the hiatus between seasons of “Rawhide.” Eastwood described his Rowdy Yates character on “Rawhide” as “the second banana and the dumber of the two.”

When he finished the film he returned to the TV series, unaware that the movie was becoming a phenomenon in European movie theaters. Eastwood said he read in Variety about a popular European Western called “Per un Pugno di Dollari,” but he thought it was some other picture since his film had been titled “Magnificent Stranger” while he was working on it. Eventually he saw his name connected with it and realized his movie was a European hit.


Eli Wallach, left, Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef take a dinner break from shooting 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly' in 1966.

The film went on to become an enormous worldwide success, made Eastwood an international star, and the term “spaghetti Western” became a household phrase.

Over the next two years Eastwood played the same character in Leone’s equally popular sequels, “For a Few Dollars More” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” Along with their first collaboration, these films have become known as Leone’s “Dollar Trilogy.”

Leone went on to make several other big films, sans Eastwood, including “Once Upon a Time in the West” (considered by many to be Leone’s masterpiece) and, more recently, “Once Upon a Time in America.”

“Sergio was not afraid to attack American mores,” Eastwood said, explaining that Leone broke some of the rules of American movie censorship with more realistic violence than had been used in westerns up to that point. “He had an operatic feel — a big, grandiose style. He was very big with the countryside.”

When they first met, Leone spoke no English and Eastwood spoke no Italian, but he said they had no trouble making the movie because they left each other alone.

“It was very easy to handle that. I just did my own thing,” Eastwood said, adding that producers complained about his seeming inaction in the screen. “They said, ‘He’s not doing anything. He’s just standing there with that cigar in his mouth.’ They didn’t understand the symbolism. Italian producers were used to a lot more dialogue.”

Did Leone influence Eastwood the director? “I’m sure he influenced me a lot. His boldness, subject-wise, and visually he was terrific. I admired his visual eye. He admired (Japanese director Akira) Kurosawa and so did I.”

Eastwood said he hasn’t given up on westerns, despite their being rare these days. One of his next two films will be a Western, though he described it as “something a little different than I’ve done in the past.” His last Western was “Pale Rider” in 1985.

Eastwood said he and Leone had drifted apart, and not communicated for several years when he was in Rome last year to promote his film, “Bird.” Leone called him up and they spent a couple of evenings together and renewed their friendship. A few months later Leone died.

EDITOR’S ENDNOTE: By the way, the western to which Eastwood refers here was ‘Unforgiven,’ which was released two years after his Sundance appearance, and which won him his first two Oscars as best director and as producer of the best picture of 1992. (He would go on to win in the same categories for 1995’s ‘Million Dollar Baby.’)


Clint Eastwood mingles with fans in Park City's Yarrow Hotel after his 1990 Sundance Film Festival press conference.


Clint Eastwood’s appearance was memorable on a couple of counts.

He shared his early industry experiences as part of a tribute to the late director Sergio Leone, who gave Eastwood his start in pictures with “A Fistful of Dollars,” “For a Few Dollars More” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

The imposing superstar was funny and open as he discussed their relationship and even punctured a couple of myths, one about whether Eastwood named his production company Malpaso, which means “bad step,” to thumb his nose at those who told him doing those “spaghetti westerns” was a bad step, and another about whether Leone directed his films after Ennio Morricone wrote the scores so he could direct to the music. Eastwood said they were both nice, romantic stories, but neither was true.

On the downside, the Eastwood press conference started a few minutes before the announced 4 p.m. time and was over by 4:15! Festival program director Tony Safford also announced that questions were to stick to the subject of Leone, which seemed to inhibit the crowd. It might have been better to go a bit longer and perhaps have Safford or someone else field the questions to keep things moving.

But Eastwood more than made up for it as far as his public was concerned when he stuck around for quite a while signing autographs, mingling with the crowd and succumbing to an “Entertainment Tonight” interview.

All this when he probably would rather have gotten back on the slopes for some more skiing.

(And where were Ch. 2 and Ch. 4, by the way? You’d think their news departments would cover a star of his stature visiting the film festival!)