Actors aren’t writers. They’re supposed to act, not write. Some do, mostly screenplays and memoirs. Sondra Locke’s autobiography stands out because it doesn’t fit labels. It’s a “Hollywood Journey”, but it reads like a novel. We know these characters. Clint Eastwood comes to mind – the actress is still very associated with “the Man with no Name”. The relationship lasted thirteen years, and they made six films together. But this is Locke’s story, and “in the end”, as the song says, “the love you take is equal to the love you make”.
A taste for truth at any cost is a passion which spares nothing. – Albert Camus
A journalist must not take sides, he should remain objective. That myth is comparable to the Clint Eastwood myth or with any screen myth. In fact, this book is “mythological” in the sense that it’s a kind of lightning bolt bringing us back to reality. Sometimes, we can’t put it down out of sheer disbelief. It takes hold of us, it makes us stop and think because we know or knew people like these, most of us felt what’s being described. And we do know or have heard of many characters in the story. No wonder Clint and Warner Bros. didn’t like it at all, as Locke told Wand’rin’ Star:
“Sadly, it was well suppressed by Clint and WB. I’m very proud of the book because I wrote it completely by myself – alone at my computer – and so I was sad that it did not get the attention I feel it deserved.”
I found Locke’s book devastating; she has a writer’s instincts. It’s funny at times, also tragic and deep, but ultimately shows how such a myth-making factory as Hollywood is a sham where actors, actresses, producers and directors behave and are more like politicians than “artists”. I felt surprised to know Locke’s opinion about her own work:
“I took an unusual approach to telling my story, more novelistic style; also, it required my jumping back and forth between my life with Clint and my relationship with my “husband” (who was and is like my brother and only family). On the one hand, was Clint the quintessential hero (as viewed by the outsider or fan) and on the other was Gordon, an artist and gay man (viewed by society in general as the opposite of hero). In the true life story, it was, of course, Gordon who was the true and honest hero. The construction which was required to weave those two major pieces of my life together was my most daunting task.”
Locke succeeds in this. We feel more sympathetic towards Anderson as her story unfolds, and less towards Eastwood. Someone said that anyone’s life could be a book. Step by step, Locke strips all the masks, the “movie star”, “the actress”, the “celebrity”. She’s precise with dialogues which sound like people speaking and not just characters (this is from Hemingway and his notion of how literature should be). One passage that moved me was not even related to Locke directly; it’s the way she describes the death of Gordon Anderson’s mother, his reaction and what he must have felt.
One of Anderson’s traits was that he could “see what’s what”, according to Locke’s grandmother. “And sometimes, honey”, she told Sondra, “that can be a curse”. Anderson later met Colin Wilson who was surprised by his abilities.
Anderson’s remarks are straight to the point, his attitudes are worthy of praise. For instance, he once tried to help a child who suffered from cancer. Eastwood couldn’t understand why he did it, because he only measured people according to what he could get in return, as though he had never understood what altruism is.
“I WISHED I HAD ONLY READ IT… AND NEVER LIVED IT”
Eastwood may have that tough guy look people love, but he never played a villain in 50 years. So does the inside fit the outside?
In a sense, the whole point of Wand’rin’ Star comes from my attraction to mavericks, rebels, people who didn’t play by the rules, although everyone, it seems, loves to hear wonders about their favorite stars. They supposedly were (or are) easygoing and compassionate in real life, a marvel of nature, when in fact their carefully crafted image is a product ready to be consumed; nobody really knows who they are, and most don’t care or forgive them or do “mental contortions” (to quote Patrick McGilligan) to justify this “love”. This unhealthy phenomenon has a psychological explanation.
Andy Warhol understood it: People don’t even see Marilyn Monroe as a woman. They see the image, and even misunderstand the importance of Warhol’s creation. They can’t forget that striking painting of someone who became nothing more than a can of beans in the memories of many.
Sondra Locke is aware of this, hence the title of her book, The Good, the Bad, and the Very Ugly: A Hollywood Journey. “Very” is a small word here but with great resonance.
In the prelude, she tells us that, since childhood, she loved and collected fairytales. She talks about a certain Prince Charming, “who proved not to be Charming at all”. And she concludes with a chilling sentence: “There were times I wished I had only read it… and never lived it.”
Then she goes straight into the kind of show almost everybody wanted to see or read about: Her impressions about the court case Locke vs. Eastwood, where she found herself in the middle of a battle she didn’t want to fight, surrounded by journalists. There are glimpses of memories and news reports. It was September 9, 1996. The crowd asked her, “thrusting microphones” on her face, “did you…?”, “have you?”, “is it true…?” “tell us…”, “did you know that Clint just said…”
“I had made the journey and now I was standing on the edge of a precipice. And the truth was – the view was frightening.”
Sondra Locke brings us back to her childhood, usually a boring part of biographies – we all want to get to the part of stardom. But she does this in a gentle manner; memories of reading books, of Tolkien, of the grocery store, the neat rows of products on the shelves, and the Princess Theater – the local movie house, where she dreamed of being an actress, looking at that “magic window”, the screen. A girl in a small town. Simple things like watching fireflies or hearing the sound of crickets. And a family which opposed to her being an actress or doing anything creative. If she worked in a factory, they’d be pleased.
Sondra Locke felt unhappy and rebelled. Her high school colleague, Gordon, tried to catch her attention, raising his hand in class. She subsequently found out a photo of hers with “Sondra Smith” scratched on its back and “Locke” in its place. She discovered that her father’s surname was Smith, not Locke, who was her stepfather. He “had been in the military, stationed nearby”. He met her mother, it didn’t work out, and he went away before she was born.
Young Sondra looked for a father figure, although she didn’t realize it at first. Gordon was so creative, insightful and amazing, that she immediately fell for him, but not in a romantic way. She became captivated by his imagination, and her first and only acting lessons were his. At 19, things finally “blew up” between her and her mother: She told her, “If you don’t want to do exactly as I tell you, you can pack your bags, girl, and get outta here. This is my house, not yours”. Locke writes: “These were words that had been said in so many different ways, but never out loud. And they were words that gave me the anger, the courage, and the initiative to go.”
She’d never live again in that house, and for almost 30 years, she’d only “have a handful of conversations and short visits” with her mother. “It made no sense for any of us to spend our lives pretending to have relationships that did not really exist. And even though it is my nature to feel responsible and guilty, even when I’m not, remarkably I never felt that way about my decision to walk away from my parents’ home.” Many years later, Locke faced this problem, when her mother was dying. She felt sorry for both of them. It’s more than a book, it’s an experience.
Locke was very much an outsider at school. She was a cheerleader in grammar school (grades 1 through 8), but in high school she really only connected with Gordon, and was Valedictorian and Duchess of Studiousness because of her high grades, not popularity.
Later on, she moved to Nashville and felt a real excitement on the stage, and her first big break in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter doesn’t go off tune with the story she’s telling. She reminds us of a Dickens’ apprentice – the language is clear, the places, colors and sounds give us vivid images, even the dialogues. When the feelings she’s describing are complex, she doesn’t shy away from it either.
She writes about the moment Gordon proposed to her: “I was very young, but I had come to feel that, for me, sex was the least important element in a relationship and the one thing that time had proven to me was that my love for Gordon came from such a deeply connected place that it transcended everything else.”
She is a director in her own right, so she starts to draw on these instincts too. She doesn’t always come out as the “winner” in the verbal arguments or discussions, the book starts to ring truer, page after page. We start to think, “no, this person must have had a ghost writer or something”. Like in The Great Gatsby, we get these different pieces that somehow fit together in an inexplicable way, that’s the definition of a masterpiece for many people, and since it’s an autobiography, it’s not that strange. Like life.
She puts things into perspective – you start to forget who is Sondra or Clint or Gordon. Their actions make them emerge, composing a whole picture. I found Sondra Locke to be very sympathetic; when I told her I was impressed by what I read, she got ahead of me, and answered what I meant to ask her. I wasn’t (and I’m not) interested in talking about Eastwood – so many people do that, let them do it, I prefer real life heroes. And fortunately I don’t have “movie heroes” anymore. Sondra Locke said:
“Some have asked me if writing it was a catharsis, but I reply that it was a great creative experience. I wanted to bring the emotional moments alive, the characters, the FEELINGS. It was a great disappointment to me that the book was so suppressed by Clint and WB. I wish more people could have an opportunity to read it. I think it was easy for them to suppress me because he and WB were (and are) such powers. Also, at that time the woman’s story in any breakup was viewed with disdain – “She’s only trying to cash in” or “She is only after his money” were typical attitudes about any woman. Today it is a little less so – some women’s stories are accepted, and believed. Then too, Clint was not of interest the way he is now. That is a double edged sword because now he is more beloved. So, either way it is difficult for someone to challenge his “being” and be taken seriously. One would think that it would be clear that a pattern has emerged with him, but no one cares. They only want his image and not to be bothered with reality. It was a miracle that a major publisher took it… one more miracle.”
Clint Eastwood fired many people from his life. If you’re acquainted with his films or with the Malpaso credit on the screen, you’re also aware of producer Fritz Manes. His name shows up in Eastwood’s films, he knew him for 40 years, and just fired him. I’ll rephrase that. He got someone to fire him. Eastwood doesn’t do “every dirty job that comes along”, as his character, ‘Dirty Harry’. Someone does it for him.
I still like the movies, but I find it quite bizarre that a “western hero”, who exterminated many people’s careers, not with a Magnum, is seriously allergic to animal fur and couldn’t even have a cat or a dog, much less a horse. Locke remembers him on the set of Bronco Billy, “feeling miserable” about this, although Eastwood does know how to ride a horse in real life and certainly looks great in it. Not as good as John Wayne, who seems bigger than the horse itself… but that was the Duke.
Sondra Locke was one of the few people that stood up to him when things didn’t go as he intended. She wanted her life and career outside “Clint’s world”, or “Clint’s bubble”, as she describes her life with the man who said “that we all can get away with anything”. As Dostoyevsky said, “if God doesn’t exist, everything is permitted”. So he tried to fire Locke from his life. I find it very hard to feel sympathy for someone who doesn’t even have the courage to break a relationship, face to face. He “hired” someone whose “job” was to mind other people’s lives to do it. There was a disgusting confrontation in a kitchen, which Locke describes in a very detailed way.
Sondra Locke explained Wand’rin’ Star just what I didn’t ask her to explain:
“Certainly, above all others he ‘fired’ from his life, I received the worst at his hand. I believe that is because I dared to challenge his treatment of me when no one else did. I had the audacity (in his view) to refuse to do what he wanted me to do, which was to walk away with no work, no security, no home. THEN he wouldn’t “say anything bad about me.” I could not do that.”
LOCK(E) AND LOAD
After her success in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, one of the first scripts her agent sent her was the adaptation of True Grit, with John Wayne, but both she and Gordon thought her next role should be entirely different. “I learned, no matter how hard you try, in Hollywood there’s no avoiding typecasting, and if you do, it only becomes a problem; then they don’t know how to cast you at all”, writes Locke in The Good, the Bad, and the Very Ugly.
Speaking of that, she watched The Good, the Bad and the Ugly around this time, since a friend of Gordon’s wanted to see it because ‘Rowdy Yates’ from Rawhide was “very cute”. Locke, who hated westerns, disliked it and remarked: “I don’t think he can act at all; it’s more like a nonperformance, all he does is whisper.” It seems that she was thinking along the same lines as Sergio Leone himself, who once compared Eastwood to a block of marble in a most unflattering way.
She didn’t like the movie business. “Agents and business people would always be the Catch-22 of my life. It was becoming clearer and clearer that I, in fact, had a real aversion to thinking about or talking about business. In fact, anything to do with money made me nervous and depressed; I loved everything artistic and creative, but business was the natural enemy. I had no understanding of it, no affinity for it, and I didn’t want to learn. And that unwillingness would eventually come back to haunt me.”
In 1968, there was no “youth market” for actresses. As Locke states, the leading ladies of the time were Elizabeth Taylor, Joanne Woodward, Audrey Hepburn, Faye Dunaway, Anne Bancroft and Vanessa Redgrave. “And most films then were almost totally male-driven, even more so than now.” She went to several auditions, even when she knew beforehand that the role was more or less attached to another actress. It happened with Alan J. Pakula who later told her he had committed to Liza Minnelli six months earlier, although he thought Locke’s audition was the better he had seen.
In “Hollywood’s parties, that self-congratulatory glitz and bad taste”, she began to feel a sort of outsider.
In her post Hunter period, Locke started to live in the Andalusia building in LA, with which she fell in love. This is also an important part of the book; the way Locke describes – and the obvious good taste she has for – houses, decoration and artwork, which remind Raymond Chandler’s talent when he described places.
Locke starred in Run Shadow Run with Robert Forster, not a successful film but a “very fulfilling experience”. It was later renamed Cover Me Babe, in a “desperate attempt to sound with it”. Then she had a secondary role in what would become a cult classic, Willard, directed by Daniel Mann, who wanted to meet her. Mann was the director of The Rose Tattoo with Anna Magnani and Burt Lancaster.
Locke says the real thrill for her was working with Elsa Lanchester and Ernest Borgnine who made her feel they were old friends. “That big-toothed smile of his was like a sunny day and I don’t think I ever saw him without it”, remembers Locke, although Borgnine is the villain of the piece.
She had great experiences, and was doing what she always wanted, but she realized early on what Hollywood was all about: “[It] was much more about whom you know, getting invited places, being seen and ‘kissing up’ than anything else. When invited somewhere, I never stopped to consider how that invitation might ‘benefit me’; instead I considered whether or not it sounded like an experience I wanted to have. After a while, I had no interest in giving endless interviews talking about myself. (…) This whole attitude was not only naïve, it was deadly for a career.”
She became frustrated and impatient with press agents and the “business” and did something they forbade her to do – she started to work on television, whenever she liked the roles, appearing in The F.B.I., Cannon, Kung Fu, and her favorites, Night Gallery “and PBS’s American Playhouse, in a play called The Gondola – an experience I absolutely loved”. She also worked with an actor she adored, Norman Lloyd.
There are two main points that come across in these roles; Locke was opposing typecasting and she displays an acting range many actresses only wish for. Locke can be Willard’s angelic friend; she can be snobbish in The Night Gallery or disturbed in Kung Fu. She even guest starred in an episode of Planet of the Apes. She was obviously not “playing the game”.
Then came a film which was a landmark, professionally and personally: A Reflection of Fear, directed by promising filmmaker William A. Fraker, who had been nominated for several Oscars as a director of photography, and who had directed Monte Walsh with Lee Marvin and Jeanne Moreau, one of the last great and underestimated westerns. Sondra Locke plays the mysterious and unbalanced ‘Marguerite’, a girl of sixteen.
Once again, Gordon and her plotted a scheme to get Fraker interested, since they both thought the role was almost perfect for her. Gordon Anderson even played the “voice” of ‘Aaron’, Marguerite’s alter-ego. Unfortunately, the film was butchered by Columbia since it dealt with themes deemed too strong for the general public. Locke found the attitude ridiculous, even more so because, at that time, “audiences were enthralled with the young girl in The Exorcist, spewing vomit and masturbating with crucifixes”. Nonetheless, she became longtime friends with the director and his future wife Denise, who was very supportive when Locke had serious health problems.
She starred in The Second Coming of Suzanne with Richard Dreyfuss, a film inspired by the Leonard Cohen song, where she was hauled up on a twenty-five foot cross while a helicopter whirled around her with the camera. “I was absolutely terrified. Actors are crazy, I thought”.
Sondra Locke confesses a special fondness for Suzanne, but not for the one that followed, which eventually would be renamed Death Game, an independent movie with Seymour Cassel (who by then had already been nominated for an Oscar in Cassavetes’ Faces) and Colleen Camp. “The director didn’t have any idea what he needed to be, was, or should be doing. He knew nothing.” Cassel threatened to walk out every day, and Locke ended up directing Camp’s performance. In this sordid affair, Cassel’s voice was even looped by the cameraman. It’s a waste of talent where she shows her claws.
Locke was still “recovering” from this when she met Jessica Walter, one of her favorite actresses, who had starred in Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut, Play Misty for Me. “During the evening she spoke in measured tones about Clint, and I got the distinct impression that she did not view him as a very generous actor or human being for that matter.” Walter did remark that Locke would be perfect for Eastwood’s next film, Breezy.
Locke phoned screenwriter Jo Heims, who was enthusiastic about her getting the role. A meeting with Eastwood followed. He spent the whole time playing golf in the office while Locke talked, and ended up casting Kay Lenz. “The final film was a predictable run-of-the-mill story”, writes Locke with a certain humor, “about a man in his late fifties who chases a young teenage chick with lots of T and A.”
About two years later, in 1975, the “Santa Ana winds were blowing” and “the sky was a perfect blue”. Her agent called: Eastwood was interested in seeing her. “It seems he remembers you from your meeting on Breezy.”
She met him at his office, the “Taco Bell”, as everyone called it, “because it looked just like one”. It was a one-story stucco bungalow. “With arms folded in front of him, he began to stroll toward me in that famous ‘S-like’ posture, his lope leading with the knees. He was wearing what must have been his standard dress – jeans, a white T-shirt and tennis shoes. Still, I didn’t view him as imposing. (…) He had a light and carefree air about him; so much so that I experienced an odd sensation, as if the school bell had just rung and I could throw my books into the air and run off to some unexpected celebration.”
They felt comfortable with each other, and Eastwood seemed easygoing. Locke was cast as ‘Laura Lee’ in one of Eastwood’s best films: The Outlaw Josey Wales.
COWBOYS AND CLOWNS
Everybody loves cowboys and clowns
You’re everybody’s hero for just a little while
But when the goodbyes are said
And the spotlight goes dead
There’s no one left who cares to hang around
To love the cowboys and clowns.
Ronnie Milsap, Theme from Bronco Billy.
“I walked onto the set of The Outlaw Josey Wales wearing full Western attire. The location, Lake Powell, Arizona, was breathtakingly surreal. We were in the middle of the desert with nothing but tall sand dunes as far as the eye could see. Phil Kaufman [who was originally the director and later got fired] was working with Bruce Surtees, the cameraman, to set up a shot, so I stood waiting. Then I noticed Clint. He no longer appeared the easygoing guy I had talked with in his Burbank office. He was ‘Josey Wales’. His long and lanky body stood tall, high above everyone else’s. His handsome chiseled face seemed different behind that now-full beard, and, in that flat wide brimmed hat, he looked like some kind of mythic hero. But he was more than handsome; he was compelling.”
At first, Locke saw the image of Eastwood almost everyone seems to. They fell in love on the set, “at first sight”, although the actor was still married. She describes how this happened in her book, and only people who never fell in love can’t identify the adrenaline rush they both felt. They became inseparable from then on: “I seemed to bring out the little boy in him. And although he loved me for my childlike nature, he brought out the woman in me.”
According to Patrick McGilligan’s, Clint: The Life and Legend, “[Locke’s] enemies claim nobody before or since has had as much power as Locke; that her intimacy with Clint conferred a unique ability to influence his decisions – a power she was not loath to exercise. Locke insists she had little influence. Rather she was a pawn in the Malpaso game, particularly useful to Clint when he needed to deflect responsibility for controversial policies, such as the wave of hirings and firings that would shortly rock the company.”
Locke also recalls that they “talked a lot about scripts and films”. “In fact, as I look back on it that’s most of what we talked about – the work. He was always interested in my opinions on everything.”
At the time, and still quoting McGilligan’s book, “although Locke was just the latest in a long line who had fallen for Clint, she had scant knowledge of his history with women”. Eastwood told her he was unhappily married, and was only stuck with it for the “sake of the children”, Alison and Kyle.
The press only knew they lived together more than a year afterwards, by the time The Gauntlet was released, in 1977. Locke didn’t particularly like the film, but she got great reviews (which outshone Clint’s) and turned what could easily have been a commonplace role (the golden hearted prostitute) into a quirky and classy one. She also suggested Frank Frazetta to paint the poster.
She became her costar on several films and helped him with the casting and editing. She coaxed him into doing the box office hit Every Which Way But Loose (1978) and Bronco Billy (1980), the latter remains the favorite film they made together: “I thought of Clint in some ways as this innocent, kind of sweet, little boy, with an introverted nature”, says Locke in McGilligan’s biography. “I thought that part of him was very much like the character in Bronco Billy, and that he saw himself that way too. At least, that’s what he preferred to project, especially off screen. But what I thought was shyness turned out really to be an inability to connect.”
Bronco Billy was a commercial flop but a turning point in his career – the critics liked it and it made him more “respectable”. Certainly, as McGilligan states, there’s no bloodshed and it shows a different side of Eastwood. Locke says it was a lot of fun to play the snobbish ‘Antoinette Lily’, the one time she didn’t feel a “narrow focus” on her own character. Fact is, she was often cast as sidekick, not as leading lady. The movie still is much better than most of Clint’s later and recent efforts.
In 1977, Sondra Locke starred in The Shadow of Chikara, a horror/western film, but her association with Clint started to overshadow her career. She felt she needed a more focused director, for one thing, and she thought about seeking a project closer to her “own sensibilities”. In the second of the “orangutan films”, Any Which Way You Can (1980), Locke again sings by herself, and very well too. This was almost ordered by Clint. Although she likes music, she didn’t want to do it at all.
They showed up in Hollywood’s “superficial occasions”, where no one really knew them. When the Variety Club honored Clint, “hardly anyone in the large audience knew him personally. Yet everyone acted like good friends”.
He convinced her to do an abortion, then a tube ligation. It’s difficult to get into these delicate matters in an article like this. She thought she’d be with him forever. She was in her early thirties. Locke started to suspect she didn’t know the man she fell in love with. Eastwood had strange reactions, which she often describes as bizarre behavior. They’re detailed in her book.
In the early eighties, Clint had two flops in a row, Firefox and Honkytonk Man. By then, Locke had found a project she wanted to make on her own. She rightfully felt the public perceived them as “tied by the hip”. Eastwood got his hands on it, changed it and turned it into Sudden Impact, the most successful film of the ‘Dirty Harry’ franchise. He didn’t bother with Locke’s feelings about it. She understood, although she disliked what he did. She knew he needed a hit. But, according to Locke, it’s no coincidence that this was their last film together.
She started to dislike Clint’s apparent resentment when she was offered other projects. Blake Edwards contacted her once about making a film. Edwards only wanted to get to Eastwood through Locke. She was dropped out, Burt Reynolds was brought in, and the whole mess became City Heat (1984). Fortunately she wasn’t in it, since it’s dreadful.
By now, Locke was desperately searching for a project as a director, but Eastwood boycotted every effort. When she found the script of Ratboy, Clint offered his crew’s services. It would be a Malpaso film, and she fought back – it would obviously mean, to outsiders, that this was a “Clint film”, ghost directed by him, which was not the case. Ratboy does seem a product boycotted by Eastwood, many of his collaborators show up on the credits. But it also shows a sensitivity that goes beyond the shallow secondary characters in Million Dollar Baby. Released in 1986, it was suppressed by Warner, and isn’t even available on DVD today.
Sometime later, Clint Eastwood even got himself elected as Mayor of Carmel, because he wanted to help his fellow citizens… no, he wanted to construct an extension of his restaurant downtown, taller than the city allowed, and the project was denied. So he got elected and approved it. He even had the ambition of becoming President. After a dinner in the White House with Ronald Reagan, he told Locke, “this could be ours one day”.
Locke writes that living with Clint was “easy” – everything was always taken care of; a car waiting, all the arrangements made when they traveled, the WB private jet at her disposal. But she grew more and more unhappy. He started to go away for long periods of time without telling her where he was. She started to see “red flags” everywhere, as she states, but admits: “Sadly, I still loved him.” Sondra Locke was at the dead end of an abusive relationship.
Later on, when they were in court, Eastwood considered himself a “feminist filmmaker”. I never understood this. Even when I was sixteen, it confused me. I liked the films, but I thought, “would a woman like this?” Sondra Locke reflects in her book:
“The woman in Misty was a psychotic killer; in Beguiled all the females cut off Clint’s leg, then murdered him with poisonous mushrooms; in Two Mules the woman was a foul-mouthed person posing as a nun; in The Gauntlet I played a hooker who’d been raped in an unthinkable fashion; and in Tightrope almost every woman in it was a sadistic or masochist hooker. That’s a pretty good record for a feminist filmmaker.”
Locke didn’t back down. She was interested in directing and followed through. Impulse, starring Theresa Russell, George Dzundza and Jeff Fahey was her next film. Eastwood disliked the cast, didn’t even know the actors, but he did a strange thing: He casted Dzundza and Fahey in his next film, White Hunter Black Heart (1990). This was a low blow (among so many, I can’t even count them).
Locke went through a very difficult experience directing Impulse. At that time, they were estranged but not separated, and Clint, who was behaving strangely, changed the locks, gathered some of her clothes, put them into storage boxes and sent them to Gordon Anderson’s house. She was evicted. In the exact day (April 10, 1989) he knew she was directing a complex scene on her own film, with 60 people waiting for her. When Gordon Anderson phoned, telling her about this, she fainted.
It’s some sort of miracle that Impulse is a great film, much better than Eastwood’s work during this period. All this had to be stopped. And Clint, who “owns” WB, stopped it, even though Impulse got great reviews.
Locke was under such psychological pressure that she spent her breaks during filming crying in the bathroom until her assistant came to call her to the set. How could she direct anything? She wanted her life and career back. She started to suffer from panic attacks while trying to hide her ordeal. In her words, “don’t let them know you’re bleeding when you’re in a shark tank” (referring to Hollywood). She pulled through. Gordon Anderson was always there for her, but the circle of friends from the City of Angels dropped from the sky and out of the picture, as soon as they knew she was in conflict with Eastwood, whose motto was, “a man can get away with everything, if he wants to”.
Then, Sondra Locke found out she had breast cancer and had to decide if the doctor was to remove just the affected breast or both of them, since it was a type that almost always occurred on both. She decided on both.
“DIGNITY NEVER BEEN PHOTOGRAPHED”
… As the Bob Dylan song goes. It’s documented and very well photographed in prose in The Good, the Bad, and the Very Ugly.
Sondra Locke underwent surgery and chemotherapy. In the hospital, they were expecting “a witch who was suing that nice hero Clint Eastwood” so they felt surprised. There were two court cases. First against Eastwood, who wanted her to get… absolutely nothing. He had suggested, through Godfather’s producer Al Ruddy, that she could have a three year deal with Warner and develop her own projects. They settled out of court. Then, Locke found out that it was Clint who was paying her using Warner as a front. She submitted over 30 projects, all of them were denied. One of them was Junior, with Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was a personal friend of Eastwood and Locke and was very enthusiastic. When he knew about the breakup, he didn’t even care about telling Locke he had decided to make it with his friend and director Ivan Reitman.
His wife, Maria Shriver, was Sondra Locke’s friend. Locke ran into her at a social occasion and told her in the face about Schwarzenegger’s disregard, when she started to say Locke was on the “family list”:
“Maria, please take me out of the ‘family list’ because apparently it doesn’t mean much. After all this, we can at least be honest. We are no longer friends and can’t act as if we are. I’m hurt and I can’t act as if I’m not.” Locke comments that “she was once one of those politically correct for her [Shriver] to pursue”. What’s interesting is that Locke tries to understand these people’s motivations and she usually gets right on target.
Locke did the unthinkable: She found a lawyer, Peggy Garrity, and sued Clint and Warner for fraud. “Emotionally” she “no longer wanted to go back into things with Clint”, she wanted to file a “business lawsuit”. Garrity advised her that “building a fraud case is like putting together a mosaic. No individual pieces mean a lot on their own; but put them altogether and a picture emerges. (…) The very nature of fraud is something hidden”.
They warned her it was a lost battle. Almost everyone in Hollywood turned their backs, Locke couldn’t find almost anyone to witness on her behalf; they told her Warner was too powerful. Even Lili Zanuck, who was a “close friend”, didn’t mind that Eastwood overheard her conversations with Locke when he had Locke’s telephones tapped. For the last four years of their relationship, Eastwood had been living a double life with another woman and had two children with her.
Garrity and Locke fought relentlessly throughout 1994 against Warner and its law firm. Eastwood tried to deny they ever had a commitment! She was so furious that she wanted to “pull out his hair transplants”, at one point. “What a completely evil, manipulating, lying excuse for a man he was. And what ultimate irony. Clint Eastwood, the man who symbolized to so many what a man should be, had turned out to have none of the acknowledged qualities of a real man – loyalty, honesty, bravery and moral strength – and yet Gordon, a child-man, a gay man, had possessed them all.
Clint finally faced Locke in the courtroom, when Garrity said, “I call Sondra Locke as my next witness”.
“I stood up and walked to the front of the courtroom, swore to tell the truth, and sat down. Looking around the room at everyone, my eyes finally fell on Clint. He was unable to look at me and just stared down at the table. The room felt quiet and still as if someone had just pushed the pause button on the videotape of my life. The past seven years of it seemed somehow destined to arrive at this moment.”
She felt alone, but wasn’t alone – there were people on her side. One day, feeling depressed, she found a note on the windshield of her car, signed by a complete stranger: “We’re rooting for you, Sondra. A lot of us are on your side.” These small things helped her going through the trial.
When Eastwood took the stand, “his face looked hard and permanently etched by anger”, describes Locke, who remembered Gordon Anderson’s remark, “Clint doesn’t look very good. It’s sort of like what is on the inside of him has permeated to the outside”. It was finally the moment when their eyes connected. “Incredibly it was the first time it had happened in this court – maybe even in years. His look was one of intimidation; mine was of defiance. It was a stare that seemed to last forever and carried the intensity of the ultimate showdown. I was determined not to be the first to glance away. And finally, it was Clint who turned.”
The book ends the way it started, only it goes deeper into the court case, as if Locke wants to close a circle… or maybe not. The court case bookends the story. She fought two of the most powerful influences in the entertainment industry. Eastwood’s side asked her to settle out of court, and she agreed. Her lawsuit against Clint and WB even made jurisprudence. And I quote:
“… the Court of Appeal of the State of California, Second Appellate District, had unanimously ruled that my lawsuit against Warner Bros. does indeed contain proper and sufficient evidence to warrant a trial for fraud and breach of contract, and that Judge Thomas Murphy of the Burbank court, who in early 1995 had cavalierly dismissed my case, acted incorrectly in doing so. (…) That means that my lawsuit against Warner Bros. has made law and will set a precedent in the future for the way major film studios can treat other artists in these kind of contracts.” Now quoting the judges’ ruling: “Such conduct [by Warner Bros.] is not beyond the reach of law.”
Before this, when they were in court, Eastwood made a carefully crafted remark to the press, posing as the victim: “No good deed goes unpunished.” Only he fumbled the words. As Sondra Locke comments, there are no second takes in real life, only in films. Besides, he entered the court by the back door, with two security guards, while Locke entered by the front door with no security. When the press noticed it, Eastwood started to enter the court through the front… still with the security guards.
I miss ‘Dirty Harry’ in the City Hall steps of San Francisco, fighting judges, lawyers and defending people’s rights with the .44 Magnum, “the most powerful handgun in the world”. But I’m not fifteen anymore, and I believe that honesty is the most “powerful handgun in the world”, like the story of the pen and the sword, maybe.
Since it reads like a novel, it’s the end. She remained a free spirit. In a way (that’s my interpretation), Eastwood is closed up in the myth he created, the “Fonda dynasty” he couldn’t create. We get the strange feeling that the Man with no Name does know how to project his image better than anyone in the movie business. But the irony of it all is that he doesn’t even know who he is. And the ridiculous part is that audiences “forgive” him. And they should remain unforgiven for that.
In court, Gordon Anderson made such an impact with his deposition about Clint that he made Eastwood’s lawyers uncomfortable. There was no mistrial, as Clint’s attorneys kept asking. Clint had his lawyers “climbing the walls” for being defeated. Locke settled out of court, but the jurors thought it was a mistake, they had decided that Locke was right and they wanted to express it, as they did it later on TV.
Gordon Anderson made (as usual) a shrewd remark. He had a private nickname for Clint, “Susi Pi”, short for “sociopath”.
Most important of all, what became of Sondra Locke’s career after Clint?
I found the book devastating, and hard to write about. When I told Sondra Locke my impressions, she said: “My soul couldn’t have survived that kind of abuse. It was a hard fought battle, but one I am proud of.”
That made it easier.
The Good, the Bad, and the Very Ugly: A Hollywood Journey was published by William Morrow & Co, November 1997. It’s available through Amazon.
Special thanks to Sondra Locke.