How Clint Eastwood Made My Day
Sun Valley Idaho was a beautiful place. I’d never been there before and was looking forward to shooting the 1990 Duchin Cup celebrity ski weekend at the snow covered mountain resort.
Several movie stars had come to this long time mountain playground for the annual event, among them Adam West, Michael Keaton and Clint Eastwood. I was about to receive a lesson there I would never forget, about celebrity and how different people handle it.
I noticed on the first night, at a cocktail party, Keaton had some kind of problem with having his picture taken. Every time I turned on the camera, he turned his back. The producer asked me to get the shots but Keaton was having none of it. Maybe he was just having a bad week but why would he come to an event like this if he didn’t want his picture taken? It was a celebrity ski race, after all. Well, the looks he gave me could have killed but the rest of the stars were great. I was careful not to crowd anyone and the guests were gracious and outgoing. And except for Michael Keaton, the night went well.
I’ve photographed hundreds of celebrities over the years but, without a doubt, I met my favorite on my very first TV interview. In 1971 KTVT Channel 11 in Ft. Worth, Texas gave me my first genuine TV news job. An independent station, Channel 11 carried only two 15-minute newscasts 5 days a week. As you can imagine, the staff was very small requiring each of us to take on more than one responsibility. That’s how I became a reporter/photographer. Now you might say that has a nice ring to it, reporter slash photographer, and I thought so too at the time. This was a great opportunity for a young man with virtually no experience in the news business to extend himself a bit. But there was another factor I didn’t consider. As a reporter I was expected to wear a coat and tie, keep my hair combed and take notes. As a photographer I was responsible for carrying in and setting up more than 100 pounds of camera equipment before doing the interview. As reporter/photographer, I did it all.
After a few days of training I was sent out to do my first solo reporter/photographer interview with a young star in town who was promoting his new movie, “Play Misty For Me”. In 1971, Clint Eastwood had a big following from the TV series “Rawhide” and from Sergio Leone’s series of spaghetti westerns, “A Fistful Of Dollars”, For A Few Dollars More” and “The Good The Bad And The Ugly” but nothing like the fame that would come later with movies like “Dirty Harry” and “Unforgiven”.
It was a long way from the parking lot to the hotel room where the interview was scheduled. My coat and tie quickly wilted in the humid Texas heat as I struggled with the sound camera, the b-roll camera, the amplifier, microphones, tripod and lights. There was no time to make two trips. I carried it all. By the time I got to the room I was a mess. Sweating from head to toe and loaded down with all that gear, I must have looked like a high tech street person. I knocked on the door expecting to see a manager or agent, but was surprised to be greeted by Clint himself.
He glanced past me, looking up and down the hall, for the reporter I suppose, and then turning back to me asked, “Are you it?” “I’m it.” I said with a sigh, relieved at the prospect of setting all that equipment down. “Well, come on in”, he said, opening the door wider. Guessing I was new at this, he took the lights from me and began setting them up. At the time it didn’t seem unusual, but now, after 30 years in the business, I realize how rare this gesture was. Stars never, I say never, help set up the gear! No matter how late, how early, how rested or how tired...stars never set up the gear! If the words aren’t written in their contract, they’re certainly embedded in their soul...Talent Don’t Tote! Mr. Eastwood was a welcome exception. Not only was he knowledgeable and helpful with the gear, but also he made for me, what could have been a horrible first interview, a stress free experience. I was scared to death and he knew it. I asked him only one question, “Why are you in town?” He did all the talking from there on. I had a 100-foot roll of film in the camera that would last 3 minutes but I never had to ask another question. I got a great interview, and of course, help taking down the gear. I’m sure he would have carried it to the car if I’d asked.
About 12 years later, while working for KUSA in Denver, I was covering a celebrity ski race in Vail, Colorado. Clint Eastwood, now a huge box office attraction and closely identified with his on-screen-character, Dirty Harry, was a contestant at the event. I was shooting a lighthearted feature about the weekend when he came through the finish line. He skied right up to me and I asked if he would say, “Make my day.” He smiled, leaned back, and in perfect character recited his most famous line. What a guy.
Now, back to beautiful Sun Valley and the irrepressible Michael Keaton. Sunday, the final day of the celebrity event, finished with a ski race. The several celebrities in attendance had been paired up for maximum entertainment effect, the most obvious being Adam West and Michael Keaton ... The old against, at that time, new Batman. Assigned to the starting gates, I’d shot several races already when the two Batmen showed up. Adam West was nearest and the first to respond to questions on camera. West was charming and witty. The interview was very much like what you’d see on Entertainment Tonight. Very light with lots of references to the old Batman TV series. Then the camera moved over to Mr. Keaton who was staring ahead rather stoically. “And what does the new Batman think of this match up?” asked the reporter smiling. Keaton, without turning his head snarled, “Can’t you see, I’ve got my game face on”? The reporter, somewhat shaken tried to laugh it off. “So you’re taking this race pretty serious then?” Without missing a beat Keaton turned, looking directly into the camera, and said, “Fuck off!” There wasn’t much more to be said about that, so the reporter backed away and they started the race, the much younger Keaton storming into the lead. I remember staying with the shot as long as possible hoping, just hoping, he’d catch an edge, take a header, and plunge that smug face into the snow. Shooting that would certainly have made my day.
The last two pairings of a long day finally moved to the starting line but there was a hold on the course while some gates, knocked down by the previous racers, were replaced. They had saved the best for last. Client Eastwood and some other guy, whose name I don’t remember, waited at the top for the course to reopen. I spoke to Clint for the first time that weekend. “You know, I’ve shot you several times over the years,” only a slight exaggeration, “In fact, the first was 19 years ago this month.” I went on to tell him about our first meeting in Dallas and how much I appreciated his help. He laughed. “Yeah, I do remember that interview but I can’t believe it was 19 years ago. I guess we’ve all learned a lot since then.”
When Clint’s race finally started I framed up his great smile with a low angle hero shot and let him slide all of the way out of the picture in case his form was weak. But I needn’t have worried. He looked great all the way through the course. As for the other guy?…..I haven’t seen a Michael Keaton movie since.