Movie Stars: Eastwood, Clint–He Almost Did Not Become Star

a_fistful_of_dollars_posterIt was a fluke, an accident, that describes how Clint Eastwood, then known as TV actor in the series Rawhide, became an international star after appearing in Sergio Leone’s “Dollars Trilogy,” after being cast as The Man With No Name in A Fistful of Dollars, the first panel made in 1964.

A Fistful of Dollars receives a special screening in the Cannes Classics series of the 2014 Cannes Film Fest, which opens Wed, May 14,

Clint Eastwood, who plays the lead in Fistful of Dollars, was not the first or second or third actor approached or considered to play the main character in the Spaghetti Western.

Originally, Sergio Leone intended Henry Fonda to play the “Man with No Name,” the idea being of casting Fonda against type as the star embodied a uniquely American hero, bnever playing anti-heroes or villains.  But Leone could not afford to pay for a major Hollywood star.

Leone then offered the part to Charles Bronson, but he declined.  Ironically, both Fonda and Bronson would later star in Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968).

Other actors who turned the role down were Henry Silva, Rory Calhoun, Steve Reeves, and James Coburn.

a_fistful_of_dollars_1_eastwoodLeone then asked Richard Harrison, who had appeared in one of the very first Italian westerns, Gunfight at Red Sands (Duello nel Texas), but Harrison refused.  Nonetheless, it was Harrison who suggested Eastwood for “The Man With No Name.” Harrison later stated, “My greatest contribution to cinema was not doing Fistful of Dollars and recommending Clint for the part.”

For his part, Eastwood said about the transition from TV western to Fistful of Dollars: “In Rawhide I did get awfully tired of playing the conventional white hat. The hero who kisses old ladies and dogs and was kind to everybody. I decided it was time to be an anti-hero.”

Eastwood created the Man with No Name’s style by choosing to wear black jeans, black hat, and the trademark cigars. He also brought props from his TV show Rawhide including a Cobra-handled Colt, a gunbelt, and spurs.

As for the poncho, it was Leone and costume designer Carlo Simi who decided on the Spanish poncho for the character.

While Eastwood himself was a non-smoker, he felt that the “foul taste” of the cigar in his breath is right for his character.

It’s a dubious if honest compliment, when Leone told the press that he liked Eastwood’s style: “More than an actor, I needed a mask, and Eastwood, at that time, only had two expressions: with hat and no hat.”

Eastwood is not the first or last to become a star in getting his most iconic role by accident.  Film history is replete with stories of such strange and unintended casting.