Clint Eastwood’s decades-old letter to a film director shows how his struggles were as real as any rookie actor trying to get a break.
The letter dates back to 1954 and has the younger Eastwood expressing his gratitude and appreciation towards Billy Wilder. Back then, the now Hollywood virtuoso was contracted as a trainee with the Universal Studios, whereas Wilder was a legendary director, having secured several nominations and a ‘best director’ win at the Oscars.
In the letter, Eastwood thanked Wilder profusely for taking time to speak to him. But on prominent display is his insecurity as an untested actor, along with his hope to get cast in his upcoming aviation movie, The Spirit of St. Louis, as Charles Lindbergh.
It Was October 1954, And Eastwood Hadn’t Landed A Role In Hollywood Yet
The letter was from around the time when Eastwood was struggling to earn himself a basic livelihood. Hollywood was far from his sight as he had not yet even discovered the acting and directing talent within himself. He had never been too good at conforming to school norms either—it’s unclear if he even graduated high school.
According to the accounts of several of his classmates and acquaintances, “He just went off and started having a good time” during his high school days. They described an incident where Eastwood had to drop out of his high school for writing an obscene message on the school’s scoreboard and burning an effigy on the school lawn.
Eastwood Struggled To Get Roles At This Stage In His Career
One of the jobs he had taken up at the time was as a lifeguard in the army that barely paid him enough to make a living. The rest of his work included odd, part-time jobs including being a paper carrier, club bouncer, grocery clerk, golf caddy, and even a firefighter, to bring in some extra cash.
The years that built up to Eastwood’s introduction to the Universal International studios were rough, to say the least. He had a near-death experience when his military aircraft crashed and he had to swim in shark-infested waters to save his own life.
In a hopeful twist of fate, the Man With No Name actor caught the eye of an influential person who snuck him into the studio. Eastwood was starstruck. In no time, his audition was arranged under the famous Arthur Lubin, who couldn’t resist his appearance and charms but completely disapproved of his acting skills. Lubin recalled Eastwood’s audition that got him his first contract saying, “He was quite amateurish. He didn’t know which way to turn or which way to go or do anything”.
In The Letter, Eastwood Practically Begs For Another Shot At The Role Of Charles Lindbergh
After several failed auditions and trivial roles, Eastwood met Billy Wilder through Lubin. This meeting led to the discussion of a possible chance for him at playing Charles Lindbergh, the main lead in Wilder’s next film, The Spirit of St. Louis. The letter was a clear reflection of Eastwood’s raw desperation for the role.
The Spirit of St. Louis was a biographical aviation drama that follows Charles Lindbergh through his historic flight from New York to Paris. With a real-life plane crash experience, Eastwood could have shined in the role. However, Wilder cast James Stewart, an established actor by then. The film went on to collect a box office revenue of $2.6 million.
Eastwood Didn’t Get The Part But Got His First Big Break 4 Years Later
He may have lost his chance with an Oscar-winning director then, but Eastwood soon proved that it was only a matter of time. After 4 years of playing credited and uncredited roles from the sidelines, he landed his first break with Rawhide in 1958, a western series in which he played the iconic character of Rowdy Yates. The show became an instant hit, paid him well, and also gave Eastwood his first real platform to try a hand at directing.
It was only onwards and upwards from here for Eastwood. The mid-1960s marked his contribution to the legendary Spaghetti Western period as he challenged American stereotypes in his mega-hit trilogy beginning with A Fistful of Dollars.
In the next decade when Eastwood made his directorial debut with Play Misty For Me, the film’s success promised the American and Canadian film industries that this man was here to stay.
Here’s The Letter
And Here Is The Full Text Of The Letter
Dear Mr. Wilder,
Thank you for taking your time to see me last Tuesday when Mr. Arthur Rubin was kind enough to introduce us on your set. Mr. Solly Baiane of Warner Brothers, seemed quite enthusiastic about my possibilities for the Lindbergh role, when he met me here at Universal where I am under contract.
I was concerned when you mentioned to Mr. Lubin that you would like to see a test. The only one Universal has made was one of those difficult interviews in which I felt I was not very good, even though I was given a contract on the strength of it. When the time comes for casting, I would appreciate so much your letting me talk with you rather than seeing this test, for I have improved in every way since that time. I feel the qualities you might be seeking can better be found in a personal interview.
Again, may I thank you and trust I did not take too much of your time. I now look forward to our next meeting.