The clouds seem to part for him. A powerful, anthracite-gray machine descends beneath the fog line and lands gently on the ground. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s Clint Eastwood, Carmel’s version of Superman.
Eastwood—a rarity being a helicopter pilot still flying in his 80s—opens the door. At 6-foot-3, his stride is casual and steps are lengthy as he makes his way over to a Dodge pickup truck. He covers ground effortlessly, as he also seems to do in life. Eastwood, who turned 82 years old this May, and happens to be my husband, is home. Fresh off the set of his new movie, shot in Atlanta, he says he is always elated to be back in the Carmel area.
“The Monterey Peninsula gets in your blood,” he says. “There’s something about the atmosphere here that seems much nicer than even the Bay Area, where I grew up. It seems like the combination of the beauty of the countryside, and the like-minded people who live here [makes it possible to] enjoy a life that is more simple than in other major metropolis areas of California.”
Eastwood has just wrapped the new film “Trouble With The Curve.” It is the first movie he has acted in, and not directed, since “In the Line of Fire” 20 years ago. “It was great,” he says. “It gave me a chance to have some time off. Directing is a much more time-consuming job than being an actor in a film. I had my protégé, Rob Lorenz, taking over for me. Rob is someone who has done great work for my production company, Malpaso. I felt he deserved a shot at directing. I felt very at ease having him lead the pack.”
First-time director Lorenz, who began working for Eastwood as a production assistant almost 20 years ago, feels blessed. “I’ve had a master class in filmmaking for more than 18 years,” he explains. “He’s taught me everything from what’s going on inside an actor’s head, to how to deal with studio executives, to the importance of maintaining your health throughout a stressful production. The thought of directing a legendary filmmaker like Clint was daunting. But his easygoing style made it a great collaboration.”
Daunting. Many people associate that word with Eastwood. He is an enigma. Eastwood is well known around the world for being a tough guy. But more of a secret—a secret shared by many locals—is what a gentle man he really is. “People wouldn’t expect how nice and calm my dad is. He is the sweetest person I know,” says 15-year-old daughter Morgan.
Eighteen-year-old daughter Francesca agrees. “My dad is so kind,” she says. “He loves all creatures. He is the type of guy who saves bees from drowning in the swimming pool.” She adds that she and her sister are appreciative of their father’s demeanor around their male friends.
“People assume that our dad greets our boyfriends at the front door with a big gun drawn. We see how it could be intimidating for them, but he is always really nice. He is sweet to everyone.”
Eastwood discovered the charms of Carmel more than six decades ago. Drafted into the US Army in 1951, and based at Ford Ord, he spent his rare off-duty evenings having a beer or two at the Mission Ranch saloon. He swore if he ever made any real money, he’d live in the area.
“The people who were there were interested in arts and music,” he recalls. “They weren’t that into politics, except regarding their own city politics. I liked the simplicity of it all.”
Eight years later, after stints in Los Angeles as an apartment complex manager, a pool digger, and a struggling actor, Eastwood ended up starring in a top-rated television show, playing cowboy Rowdy Yates in “Rawhide.” Realizing a dream, he and his first wife, Maggie Johnson, purchased a small, furnished house in Pebble Beach, just down the road from the Monterey Peninsula Country Club. Sound investments around the Peninsula followed. Soon he was able to buy a home in Carmel, and it was Carmel, not Los Angeles, that became home for this rising star television and film star. Eastwood’s mother and sister followed him to town. Roots were firmly planted.
By the mid ’80s, Eastwood was fed up with some of Carmel’s rules. He had gone before the City Council to get approval to build a structure on a vacant lot on San Carlos Street. The council voted against it, and Eastwood didn’t feel they had any reason to do so.
“I sat through my first city council meeting in the audience, as an applicant,” he recalls. “I watched an amazing amount of disinterest being exhibited by the council members. I felt that if this was an example, then the people of Carmel were not being served as well as they should be. Very few council members looked up, commented, or gave any information during the meeting. The mayor at that time was knitting during the meeting. I had never seen anything like it before, and haven’t since.”
Eastwood mentioned to some friends around town that he felt the council was not paying attention to its constituents. A casual meeting was called at a local restaurant. Eastwood laughs as he recalls the onversation.
“Former Carmel resident Bud Allen said, ‘Clint, why don’t you run for council? We could bust this town right open!’ I then thought, ‘Maybe we’ve had one too many Chardonnays.’”
But Eastwood did run for mayor, and won by a landslide, after campaigning door-to-door around town. During his two-year tenure, he never missed a council meeting, despite making two movies during his term.
Eastwood’s roots spread even further when he purchased the famed Mission Ranch more than 25 years ago. The property was slated to be developed into more than 60 condominium units. Eastwood couldn’t stand to see its splendor wasted. He bought the property in 1985, and made it the local gem it is today.
Mission Ranch General Manager Sue Carota says Eastwood has kept the site appealing to tourists and locals alike.
“He’s great,” she says. “He’s a hands-on owner who truly cares about not only the Ranch, but also the guest experience. Most of all, he takes care of his staff. He empowers us to be to the best we can be.”
Eastwood has shared his good fortune with countless local nonprofits. Besides giving his time and money, he’s donated large amounts of property to the Big Sur Land Trust and to the Del Mesa Carmel retirement community. Conservation minded, he has served as a California State Parks commissioner. Eastwood’s name fronts a local drug and alcohol recovery center for teenagers, and he has been the lead fundraiser on too many projects to list. He is the chairman of the Monterey Peninsula Foundation board, which hosts the world-famous AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tournament. He serves on the boards of the Monterey Jazz Festival and the Pebble Beach Company. He recently participated in a commercial, sponsored by Chrysler and televised during the Super Bowl, to raise the American spirit. One hundred percent of what he was paid was donated to charity. Eastwood is now turning his attention to helping newly returned wounded veterans from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Being a successful philanthropist, businessman, actor and director are just a few of the things Eastwood has mastered. He is a family man, an accomplished pianist, and a pretty good golfer, who can shoot close to his age on occasion. This multi-faceted talent is humbled by the fact that it’s easier to list what he doesn’t do well than what he does do well.
“I always work hard to keep sharp,” he says. “I think it’s very important, as one ages, to learn new things. That’s why I have no ambition to retire.” Eastwood, looking decades younger than his age, is a product of good genes, extensive knowledge about nutrition and science, and a lot of hard work. His diet includes fruit smoothies, wild salmon, kale, and other veggies. He has never smoked (except in movies) or used caffeine. He is a regular in the gym.
“I like to rotate between cardio and resistance exercises,” he says. “Lifting weights is important to maintain bone density. Plus it’s a great endorphin lift, and it relieves a lot of mental stress as well.”
Eastwood is also still a regular on screen. When we got married 16 years ago, making one movie every year-and-a-half was the norm. It’s now accelerated to making one or two movies a year. My thoughts on this? I am in awe of his energy and dedication. I notice that Clint is taking more chances with his work. I was a little scared for him to make the movie “Gran Torino.” I thought it was a bit racy, considering we had two young daughters at home. But boy, that film put him back on the map with the teens! I literally don’t go a few days without hearing how great it is, and how it changed people’s lives.
Eastwood’s future has no boundaries. He has plans to direct singer Beyoncé in a remake of “A Star is Born” before the year is out. He reads scripts constantly, looking for that next challenge, that next exceptional character, that next off-the-wall project that interests him. As only Clint can say, “At my age, what can they do to me?”