clint eastwood in eighth grade -- 5/24/18

Today's encore selection -- from Clint Eastwood by Richard Schickel. Clint got his first taste of acting in a school play:

"[Clint Eastwood was] dreaming away most of the school day, and staying pretty much aloof from its official extracurricular life. Sports, for exam­ple, were heavily emphasized, and most of his pals went out for them. But though he 'teased around' with football and basketball in junior high, team sports didn't really interest him. It was the same with school band. ...

"His largest interest, very simply, lay in not calling attention to him­self, not easy for a boy of his height to manage. There were well­ intended attempts to 'bring him out of his shell,' such as an infamous school play, often recounted in Clint Eastwood profiles and biographies. Their writers have enjoyed the irony of a man who has since become one of the world's most famous actors forced by a teacher to perform in a skit in an all-school assembly, being deeply embarrassed by the expe­rience and vowing never to repeat it. The story is true, but there is more to it than is usually reported. For anxious though the occasion made him in anticipation, Clint turned the event itself to reasonably good account, achieving a rare moment of recognition in his generally anonymous school career. And also learning, as he would later recognize, another little life lesson.

"He was in the eighth grade when his English teacher, Gertrude Falk ('I remember her name very well,' he says grimly), announced that the class would be doing a one-act play for public consumption and, with­out auditions, ordered Clint to play the lead. 'It was the part of a back­ward youth, and I think my teacher thought I was perfect casting,' Clint once said. His friend Harry Pendleton and a girl named Shuggie Vincent were assigned to play his father and mother, and a couple of other classmates had walk-ons.

"He went to Miss Falk and tried to get out of the assignment, but she said, 'Oh, you'll be perfect for this,' adding that he and the others would be graded on their work. The small consolation she offered was that there would be a prompter off stage in case he forgot his lines.

"Rehearsals were not reassuring to Clint, and the night before the performance he and Pendleton seriously discussed the possibility of feigning illness. But 'I was too chicken to play sick,' and, besides, 'by this time I'd memorized enough of the play so I thought, Well, we'll go try it and it won't be that bad.' Miss Falk, however, had one last surprise for her cast. She informed them, just before they reported to the audi­torium, that this was to be a joint assembly with the high school; older kids, their contempt at the ready, would be looking on.

"'Jesus, we just about crapped. But there we were, and it was too late; we couldn't cut or run or go home or whatever. We had to go on with it. So we got out there and started in on the play, and everything started going wrong, of course. Harry was reading a newspaper and he had his script inside, and it dropped out on the floor, and I was tripping over things. But it started getting laughs. Even some of the lines started get­ting laughs. And all of a sudden, I don't know what came over me, I felt I'm into this thing and we're rolling. So we finished it with a minimum amount of screwup.' Indeed, in retrospect, he admits 'there were mo­ments that I actually felt that spark for a second.' He also recalls 'guys from the senior high school walking up later in the day, and saying, "Hey, that was good," and I was like, "It was?" ' Miss Falk, too, professed herself satisfied. 'That's fine,' he replied, but 'I don't ever want to do that again, ever in my life.' "





Richard Schickel


Clint Eastwood: A Biography




Copyright 1996 by Richard Schickel


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