This is one of my favorite tales. I’ve told it many times. At social occasions, I’m often asked by those who’ve already heard the story to repeat it with luster. Of course, there’s an eventual life lesson to be found near the end. Until that moment, enjoy this rather foolish example of pure, youthful moxie.
It was my twenty-first birthday. I’d taken a few days off from attending film school at USC to join my family in Carmel for the celebration of my parents’ silver anniversary. Yes. It was my not-so-good fortune to have been born on my parents’ anniversary. There are worse days to be born. July 4th. Any day during the Christmas season. I suppose if my pop hadn’t loved my mom so much or had been the type to forget anniversaries, my birthdays might’ve had a bit more shine to them. But that’s way behind me.
For you readers unfamiliar with Carmel by the Sea, it’s located in a romantic corner of Northern California, just south of the Monterey Peninsula. We’d just finished the celebratory dinner and bid my parents a fond goodnight, when my brother-in-law suggested we wander over to a joint called the Hog’s Breath Inn so I could order my first legal beer. The restaurant-slash-bar was pretty famous. Less for its food and drink and more for its co-owner, Clint Eastwood.
“Why the hell not?” I replied.
The Hog’s Breath is a bit difficult to find without an address. Its entrance is through a tight little alleyway and down three steps into a vine-covered courtyard. Restaurant to the left, saloon to the right. We’d barely found a place to hang before my brother-in-law pointed out that Clint was seated in the bar, enjoying some conversation and a bottle of Coors.
At the time, Clint Eastwood was, without equal, the biggest movie star on the planet. His movies performed worldwide. His familiar features were chiseled into the American psyche like the faces on Rushmore. Were his fans to hold hands, they might’ve been able to circle the earth more than once.
Somewhere around my second beer, I received my first official nudge. I don’t recall who began it. My brother-in-law or one of my two older sisters. But they knew how much I revered the movie icon. And they began suggesting that I should make an approach.
I balked. I’ve never been comfortable approaching celebrities. Not that I’m by any means shy. I’m merely respectful, figuring that they have as much a right as anybody else to occupy a public space; their mere presence didn’t give me or anybody else the right to accost them.
But then again I was only two beers in.
Somewhere around Bud number four, with my better judgment somewhat impaired, I began to consider some kind of approach. With the constant egging by my siblings I was eventually able to rationalize plausible and important reasons for me to wedge myself between the movie star and his companion. I was in college. A hardscrabble film student, no less. I could ask Clint Eastwood for career advice. Or maybe I could convince him to critique one of my student films. Better yet, I might be able to secure some kind of internship working on one of his features.
Damn right I had good reason. Barmaid? Bring on more Budweiser.
As I plotted my approach, my primary obstacle was the woman at the bar with whom Clint had struck up a conversation. I recall she was in a green dress, had jet black hair, and on a scale of one to ten she landed somewhere between knockout and drop dead gorgeous.
“Go talk him,” nudged my brother-in-law.
“Before he leaves!” said my middle sister.
“No,” I stalled. “Look who he’s with. I don’t want to interrupt that.”
“Fans talk to him all the time,” said my older sister.
“I’m not just some fan,” I defended.
A fresh beer arrived. I remained on my perch, seated atop the cinderblock wall overlooking the courtyard.
The rest happened very quickly. I never saw Clint get up to leave. As my brother-in-law alerted me that the movie star was on the move, I glanced up from a bowl of peanuts and saw Clint striding across the courtyard toward the alleyway. The woman in the green dress held his hand, trying to keep up while wearing some rather steep heels.
I didn’t think so much as act. I dropped down and gave chase. Clint had just only cleared the steps up into the alleyway when I first spoke his name.
“Mr. Eastwood,” I called out.
The six-foot-four icon’s head swiveled forty degrees to his right and, without missing a stride, he replied with his trademark hiss:
“It’s not the time,” said Clint.
“But Mr. Eastwood,” I said, stupidly undaunted.
“It’s not the time,” Clint repeated in the same practiced move. Head turned forty degrees right, just enough for me to see enough of his Dirty-Harry-profile.
I should’ve stopped, turned around, and respected the man’s privacy. Clearly he had better things to do. Such as go home and ravage the woman in the green dress, which I rightly reckoned, was his immediate plan. But common sense had escaped me with that fourth beer.
“Hey,” I said sharply. “I’m no autograph hound.”
With that, Clint stopped, turned around, his eyes naturally squinted into a threatening glare. He was microseconds from crushing my soul with a mind-your-own-damn-business remark when I mentioned two words that caught him by surprise.
“I’m friends with Harry Sanford,” I blurted out.
The movie star’s scowl retreated into recognition of the name I’d just dropped.
“Harry Sanford?” Clint confirmed. “From Arcadia?”
“Well, he’s not really my friend,” I corrected. “He’s my dad’s best friend. He’s sort of my Dutch Uncle. I grew up with him.”
A brief primer. Harry Sanford was a famed big game hunter, amateur botanist, and gun inventor. More importantly, he was a renowned American tough guy who Clint not only knew, but admired so much he’d tried to get Harry to appear in the action comedies Every Which Way But Loose and Any Which Way You Can. Though Harry had always humbly declined, he remained friends with the star and even built Clint a special gun that was employed in the fourth Dirty Harry film.
“So you know Harry,” said Clint.
“Yes,” I answered. “I’m a film student. I was thinking of sending you a letter through Harry, maybe asking for an internship. But then I saw you here and thought I might help you put a face on it.”
“Harry’s gonna give me a letter from you?”
“Yes, sir,” I said. “Sorry to bother you and all. I hope you have a nice evening.”
I reached out and shook the star’s hand, made solid eye contact, then turned and walked away. Yeah. That’s right. I left Clint Eastwood standing in the alley with the black haired beauty wondering who the hell was that kid who just interrupted his mac-daddy mojo?
Yeah. Right. But that’s how I choose to remember it.
I returned to school, pounded out my letter to Clint Eastwood, mailed it off to Harry Sanford, and waited for the reply that never came. Not a word. Not a note. Hell of an impression I’d made, huh?
Just a few years later, while working under my first writing deal at Warner Brothers, I’d often wander by Clint’s Malpaso Productions office. Sometimes I’d pass him on a walkway. He’d nod a polite hello to me just like he would anybody else who’d made eye contact with him. I never said a thing. And why should I? I’d already said my piece to the man in that Carmel alleyway.
Zip forward twelve or more years. I was in Wyoming with my father and Harry Sanford. After a long day of elk hunting very near the Great Divide, we retired to Harry’s little cabin on the river. While my father rustled up the evening meal, Harry handed me a cold one and asked:
“Wanna hear a funny story?” Harry began. “Nadine and I were up in Carmel a coupla months ago. We were having dinner with Clint and he up and says to me that not too long ago he’d thrown on some old jacket. And when he reached into the inside pocket for his wallet, he came back up with that letter you’d written.”
“The letter I sent you a long time ago,” I confirmed.
“Yeah,” said Harry. “I hung onto it until the next time I saw him and put it right in his hand. Guess he stuck it in his jacket pocket and forgot all about it until like, Lord knows how long ago that was, he puts on the jacket again and finds the letter.”
“Jeez,” I said.
“Yeah,” said Harry. “He told me he remembered you stoppin’ him in that alley outside the Hog’s Breath. He was gonna tell you where to go before you dropped my name on him.”
I laughed a hard, satisfying laugh. At least I was memorable.
“So get this,” continued Harry. “Clint finally reads the damn letter. Feels kinda bad. Then asks me if there’s anything at this late date he can do for you.”
“What’d you say?”
“I told him thanks, but you were doing just fine.”
Indeed, I was.
It’s said that showbiz is a relationship game. And to some extent it is. But it’s not the who you know business that so many who don’t succeed in it often claim it is. My who you know moment came in that Carmel alleyway on my twenty-first birthday. I made my big play and missed. My who you know moment paid me zero in career points.
Thank the Lord I didn’t let that particular failure define me.
Read my new thriller, THE SAFETY EXPERT. Available in trade paperback and ebook at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.
Thanks for these articles from a starting Dutch filmmaker! I’m always ready on monday to read the latest, great inspiration!
You’re welcome, Thomas. And a thankyou back for the kind words.
Thanks for this installment, Doug. Not hard to imagine why that story is a popular one. Reminds me of a similar situation friends and I found ourselves in while closing down a bar/restaurant with Bob Knight at a nearby table. Sadly, my buddy didn’t handle himself as well as you did.
Ok, Kent. So someday you’ll have to tell me that story over a beer.
Great Stuff, Doug.
I love stories like these where you can see that everyone – no matter how famous, rich or renowned they may be – we’re all just humans. Who hasn’t found something forgotten in an old coat?
And what a great secret moment to have inside you whenever you pass an otherwise unaware Mr. Eastwood on the lot.
Thank you for sharing.
I’d just like to think I could try on a twenty year old jacket and still have it fit! Thanks for the comment, Rob.
Great story. It’s possible he found the twenty one year old a bit full on. Over the twelve years you may have wondered what became of the letter.Did he chuck it in the bin? Was it too fawning, too self assured?
You may even have mentioned it or asked about it.
In similar circumstances if you were asked to give a kid a break now what would you do?
Would you tell his dad, look he put me on the spot, and clint too, or would you give him a feel good line once he’d made it on his own anyway.
Don’t know what I’d tell his dad, but I’m asked all the time to help out the kids of family friends.
Another great story. Thanks for sharing it.
And it just shows you the vagaries of youth and how it allows you over-step marks you wouldn’t dream of in later life.
And I have my own cringe-worthy story:
Years ago, I saw Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in Dublin (where I’m from) at a pedestrian crossing, waiting for the lights to change. She was pushing a stroller with a small child in it. At the time I was appearing in a play in the theatre at Trinity college and we had been given free tickets to allocate as we wished.
Being only 22, I accosted Miss Mastrantonio in the street, told her in a gushing voice that I loved her work (especially The Abyss) and that if she wanted, I could put her name on the door and she could get in to see the play for free.
To her eternal credit, she was unfailingly polite, declined with thanks, saying that she was meeting her husband for dinner and went on her merry way as soon as the traffic lights changed.
Of course, I was simply staggered to have met a bona fide Hollywood actress who was even more beautiful and nice in the flesh. But she must have thought I was some mad stalker, especially as she had her child with her. But she left a lasting impression on how to deal with random strangers talking to you out of the blue on the street.
And by the way, I don’t think those reCAPTCHA codes at the bottom are even in English any more.
Great story. Good on you and good on Miss Mastrantonio. The truth is that stars are unfortunately used to the attention. Some revel in it. Some barely put up with it.
As for the CAPTCHA, I might need to switch it to Gaelic just for you.
A friend once asked me why they always wait until you’re eating to ask for an autograph or start a conversation. I told him you’re armed with cutlery but sitting down so they have a chance to get away if you become irate.
As someone with a huge ego I just sign the book and thank them for reading. I’m afraid I haven’t yet reached the celebrity stage of having my own stalkers. If I do I might request some assistance…
As always, another fun one. Kudos.
Most male stars will tell you that the most common – and annoying – place for a fan approach/comment is while standing at a urinal in a public restroom. Talk about being already occupied!
Thanks for sharing the story. I guess we all believe that just one special encounter or maybe one stroke of good luck and our lives will be changed forever for the better.
Though I believe in luck. I believe more that we make or own luck.
Been reading your back bloggs and i can confirm that it is addictive.
I’m going to give you the best compliment i can give you. What it reminds me of, in a good way, is the Pat Hobby stories.
Clive. I’m not familiar with Pat Hobby. But thanks anyway.
This is one of those stories that you find yourself, literally saying, “Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it,” until finally,the inevitable moment comes when you scream, “Noooooooooo”!
But then how would I know?
Oh, I did it alright.
Awesome story. I love how you handled the whole thing. Great lesson as well. Thank you!
Problem with life is that the test comes first then the lesson after.
This is very inspirational! I love your storytelling technique! It’s rather enjoyable and speaks to individuals–making a connections. And truth be told you speak the truth. Sometimes just knowing someone doesn’t cut it.
Looking forward to your next post! 🙂
Thanks Eva. And it IS true. Most of those I know who’ve succeeded in their chosen endeavors didn’t get there on hook-ups. They got there on outworking their competitors.
Great story Doug and your blogs are great.
Back in 1997 when I had failed all my drama school auditions I felt like my world had ended and had no where to turn. In a moment of sheer desperation I just wrote to Sir John Gielgud.
Within a week or two I received a handwritten reply from him in which amongst other things he wrote
“Face your disappointments philisophically and keep going. Do not worry as those who truly want it will find their own way.”
Just to know that this 93 year old Knight of the realm had taken the time to write to a complete stranger and offer his support was enough to boost my confidence and help build a career.
Now Sir John’s letter takes pride of place on a shelf above the fire place.
That’s a wonderful story, Phil. Absolutely inspiring.
Great read Doug. I thought this story was going to end with you getting punched out by Clint( which actually sounds pretty cool).
I was in the Hogs Breath Inn on vacation back in the 90’s but Mr. Eastwood did not make an appearance that night unfortunately.
I’ve met a few celebs at the Austin Film Festival and was generally very pleased with their approachability. Woody Harrelson was particularly gracious, asking me what I was in the contest for, what I was writing and so forth. I was stunned for a moment two but recovered and had a nice brief conversation with him. I’m not sure how much interaction you had with him on Money Train but I found him to be a really down to earth great guy.
Would you believe Woody made an appearance in my dream last night? He was quite chummy and not at all the pothead he’s made out to be. Little to no interaction with him on Money Train but his rep his pretty stellar as being an approachable go-to pro.
Hah! Interesting timing on the dream. Good to hear my experience with Woody wasn’t a one off. You always want to believe these folks are nice people despite their success.