Clint Eastwood is a legend for a reason. Aside from the westerns that made him famous, for decades, there was no better actor to portray a cop, soldier or any other badass line of work. Many of his military roles became iconic for a reason, be it in a light-hearted romp like “Kelly’s Heroes” or as a tough-as-nails Marine in “Heartbreak Ridge.”
The reason Eastwood was able to play up those military roles as well as he did was because he knew about serving in the military, young Clint Eastwood was drafted into the Army during the Korean War and without having served (or having access to the GI Bill), he might have gone right back to doing odd jobs in San Francisco. Instead, he made his career in Hollywood, as we all know.
Eastwood spent much of his military career as a swimming instructor and lifeguard at Fort Ord, California. It was his military swimming training that both saved his life and made his discovery as a Hollywood actor possible. One weekend, Eastwood had gone off to Seattle on a military transport. Some sources say he was visiting family, others allege he was dating an officer’s daughter and the two arranged a weekend in Seattle. Either way, it was the return trip to Fort Ord that made history.
As the Douglas AD Bomber ferrying Eastwood back to his duty station passed Punta Reyes, California, it began an uneasy descent. The plane was out of fuel and there was no way to make it back to inland California in time for safe landing. The plane would crash in the ocean, but the pilot and Eastwood escaped with the life raft. The strong swimmer that he was, Eastwood helped the two men swim the two miles to shore in a miraculous survival story.
The story became a great one. So great, in fact, it was picked up by local news stations, who broadcast the image of Clint Eastwood on airwaves for the first time. A Universal Studios employee named Chuck Hill happened to be filming at Fort Ord and also happened to catch a glimpse of Eastwood. Hill loved the story and decided to pull some strings for Eastwood in Hollywood.
Eastwood first met cinematographer Irving Glassberg through Hill. Glassberg introduced Eastwood to director Arthur Lubin, Lubin loved the young actor's looks, but thought his acting skills were much less than stellar and suggested he go to school to learn some acting ability. After the Korean War ended, Eastwood was discharged and did what the director suggested. He studied drama at Los Angeles City College on the GI Bill.
The man who would become “The Man With No Name” wasted very little time. The year after the Korean War ended, Eastwood was out of school and working a one-year contract with Universal International television. HE worked for years before landing his first regular role on the series “Rawhide.”
“Rawhide” would lead to a chance for Eastwood to audition for the Italian-produced western “A Fistful of Dollars.” Eastwood landed the role, which, as we all know, would become the iconic western lone gun archetype, mostly because of Clint Eastwood’s newfound acting ability and rugged good looks.
Let’s face it, Eastwood may not have been discovered without serving in the Army, but it’s good to know he’s got the talent for it. To date, he’s directed or starred in around 84 movies, portraying some of Hollywood’s most memorable characters – all thanks to being drafted.