In the midst of an embarrassing situation he would immerse himself in a seemingly invisible veil. ‘I guess the girls reckoned I was just too dumb. Somehow, I could never get it right. I was just too nervous around women at that time.’ In a 1974 interview, Clint told Playboy Magazine, ‘I remember in Junior High School in Oakland, I had a teacher decide we was going to put on a one-act play, and she made up her mind I was going to be the lead. It was really disastrous. I wanted to go out for Athletics; doing plays was not considered the thing to do at that stage in life- especially not presenting them before the entire senior high school, which is what she made us do. We muffed a lot of lines.’ His mother Ruth was surprised that Clint ended up as an actor at all. She was pleased in one way, that her son had been volunteered for the school play. Maybe this was a way of drawing him out of his natural shyness. Clint hated every minute of the rehearsals and the thought of stepping out into the spotlight absolutely terrified him. ‘I’d seen a million movies, but up to that point the closest I’d got to acting was making a pistol out of my hand, hunkering down behind the seat in front of me, and shooting back at the Screen.’
It actually came close to never happening at all. Clint and a class friend, Harry Pendleton had secretly concocted a plan to skip the play and simply not turning up. It was only a fear of the consequences, which forced the two kids back to face their ordeal.
‘They’ll murder us if we let them down’ Clint told Harry on the phone. ‘Yeah, I guess it would be easier all round if we just did it,’ replied Harry. Clint would later explain that it went better than they had thought it would. His mouth dried as soon as he stepped on stage. He gazed upon the audience including Miss Jones who had picked Clint for the play, then the laughs started echoing from the audience, but strangely enough the laughs had come at the right place. The kids were actually laughing along with him and not at him. ‘I guess it was the time I realised you can act extroverted without really being so, and that being self confident didn’t mean people took an instant dislike to you or laugh at you.’ Remembers Clint, ‘I was only fifteen, but that was the day I grew up.’ They somehow got through it and Clint even conceded that he quite enjoyed the experience, but nevertheless concluded, ‘I made up my mind then that I would never get involved with anything to do with acting again.’
Clint was naturally the athletic type, reaching his 6ft 4-inch frame by the time he was at high school. At one point it looked as if a career in basketball was the natural path to follow. His immediate love was for cars, jazz and girls; they were the focal points of the teenager’s dreams. Clint was enjoying a great independence that perhaps most kids his age never really had. His father even managed to scrape together $25 to buy Clint his first car. From that moment on cars became even more of a priority than girls. While Clint was growing up in the Forties his mother would bring home some Fats Waller records, which he instantly connected with. Before long he began to acquire the taste for Duke Ellington and Count Basie and studied the way these artists played. Clint was accustomed to playing a little piano, and pretty soon he began to try and imitate their particular style of play. It was an introduction to Jazz, the American art form that would remain a real passion throughout his life.
Below: Oakland Technical High School
By the time Clint had reached 15, he decided to take off by himself and return in time for the next school term. He threw together a couple of bags, kissed his family farewell, jumped into his car and headed off to the great state of California. Clint had no well laid out plan as to where to go in California, it was the open road and he’d stop where he fancied stopping.
It was during this time that he also witnessed a life changing experience; when he saw for the first time to a young alto sax player named Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker along with Coleman Hawkins, Flip Phillips and Lester Young performing at the Jazz at the Philharmonic concert in San Francisco. ‘There was this guy in a pinstripe suit who just stood up and started going at it. I didn’t know who he was, but I was just mesmerized. And of course it turned out to be Charlie Parker. He could just do anything with that horn. Technically, he was just brilliant and innovative, yet there was emotion and great sensitivity. Jazz always represented a freedom in general, but also a freedom of expression in an artistic way. It was just a quality of being different, of not really fitting in but doing your own thing your own way.’
An inspirational moment in his life and one that would eventually lead to one of Clint’s most personal film projects. Continuing on his journey, he eventually stumbled across a farm up by Yreka where he was to spend the rest of the summer. Bailing hay was hard work and the young Clint could barely summon enough strength to crawl into his bunk of a night.