Skip to main content

Remembering Robert Palmer.

Rock historian and writer Robert Palmer died yesterday at the age of 52. He was the New York Times's first full-time rock critic writing from 1981-1988, and was a contributing editor at Rolling Stone magazine since the 1970s. He's wrote several books on blues and rock and roll, and was the writer and music director for the award-winning documentary films, "The World According to John Coltrane," and "Deep Blues." He was chief advisor to the 1995 ten-part PBS documentary, "Rock & Roll: An Unruly History,". He's also wrote the companion book (Harmony Books). (Rebroadcast of 9/26/1995)


Other segments from the episode on November 21, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 21, 1997: Interview with Clint Eastwood and Richard Schickel; Review of the films "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" and "The Rainmaker"; Obituary for…


Date: NOVEMBER 21, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 112101np.217
Head: Clint Eastwood
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.


Keep movin' movin' movin'
Oh they disapproving
Keep them doggies movin' rawhide

GROSS: I've been a fan of Clint Eastwood ever since he started herding cattle on the TV western "Rawhide." When he teamed up with Italian director Sergio Leone for the spaghetti westerns "A Fistful of Dollars" and "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," Eastwood began his transformation from actor to icon.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Listen, stranger, didn't you get the idea? We don't like to see bad boys like you in town. Go get your mule. You let him get away from you?


CLINT EASTWOOD, ACTOR: You see, that's what I want to talk to you about. He's feeling real bad.


EASTWOOD: My mule -- you see, he got all riled up when you went and fired those shots at his feet. You see, I understand you men were just playing around, but the mule -- he just doesn't get it. 'Course, if you were to all apologize...


I don't think it's nice, you laughin'. See, my mule don't like people laughin' -- gets the crazy idea you're laughin' at him. Now, if you apologize like I know you're going to, I might convince him that you really didn't mean it.



GROSS: After Eastwood reworked the western genre, he revitalized cop movies with his "Dirty Harry" series.


EASTWOOD, AS HARRY CALLAHAN: I know what you're thinking, punk. You're thinking: Did he fire six shots or only five? Now, to tell you the truth, I've forgotten myself in all this excitement. But being this is a .44 magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and will blow your head clean off, you could ask yourself a question: do I feel lucky? Well do you, punk?




GROSS: After years as an action hero blowing people away on screen, Clint Eastwood directed and starred in the movie "Unforgiven," which reflected on the cost of violence.


EASTWOOD: It's a helluva thing, killing a man. You take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna.

GROSS: Clint Eastwood's latest movie opened today. He directed the adaptation of the bestseller "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." On this archive edition of FRESH AIR, we have an interview recorded one year ago with Eastwood and Time magazine film critic Richard Schickel, who had just written a biography of Eastwood.

Eastwood got his first big break with Rawhide on television. He played Rowdy Yates, the young assistant to the trail boss. Eastwood used to call the character "Rowdy Yates, trail flunky" and "Rowdy Yates, idiot" of the plains." I told Eastwood that judging from the biography, I probably liked Rawhide a lot more than he did.

CLINT EASTWOOD, ACTOR AND DIRECTOR: Actually, I liked the role. It was a -- we just used to sit around the set and use self-demeaning kind of humor as a way of keeping our sanity out there, doing a series week in, week out. I think that Gil Favure (ph) -- Eric Fleming (ph) used to call himself "Mr. Failure" instead of Mr. Favure and I used to call myself -- Rowdy Yates -- "Rodney Yates, trail flunkie."

And we'd just kind of, you know, just joke about it. It was nothing that -- nobody disliked the series particularly. We just had to -- it was just kind of a way, and somebody picked up on it I guess that it was total unhappiness. It wasn't unhappiness. It was just kind of a way that -- to keep yourself amused, I suppose.

Eventually when you do a series, after the years go by, you do start to get frustrated. You'd like to go on and do something else.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

EASTWOOD: I suppose I'm no exception in that case.

RICHARD SCHICKEL, MOVIE CRITIC, TIME MAGAZINE: I think, too, that Rowdy was, you know, boyish beyond his years toward the end of the series. I think maybe that Clint wanted to be, you know, a somewhat more dangerous figure, thus a more interesting figure to act.

I mean, I'm kind of guessing there, based on some of our conversations, but I think, you know, any actor trapped in a role that seems to be relatively unchanging is eventually going to say: "how come I don't get to, you know, romp and stomp a little bit?"

GROSS: Well, Clint Eastwood, you started your career as a contract player at Universal Studios in the kind of last gasp of the studio system. Were you being groomed for a particular type of role? Did they see you as a type?

EASTWOOD: No, they didn't see me hardly at all.


They put people under contract in those days, then they'd promptly forget about them and hire back people that they'd had under contract in previous years. But I -- I don't think I was being groomed for anything. They just were taking a shot, and there you are, and they put you in for six months or year. You had an option every six months on these type of terms, and so they could drop you at any time.

And they would give you a quick evaluation after a year, and say: "well, maybe you're OK" or "maybe you're going to go somewhere" -- or maybe they put him in a bit part and the person shined. I played a lot of bit parts, but none of them particularly shined at that point.

GROSS: Did you have any sense that your future was going to be in westerns and in action films? Did you have a sense of that for yourself?

EASTWOOD: No, a lot of the -- a lot of people thought "well, he's a tall guy, maybe he'd be good in westerns." For some reason, somebody thinks that western heroes are tall guys, for some reason. That sort of -- based upon the predecessors of Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Randolph Scott and what have you, over the years.

But -- so they thought "well, maybe you'll play in westerns" or what have you, but nobody really knew. No, I was just kind of out there and hanging about studying acting and it was a steady job. It was kind of nice at the time.

GROSS: Many of the roles you've played have been men who were very strong, but men of few words. And it's ironic that your screen test for Rawhide was a long monologue that you were really uncomfortable with, 'cause you were having trouble at the time just remembering all of the words in this long monologue, and you didn't think of that as your strength as an actor.

What do you think came through about you, even though you missed some of the words in the monologue?

EASTWOOD: Well, it was amusing because they told me it was going to be an interview test, and I'd done interview tests before.

GROSS: This is where you just talk with the director?

EASTWOOD: Exactly. You just talk with the director. And I dislike those intensely because you -- sometimes they ask you what you -- you know -- what's your name? Why didn't you do this? Why -- it's a quick interview, usually by somebody who doesn't know how to do interviews. And you sit there on film and look sort of drop-jawed.

But this was a test where they said: "here, would you like -- how are you at learning lines?" I said: "pretty good." And the guy said: "here -- well, here's a whole page of dialogue. Can you be ready to do this in a half hour?" And so I thought, well, I'd just take the different beats and play those, and the different changes in the scene, kind of play those up and see how it would go, and just use my own words.

The director happened to be the writer in that case, and he liked every word that he had written. So he was a little bit taken aback, but it worked out all right in the end 'cause the people who viewed it and made the final decision didn't know the dialogue and could care less. They just wanted to see a look and a certain expression.

GROSS: Why do you think you've gravitated to parts that are parts of few words? Is it that you don't like to remember or, you know, or learn lines? Or is it a sensibility thing that you gravitate more toward that?

EASTWOOD: No, it's just a sensibility thing.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

EASTWOOD: I think in the case of Fistful of Dollars, the first feature film I played in...

GROSS: With Sergio Leone.

EASTWOOD: ... with Sergio Leone, that I -- I thought that the character would be much more interesting the less he spoke; the less you knew about him. I thought it would be -- he'd be a very -- a very, a more interesting character.

And that often happens when you're doing a character in a play -- that the person who talks the most -- after a while, you know, you get tired of hearing the conversation. You want to know what's inside, sometimes a silent moment, you can set up more of an effect than you can by just rambling on reams of dialogue.

But later on, it changed. My last picture, I -- they couldn't shut me up.


SCHICKEL: One of the things I notice that Clint said and that's in the book is, I think he likes himself as a viewer of movies. He prefers to kind of lean in to hear, you know. You know, I mean, in other words, I think he has a feeling that a little bit of mystery about a character who doesn't fully explain himself at every minute -- is a character that draws us toward the screen.

Whereas if a guy's explaining is explaining himself constantly, you know, you sort of say, well, you know: why couldn't I be allowed to figure this out for myself? And you kind of -- you know, it can kind of push you back from the screen, instead of drawing you in.

EASTWOOD: On Rawhide, too, those years -- a lot of times, the screenwriting that would come in on those scripts would be very expository. In other words, they felt that they had to explain a lot of things in one scene so that they wouldn't have to film other scenes.

And you get so tired of reaming out -- reeling out exposition...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

EASTWOOD: ... that you felt that this was an opportunity to -- to just use a little bit of economy and see if you could tell a story that way.

GROSS: On some of your action roles and some of your westerns and, like, Dirty Harry, you not only don't say a lot, but what you do say, you're saying often through clenched teeth, you know, in that really guttural voice. How did you develop that style of speaking?

EASTWOOD: I don't know what you're talking about.


Well, I think that the character just drives you in that -- the character who is maybe frustrated with the things that the common person on the street are frustrated with -- the bureaucracy that we live in; the nightmare that we as a civilization have placed on ourselves. And it -- I think this is a person who is -- who was frustrated with that, especially if you're trying to solve a case in a limited amount of time, so, and I don't know -- just the thought at the time.

SCHICKEL: One of the things that Clint said to me that I thought was interesting and amusing is, you know, you did five, totally five Dirty Harry films. He said one of the things about Dirty Harry is he always got the best lines in the movies. Maybe he didn't have the most lines, but, you know, Harry Callahan generally got the topper, you know, the funny, smart, well-turned phrase -- some of which have become catch phrases.

GROSS: OK. Now, the onus is one of you to recite a couple of those phrases. It...

SCHICKEL: I am not doing my Clint Eastwood imitation.


Oh, go ahead, Clint, make her day.

EASTWOOD: Yeah, the "make my day" line or the "do you feel lucky?" kind of lines were lines that people gravitated towards.

GROSS: Did you have a sense of that, reading the script that, you know, presidents would be, you know, making, you know, improvising on those lines and that they'd be -- people just -- they would just enter the general vocabulary. Could you read a script and say: "these lines are going to last beyond the film"?

EASTWOOD: Nobody can say that for sure, but you can kind of -- you can find the lines that are sort of squelch lines -- the ones that come in and put a topper on it. I think the appeal of some of those early characters was the fact that the man would have the right answer, and it was always usually very terse and kind of right to the point, but with a little bit of humor involved, so that everybody would say: "God, I would love to be able to do that."

GROSS: Have you ever been able to do that? Have just the right comeback at just the right moment?

EASTWOOD: Very rarely.


GROSS: Right. Now, when you're doing a line like "make my day" and you know, OK, this is a really good line. Do you, like, go home and do line readings and to "MAKE my day," "make MY day," "make my DAY" -- and just do it over and over until you figure out exactly how you want to do it?

EASTWOOD: Looking in the bathroom mirror and doing some of your best acting there.

GROSS: Right. "Are you talking to me?"

EASTWOOD: No, I don't -- I don't go over the lines. I don't play them out loud. I just kind of -- I'd rather play them for the first time when I do them.

GROSS: No, really?

EASTWOOD: And I usually do them by the motivation of what the feelings are at the time. So I start them from what the intent is, then let it kind of go out. It's sort of like blowing through a trumpet or something. You start, and the sound magnifies as it comes out.

If you sit there and practice line readings to yourself, you'll just get confused.

GROSS: My guests are Clint Eastwood and film critic Richard Schickel, author of a biography of Eastwood. More after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back to our interview with Clint Eastwood and film critic Richard Schickel recorded last year.

I want to get to your spaghetti westerns, the films you made with Sergio Leone. You started the Sergio Leone films when you were still making Rawhide -- the TV western. How did Sergio Leone get to see Rawhide and decide you were the one to star in his western?

EASTWOOD: He -- he had seen an episode that somebody was showing around -- an agency had in Rome, and he had seen an episode and they thought, well, here's a chance to hire an American actor who has been doing westerns, but has -- is not very expensive.


GROSS: Right.

EASTWOOD: They didn't have any -- they didn't have any money to spend, so they didn't have a lot of choices as far as names of the moment.

GROSS: What was it like for you to make the transition from upstanding assistant trail boss to mystery western tough guy?

EASTWOOD: Well, it was great fun because all of a sudden I was playing something completely different than I had been playing, and I got to experiment a lot. I could do -- we'd do everything with a look. Leone was very visual, and unlike television where sometimes they just want to shoot talking heads, they -- he, you know, I -- he was shooting in a very, kind of an expansive way.

And it was fun. It was also fun to work with a European crew and watch other people who -- see their approaches to it and how it all comes -- unravels from their point of view over there.

GROSS: There's a lot of really interesting facial closeups in your movies with Sergio Leone, and he had a very iconographic way of shooting faces, particularly your face. And your face in those closeups is often, well, mysterious -- unknowable. Instead of the facial closeups, like, reveal -- revealing this essence of who you are, they reveal the unknowability of who you are.

And I've always wondered: what were you thinking during those closeups to get the right expression on your face?


EASTWOOD: You -- the first response would be to say "absolutely nothing" to get the -- George Cukor used to say, he'd tell Greta Garbo sometimes to look into the camera and stare and don't think about a thing. But that -- that's maybe a little over-simplification or a way to get a certain effect out of her at that time.

But you think about what you're doing with the plot line -- what -- what the demands are of the plot. Usually, because this character, though he wasn't saying a lot, he was plotting a lot, and so you just thought about what your next moves were. And it's just a question of thinking like you would in regular -- in real life.

You don't -- and you may be thinking -- you have an inner-monologue. Every actor plays an inner-monologue as you're playing your outer character. And sometimes, your outer character is saying: "good evening, it's wonderful to see you," but underneath you might be saying "that dirty rotten..."

So, you know, you really don't...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

EASTWOOD: ... care -- and so that's your inner-monologue. And so I might have been saying something like that to myself at the time. You know, kind of like these guys -- I'd like to blow them all away, but I'd be very pleasant at the moment.

GROSS: You developed a squint also in some of those closeups.

EASTWOOD: Well, that was just the sunlight.

GROSS: Was it?

EASTWOOD: Yeah. They bombed you with a bunch of lights and you're outside and it's 90 degrees, it's hard not to squint.

GROSS: Richard Schickel, I want to ask you what you think of the importance of the Sergio Leone films in Clint Eastwood's filmmaking career.

SCHICKEL: Oh, I sort of think that Clint would have made his way into wider public consciousness in some other fashion, but I do also feel that those movies were so singular. They were truly, deeply, profoundly revisionist westerns, as Clint has often said, at a time when the western was in a kind of a dull place.

The traditions of the western in America had been kind of used up, and though we were coming out -- we were in a period where westerns were very popular on television, and coming out of a period in which they had been very popular in the theaters. Nonetheless, you know, the basic western moves -- the traditional moves -- had become dull and over-used and kind of cliche-ridden.

And I think it's one of the things that drew Clint to this, was that opportunity not just for his own character to expand a bit, but for him to participate in a kind of revision of a form that he actually liked. I mean, it's important to remember that, you know, Clint does know quite a bit about film history and so forth.

He had seen "Yojimbo," the Kurasawa movie which was a source for this particular movie, for Fistful of Dollars. And he'd seen it two years before and had said: "hey, this would make a great western, but I don't think anybody in America will make it 'cause it's too tough."

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

SCHICKEL: And here were these crazy Italians who were -- you know, willing to do exactly that.

GROSS: Clint Eastwood, since there's been these great iconographic closeups of your face, I'm wondering what you think of your face as a man, an actor, and as a director -- 'cause you've had to work with your face as a director and look at it very objectively, I'd imagine.

EASTWOOD: As a director, you think of yourself as another character. A lot of times when I'm talking to the editor, I'll say: "when he comes in in the room, when she does this -- and hey, that goes here" and what have you, I never think of myself in the first person. It's just you -- you have to do that.

And you know, you don't dwell on your face. You dwell on the fact that you're there and the character. If you think too much about certain things, you can get yourself very confused. So rather than do that, you just forge right on ahead with what you're doing.

GROSS: Clint Eastwood and film critic Richard Schickel, recorded a year ago, after the publication of Schickel's biography of Eastwood.

Eastwood directed the new movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil which opens today. We'll hear more of the interview in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

This is FRESH AIR, our weekly archive edition. I'm Terry Gross.

Back with more of our interview with Clint Eastwood and Time magazine film critic Richard Schickel who wrote a biography of Eastwood which was published a year ago when we recorded our interview.

When we left off, we were talking about Eastwood's spaghetti westerns directed by Sergio Leone.

Now in Richard Schickel's book about you, he says that, you know, Rawhide followed a -- the strict production code of the time. You couldn't show a fired gun and the victim of the bullet in the same shot. There had to be an edit in between. What was your reaction to Sergio Leone's really vivid approach to violence?

EASTWOOD: Well, it -- that was true. The Hayes Office at that time had a rule, for westerns only, ironically, and you couldn't show the shootee and the shooter in the same shot. There couldn't be a tie-up shot. In other words, so you'd have to do it as an individual cut. And if you look at even later American westerns of "High Noon," you won't see the tie-up.

But Sergio didn't know about all that, and I wasn't about to tell him because I was really enjoying this. It was breaking all -- we were trying to break all the molds. And in breaking all the molds, the pic -- it made those pictures ahead -- or somewhat of a revisionist idea or certainly an outsiders' point of view.

They became popular, but they also brought with it some resentment, as you and Richard touched on earlier in the show. And there were a lot of people who felt, maybe: who is this upstart?

We didn't come in and bless this guy to come along and we didn't we didn't bless these movies to come along -- an Italian interpretation of the great American genre. So, there was a certain resentment that hung around with those pictures for some time.

Now, as people look back on them, they enjoy the fact that there was a different -- it was a different period and then it went on to somebody else. And Sam Peckinpah (ph) came along later, and he did another look at the western. Then some one else comes along and does another one. And I come back to them, and take another shot. And somebody else down the line -- that way, it keeps the great American art form alive.

GROSS: The first Dirty Harry film was directed by Don Siegel (ph), who you did several films with, including "Coogan's Bluff," "Two Mules for Sister Sara," "The Beguiled." What are some of the things you feel you learned about acting and directing from your association with him?

EASTWOOD: Well, directorially, he was a terribly efficient man who'd come up through the ranks -- started out with a montage department at Warner Brothers many years before. He'd done quite a few second-vision films, or B-movies they used to call; some of them quite good; some of them classics like "Invasion of the Body Snatcher."

And he -- he was terribly efficient because he had to be. He never had the luxury of the big budgets that some other directors might have had. And he was terribly underrated because he -- he could make a lot happen with very little. And so you learned how a person could go to work everyday and be -- efficiently turn out a certain amount of work.

I had worked with other directors like that. I'd worked with directors like that on -- in television...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

EASTWOOD: ... and some of them really quite good. But Don had never really captured the mainstream of Hollywood. I guess maybe 'cause he was sort of a cantankerous guy and he sort of marched to his own drummer, but he -- what you learn from somebody like that is yeah, you don't have to sit and dwell and...

GROSS: Be the great artiste?

EASTWOOD: ... yeah, well, you can be an artist, but not an artiste...

GROSS: Right.

EASTWOOD: ... exactly.

GROSS: The first Dirty Harry film was very controversial. A lot of people saw it as a cop who was a real law and order right-wing kind of cop -- don't worry about reading somebody their rights; don't worry about obeying the law, the just make the collar and, you know, get him behind bars. Paul Newman apparently turned down the role for political reasons.

What did you see, Clint Eastwood -- what did you see in this role when you took it on? What interested you in the character?

EASTWOOD: I saw an exciting detective story. I saw a script that was concerned about the victims of violent crime, rather than the accused. So that was an interesting way to go. Not -- that didn't -- there was no big call to drop all the rights of the accused of crime or anything like that. It just happened to be a frustrating situation, all set up by the Harry Julian Fink (ph) script of the fact that there was a time element in having to solve the case.

There's nothing right-wing about that. There's nothing -- they weren't intended to be that way. Don Siegel and myself just saw it as a chance to do an exciting film. If somebody wanted to politicize it, that's fine. There's a couple of comments about the Miranda and a few decisions like that, but I think there's been in recent years some discussion about that in the -- that maybe some of those decisions are not always practical.

That's the way it is. I think the -- the blue collar person out there -- the Mr. and Mrs. Middle America who sit there and who are watching the press being constantly concerned with the accused and never once thinking about victims, saw this movie as somewhat of a breath of fresh air.

Since that movie and that time, we're in another era now where they have victims rights organizations and all kinds of attention put upon that. But at that particular time, nobody had the imagination to picture themselves the victim of a violent crime.

GROSS: Did you feel misunderstood?

EASTWOOD: Well, it was a -- misunderstood -- it wasn't misunderstood. I think the public didn't misunderstand it at all. I think it was misunderstood by some people who felt that they -- that you had to put a political connotation to absolutely every film that's made. And sometimes, there are times when you have to rely on the old Alfred Hitchcock adage that it's only a movie.

GROSS: Clint Eastwood, I thought that your choice of directing and starring in The Unforgiven was such an interesting choice 'cause it's a movie about a man who goes from bad man to good man to myth. And it's also interesting because it's about -- it's about the difficulty of killing someone and what it takes out of you when you do kill someone. And you'd been in so many mythic movies and been in so many movies where the character that you played killed a lot of people.

So, I'm interested in how you related to the story in the Unforgiven and how it dealt with mythmaking and with violence.

EASTWOOD: Well, those exact things that you mentioned are what attracted me to the project. The fact that -- but even though I had done pictures where I've been a police officer and western films where I've been -- done -- had a lot of gunplay and stuff, it's not that I approve of that sort of thing. And I don't necessarily approve of the romanticizing of gunplay and I don't think it's -- and I thought here was a chance -- here was a story that had -- that sort of shot holes in that if you'll pardon the pun.


You know, and it was -- it brought out the truth about gunplay and the fact that there is some loss to your soul when you commit an act of violence.

And to play a person who was deeply affected in his life because of some of the mayhem that he'd been responsible for was, to me -- made the character more interesting and it was more interesting for me to play. And the -- that particular -- in fact, I never thought the film would be really commercial when I was making it, because it had all these statements about -- about mayhem and violence. And I thought maybe this might not be a straight-ahead action movie that people wanted, but I -- I liked the story and I felt it was worth telling.

GROSS: My guests are Clint Eastwood and film critic Richard Schickel, author of a biography of Eastwood. More after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back to our interview with Clint Eastwood and film critic Richard Schickel, recorded last year.

Well Clint Eastwood, I feel like I must talk with you a little bit about music. And to kick off this chapter of our interview, let's listen to this.


EASTWOOD SINGING: Oh give me land, lots of land


Under starry skies above
Don't fence me in
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love
Don't fence me in

Let me be by myself in the evening breeze
Listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever, but I ask you please
Don't fence me in

Just turn me loose
Let me saddle my old saddle underneath the...

SCHICKEL: Terry, you should have seen the pain in this room.


GROSS: That's from the album "Clint Eastwood Sings Cowboy Favorites" and there's a picture of Clint Eastwood as Rowdy Yates on the cover -- "Rawhide's Clint Eastwood Sings Cowboy Favorites." Yeah.

EASTWOOD: That was -- actually I was the Milli Vanilli of the moment there. I did -- that wasn't me.

GROSS: Oh yes, it was. I actually like your singing voice. I really do. I mean, this is a strange album with strange arrangements and not always good songs, but I really like your singing and I imagine you're also, like, influenced by Chet Baker (ph) in your singing.

EASTWOOD: Well, that wasn't -- in the first place, that wasn't the kind of songs that I would normally like to sing.

GROSS: The songs on here, I would imagine not. But you got to sing Cole Porter -- "Don't Fence Me In."

EASTWOOD: There's nothing wrong with that. Cole Porter is certainly wonderful. But what happened is that somebody had the brilliant idea that I should do some cowboy songs -- not country-western songs, Nashville-type -- but real straight cowboy songs.

And I wasn't sure whether I liked the idea, but they said: "well, you will do it, and we have a session tomorrow" and I said, "well, tomorrow I'm leaving." "Well, you'll do it -- you just stop by the studio on the way to the airport."

So, I did a whole album. You think about people who take six months to make an album, but this one -- that we did the whole album in one session. And I didn't know the songs. I had to come in and, you know, learn 'em real quick. And some of 'em I knew -- some songs like that you've heard as a child, but you don't really know 'em.

And so it was a little frustrating. It wasn't -- wasn't my favorite music experience in life, but it was, you know, there again you learn something every day.

GROSS: And had you sung much before? Did you think of yourself as a singer at all?

EASTWOOD: Not really. I'd done a few things. I'd done a few records. I'd been involved in music, so I could sometimes carry a tune. My father loved singing. He had a group that played and he loved to sing all the time. He would love to have been a singer more than anything else.

GROSS: Now, I know you've -- you're still, and were as a young man, very passionate about jazz. Did you ever think that you'd become a professional musician instead of an actor and director?

EASTWOOD: Well, I thought about that earlier when I was a kid and I was doing things, but I never thought -- I never really knew what I wanted to do until I became an actor. And then at that point, I kind of knew which direction I was going to at least make -- get up and swing at the bat.

GROSS: Would you like to sing more or play more or...

EASTWOOD: No, I don't have any -- there's one of my key sayings...


EASTWOOD: ... "a man must know his limitations."


GROSS: Clint Eastwood and film critic Richard Schickel, recorded last year after the publication of Schickel's biography of Eastwood.

Eastwood directed the new movie adaptation of the bestseller Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The soundtrack features songs by Johnny Mercer. Clint Eastwood sings one of them.


EASTWOOD SINGING: You've got to accentuate the positive
And eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
And don't mess with Mr. In-between

You gotta spread joy up to the maximum
And bring blue down to the minimum
And have faith or pandemonium
Libel to walk up on the sea

To illustrate my last remark
Jonah in the whale, Noah in the Ark
What did they do just when everything looked so dark?
Man, they said we better

Accentuate the positive
And eliminate that negative
And latch on to the affirmative
And don't mess with Mr. In-between

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Clint Eastwood
High: Actor and director Clint Eastwood. He directed the film "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," based on the bestselling novel. It stars Kevin Spacey and John Cusack and has just been released. Eastwood reached stardom acting in spaghetti westerns such as "A Fistful of Dollars" and "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." He then became known for his role as police inspector Harry Callahan, otherwise known as "Dirty Harry." He was director and played the lead in "Play Misty for Me" and "Unforgiven." EASTWOOD also directed "Bird," which starred Forest Whitaker as Charlie Parker, and produced "Straight No Chaser," a documentary about Thelonious Monk.
Spec: Movie Industry; Books; Clint Eastwood; Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Clint Eastwood
Date: NOVEMBER 21, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 112102np.217
Head: The Rainmaker and The Garden
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:55

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Well, Clint Eastwood isn't the only director with a new movie adaptation of a bestseller. Francis Ford Coppola's new adaptation of the John Grisham novel "The Rainmaker" also opened today. Both films center on a court case.

Our film critic John Powers has his own verdict.

JOHN POWERS, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: John Berendt's book "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" has been on the bestseller list for the last 174 weeks, and it's easy to see why. It's a journey into the culture of Savannah, Georgia -- a provincial city that's like a petri dish for colorful characters.

Berendt wanders among these people, recording their talk and observing their rituals. He doesn't try to funnel their lives into one neat story line. But Hollywood demands such funneling, and these days when screenwriters can't figure out how to do it, they seem to plop you down in a courtroom.

That's precisely what happens in Clint Eastwood's eagerly anticipated screen adaptation. John Cusack plays a New York writer who's come to Savannah to do a story on the annual Christmas party held by Jim Williams, a gay antique dealer played by Kevin Spacey.

The night of the party, Williams shoots his street hustler lover, and though this murder isn't a tenth as interesting as the average court TV case, the trial takes over the movie as it never did the book. Berendt knows that everything interesting about Savannah lies outside the courthouse walls. Here, we feel stuck inside them.

The movie's best in the opening minutes, when Cusack's character first encounters the strange Savannah where men walk invisible dogs. But even here, Eastwood lets us down. He has little gift for the precise social observation that would make Savannah come alive. Where Berendt's book is like a wonderful piece of anthropology, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil seems like a Southern version of "Twin Peaks" or "Northern Exposure."
It makes everybody quirky or cute.

While I had approached Eastwood's movie with excitement, I had almost hopes at all for "The Rainmaker" -- or to use the correct title, "John Grisham's The Rainmaker." What is it with these people? I mean, you don't hear it called "God's Bible." Then again, God's ego is a lot smaller than John Grisham's.

The Rainmaker's story comes straight from Grisham's baloney slicer. Matt Damon plays Rudy Bailey (ph), an idealistic young lawyer who represents a poor leukemia victim. He's suing a crooked insurance company whose executives look as if they've swum to the courtroom through an ocean of frying oil. When Rudy's not in court, he becomes guardian angel to a young woman played by Clare Danes, whose husband beats her with an aluminum baseball bat.

Although this story line could hardly be more predictable, what I wouldn't have predicted is that the movie would be so thoroughly entertaining. Like a Hollywood director from the '40s or '50s, filmmaker Francis Coppola takes a stew of cliches and gives it an unexpected richness and flavor -- playing against Grisham's cheap moralism, bringing out the story's dark comedy, and winning sharp performances from his whole cast.

The movie's bursting with amusing characters. Mickey Rourke is a racketeer named "Bruiser." John Voigt is the insurance company's smugly cynical attorney. And Danny Glover is a flagrantly liberal judge.

The best wisecracks come from Rudy's sidekick Dick, played by Danny DeVito, who teaches Rudy how a lawyer hustles business.


DANNY DEVITO, ACTOR, AS DECK SHIFFLET: In law school, Rudy, they don't teach you what you need to know. It's all theories and lofty notions and big fat ethics books.

MATT DAMON, ACTOR, AS RUDY BAILEY: What's wrong with ethics?

DEVITO: Nothing, I guess. I mean, I believe a lawyer should fight for his client, refrain from stealing money, and try not to lie. You know, the basics.

DAMON: That was blatant ambulance-chasing.

DEVITO: Right. Who cares? There's a lot of lawyers out there. It's a marketplace. It's a competition. What they don't teach you in law school could get you hurt.

POWERS: The Rainmaker is a remarkable comeback for Coppola, whose last movie "Jack" was so terrible that I wondered if he could ever make anything good again. Perhaps he wondered, too, for he's really concentrating here. This is the best directing he's done since the second "Godfather" film. The whole movie is lucid, precise, perfectly paced and shot in a marvelously moody wide screen by John Toll (ph).

Against all odds, The Rainmaker succeeds precisely where Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil fails. Where Eastwood takes an atmospheric character study and turns it into a boring story about a trial, Coppola takes a boring story about a trial and fills it with atmosphere and characters who keep making you laugh.

GROSS: John Powers is film critic for Vogue.

Coming up, we remember music critic Robert Palmer who died yesterday.

This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: John Powers; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
High: Film critic John Powers reviews Francis Ford Coppola's new film "The Rainmaker," which is an adaptation of the John Grisham novel.
Spec: Movie Industry; Books; The Rainmaker
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: The Rainmaker and The Garden
Date: NOVEMBER 21, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 112103np.217
Head: Remembering Robert Palmer
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:55

TERRY GROSS, HOST: We're going to remember music critic Robert Palmer who died yesterday at the age of 52. He had liver disease and had been awaiting a liver transplant.

Palmer was the New York Times' first full-time pop music critic. He was at the Times from 1981 to '88. Palmer was also the author of books about Jerry Lee Lewis, the blues, the Rolling Stones, and the songwriting team of Lieber and Stohler (ph).

As his fellow music critic John Perellis (ph) wrote in the Times obituary today, Palmer mixed vivid musical insight with broader cultural and historical connections. He celebrated music for its rule-breaking spirit, far-flung roots, stubborn characters, and untamed noise.

Robert Palmer was chief adviser to the PBS series "Rock and Roll: An Unruly History" and wrote the companion book. I spoke with him in 1995 about his first encounter with rock and roll.

ROBERT PALMER, ROCK HISTORIAN, AUTHOR AND CRITIC: I think everybody has their own rock and roll history, you know, that starts with the first music that they heard, and it develops not always in a linear progression, but sometimes going back into history as well as forward, you know.

I mean, a lot of people come in at the point of listening to some contemporary artist, and then sort of gradually get into discovering the roots, you know, possibly starting with the influences of the person that they first got turned on to. I think everybody has that -- that magic moment when the music rocked them for the first time.

GROSS: And what was yours?

PALMER: Hmm. Mine would probably be the first Coasters hit records "Searchin'" and "Young Blood." I remember that coming on when I was about 11 or 12 years old. I had been hearing pre-rock and roll popular music on the radio for a few years prior to that. And I was very interested in music, but I didn't -- you know, I wasn't that crazy about what was passing for pop music at the time.

Then when I heard "Searchin'" by the Coasters and a little after that I heard Ray Charles, and that was the music that really turned me around.

GROSS: What spoke to you about it?

PALMER: I really -- it's really hard to say. I think it was really the quality of the voices. It was the fact that these black singers -- there was all this grit in their voices and these kind of sounds like they were maybe ripping their vocal chords a little bit when they were singing. And it seemed to convey so much emotion and energy and excitement, you know, just the sound of voices and the texture of the voices.

And the way that the voices blended together had a kind of harmony that was not conventional harmony. It was something else. And it was after having heard very conventional harmony, you know, all my life; having never heard blues or even any really down-home country and western music, but just kind of having heard that '50s white bread pop -- the first time I heard black voices in black blues, I was just floored and probably never got over it.

GROSS: Well, why don't we play the Coasters?

PALMER: OK. Great.


SINGER: Gonna find her
Gonna find her
Gonna find her
Gonna find her

Well, I been searchin'
And I'm searchin
Oh, yeah
Searchin' every which way
Yay, ee, yah, ee

Gonna find her
Gonna find her

I'm searchin'
Searchin' every which way
Yah, ee, yay, ee
But I'm like that north wind
From out here
You know I'll bring her in some day

Gonna find her
Gonna find her

Well, now if I have to...

GROSS: Robert Palmer, you grew up in Arkansas, and near Little Rock? Is that...

PALMER: Yeah, in Little Rock, actually.

GROSS: In Little Rock?


GROSS: OK. And when you were coming of age, it was still segregated, I guess.

PALMER: Very much so. I personally integrated, in reverse, all the black rhythm and blues shows that came to the auditorium in Little Rock, starting when I was 15 years old. And that was in 1960.

There were no integrated shows in Arkansas, and I was the first white kid to start showing up at all the black shows. And it was such a novelty that nobody thought to stop me, even though I was only 15 years old and I was going in these places where people were drinking and pulling knives and all sorts of things, you know.

But I was able to go in and hear people like Sam Cooke (ph) and you know, Otis Redding, Solomon Burke (ph) -- all these great, great people. And that really was what got me started in the music was going to those shows. I really rarely missed one, and you know, by the time I was college-age, there were, you know, several more local white kids going to the shows, but there was only me to begin with.

And then when I was in college, I was the only white musician in an otherwise all-black band that played around almost entirely in black joints. So I really -- I had a real sort of involvement in black music and black culture that I really think it was possible because I grew up in Arkansas at that particular time.

And all those developments, I was, you know, right on the cutting edge. I was, I've, you know, been around long enough that I was able to be first with all that kind of stuff in town, and consequently I didn't really ever have much trouble, you know, getting into those shows.

It was several years later that I first started going to white rock shows -- probably about 1965 before I ever went to a "Dick Clark Caravan of Stars" and that was to see the "Yardbirds."

GROSS: Now, I grew up in Brooklyn and used to go to see the "Murray the K" rock and roll shows. Murray the K was a great New York disc jockey. And there'd be a mix of acts -- black acts and white acts sharing the same bill and lots of black teenagers and white kids in the audience. And I guess there was nothing like that when you were growing up in Arkansas.

PALMER: Well, that was the great promise of rock and roll -- that it was supposed to be like that, you know. And I think that it was small independent labels that were putting out most of the music in the '50s and you know, as soon as the sort of major corporate labels could reassert control, it went back to being segregated shows again.

I mean, the shows that I saw in Little Rock were shows that were all-black acts and were for black people only. And yet if I had been going to those shows in the mid-'50s and seeing a lot of the same artists and it had been Brooklyn, that would have been billed as a rock and roll show. But below the Mason-Dixon line, it was rhythm and blues and strictly for black people.

GROSS: Music critic Robert...


Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
High: Rock historian and writer Robert Palmer died yesterday at the age of 52. He was the New York Times's first full-time rock critic writing from 1981-1988, and was a contributing editor at Rolling Stone magazine since the 1970s. He's wrote several books on blues and rock and roll, and was the writer and music director for the award-winning documentary films, "The World According to John Coltrain," and "Deep Blues." He was chief adviser to the 1995 ten-part PBS documentary, "Rock & Roll: An Unruly History,". He's also wrote the companion book.
Spec: Music Industry; Deaths; Media; Robert Palmer; Journalism
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Remembering Robert Palmer
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


Daughter of Warhol star looks back on a bohemian childhood in the Chelsea Hotel

Alexandra Auder's mother, Viva, was one of Andy Warhol's muses. Growing up in Warhol's orbit meant Auder's childhood was an unusual one. For several years, Viva, Auder and Auder's younger half-sister, Gaby Hoffmann, lived in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. It was was famous for having been home to Leonard Cohen, Dylan Thomas, Virgil Thomson, and Bob Dylan, among others.


This fake 'Jury Duty' really put James Marsden's improv chops on trial

In the series Jury Duty, a solar contractor named Ronald Gladden has agreed to participate in what he believes is a documentary about the experience of being a juror--but what Ronald doesn't know is that the whole thing is fake.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue