A little background:
In 1979, Paul Nelson convinced his higher-ups at Rolling Stone that a cover story about Clint Eastwood was in order. A devout genre film and literature fan, Paul idolized Eastwood, who for him was, among other things, a handy and accurate cultural reference point. Reviewing a live performance by rock & roller Warren Zevon in 1976, Paul had written that “seeing the man onstage was like experiencing... Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry... at a very impressionable age. Rightly or wrongly, your life got changed.”
Paul embarked on what at the time, according to critic Dave Marsh, was “probably the longest series of interviews Clint Eastwood's ever done with anyone,” occurring off and on until 1983. Much to Paul's pleasure, he and Eastwood hit it off. The actor-director seemed to trust him and enjoyed spending time with him, and provided him with a wealth of material.
Still acting in other people’s films, the most bankable star in the world was honing his directorial craft on a series of inexpensive films that, without fail, he brought in under-budget and ahead of schedule. Operating largely beneath the critical radar (he took the critics even less seriously than they took him), he made his movies swiftly and inexpensively. Few of his critics then could have predicted—nor would they most likely have gone on record if they had—that Eastwood the actor and director would ever be taken as seriously as he is today.
But Paul Nelson did.
Unfortunately, for reasons explored in the chapter of Everything Is an Afterthought that is devoted to his relationship with Eastwood, Paul—despite the almost twenty-two hours he'd recorded with Eastwood and another ten with his friends and associates—was unable to get beyond page four of the article he'd set out to write.
For over twenty years, the whereabouts of Paul Nelson’s legendary “lost” interviews with Clint Eastwood have been talked about by Eastwood and Nelson fans alike with the same holy-grail hopefulness that cinephiles used to invest in the directors’ cuts of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil or Sam Fuller’s The Big Red One. The tapes were discovered in Paul's apartment following his death in 2006.
The recordings reveal that Eastwood was indeed relaxed and confidential with Paul, speaking openly and without illusions about his influences, his strengths, and his public persona. Aside from their obvious value as a window into the life of one of our major actors and directors at a specific time and place in his career, they reveal a man who’d found a friend in his interviewer and who gave him the benefit of the doubt again and again over a four-year period because he liked him and believed in him.
The publication of Conversations with Clint – 1979 to 1983: Paul Nelson’s Lost Interviews with Clint Eastwood will finally bear out that belief.
Copyright 2010 by Kevin Avery. All rights reserved.