How Clint Eastwood made my day

Thomas Walton, left, chats with Clint Eastwood during his run for mayor of Carmel, Calif.
Thomas Walton, left, chats with Clint Eastwood during his run for mayor of Carmel, Calif.

Clint Eastwood is a friend of mine. How’s that for name-dropping?

Actually, not a friend. More like an acquaintance. He probably wouldn’t take my calls anymore, although he used to.

It’s funny the directions our lives take, often through no conscious effort of our own. If you had asked me when I was a lot younger to name five famous people I’d most like to meet, I’m pretty sure Mr. Eastwood would not have made the cut. I always enjoyed his movies, but if I could list only five favorite films, he’s not there.

My relationship with Dirty Harry began in 1975, not long after The Blade sent me to the Monterey Peninsula Herald, at the time a Block Communications Inc. newspaper on California’s beautiful central coast.

My first glimpse of the guy occurred at a movie house on Monterey’s Cannery Row that was showing the premiere of Steven Spielberg’s classic, Jaws. A car pulled up to the curb, and a tall, lean fellow in a T-shirt and jeans got out and strolled inside, while a couple hundred of us waited patiently in line to be admitted. It was Clint Eastwood. He had connections; we did not.

Our paths would cross periodically after that. I remember the one time I got to play golf at Pebble Beach. Our group came to the famous seventh hole, the little par 3 that juts out into the Pacific Ocean. Up at the green, a production crew was filming, and in the middle of it was Mr. Eastwood.

He saw us at the tee, stopped filming, and motioned us to go ahead and hit. The seventh at Pebble is tough enough when nobody is watching, but Dirty Harry? I dribbled my tee shot to the front of the green, somehow missing the ocean.

We were told he was filming a commercial for French television. We putted and got out of there. Merci beaucoup and see you later.

It wasn’t until Mr. Eastwood decided to enter politics that we finally met. Fed up with what he considered burdensome City Hall regulations that were blocking some renovations at his Hog’s Breath Saloon in Carmel, he did what Dirty Harry would do — he ran for mayor. One of his better movie quotes applies here: “I tried being reasonable. I didn’t like it.”

It was standard practice at The Herald to bring candidates for public office into the newspaper for an interview with the editorial board — which was me — for purposes of the newspaper’s endorsement. As I nervously approached him at a candidates’ forum, I had to ask myself one question: “Do you feel lucky today? Well, do you, punk?”

I introduced myself and offered him the opportunity to screen for endorsement. He was all for it.

But having him come to the newspaper office would have brought the place to a standstill. He suggested the Hog’s Breath.

I arrived at his establishment just after a busload of Japanese tourists had filled the outdoor courtyard. I hate stereotypes, but every one of them had a camera.

I wandered about, having no idea where to go. Suddenly a voice boomed out from across the courtyard: “Tom! Up here!” I squinted into the midafternoon sun to see a backlit, silhouetted figure on a second-floor landing, waving me toward him.

Whoever it was had a commanding presence. Was it God, calling me home? Almost. It was Clint, calling me upstairs. I headed across the courtyard to a set of steps on the far wall and went up for our interview.

I swear every camera in the courtyard was clicking away as I ascended. I’m sure that a week later, at drug stores across Tokyo, people picked up their photos and asked themselves: “Who was that guy with Clint Eastwood?”

When my wife tells that story, she changes the last line: “Who was that guy with Tom Walton?” She likes me.

He got our endorsement and defeated the incumbent mayor. I think we made his day.

He became an expert on water issues and did an excellent job during his two years as mayor of Carmel, even though council meetings became tourist attractions. Only Carmel residents got in. Out-of-towners were sent to a nearby school to watch on TV. He had vowed that his responsibilities to Carmel would be his priority, and he kept his word — for a salary of $200 a month. But the strain on his day job as one of Hollywood’s biggest stars was too much. He declined to run for re-election.

Still, for a few years, I had Clint Eastwood on speed dial. It was pretty cool.

Thomas Walton is the retired editor and vice president of The Blade. His column appears every other Monday. His feature, “Life As We Know It,” can be heard every Monday at 5:44 p.m. during “All Things Considered” on WGTE FM 91.

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