In the 1950s, Clint Eastwood, who had an ongoing contract with the studio, was fired by Universal Pictures for an unexpected reason. While Eastwood is now an iconic and wildly successful actor and director, this legal stoush happened long before he became the one of the greatest Western actors of all time. It’s a true Hollywood folk tale, with other famous actors like Burt Reynolds leaning in to help tell the story.
Clint Eastwood has now been appearing in movies for more than half a century. From more modest beginnings with a long-time role on the CBS Western series Rawhide, Eastwood became a major film star when he played what has become his most iconic character – the Man With No Name – in A Fist Full of Dollars by Sergio Leone in 1964. Eastwood went on the reprise the famous role in more movies, namely For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, further cementing his status as a movie star. This series of portrayals meant Eastwood became a favorite for any studio that wanted to make Western movies – even though this was not the only genre the actor found success in. For example, through the 1970s and ’80s, Eastwood made several films set in the modern era, such as the Dirty Harry films, in which he played ruthless police inspector Harry Callahan.
Years before Eastwood became a household name, he was a young actor who had recently signed a seven-year movie contract with Universal Pictures. He was given a few minor roles, such as Revenge of the Creature (a sequel to The Creature from the Black Lagoon), but Universal chose to terminate his contract early. The story of why he was fired from the studio comes from Hollywood star Burt Reynolds, who was fired from Universal on the same day. According to Reynolds, Eastwood was told that the studio complained to Eastwood that he had a chipped tooth (which he would not have fixed) and an Adam’s apple that stuck out too far [via YouTube]. Plus, it was said that he didn’t listen very well and that he talked too slow. Though his manner of delivering his lines is something he’s known for now, at the time, Universal executives viewed it as a speech impediment that he should have addressed.
Burt Reynolds added that when he and Eastwood were leaving, he remarked that the studio’s reason for firing him – a lack of acting ability – was a problem he could fix, whereas Eastwood had a much bigger issue: there was no getting rid of his Adam’s apple. That being said, Eastwood’s troubles with keeping jobs in the industry didn’t last for too long. He continued landing small roles for some time but did so without a contract to a major studio.
His career took a positive turn when he was cast in CBS’ Rawhide show in 1958. In the popular Western series, Eastwood played a young cowboy named Rowdy Yates, and remained as a series regular on Rawhide throughout the show’s eight-season run. After the departure of co-star Eric Fleming, Eastwood earned top-billing for season 8. It would seem that his Rawhide role made those in the film and TV industry rethink their opinions of Clint Eastwood, who soon transformed into one of Hollywood’s most sought-after stars.