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Roy Jones/Evening Standard/Getty Images

15 Facts About Clint Eastwood to Make Your Day

Roy Jones/Evening Standard/Getty Images
Roy Jones/Evening Standard/Getty Images

Clinton Eastwood Jr. achieved fame and fortune as the personification of old-fashioned American male bravado playing a taciturn gunslinger in Sergio Leone's spaghetti Western Dollars trilogy in the 1960s. He kept on acting through the years and decades, jumping from genre to genre, as he also became an Academy Award-winning director and an outspoken political figure. Here are some facts about Eastwood, who turns 86 years old today, that may or may not make your day.

1. HE WAS A SWIMMING INSTRUCTOR IN THE U.S. ARMY.

After graduating high school, Eastwood has said he worked as a lumberjack and forest firefighter in Oregon, and a steelworker in Texas. He was drafted during the war in Korea and sent to Fort Ord on Monterey Bay in California for basic training. He was never deployed for combat; he stuck around as a swimming instructor, and spent his nights and weekends working as a bouncer at the NCO club.

2. HE SURVIVED AN EMERGENCY PLANE WATER LANDING.

Returning to Fort Ord from Seattle following a weekend leave in the fall of 1951, Eastwood ran into some trouble. “On the way back, they had one plane, a Douglas AD, sort of a torpedo bomber of the World War II vintage, and I thought I’d hitch on that," Eastwood recalled. “Everything went wrong. Radios went out. Oxygen ran out. And finally we ran out of fuel up around Point Reyes, California, and went in the ocean. So we went swimming. It was late October, November. Very cold water. [I] found out many years later that it was a white shark breeding ground, but I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time or I’d have just died.”

3. HE DESPERATELY WANTED TO PLAY CHARLES LINDBERGH IN THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS, SO HE WROTE BILLY WILDER A LETTER.

Letters of Note

Eastwood was still looking to make his movie debut on October 26, 1954 when he wrote a letter to Oscar-winning moviemaker Billy Wilder, thanking the director for taking the time to meet with him the previous week and warning him that the one video Universal could provide of him was a "difficult" interview where he was "not very good, even though I was given a contract on the strength of it. When the time comes for casting, I would appreciate so much your letting me talk with you rather than seeing this test, for I have improved in every way since that time. I feel the qualities you might be seeking can better be found in a personal interview." Wilder cast Jimmy Stewart in the role.

4. EASTWOOD WAS FIRED AS A CONTRACT PLAYER AT UNIVERSAL PICTURES BECAUSE OF HIS LOOKS.

Eastwood and Burt Reynolds were both contract players at Universal, and both were fired in 1959. According to Reynolds, Eastwood "was fired because his Adam's apple stuck out too far. He talked too slow. And he had a chipped tooth and he wouldn't get it fixed. And I said, 'Why are you firing me?' And they said, 'You can't act.' ... I said to Clint, 'You know, you are really screwed, because I can learn how to act. You can't get rid of that Adam's apple.'" Reynolds then added with a laugh: "And it's held him back. It's held him back."

5. HE HAS JAMES COBURN AND CHARLES BRONSON TO THANK FOR GETTING THE LEAD IN A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS.

James Coburn (The Great Escape) wanted $25,000 to star in the movie, which was more than the producers could afford. Charles Bronson might have taken the role if he didn't think the script was "just about the worst I'd ever seen." Eastwood agreed to star for $15,000.

6. HE NEVER WASHED THE MAN WITH NO NAME'S PONCHO.

YouTube

When asked whether it was true that he wore the same poncho in A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)—and never washed it—Eastwood said yes, and explained that, "If you washed it, it would fall apart." Eastwood still has the poncho, too.

7. THE NAME OF HIS PRODUCTION COMPANY COMES FROM HIS AGENT'S BAD ADVICE.

Eastwood's agent told him that appearing in Leone's trilogy would be a "bad step" for his career. "Bad step" in Spanish is Malpaso. Since Malpaso Creek is also a body of water located south of Carmel-of-the-Sea, California, where Eastwood makes his home, he named his company Malpaso Productions.

8. HE LANDED THE ROLE OF HARRY CALLAHAN BECAUSE FRANK SINATRA COULDN'T HOLD A GUN.

Robert Mitchum and Steve McQueen were in the running to play San Francisco detective Harry Callahan in Don Siegel's Dirty Harry (1971), but Sinatra was deemed their man. Then Eastwood received a phone call asking if he was still interested in starring in the movie. When he asked what happened to Sinatra, Eastwood was told that Sinatra had a hand issue and couldn't hold a gun. "That sounded like a pretty lame excuse," Eastwood admitted, "but it didn’t matter to me. I said, 'I’ll do it.'"

9. HE FILLED IN FOR CHARLTON HESTON AT THE 1973 OSCARS. AND IT WAS AWKWARD.

Charlton Heston was already running late to the 1973 Academy Awards when he got a flat tire on the way to the ceremony. So Eastwood was asked to fill in for him and read Heston's bit during the opening segment, which was full of references to Heston's films. To everybody's relief, Heston arrived to save Eastwood from having to finish the speech.

10. HE DID HIS OWN MOUNTAIN CLIMBING STUNTS FOR THE EIGER SANCTION.

For The Eiger Sanction (1975)—which Eastwood directed and starred in—he trained in Yosemite National Park, where he climbed the 1200-foot Lost Arrow Spire. But the Eiger's "White Spider" section was one of the most dangerous climbs in the world, so Eastwood and a crew of professional climbers were transported to a 12,000 foot elevation first, then lowered onto the rock face by tether lines. Sadly British rigger David Knowles, who had climbed the Eiger before, was killed in a rockslide on the second day of filming.

11. HE HAS PRACTICED TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION FOR MORE THAN 40 YEARS.

Eastwood first revealed, to the laughter of some in the studio audience, that he had been meditating for "three or four years" on a 1975 episode of The Merv Griffin Show, on which the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was also a guest. Eastwood credited his daily practice of transcendental meditation with helping him press on with filming The Eiger Sanction following Knowles' tragic death. In 2013, Eastwood told GQ that he has been meditating twice a day for the last 40 years, explaining that, "I believe in whatever self-help you can give yourself, whether you believe in Buddha or whatever. I used to be much more of an agnostic. I'm not really a person of an organized religion. But I'm now much more tolerant of people who are religious, because I can see why they got there. I can sympathize."

12. HE TURNED DOWN PLAYING JAMES BOND, SUPERMAN, AND JOHN MCCLANE.

After Sean Connery left the 007 franchise, Eastwood was offered the iconic role, but he declined. The president of Warner Bros. asked him to play Superman, but he declined that, too. "I was like, 'Superman? Nah, nah, that’s not for me,’" Eastwood explained. "Not that there’s anything wrong with it. It’s for somebody, but not me." Francis Ford Coppola asked him to play Martin Sheen's character in Apocalypse Now (1979), but he didn't want to go the Philippines for 16 weeks. Eastwood owned the movie rights to Nothing Lasts Forever, the book Die Hard (1988) was based on, with the intent to star in the film version.

13. HE WAS MAYOR OF CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA, CALIFORNIA FROM 1986 TO 1988, AND BROUGHT ITS RESIDENTS ICE CREAM.

Eastwood felt disrespected by the seaside town's administration after his plan to build a small building was automatically rejected. He won an out-of-court settlement that allowed him to get it built anyway, but the incident motivated him to run for office. Eastwood got 72.5 percent of the vote over the two-term incumbent mayor Charlotte Townsend. During his term he made it easier to build or renovate property, got a tourist parking lot constructed, opened a library annex for children, and repealed a weird law on the books that prohibited the selling and eating of ice cream on public streets. Some residents didn't like all of the new tourists that arrived after he took office, and Eastwood didn't seek reelection.

14. AS A DIRECTOR, HE ONLY LIKES TO SHOOT ONE TAKE.

When Eastwood directs, he doesn't storyboard, rehearse, change the script after it's finished, or listen to test screening results. He doesn't say "action" because "even the horses get nervous." He says "Let's move on" instead of "Cut." When Matt Damon once asked him for a second take, Eastwood said, "Why, so you can waste everybody's time?" When Kevin Costner took his time coming out of his trailer during shooting on A Perfect World (1993), Eastwood just had an extra pretend to be Costner's character in a shot of him walking through a field, with the camera up close so his image was blurred. Costner was not happy.

15. HE OWNED THE COUNTRY'S LARGEST HARDWOOD TREE.

Eastwood was the proud owner of a blue gum eucalyptus, thought to be the largest hardwood in America in 2000. In 2002, the National Register of Big Trees announced that another blue gum eucalyptus 200 miles north of Carmel was nearly 49 feet around and 141 feet tall, and the new champion.

Less than two months after his tree was dethroned, Eastwood was sworn in as a state parks commissioner at the Big Basin Redwood State Park, California's oldest state park.

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Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
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15 Must-See Holiday Horror Movies
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment

Families often use the holidays as an excuse to indulge in repeat viewings of Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Elf. But for a certain section of the population, the yuletide is all about horror. Although it didn’t truly emerge until the mid-1970s, “holiday horror” is a thriving subgenre that often combines comedy to tell stories of demented Saint Nicks and lethal gingerbread men. If you’ve never seen Santa slash someone, here are 15 movies to get you started.

1. THANKSKILLING (2009)

Most holiday horror movies concern Christmas, so ThanksKilling is a bit of an anomaly. Another reason it’s an anomaly? It opens in 1621, with an axe-wielding turkey murdering a topless pilgrim woman. The movie continues on to the present-day, where a group of college friends are terrorized by that same demon bird during Thanksgiving break. It’s pretty schlocky, but if Turkey Day-themed terror is your bag, make sure to check out the sequel: ThanksKilling 3. (No one really knows what happened to ThanksKilling 2.)

2. BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)

Fittingly, the same man who brought us A Christmas Story also brought us its twisted cousin. Before Bob Clark co-wrote and directed the 1983 saga of Ralphie Parker, he helmed Black Christmas. It concerns a group of sorority sisters who are systematically picked off by a man who keeps making threatening phone calls to their house. Oh, and it all happens during the holidays. Black Christmas is often considered the godfather of holiday horror, but it was also pretty early on the slasher scene, too. It opened the same year as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and beat Halloween by a full four years.

3. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984)

This movie isn’t about Santa Claus himself going berserk and slaughtering a bunch of people. But it is about a troubled teen who does just that in a Santa suit. Billy Chapman starts Silent Night, Deadly Night as a happy little kid, only to witness a man dressed as St. Nick murder his parents in cold blood. Years later, after he has grown up and gotten a job at a toy store, he conducts a killing spree in his own red-and-white suit. The PTA and plenty of critics condemned the film for demonizing a kiddie icon, but it turned into a bona fide franchise with four sequels and a 2012 remake.

4. RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE (2010)

This Finnish flick dismantles Santa lore in truly bizarre fashion, and it’s not easy to explain in a quick plot summary. But Rare Exports involves a small community living at the base of Korvatunturi mountain, a major excavation project, a bunch of dead reindeer, and a creepy old naked dude who may or may not be Santa Claus. Thanks to its snowy backdrop, the movie scored some comparisons to The Thing, but the hero here isn’t some Kurt Russell clone with equally feathered hair. It’s a bunch of earnest kids and their skeptical dads, who all want to survive the holidays in one piece.

5. TO ALL A GOODNIGHT (1980)

To All a Goodnight follows a by-now familiar recipe: Add a bunch of young women to one psycho dressed as Santa Claus and you get a healthy dose of murder and this 1980 slasher flick. Only this one takes place at a finishing school. So it’s fancier.

6. KRAMPUS (2015)

Although many Americans are blissfully unaware of him, Krampus has terrorized German-speaking kids for centuries. According to folklore, he’s a yuletide demon who punishes naughty children. (He’s also part-goat.) That’s some solid horror movie material, so naturally Krampus earned his own feature film. In the movie, he’s summoned because a large suburban family loses its Christmas cheer. That family has an Austrian grandma who had encounters with Krampus as a kid, so he returns to punish her descendants. He also animates one truly awful Jack-in-the-Box.

7. THE GINGERDEAD MAN (2005)

“Eat me, you punk b*tch!” That’s one of the many corny catchphrases spouted by the Gingerdead Man, an evil cookie possessed by the spirit of a convicted killer (played by Gary Busey). The lesson here, obviously, is to never bake.

8. JACK FROST (1997)

No, this isn’t the Michael Keaton snowman movie. It’s actually a holiday horror movie that beat that family film by a year. In this version, Jack Frost is a serial killer on death row who escapes prison and then, through a freak accident, becomes a snowman. He embarks on a murder spree that’s often played for laughs—for instance, the cops threaten him with hairdryers. But the comedy is pretty questionable in the infamous, and quite controversial, Shannon Elizabeth shower scene.

9. ELVES (1989)

Based on the tagline—“They’re not working for Santa anymore”—you’d assume this is your standard evil elves movie. But Elves weaves Nazis, bathtub electrocutions, and a solitary, super grotesque elf into its utterly absurd plot. Watch at your own risk.

10. SINT (2010)

The Dutch have their own take on Santa, and his name is Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas travels to the Netherlands via steamship each year with his racist sidekick Zwarte Piet. But otherwise, he’s pretty similar to Santa. And if Santa can be evil, so can Sinterklaas. According to the backstory in Sint (or Saint), the townspeople burned their malevolent bishop alive on December 5, 1492. But Sinterklaas returns from the grave on that date whenever there’s a full moon to continue dropping bodies. In keeping with his olden origins, he rides around on a white horse wielding a golden staff … that he can use to murder you.

11. SANTA’S SLAY (2005)

Ever wonder where Santa came from? This horror-comedy claims he comes from the worst possible person: Satan. The devil’s kid lost a bet many years ago and had to pretend to be a jolly gift-giver. But now the terms of the bet are up and he’s out to act like a true demon. That includes killing Fran Drescher and James Caan, obviously.

12. ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE (2015)

Another Santa slasher is on the loose in All Through the House, but the big mystery here is who it is. This villain dons a mask during his/her streak through suburbia—and, as the genre dictates, offs a bunch of promiscuous young couples along the way. The riddle is all tied up in the disappearance of a little girl, who vanished several years earlier.

13. CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980)

Several years before Silent Night, Deadly Night garnered protests for its anti-Kringle stance, Christmas Evil put a radicalized Santa at the center of its story. The movie’s protagonist, Harry Stadling, first starts to get weird thoughts in his head as a kid when he sees “Santa” (really his dad in the costume) groping his mom. Then, he becomes unhealthily obsessed with the holiday season, deludes himself into thinking he’s Santa, and goes on a rampage. The movie is mostly notable for its superfan John Waters, who lent commentary to the DVD and gave Christmas Evil some serious cult cred.

14. SANTA CLAWS (1996)

If you thought this was the holiday version of Pet Sematary, guess again. The culprit here isn’t a demon cat in a Santa hat, but a creepy next-door neighbor. Santa Claws stars B-movie icon Debbie Rochon as Raven Quinn, an actress going through a divorce right in the middle of the holidays. She needs some help caring for her two girls, so she seeks out Wayne, her neighbor who has an obsessive crush on her. He eventually snaps and dresses up as Santa Claus in a ski mask. Mayhem ensues.

15. NEW YEAR’S EVIL (1980)

Because the holidays aren’t over until everyone’s sung “Auld Lang Syne,” we can’t count out New Year’s Eve horror. In New Year’s Evil, lady rocker Blaze is hosting a live NYE show. Everything is going well, until a man calls in promising to kill at midnight. The cops write it off as a prank call, but soon, Blaze’s friends start dropping like flies. Just to tie it all together, the mysterious murderer refers to himself as … “EVIL.”

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10 Surprising Ways Senses Shape Perception
The American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History

Every bit of information we know about the world we gathered with one of our five senses. But even with perfect pitch or 20/20 vision, our perceptions don’t always reflect an accurate picture of our surroundings. Our brain is constantly filling in gaps and taking shortcuts, which can result in some pretty wild illusions.

That’s the subject of “Our Senses: An Immersive Experience,” a new exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Mental Floss recently took a tour of the sensory funhouse to learn more about how the brain and the senses interact.

1. LIGHTING REVEALS HIDDEN IMAGES.

Woman and child looking at pictures on a wall

Under normal lighting, the walls of the first room of “Our Senses” look like abstract art. But when the lights change color, hidden illustrations are revealed. The three lights—blue, red, and green—used in the room activate the three cone cells in our eyes, and each color highlights a different set of animal illustrations, giving the viewers the impression of switching between three separate rooms while standing still.

2. CERTAIN SOUNDS TAKE PRIORITY ...

We can “hear” many different sounds at once, but we can only listen to a couple at a time. The AMNH exhibit demonstrates this with an audio collage of competing recordings. Our ears automatically pick out noises we’re conditioned to react to, like an ambulance siren or a baby’s cry. Other sounds, like individual voices and musical instruments, require more effort to detect.

3. ... AS DO CERTAIN IMAGES.

When looking at a painting, most people’s eyes are drawn to the same spots. The first things we look for in an image are human faces. So after staring at an artwork for five seconds, you may be able to say how many people are in it and what they look like, but would likely come up short when asked to list the inanimate object in the scene.

4. PAST IMAGES AFFECT PRESENT PERCEPTION.

Our senses often are more suggestible than we would like. Check out the video above. After seeing the first sequence of animal drawings, do you see a rat or a man’s face in the last image? The answer is likely a rat. Now watch the next round—after being shown pictures of faces, you might see a man’s face instead even though the final image hasn’t changed.

5. COLOR INFLUENCES TASTE ...

Every cooking show you’ve watched is right—presentation really is important. One look at something can dictate your expectations for how it should taste. Researchers have found that we perceive red food and drinks to taste sweeter and green food and drinks to taste less sweet regardless of chemical composition. Even the color of the cup we drink from can influence our perception of taste.

6. ... AND SO DOES SOUND

Sight isn’t the only sense that plays a part in how we taste. According to one study, listening to crunching noises while snacking on chips makes them taste fresher. Remember that trick before tossing out a bag of stale junk food.

7. BEING HYPER-FOCUSED HAS DRAWBACKS.

Have you ever been so focused on something that the world around you seemed to disappear? If you can’t recall the feeling, watch the video above. The instructions say to keep track of every time a ball is passed. If you’re totally absorbed, you may not notice anything peculiar, but watch it a second time without paying attention to anything in particular and you’ll see a person in a gorilla suit walk into the middle of the screen. The phenomenon that allows us to tune out big details like this is called selective attention. If you devote all your mental energy to one task, your brain puts up blinders that block out irrelevant information without you realizing it.

8. THINGS GET WEIRD WHEN SENSES CONTRADICT EACH OTHER.

Girl standing in optical illusion room.

The most mind-bending room in the "Our Senses" exhibit is practically empty. The illusion comes from the black grid pattern painted onto the white wall in such a way that straight planes appear to curve. The shapes tell our eyes we’re walking on uneven ground while our inner ear tells us the floor is stable. It’s like getting seasick in reverse: This conflicting sensory information can make us feel dizzy and even nauseous.

9. WE SEE SHADOWS THAT AREN’T THERE.

If our brains didn’t know how to adjust for lighting, we’d see every shadow as part of the object it falls on. But we can recognize that the half of a street that’s covered in shade isn’t actually darker in color than the half that sits in the sun. It’s a pretty useful adaptation—except when it’s hijacked for optical illusions. Look at the image above: The squares marked A and B are actually the same shade of gray. Because the pillar appears to cast a shadow over square B, our brain assumes it’s really lighter in color than what we’re shown.

10. WE SEE FACES EVERYWHERE.

The human brain is really good at recognizing human faces—so good it can make us see things that aren’t there. This is apparent in the Einstein hollow head illusion. When looking at the mold of Albert Einstein’s face straight on, the features appear to pop out rather than sink in. Our brain knows we’re looking at something similar to a human face, and it knows what human faces are shaped like, so it automatically corrects the image that it’s given.

All images courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History unless otherwise noted.

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