Back in June, venerable American cinema practitioner and semi-certified auteur Clint Eastwood, a still-formidable filmmaker but increasingly grizzled (almost to the point of approaching crotchety, even—what do you want, and you should be this productive and alert when you turn 900 years of age) public figure, cracked something like a Caitlyn Jenner joke. At a taping of something called "The Guy's Choice Awards" (no, I don't know either; Clint should be more careful of the invitations he accepts if you ask me), Eastwood, presenting something or other to Dwayne Johnson, mentioned sport figures turned film actors, and ended the citation with "Jim Brown and Caitlyn Somebody." The no-doubt sensitivity-trained redeemed dudebros of Spike TV, or whoever they are, immediately announced that they were gonna cut out the offending reference in the televised version of the show.
Then a funny thing happened: on learning of the joke, the Internet did not explode. Most of the reactions I saw were just kind of shruggy. One might have expected a huge outpouring of derision just as overflow from Eastwood's ridiculous Chair Routine. But no. And why? Maybe because people are better informed than we like to think they are. (Well, actually, it can't be that, but play along.) After all, despite the fact that much of his genre oeuvre is peppered with references that could be taken as homophobic (if I recall correctly The Rookie is a real overachiever in this respect), when it's time to get serious Eastwood's relatively sympathetic, even sensitive, to issues of identity and sexuality. He went so far as to cast The Lady Chablis, the drag performer who identifies as female as herself in his film of Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil. There's also J. Edgar, which, whatever you think of it otherwise, is remarkably straightforward and non-smirky in its depictions of the title character's torment in the closet. So his record speaks well of him. Which allowed pretty much everyone who heard about the joke to take it for what it was—a half-hearted attempt at nudge-nudge topical humor that wouldn't have been out of place in a '70s Carson monologue. No big deal.
I was a bit amused in a peripheral way, though, as a result of some recollections of Eastwood history both personal and professional. As Eastwood people know, the actor-director had, beginning in 1975, a relatively long-term personal and professional association with Locke. She co-starred with him in some very strong pictures he directed: The Outlaw Josey Wales (masterpiece! admired by Orson Welles!), The Gauntlet (ridiculous super fun! Art Pepper plays in the soundtrack orchestra!) and Bronco Billy (possible masterpiece! Capraesque!). She's also in the two orangutan movies, and Sudden Impact. Anyway. The association did NOT END WELL, as Locke describes in a 1997 autobiography titled The Good, The Bad, And The Very Ugly: A Hollywood Journey.
Eastwood's version of the breakup was somewhat more terse. In an interview in the March 1997 issue of Playboy, responding to some of Locke's allegations, he brings up Locke's relationship with her husband Gordon Anderson, to whom she remained married during the entirety of her relationship to Eastwood. Anderson was/is gay, something of a mystic, and a Eastwood would like his interviewer for Playboy, Bernard Weinraub, believe he was a model of patience and forebearance in tolerating the whole arrangement.
“I mean, it’s just a different scene. I can’t explain it without going into a…I mean, your eyes might not stay in their sockets. They’re liable to come too far out of your head. They were pals when they were kids, and they both believe in fairy tales and call each other Hobbit and stuff like that. And so they hang out together, and I guess she’s supportive of him and he’s supportive of her, and somehow they feed each other. She didn’t like my son living with me and it just got messy. It just wasn’t the kind of existence I wanted.”
And there you have it. I'm not sure what "it" is, I admit. I do know that ever since I read that interview (I got this issue of Playboy for the articles for real—cover model and O.J. trial witness person Faye Resnick isn't even remotely my type) the phrase "call each other Hobbit" has really stuck in my mind. I bring this up because—actually, I'm starting to wonder myself—well, I bring this up not to wag a finger at Eastwood's seeming defensiveness (have I mentioned I'm kind of a fan?) but because it ties in, albeit obliquely, with an interesting bit of movie trivia from Sondra Locke's career. Locke is a striking beauty, lissome, with haunting eyes, and she also has a quality that could be described as androgynous. This quality was used profitably in the 1972 release A Reflection of Fear. Calling it an "effective, well-photographed surprise thriller," The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Fim gives its précis thusly: "A young girl (Sondra Locke) lives in a fantasy world with Aaron, a doll she believes can kill people. Her father (Robert Shaw) returns after 10 years. Sally Kellerman is her new stepmother. Mary Ure is her mother. Many of the cast members die. This Psycho-ish tale sat on the shelf for two years before being released in a cut version." Now if you're anything like me, your ears prick up when you read "Psycho-ish tale" and sure enough...the twist in this "surprise thriller" is (spoiler alert!) that Locke's character struggles with gender dysphoria. That is, she's a very conflicted trans person. What a coincidence.
But wait! There's more! Well after the now-long-forgotten "Guy's Choice Awards," Caitlyn Jenner was awarded an ESPY—I don't even know what that IS—and some folks got agitated over that because the award was for bravery and when you talk about bravery shouldn't you mean something like blah blah etc. etc. Sounds like the whole thing was kinda rigged anyway but that's life these days anyway anyway. So Lone Survivor director Peter "Join The Army, Motherfucker" Berg, these days a one-man recruitment center of sorts, took to Instagram with a mini-photo montage of army vet Gregory D. Gadson and Caitlyn Jenner and captioned it "“One man traded 2 legs for the freedom of the other to trade 2 balls for 2 boobs. Guess which man made the cover of Vanity Fair, was praised for his courage by President Obama and is to be honored with the ‘Arthur Ashe Courage Award’ by ESPN? Yup.” Yow.
Berg, whose shoot-from-the-hip reputation precedes him ("That review was FUCKING UNCOOL" he once bellowed at a Premiere colleague of mine, displeased with my pan of his directorial debut Very Bad Things) soon issued the standard completely-insincere-two-hours-later apology, calling himself a "strong supporter of equality and the rights of trans people everywhere." As well he should be. And, interestingly enough, there's a trans theme in Berg's filmography as well, from back when he was an actor (ah, the threads are FINALLY coming together). If I know my core demographic I'd hazard to say that pretty much everyone reading this has seen John Dahl's nifty 1994 neo-noir The Last Seduction, in which ultry-sultry Linda Fiorentino gets pretty hot-and-heavy with a sack-of-hammers-dumb lunk played by Berg. After discovering that (oy, I've still gotta say it: spoiler alert!) the abandoned wife of Berg's character is trans, Fiorentino, rather than celebrating and supporting our human diversity and sexual fluidity, blackmails Berg's character into doing her bidding, such as it is. All in the interest of self-preservation, mind you; nothing malicious about it.
As it happens, I was briefly acquainted with Serena, the actress who played the trans wife, and who I believe died some years back. But that's a different story, and my memory of it remains rather hazy. Any how: you've made it this far and what have you got? Two American actors-turned-directors who made Caitlyn Jenner comments but who also have trans themes in their (in one case extended) filmographies. This might help you on a pub trivia night. Who knows.