by James Bacon
Sophia and I run into each other all over the world.
Once she was making a movie in Paris with Paul Newman. She took me aside on the set one day and asked: "Do you know a cowboy in Hollywood by the name of Clint Eastwood?" I told her he was an old friend. "Well," said Sophia, "he is the biggest box office star in Italy, bigger than Mastroianni. He made a picture called A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and at every theater where it's playing the lines are four blocks long and four abreast. I have never seen anything like it."
I knew that Clint, during a hiatus in his Rawhide TV series, had gone to Spain to make the first of the spaghetti westerns. He had done it for $15,000 - peanuts. I also knew he was about to make another one for the same money. As soon as I got home, I saw Clint and relayed Sophia's message. He hadn't heard a damn thing about the picture. In fact, didn't even know it had been released in Italy. I caught him in time to renegotiate the contract so he could get a piece of the action. A series of these spaghetti westerns starring Clint made him a fortune and also made him into the number one box office star in America and a top draw around the world. Clint is now the world's richest cowboy. Last time I saw Sophia was in an Etruscan field near Rome, and we talked about the conversation in Paris some years previously.
Sophia and Clint had never met, but Clint is eternally grateful to her. He had figured that A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS was a European western and nothing more. He was convinced that he had been paid $15,000 for a disaster:
"You can't imagine the problems I had making that picture. The director and producer wanted me to wear tennis shoes instead of cowboy boots. It took me a week to talk them out of it. Then the character killed everybody in sight. He was supposed to be the hero, but he was one of the rottenest villains alive. I never dreamed it would catch on." The Europeans love violence and Clint gave it to them. "I come into town to save the place, then proceed to kill everybody in it and finally burn down the town - and be heroic about it."
Amazingly, the pictures became as big a hit in the United States as they were in Europe. Some theaters showed all of them at one time - a Clint Eastwood festival - and the lines were just as long as they were those first days in Italy.
Sophia knew what she was talking about: "I was in Rome and I saw this line trying to get in to see an American cowboy I had never even heard of. I got out of my car and introduced myself to the theater manager, who let me right in. I had to see him for myself."
Clint had director Sergio Leone over a barrel when he negotiated for that second picture. All told, Clint made millions off his spaghetti westerns - the three made with Leone, followed by three of his own American-made films of the same genre. The money is still coming in. The least Clint could do, it seems, would be to do a picture with Sophia. Those two would be dynamite together.