Born in San Francisco, the son of a steel worker, Eastwood started a business related degree at Los Angeles College, but dropped out. Before acting, he was a member of the United States Army. He began work as an actor, appearing in such B-films as Tarantula, and Francis in the Navy. In 1959 he got his first breakthrough with the long-running Television series, Rawhide. As Rowdy Yates, he made the show his own and became a household name around the country. But Eastwood found even bigger and better things with Sergio Leone'sA Fistful of Dollars (Per un pugno di dollari) in 1964, and soon followed it with For a Few Dollars More (Per qualche dollaro in più) (1965). In the third "Dollars" film, he found one of his trademark roles, in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Il Buono, il brutto, il cattivo) (1966). The movie was a big hit and he became an instant international star.
Stardom brought more roles, though still in the 'tough guy' mold.
In Where Eagles Dare (1968) he had second billing to Richard Burton but was paid $800,000 (rather more than a fistful). However he also began to branch out. Paint Your Wagon (1969) was still a Western, but a musical. Kelly's Heroes (1970) combined tough guy action with offbeat humor. His talents proved equal to all these tasks. 1971 proved to be one of his best years in films. He starred in the thriller Play Misty for Me (1971), and The Beguiled (1971). But it was his role that year as the hard edged police inspector Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry that gave Eastwood one of his most memorable roles. The film has been credited with inventing the 'loose-cannon cop genre' that has been imitated even to this day.
Eastwood continued to take cop, western and thriller roles, including sequels to Dirty Harry: Magnum Force (1973), The Enforcer (1976), Sudden Impact (1983), and The Dead Pool (1988). As the late seventies approached he found more solid work in comedies like Every Which way But Loose (1978). However his career appeared to be on the wane.
It was the fourth Dirty Harry film, Sudden Impact (1983) that made Eastwood a viable star for the eighties. But the passing of time made it harder for him to be a believable tough guy. He did make his fifth and final Dirty Harry movie, The Dead Pool (1988). Although it was a success overall it did not have the box office punch his previous films had. After much less successful films like Pink Cadillac (1989), and The Rookie (1990), it was fairly obvious Eastwood's star was declining as it never had before. He then started taking on more personal projects such as directing Bird (1988), a biopic of Charlie 'Bird' Parker, and starring in and directing White Hunter, Black Heart (1990), an uneven, loose biography of John Huston.
Despite the critical acclaim he has received for Oscar-winning epics in the latter part of his career, Eastwood remains the quintessential cowboy with mannerisms to match in all his movies. With a drawl most people call 'Western', he is cool, conceited and distant on screen. With his towering personality in literal and virtual terms, he is probably the only American actor who looks 'lonely in a crowd'.