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Tom Alderman Headshot

Postmortem on Clint and His Talking Chair

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The one thing you can say about the whole Clint Eastwood convention episode is that it will live forever in TV replay-land. 'Doing an Eastwood' might even become a new phrase for being unprepared, for winging it -- badly.

But let's be realistic. It's not really his fault because Mr. Eastwood is fundamentally an actor and actors are usually very good at playing other people -- not so good when it comes to playing themselves. That's why many of them ARE actors because being somebody else is just easier. Sure, there are examples of articulate movie stars. Michael Caine and George Clooney come to mind -- expressive and engaging. But for cheap dramatic effect, I'm asking you to accept hyperbole as a foundation for this postmortem on the whole uncomfortable Eastwood affair.

Picking him for the final prime-time hour of the GOP convention made a lot of sense. He's a devout conservative, a former mayor and a serious Hollywood icon as the strong silent hero facing down evil. But what the convention organizers forgot was -- as an actor Mr. Eastwood built an entire career on saying as little as possible on screen. Think of all those spaghetti westerns, the Dirty Harry movies, and Any Which Way You Can where, when he does speak, it's mostly to a chimp. There's a reason for his minimalist use of words: talking is not his first language.

We know that everybody at a national political convention goes through a serious vetting process when they give a speech. Improvisation and spontaneity is not on the process menu. You can bet when organizers suggested a few talking points, the star brushed them off with a raspy "It's all right, kid, I've been doing this a long time." It may be hubris but he's a Hollywood legend, an Academy Award winner and a 'shimmering star in the cinema firmament.'* You invited him. You do not say no to the Magnum Force. He is here to make YOUR day.

As a successful director, Mr. Eastwood is in complete control of his set. Every word, every move is well planned out in advance. Nothing is left to chance -- unless you're working with Robin Williams. Problem is, when you do this as long as Eastwood has, it may be hard to see the difference between your movie set and reality.

So the star who doesn't talk a lot is allowed to speak for a dozen minutes on prime convention TV without ever knowing what he's going to say. Who knew he was auditioning for the re-make of Harvey with the president of the United States standing, uh sitting in, for the rabbit? Why he didn't let the invisible president stand next to him on-stage opens up a whole other matter.

I'm suggesting that the fault, dear reader, lies not with the star but with ourselves, or rather the convention organizers who yielded tight control to a star who's use to taking control. There wasn't anyone on the Romney staff who said to the actor, here's the script, here are you moves and, please, stiff the empty chair? Too existential. Where was the director to remind the actor this was Mr. Romney's set, not Mr. Eastwood's?

If you are of a partisan nature, you might wonder if this lack of control is an indication of how a President Romney might deal with the much bigger egos on a global stage.

*Actress Lina Lamont: MGM's 'Singing in the Rain'