Book Review: 'The Good, the Bad and the Very Ugly'
I had a frightening premonition about the future of celebrity autobiographies while reading all 371 pages the once-venerable publisher William Morrow gave Sondra Locke — second-tier actress, sometime B-movie director, and Clint Eastwood’s spurned squeeze — to tell her peculiar, not terribly consequential, life story. (Don’t scoff at premonitions. Locke devotes half her book to them, but we’ll get to the animal horns that appear in the toilet at her elf-shoe-wearing gay husband’s house and the singing of her dead cat Chloe in the refrigerator later.) Just imagine the avalanche of ponderous tomes we’ll be buried under in 20 years. Everyone from Carmen Electra to the Olsen twins will be penning detailed and increasingly superfluous Hollywood memoirs.
Lacking the rich anecdotes about classic movies, legendary directors, and passionate love affairs that the real stars of old wove into their bios, the tales told by also-rans like Locke are frequently padded with lengthy analyses of forgettable films — in her case, Willard, The Second Coming of Suzanne, Bronco Billy, Every Which Way but Loose, and Ratboy (which she directed). Of course the big lure of The Good, the Bad & the Very Ugly is Locke’s evisceration of Eastwood, with whom she lived for 13 years until they split up in 1989 in spectacularly messy fashion.
According to the often spacey Locke, Eastwood shut her out of their house, tapped her phones, and tried to destroy her career, even setting up a sham directing deal for her at Warner Bros. Locke sued Eastwood twice, once for palimony (she got almost nothing) and once after she says she discovered that Eastwood actually paid Warner Bros. for her supposed directing deal on the condition that she not be given any work. Locke had battled breast cancer during the whole ordeal, had a double mastectomy in 1989, and seven years later settled with Eastwood in the second suit before the jury returned a verdict.
Locke is at her best recounting what it’s like to live in the bubble of a superstar. When it was good, it was very, very good — private jets, getaways in Carmel, Calif., and Sun Valley, Idaho, sycophants who did their every bidding, and a circle of friends like Richard and Lili Zanuck and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver. When it was bad, it was, as Locke says in the title, very ugly. After Eastwood decided to dump her, some of Locke’s girlfriends, including Shriver and Lili Zanuck, were supportive. Then they too turned away, Locke says — especially when she stood up to Eastwood. ”How could I really win against Clint?” Locke writes. ”No one else ever had … What I didn’t know was that I would wage my fight against him virtually alone … Those friends who had urged me forward would disappear.”
Locke certainly makes Eastwood sound like a jerk — particularly when she reiterates the widely reported allegation that he had two kids with another woman while still involved with her. But the book’s strangest plotline involves another triangle, with Locke’s gay husband, Gordon Anderson, whom she married in 1968 and remains married to in name today. A friend since their high school days in Tennessee, Locke married Anderson even after he told her he was gay, and they moved to L.A. in 1968. More of the book is devoted to Anderson, a former actor, than Eastwood. ”My love for Gordon came from such a deeply connected place,” Locke writes, ”that it transcended everything else.” (Locke, who recently signed to direct another film, has apparently always supported Anderson financially.)
At first, Anderson, who Locke says wears elf shoes, spends weeks preparing for Christmas, and has psychic flashes and premonitions, sounds merely eccentric. But later when he is deemed a religious ”mystic,” you have to wonder about everyone’s sanity. Bruises in the shapes of mandalas appear on Anderson’s thigh. Lamps turn on and off at his house. Mysterious halos and odd lights appear in photos he takes. Five of his dead mother’s lost hairpins turn up in his bathroom. Locke also describes the day their cat Chloe Jr. (believed to be related to their beloved Chloe Sr., who could be heard ”trilling” in the refrigerator after her death) led Anderson and Locke to the bathroom, where they saw an ”Eastern-looking” face — complete with the ”classic third eye” — forming in toilet-bowl water and dissolving into ”ram’s horns.”
As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up. Neither is Sondra Locke. Now I’m really worried. I just had a premonition of a sequel … C