In the Matter of Locke vs. Eastwood

Times Staff Writer

Sondra Locke says the telephone call came early in the morning on April 3.

It was Clint Eastwood on the line. He said they needed to talk, and he hurried over to the sprawling Bel-Air house that the two had shared intermittently since 1980.

The couple's conversation that morning was short and to the point. Eastwood, 58, complained that Locke was "sitting" on his only real estate in Los Angeles, and now he wanted her to move out of the house.

"I told him that I couldn't believe that was all he had to say to me after 13 years," Locke said in a written declaration filed 12 days ago in Los Angeles Superior Court as part of her potentially precedent-setting palimony suit against Eastwood.

Locke, in the court document, claims that his statements to her that morning were her first notification that their increasingly troubled 13-year relationship was ending.

Locke, who turns 42 this month, was in the midst of directing her second feature film, "Impulse," and had only four hours of sleep the night before. She says she begged Eastwood to hold off any discussions about their breakup until she had finished the movie. "Clint told me that he understood, that I should just 'put it in the back of my head,' and that we would talk about it again after I finished 'Impulse,' " Locke recounted in the statement.

But a week later, while on the set of "Impulse," Locke received a second shock: a letter from Eastwood's lawyers addressed formally to "Mrs. Gordon Anderson"--Locke's legal identity since her 1969 marriage to a childhood friend.

"Mr. Eastwood has asked you to vacate the premises," the letter read. "You have refused to do so. This is to let you know that in view of your intransigence, the locks on all the entrances to the house have been replaced. . . . Your possessions accordingly will be placed in storage."

Upon reading the letter, Locke said in the statement, she fainted.

Locke wasn't the only person in the world shocked to learn she was breaking up with one of the movies' biggest stars. Her April 26 filing of a palimony suit against the intensely private archetypal macho-man of the "Dirty Harry" films was the kind of news that sells supermarket tabloids and draws viewers to TV newscasts.

The suit is a potentially precedent-setting legal case because it raises the question of whether a woman, who is legally married to one man, can claim palimony rights from another.

"It's not unusual for people to be separated from someone and living with someone else," said Locke's attorney, Norman Oberstein. "When people live together for 10 years, have a relationship for 13 years, share the same house and life, there are certain things that are implied from that."

Although Eastwood and Locke declined to be interviewed for this story, they have outlined their positions in sworn declarations that have been filed in the palimony suit and ordered sealed by the court. The Times, however, has obtained copies of Locke's entire legal declaration and a portion of Eastwood's.

For more than 13 years, the Eastwood-Locke union had been one of Hollywood's best-known relationships and, by show business standards, reasonably stable. In their time together, Eastwood's brand of wildly popular blood-splattered action-adventure films had come to be regarded as classics; he became an icon for a culture worshipful of his kind of rugged individualism and self-reliance. Harry Callahan's "Go ahead, make my day" expression of supreme toughness became so much a part of the language that even President Reagan evoked it as he girded for a showdown with Congress.

As Eastwood's reputation grew--the fan adulation, the critical acclaim, directing such major films as "Bird," his foray into politics as the mayor of the seaside village of Carmel--Locke's career stayed in the shadow of his, but recently showed signs of emerging on its own.

But the unusual partnership is over now.

Barred from her home, still shooting her movie and living with friends, Locke is suing Eastwood for unspecified financial support, breach of contract, emotional distress, forcible entry, possession of personal property and other claims. She said she had to borrow clothes from friends because she hadn't had time to get her own out of storage, and still didn't know the whereabouts of her pet parrot Putty or her 1971 Mercedes Benz.

She wants the court to award her the ownership of the Bel-Air estate and another house in the Hollywood Hills that she claims Eastwood gave her. She also has asked the court to bar Eastwood from the Bel-Air house "because I know him to have a terrible temper . . . and he has frequently been abusive to me."

The Eastwood she describes in her declaration is a volatile and distant man who never got around to marrying her, although he frequently talked about it. Locke claims that Eastwood persuaded her to have two abortions and a sterilization operation known as a tubal ligation.

In his legal papers, Eastwood claims Locke told him on several occasions that she never wanted to have children. "I adamantly deny and deeply resent the accusation that either one of those abortions or the tubal ligation were done at my demand, request or even suggestion," Eastwood stated. "As to the abortions, I told Locke that whether to have children or terminate her pregnancies was a decision entirely hers. . . .

"Particularly with regard to the tubal ligation, I encouraged Locke to make her own decision after she had consulted with a physician about the appropriateness of and the necessity for that surgical procedure," he said.

Eastwood's only public comments on the palimony suit were issued April 27 through his publicist: "I am deeply disappointed and saddened that she's (Locke's) taken this kind of action. It will soon come to light that these accusations are unfounded and without merit, however, this matter will be dealt with in an appropriate legal arena."

That legal arena is the Superior courtroom of Judge Dana Senit Henry. Attorneys for Locke and Eastwood are scheduled to be in court May 31.

Locke and Eastwood met in 1975 while making the post-Civil War-era film "The Outlaw Josey Wales." He played a peaceful farmer who turns vigilante when Union soldiers kill his family. She played a young girl who survived an attack against her family.

Romance quickly developed between the two, whose screen personas seemed oddly matched--he the tough he-man made famous as the Man With No Name in the late Sergio Leone's spaghetti Westerns and she the petite, ethereal-looking actress who had been nominated for an Oscar in her first acting role, the naive young Mick Kelly in the 1968 adaptation of Carson McCullers' "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter."

By 1976, Locke and Eastwood were living together in San Francisco while Eastwood was filming "The Enforcer." At the time, Eastwood was still married to Maggie Eastwood, the mother of his two children, Kyle, now 20, and Alison, now 17. In 1977 Locke and Eastwood worked together again on "The Gauntlet." That year, after 25 years of marriage, Clint and Maggie Eastwood separated. The couple divorced a few years later.

Eastwood and Locke began sharing the Sherman Oaks house that Eastwood had lived in with Maggie, but, as Locke tells it, sometime in 1980 she had begun to grow uncomfortable living among the family pictures and memorabilia of Eastwood's former life. "I spoke to Clint about my feelings, and he told me that I should find a house that I wanted and he would buy it for me," Locke said in her declaration. The moment she saw it, Locke fell in love with the 5,000 square-foot tile-roofed Bel-Air house, although it was in need of renovation.

"Clint said that I should buy it, remodel it and furnish it however I wanted," she said. Property records show that he paid $1,125,000 for the two-story stucco house. Locke spent about three years redecorating it.

Throughout this time, the couple also shared living quarters on a Northern California ranch Eastwood bought in 1978, and at residences in Sun Valley, Idaho, and Carmel, according to legal documents.

"From the start of our relationship Clint told me that he wanted us always to be together and that he would take care of me forever," Locke said in the declaration. "Clint repeatedly assured me that regardless of whether we were married, everything he had was ours together. . . ."

It is not clear from the documents how their relationship soured.

"When Clint became mayor of Carmel several years ago he began spending more of his time in Carmel, and was frequently there for periods of time when I stayed in Los Angeles," she said. "During this same period I began to sense some increasing tension and estrangement in our relationship. I frequently tried to speak to Clint about these problems, but he never wanted to do so. He would often discourage me from accompanying him to Carmel, and over the past year or year-and-a-half he has stayed in Los Angeles only infrequently. The troubles between us came to a head just before New Year's in 1988."

The pair headed to Sun Valley for the Christmas holidays, which they had been doing for the last several years. An argument prompted Eastwood to insist that Locke return to Los Angeles. Locke began work on "Impulse" in January, and between January and April, Eastwood returned to the Bel-Air house only for a few nights to attend two awards shows, Locke said.

Then came the letter addressed to "Mrs. Gordon Anderson."

Anderson, a West Hollywood sculptor, and Locke were childhood friends in their native Shelbyville, Tenn., according to the legal documents. They married and moved to Los Angeles together in 1969.

They have not lived together since 1975 and never consummated the marriage, according to legal documents. The lawsuit describes their relationship as "tantamount to sister and brother."

Repeated attempts to reach Anderson were unsuccessful.

Eastwood knew about the marriage and accepted Anderson as Locke's surrogate brother "and treated him like an extended family member," Locke said in her lawsuit.

In 1982, at Locke's request, according to the suit, Eastwood bought a house in the Hollywood Hills for Anderson to use, with the understanding that the house was a "gift" to Locke.

Despite her promising film debut, Locke's career has long been tied to Eastwood's. They have worked on six films together. Her biggest role was as the artist-murderer in "Sudden Impact," one of Eastwood's "Dirty Harry" movies. She played the gun-toting, revenge-seeking Jennifer Spencer methodically wasting a pack of degenerate rapists who had earlier attacked her and a younger sister.

In addition to "Josey Wales," Locke appeared as a country-music singer in Eastwood's "Every Which Way But Loose" and "Any Which Way You Can," a society snob in "Bronco Billy" and a tough-talking hooker in "The Gauntlet."

"Because I have not worked in any capacity on any theatrical motion picture other than with Clint since before I met him in 1975 (with one minor exception), I had long felt that my professional career had been placed in Clint's shadow," Locke stated in her declaration.

Locke's first effort at directing, in the Eastwood-produced 1986 film "Ratboy," met with little commercial or critical success in this country, although some European critics praised the film.

"Impulse," her current film, is a psychological thriller about a burned-out female undercover cop--played by Theresa Russell--who works as a hooker decoy and becomes confused about which side of the law she wants to be on. It is being produced by the couple's friend, Al Ruddy, and distributed by Eastwood's longtime studio, Warner Bros. Locke is scheduled to finish shooting the film on Friday.

Meanwhile, Eastwood is in pre-production for his upcoming motion picture "White Hunter, Black Heart," which chronicles the making of "The African Queen" and will be shot on location in Africa. His latest film, "Pink Cadillac," is scheduled to open May 26.

Ironically, Locke's first attempt to come out from under Eastwood's shadow is being obscured by the breakup and legal wrangling.

Said Locke in a 1987 interview: "People have this fantasy that it's all just an easy ride if you know someone important. Well, it's not. I've known lots of people in this business--and it hasn't really done anything for me. . . . In a way, my association (with Eastwood) may even work against me."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
60°