Even the Rhinos Were Nymphos

"Bruce Jay Friedman is a genius. And I know about genius. I've spent a lot of time with Bruce Jay Friedman at Elaine's in the middle of the night when we were all geniuses. But Bruce Jay—he's a genius in the daytime."—P.J. O'Rourke

"Bruce Jay Friedman is an American original whose least engaged considerations can beat the crap out of almost anything else on this block."—Gordon Lish

"Better known for his novels (A Mother's Kisses), plays (Scuba Duba) and screenplays (Splash), Friedman has also garnered over the past four decades a reputation as a journalist whose sly wit complements his idiosyncratic insights. This collection of 23 nonfiction pieces, ranging from the late 1960s to the mid-1990s, brings together a sampling of the author's best magazine writing from Esquire, New York magazine and Playboy, among other publications. . . . a vital and sustained look at an important American writer with a unique voice."—Publishers Weekly


Some Thoughts on Clint Eastwood and Heidegger
Bruce Jay Friedman
From Even the Rhinos Were Nymphos: Best Nonfiction

I'm crazy about Clint Eastwood, and if that automatically sounds chic, it's just going to have to sound that way. There's something intrinsically fair about him. He's no intellectual, but he's willing to learn. For example, I have a feeling that if you met him and Heidegger crept into the conversation, he wouldn't come up with one of those dumb Hollywood remarks along the lines of "Heidi-who?" He would, with quiet intelligence, say, "What's that name?" and scribble it down on a little piece of paper. Not a memo either, or one of those "From the Desk Of" things, just a little piece of scratch paper. Maybe he'd borrow it from somebody. And he wouldn't hand that scratch paper to any secretary, either. The next day, he'd go down to the library—a small library out there where's he got all those acres—and check out a volume of Heidegger and read it himself. And he would get something out of it, too, maybe not all of what Heidegger was driving at, but something. And I'm not talking about remarks to drop at some William Morris agency party. Something he could really use. Out there where he's got all those acres. And incidentally, with regard to those acres, he didn't just pick them up in that Ronald Reagan free enterprise frontier spirit either. I don't even think ecology is at the top of his list of concerns either. He just wanted a little room. And if someone trespassed on his property, he wouldn't just blow the guy's head off. Maybe he's got a gun or two, but he doesn't have a whole collection. He'd invite the trespasser in, offer him a bite to eat. It wouldn't necessarily be a simple sandwich either, a ham and cheese. He'd serve him a salad. Why? Because he has enough confidence to feed the fellow some artichoke hearts and not see it as some threat to his masculinity. Who knows, maybe he and the trespasser would get to talking about what Eastwood had just gotten out of Heidegger. The trespasser might just know a little about Heidegger. Those are the kind of fellows who do. Eastwood realizes that.

Eastwood sees that life isn't so simple, that it isn't just good and bad, but that there are a lot of grays in between. They talk about the squint. Boy, does he take a lot of heat on that. The squint this, the squint that. Take away the squint and the electronic music and what have you got? I happen to think you've got plenty. A complex individual, for openers. Let me throw a hot potato into this: I've come to the conclusion that he got that squint by trying to make some difficult moral choices. Which is why he should gravitate toward someone like Heidegger. Heidegger might very well lead him in the direction of Wittgenstein, but I don't think Eastwood would make a career out of either one of them. If he didn't respond to Wittgenstein, he would just set him aside and not even add some other dumb Hollywood remark like "A man's got a right to his opinion." That's what makes him so special. He would simply say Heidegger yes, Wittgenstein no and go on about his business. If, at some later date, he came around to Wittgenstein's way of thinking, back he goes to the library. No ad in Variety either, just a quiet trip to the stacks.

I don't know the circumstances of Eastwood's personal life, but I don't think sex is all that important to him, even though they reflexively throw a scene or two into each of his pictures. I can't help but feel that he just goes through the motions—and not because he once got hurt and it was traumatic for him. There just wasn't ever that much to it for him. Oh, he'll do it, let a woman use him, maybe even throw in an animal cry or two. He has a great body and he's probably the cleanest one out there—not just that manly kind of clean, but the kind you have to have a lot of soap for. So he'll let himself be used, but the woman, if she has any intelligence, will see that there's a part of him she hasn't touched. (Unless it's an Asian woman—an Asian woman would definitely have an edge.) And she would be right. Maybe he would even like to be touched, but he doesn't know how to make this happen. That's what he's looking for in Heidegger and with all those acres out there, a way to be touched, even though he senses in some Kierkegaardian way that it's not in the cards for him and he'll probably go right on through that way. Never being touched. He just doesn't play those mythic fellows who suddenly loom out of nowhere with a murky past. He is one. And one thing those mythic fellows don't do is get touched.

That's where I give the Italians credit. They took one look at him, they saw mythic, and they grabbed it. And incidentally, I hope he has the good sense to stay with mythic. The second I saw him turn up as an art professor in The Eiger Sanction, I knew he was in big trouble. Not that he can't make just about anything mythic. (Witness the otherworldly dimension he single-handedly got into Play Misty for Me. He was a disc jockey and he still got mythic in there.) But that one time, in The Eiger Sanction, he put too big a burden on himself. They couldn't even make the mountain mythic, so what did they expect from an actor who is more or less flesh and blood? (He didn't give up on that one, either, incidentally. He was mythic in fits and starts, and then he finally got disgusted.) In any case, I wish he'd stick with straight mythic and not try to broaden himself (on screen, that is). Let Al Pacino broaden himself. I'd love to see him just continue riding into Lagos out of some primordial past, go around doing mythic things, and get the hell out of there with the whistling sound. In other words, broaden himself within mythic. Pacino wants to play Beethoven, that's his business. Let Eastwood keep on refining mythic, although how on God's earth he's going to refine what he did in High Plains Drifter is a question I'd rather not have to answer.

Which brings me to another question, one that's been crying out to be asked since I got into this. The Duke or Eastwood? In a fight, forget it. A good big man against a good little man. Sugar Ray versus Ali. The Duke with those big, good-natured ham hands would eventually win. Eastwood would hit him with some vicious, nasty, small man's punches and the Duke probably wouldn't even feel most of them. It's as if they'd be coming from one of his spitfires. And the ones he did feel, he'd fall back, shake the grogginess out of his head, rub his slightly stubbled cheek, say "I'll be darned"—and then he'd start using the good-natured hands and that would be all she wrote. The end of Eastwood. Or would it? Let's not get too cocky on this point, either us or the Duke. Because this is where I'd like to introduce a thought, something for the Duke to ponder. All along, we've been presupposing a fair fight. One of those saloon things where people get thrown over bars and the mirror breaks. What the Duke has to realize is that Eastwood has spent a lot of time abroad. And he just might come up with something crazy. Something the Duke has never seen. Something they didn't do in Laredo. Something out of Naples. Eastwood doesn't fight American, doesn't see any reason to. He'll pull the Duke's ear off. What would the Duke do then? Probably mumble something about gooks and walk off the set. Or for argument's sake, let's say Eastwood didn't pull the Duke's ear off. What if he pulled something metaphysical, something no one ever tried on the Duke? All of a sudden the Duke would be punching thin air. He'd have to stop after a while and ask a rancher, "Listen, neighbor, wasn't I just fighting a tough little skinny fellow or was it my imagination?" With all of this, I'd still probably bet on the Duke because of his good-natured ham hands and the Iwo. But there'd always be the possibility of an upset, particularly if Eastwood was cornered and went over to the metaphysical.

As to whose company I'd enjoy the most, however, no contest. Eastwood all the way. Well, maybe not all the way. If we're talking about enjoyment, how can you casually dismiss the Duke? Most of that American stuff is good PR, and although I'm sure certain friends of mine will accuse me of falling into the old Eichmann-was-a-great-guy-away-from-the-compound trap, I think the Duke would be fun to hang around with. He's simplistic, sure, but fun simplistic. Alright, charming simplistic. And in hanging around with Wayne, you'd be able to find him. There wouldn't be that part of him you couldn't touch. You could touch all of him, and of course, right there is where you run into your problem. He's too available. I can just hear myself saying, "For crying out loud, Duke, could you be a little elusive for a change?"

What you would want, of course, is to have the Duke and Eastwood as a team, but of course that's impossible. It might be alright with Wayne to have Eastwood as a sidekick, albeit one he would have to keep an eye on at all times. But one thing you can bet on is Eastwood's no sidekick. Not that he's beyond entertaining the thought on some metaphysical level. I haven't the slightest doubt that he would comprehend my sidekick theory of literature (one I hope to get around to doing some day for the Partisan Review) which sets out to demonstrate that sidekicks (Maggio, Ratso Rizzo, that guy in The Ginger Man) are much deeper, richer than main characters because there was less pressure on the author when he thought them up. They were written relaxed. Like throwaway lines, which any stand-up comic will tell you are always funnier than the ones everybody slaves over. Eastwood understands all this, and he would probably go for the sidekick thing on a metaphysical level, but even he has to live in the real world—so the sidekick thing is out, if only on the basis of career stuff and the percentage of the gross, which he needs as much as the next man. I don't see any reason to hold that against him. If there has to be a sidekick, let Wayne be the one. Or else drop the whole thing.

So on the basis of company alone, I'd go with Eastwood and it would always come back to that remote thing of his. That alienated thing that Beckett and Ionesco are supposed to have a lock on. For awhile, Antonioni had a lock on it, too, but I understand he's not so alienated these days. The point is, you're allowed to say Pinter and alienated all you want. You practically get a trip to Jamaica out of it. But mention Eastwood and alienated in the same breath and they look at you like you're an idiot. And are they wrong! As far as I'm concerned, he's more alienated than the whole pack of them. I think he's as every bit as alienated as Beckett himself; what do you think of that?

I think it's only fair to point out that I fell in love with Stockholm, too, and found it a relief after Italy, where everyone was showering me with love. They don't blow kisses in Stockholm and, Lord knows, Eastwood doesn't. What he does is hold himself out of reach; and if you ever did get to him, sitting around with him on those acres, it would be on some high windy metaphysical plain, which as far as I'm concerned, is the only way you'd ever want to reach someone. That's what it's all about, and if it isn't, I might as well cash in my chips right now. We all might as well cash in our chips. It's a long shot, but I have a feeling I'd have a shot at reaching him up there on that plain. It certainly would be worth striving for. If you must know, I believe Clint Eastwood's remote, alienated style is a goddammed metaphor for our time. Which is why I salute him—as a man, as an artist, as a professional (and I understand he's an outrageous stickler for detail on the set, even though the net effect emerges as being casual), and as a complex human being.

Copyright notice: Excerpted from pages 49-53 of Even the Rhinos Were Nymphos: Best Nonfiction by Bruce Jay Friedman, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©2000 by Bruce Jay Friedman. Originally published in Esquire September, 1976. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of Bruce Jay Friedman.

Bruce Jay Friedman
Even the Rhinos Were Nymphos: Best Nonfiction
Cloth $25.00 ISBN: 0-226-26350-9
©2000, 246 pages

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