Clint Eastwood was born on May 31, 1930, in San Francisco, and grew up during the Great Depression. He attended Oakland Technical High School in addition to Piedmont High School in the East Bay Area. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), the fictional character from Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) was born in Missouri in 1931. The real-life Clint and the fictional Rick didn’t grow up in the same state, but they’re definitely around the same age, and the transformation of their careers from the late ‘50s to late ‘60s appear to take on the same path of evolvement in hauntingly similar ways.
After serving in the Korean War, Clint Eastwood decided to move to Los Angeles to become a working actor. After working several odd jobs and acting in low budget movies like Tarantula (1955) or Ambush at Cimarron Pass (1958), he landed the part of Rowdy Yates on a TV series called Rawhide (1959-1965), a Western that ran on the CBS network for six years. In 1964, Clint Eastwood’s Agent got him the lead role in the Italian Spaghetti Western A Fistful of Dollars (1964), directed by Sergio Leone – which was shot in Spain. Sergio Leone only knew how to speak Italian, and of course Clint Eastwood could only comprehend English. It’s a great mystery how the two managed to communicate with one another; probably with hand gestures, head shakes and nods. This dynamic actor/director duo led to the making of two sequels: For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). These so-called Spaghetti Westerns arrived in the United States in 1967 and drew mixed reactions from audiences and critics alike, but it helped launch Eastwood’s career as a leading man in American movies. Nevertheless, taking into account Rick Dalton’s fictional career in the ‘60s, it’s easy for one to see the resemblance between the two.
As portrayed in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Rick Dalton landed the part of Jake Cahill on a TV series called Bounty Law (1959-1963), a Western that ran on NBC for five years. After he starred in TV movies like Tanner (1965) or The 14 Fists of McCluskey (1966), his Agent Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino) asked him to go to Italy to work on three Spaghetti Westerns directed by Sergio Corbucci – “The 2nd Best Director of Spaghetti Westerns”. The late Corbucci was a real-life Italian filmmaker, most famously known for Django (1966) – an obvious inspiration for Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012). Rick Dalton collaborated with Sergio Corbucci on the pseudo-films Kill Me Quick, Ringo Said the Gringo (1969), Operazione Dyn-O-Mite! (1969) and Nebraska Jim (1969) – the latter is clearly a Tarantino riff on Sergio Corbucci’s Navajo Joe (1966), starring Burt Reynolds about a Native American Warrior seeking revenge. The one-sheet poster for Navajo Joe is almost a duplicate of Comanche Uprising (1961) – another fictional Rick Dalton Western. The legend holds that the late Burt Reynolds and Sergio Corbucci never got along on the set of Joe, and that Reynolds only agreed to do the film because he was under the impression Sergio Leone would be directing – mixing up the Sergio’s. One could argue that the characters of Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) are based on Burt Reynolds and his long-time stunt double Hal Needham – especially since Reynolds was initially cast to portray the character of George Spahn (Bruce Dern) just before he passed-away – but there’s no doubt that Clint Eastwood’s rise to prominence in the late ’60s closely resembles that of Rick Dalton’s.
Taking into consideration how Quentin Tarantino has reportedly admitted that Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is his all-time favorite film, it would behoove cinephiles and movie buffs alike to reconsider the notion that Rick Dalton is the fictional version of Clint Eastwood, more so than Burt Reynolds. This theory could shed light upon the unanswered question posed in the ending of Hollywood about the turn of Rick Dalton’s career, once he’s invited over to Sharon Tate’s (Margot Robbie) house for drinks. Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood helped changed the film industry; it would only make sense that Sergio Corbucci and Rick Dalton did the same thing. Legend has it that Sergio Leone wanted Clint Eastwood to work in his film Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) for the lead role of Harmonica – which ended up being portrayed by Charles Bronson. Taking into account the use of “Once Upon a Time…”, it behooves one to recognize how QT was paying homage to Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West or Once Upon a Time in America (1984), the same way Robert Rodriguez did with Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003).
Eastwood’s collaboration with Leone led to his first American western film Hang ‘Em High (1968), and the relationship he built with director Don Siegal on Coogan’s Bluff (1968) which change the course of his career into stardom with the iconic character of Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry (1971), Magnum Force (1973), The Enforcer (1976), Sudden Impact (1983), and The Dead Pool (1988). One can imagine that Rick Dalton led an action career throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, leading to a successful directing career that would win him an Academy Award at the Oscars, similar to Clint Eastwood with Unforgiven (1992). After the success of Dirty Harry, Clint Eastwood had the liberty to make any picture he wanted with Warner Bros.. He became known for Harry Callahan, in the way that, perhaps, Sean Connery became known for James Bond or Bruce Willis for John McClane.
Suffice it to say, Rick Dalton would have probably starred in Roman Polanski’s Tess (1979, based on the clue of how Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) picks up a copy of Hardy’s “Tess of the d’Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented” in Hollywood to give to her husband, Polanksi. Rick Dalton would have become known for an iconic role like Harry Callahan, and would struggle with being labeled by that identity from the masses, before he would delve into filmmaking and become well-respected and recognized for film directing, with several accolades in the ‘90s and ‘00s, well into the ‘10s and ‘20s of the new millennium. With this theory, Rick Dalton could or would still be alive today, at aged 89 or 90, just like Clint Eastwood.