Former lover casts Eastwood as villain in $2m fraud suit

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The Independent Online
In The First Wives Club, which opened in American theatres this week, three comediennes on the plus side of 50 - Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, and Bette Midler - delight in roles as scorned women past their prime who take their cheating husbands to the cleaners.

A different version of this tale is playing in a courtroom in Burbank, California. Sondra Locke, long-time co-star and main squeeze to Clint Eastwood, has cast herself as a typical victim of the alleged Hollywood practice of giving a cold shoulder to actresses of a certain age.

At 48, Locke is suing Eastwood, her partner of 13 years, for $2m (pounds 1.3m). She claims the 66-year-old actor, in stark contrast to his usual role of silent knight with a six-gun, persuaded Warner Brothers to offer her a fake directing deal, in ascheme to detach himself from the middle-aged Locke with the minimum financial pain.

"Women in Hollywood are marketable for a very short period of time," she told the jury.

She is suing Eastwood for fraud, interfering with her ability to earn a living, and breaching his financial duty.

The couple, by all accounts, met and fell in love in 1975. In the western classic The Outlaw Josey Wales, Locke played the waifish type favoured by cowboys, and went on to star in five other Eastwood films. But in 1989, there was a bitter public break up.

As Eastwood's chosen co-star, Locke had enjoyed what she called a perfect life with a man she called "my Prince Charming". The couple shared houses in Carmel, where Eastwood served as mayor, and in the celebrity retreat of Sun Valley, Idaho. In 1986, under his wing, she got her chance at directing at Warner - making Ratboy, the tale of an alien rodent.

Eastwood went on to father a child by Frances Fisher, with whom he acted in Unforgiven, the 1992 film in which he starred and for which he won two Oscars, for Best Picture and Best Director. Eastwood's new wife, a 30-year-old TV anchorwoman, is expecting her first child. Other recent film successes include In the Line of Fire.

Locke, by contrast, has sunk rapidly into obscurity. Eastwood insisted on the witness stand this week that he was doing her a favour when he persuaded Warner to give her a directing "development" deal worth $1.5m. Only after four years, and after 30 projects which she proposed were rejected, she says, did she discover Eastwood had financed the arrangement with his profits from Unforgiven. It was a humiliating sham, she maintains, which persuaded her to settle her earlier palimony suit just as she was recovering from a double mastectomy.

Eastwood admits he covered Warner's costs. But he says he made a bona fide effort to persuade Warner of Locke's talents, citing her "noble efforts" with Ratboy. Locke, by contrast, says he knew the deal would pigeonhole her as an inconvenient "ex" and run her career into a dead end. Eastwood, departing on the witness stand from his usual laconic self, insisted he acted like a gentleman. "I never intended to defraud anyone," he said. "It just doesn't make any sense ... it sounds like something out of a dime novel."

The trial continues.