Sondra Locke has died. She was a director and Oscar-nominated actress, but by The Hollywood Reporter’s account, she was just Clint Eastwood’s money-grubbing ex-girlfriend.
On Thursday, THR ran an obituary for Locke, originally headlined “Actress Sondra Locke, Embittered Ex of Clint Eastwood, Dies at 74.”
The publication changed the headline, but the obituary itself is a bizarre framing of her life. It begins with acknowledging Locke’s Oscar-nominated performance for her role in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, and how she acted frequently in Eastwood’s films after they became a couple in the 1970s. But in recounting her early childhood, there is also the inexplicable mention that “Born on May 28, 1944, Locke never knew her father,” as if that’s pertinent information. And when it comes to outlining Locke’s highly public lawsuit against Eastwood (a palimony lawsuit in 1989, which led to a $1.5 million settlement and an unfulfilled “bogus” contract to direct films with Warner Bros., plus filing a lawsuit against Eastwood for fraud in 1995) THR is missing crucial context.
Locke and Eastwood’s relationship, which she detailed in her memoir The Good, the Bad and the Very Ugly, was undoubtedly abusive. In addition to saying she discovered Eastwood had been paying for her Warner Bros. deal on the promise that she not be given any work, Locke also testified in her palimony lawsuit that Eastwood had made her have not just two abortions but sterilization surgery. Locke said at the time that she suffered “humiliation, mental anguish… severe emotional and physical distress and…mental and physical harm” during their relationship. In the 1989 lawsuit, Locke barred him from a Bel-Air house she said was a gift from Eastwood “because I know him to have a terrible temper . . . and he has frequently been abusive to me.”
But THR chooses to frame Locke and Eastwood’s relationship, as many publications did in the 1980s, as one of scandal (it was sure to point out that she called Eastwood “daddy.”) The obituary coolly mentions that Locke had “two abortions and a sterilization operation known as a tubal ligation during her time with Eastwood” but doesn’t mention the fact that she says Eastwood made her have those procedures (an allegation he has denied.) It frames her lawsuits against Eastwood as the original title of the obituary intended, as the pushback of a money-seeking “embittered ex,” noting that Locke said she didn’t have to worry about working after earning the settlement, and not someone who was fighting her way back into a studio system she says she was pushed out of. Locke only directed four films, two of which were released by Eastwood’s studio Warner Bros. around the time she was suing him. And you have to wonder what could have come of her career if it weren’t for the alleged bogus deal Eastwood set up with her or their legal disputes constantly overshadowing her attempt at a directing career.
Sondra Locke’s death should be a chance to look back on her life and recognize, in 2018, all that the press missed, and what we still miss when we cover the lives of women overshadowed by powerful men. The press in the 1980s and ’90s chose to frame her relationship with Eastwood not as an abuse of power, but gossipy tabloid fare, with her at fault for the destruction of her career. And considering The Hollywood Reporter’s account of her life, it’s clear that we haven’t moved beyond that framing.