Surely, few listening to the radio back then would have imagined that, 50-odd years later, the Four Seasons' pint-sized frontman, Frankie Valli, would still be selling out arenas with his vibrating falsetto. Fewer still would have wagered that Eastwood, then in his fourth season as Rowdy Yates on CBS' "Rawhide," would not only go on to become one of Hollywood's most iconic leading men, but one of its most lauded director-producers, with four Oscars to his name and a feverish pace of work that, at age 84, rivals the 80-year-old Valli's own.
Jersey Boys," the long-gestating screen version of the hit Broadway musical about Valli's rocky road to superstardom.
(Platon for Variety)
Indeed, while the recording of "Rowdy" didn't exactly set the airwaves ablaze or prompt Eastwood to quit his day job, it's been one of the defining contradictions of his career that his large hands are as comfortable tickling the ivories as they are grasping the trigger of the "world's most powerful handgun." Long before embarking on "Jersey Boys," Eastwood directed two other music-centric narrative films, the 1982 country-Western tearjerker "Honkytonk Man" (in which he also sang and played guitar) and the acclaimed Charlie Parker biopic "Bird" (1988), as well as a documentary, "Piano Blues," for the PBS series "Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues." And starting with "Mystic River" in 2003, he has composed the original scores for nearly all of his films, frequently in partnership with his musician son, Kyle.
"My dad was a singer," Eastwood recalls of his steelworker father, Clinton Eastwood Sr. "He had a group during the Depression, and they'd play parties and little clubs. When I was a kid, I played piano. I started imitating records that were popular at the time." By the time he was a teenager, Eastwood Jr. was playing at various Bay Area watering holes, where he discovered that carrying a tune was a handy shortcut to free pizza and beer -- and not a bad way to meet girls, either.
The script for "Jersey Boys" showed up on the doorstep of Eastwood's Malpaso Prods. during an atypical lull: a three-year stretch, following 2011's "J. Edgar," in which the filmmaker was absent from the director's chair (his longest gap between directing projects since 1980).
Not that he was taking it easy, exactly: He produced and starred alongside Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake in the 2012 baseball drama "Trouble With the Curve," directed by his longtime producing partner, Rob Lorenz; and made a controversial appearance at that year's Republican National Convention that struck many as a strange kind of performance art piece, when he recited an in-absentia complaint letter to President Obama, who was represented onstage by an empty chair.
"Yeah, I was surprised," Eastwood says in his typically unflappable way about the media scrutiny that followed his speech. Waiting in the wings at the Tampa Convention Center, he says he began to bristle at the parade of other speakers showering GOP nominee Mitt Romney with sound-alike bon mots. "I thought, 'I've got to come up with something different.' So I just started working on it backstage. Then they were calling my name, and I said, 'Just give me a chair.' Some people loved it."
Eastwood also had spent two years prepping a remake of "A Star Is Born," a project that became mired in endless delays and false starts. So he was eager to get back behind the camera when a call came from Oscar-winning producer Graham King, who had won the "Jersey Boys" film rights in a competitive 2010 bidding war, and was just as keen to finally get into production.
Having first set "Jersey Boys" up at Sony, King had moved the project to Warner Bros. in 2012, and soon attached Jon Favreau to direct. Filming was set to begin in January 2013 for a Christmas release, but mere weeks after announcing the project, and with casting under way, Warners put "Jersey Boys" into turnaround (allegedly over budgetary disputes and concerns about the film's foreign box office appeal) and King was back to square one. That's when Eastwood's phone rang.
"Graham King said, 'We'd like you to do 'Jersey Boys,'â " and I said, 'OK, I'll look at it.' They sent over a script -- it was OK, by a good writer, John Logan, but it was missing a lot of things, and I said we'd need to sit down and do a rewrite."
But Eastwood was compelled by Valli's underdog rise from a kid Newark's mean streets to pop icon, and he asked Warner's then-movie chief, Jeff Robinov, to reconsider the picture. After all, Eastwood says as though it were perfectly obvious, "Where else do you get a project that's been road-tested for a decade?"
(Platon for Variety)