Clint Eastwood: A Ramblin’ Guy By Ben Fong-Torres

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Tuesday, 18 September 2012.

Clint Eastwood: A Ramblin’ Guy 
by Ben Fong-Torres

All right, all together now, with Neil Diamond in mind:

"I am," I said, to no one there
And no one heard at all, not even the chair
"I am," I cried. "I am," said I
And I am lost, and I can't even say why
Leavin' me lonely still

Well, Clint Eastwood must’ve felt pretty lost and lonely after his debacle of a speech at the Republican convention. Here he’d turned his back on the Democratic Party by attacking President Obama – or at least his imagination of Obama, represented by the now infamous empty chair on stage, with which Eastwood conducted a one-to-none conversation. But he’d done Mitt Romney and the GOP no favors by screwing up the convention’s rigid time line, looking slightly disheveled and rambling for 12 minutes when he’d been given five, delaying Romney’s big moment. And, in line with previous convention speakers, Eastwood issued statements that either were inaccurate or did no service to the anointed candidate.

Among his missteps: He chastised Obama for his timeline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.  But Romney himself has endorsed that strategy. Eastwood wondered whether it was a good idea to have attorneys (like Obama, a Harvard Law School grad) to be in the White House.


Backstage, Romney probably wasn’t wondering, since he also holds a degree from Harvard Law School.

That’s how it went. Eastwood threw off the schedule, then grabbed most of the headlines, for all the wrong reasons, after a night that was meant to spotlight Romney’s acceptance of his party’s nomination for the presidency.

It was a sad fall from grace for a classy, talented actor and director; an American icon. The media had a field day, or two, making fun and puns out of the affair (“The Old Man and the Seat,” a headline read on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show).

I prefer to remember him as the charming guy Dianne and I met in Carmel, California, where he once served as mayor. This was in 1987, when I was doing an article about that scenic seaside village for Travel & Leisure magazine.

That was, amazingly enough, 25 years ago. So much has changed. And not all for the better.

Mural, mural on the wall: Bill Weber,the San Francisco muralist responsible for the famed “Jazz Mural” at the corner of Broadway and Columbus in North Beach, is finishing up a new one.

Haight-Ashbury mural in San Francisco by artist Bill Weber 615x251Haight-Ashbury mural in San Francisco is being painted by artist Bill Weber. Ben Fong-Torres is painted by Weber on the Clayton Street side by Joan Baez.It’s an homage to the Haight-Ashbury and the Summer of Love, with two massive paintings meeting at the corner of Haight and Clayton, above the Burger Urge. (That was one of our urges back in the ‘60s, as I recall.) Weber, along with Arianna, his wife and sous painter, are at work, on scaffolds, as I write, painting the likenesses of Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin, and George Harrison and Patti Boyd (who famously visited the neighborhood in 1967) for the Haight Street panel. Here’s his mockup of it.

Bill and Arianna have already completed most of the Clayton Street mural, which will include Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary and…me. Here I am, loitering near Baez.

mural w_me_and_Rita_copy(LtoR) Haight-Ashbury Mural (part) in San Francisco by artist Bill Weber of Margarita 'Rita' Chan, Ben Fong-Torres, Joan BaezIf you’re asking “Why?” I’m with you. But I’m honored – and awed.  Weber’s other works, which can be enjoyed around town, and beyond (a realistic painting of the Taj Mahal is in Indio, Calif.), endure. (You can see examples at The “Jazz Mural,” which pictures Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, and local luminaries like Emperor Norton, columnist Herb Caen and several former S.F. mayors, was created in 1987.  That’s a long time to be up against a wall.

Fortunately, I am not alone. In fact, I learned that I was included mainly because of a long-ago friend, Rita Guzman, who I knew in the late ‘60s as Margarita Chan, a neighbor who I enlisted, in 1969, to attend my sister’s wedding with me, so that I could show up with a fellow Chinese American, thus not pissing off my parents and ruining the ceremony. I am forever grateful to Rita, but, nonetheless, fell out of touch with her for decades, until a few months ago, when we found each other online.

Rita, it turns out, is a friend of the muralist, Weber, and he was including her in the Haight-Ashbury piece. She told him that he should add me, and probably fed him some gibberish about my being part of the Summer of Love. Whatever she said, it worked, and there I am. At least until I start to fade…

As for Ms. Guzman: In the montage above, she’s the young woman up front, looking out onto the street. Lovely Rita…