Who was Italy's biggest box office star in the mid-1960s? Well, it may not be who you think it is. A young Clint Eastwood, who had just wrapped up a new season of Rawhide at the time, made a big splash in Italy.
Amazingly, his popularity in Italy was not due to Rawhide. In fact, Eastwood had not been seen on television in Italy yet. His success came from an Italian, German and Spanish film called A Fistful of Dollars.
The film expanded the star's popularity from Rawhide in America, to A Fistful of Dollars in Italy and elsewhere. The film was an American Western shot in Spain, with Eastwood being the only American on the cast.
In a 1964 interview with The Miami Herald, Eastwood said the film cost $250,000 and the film's take from Italy alone was 10 times its cost.
Eastwood said that although he did the part for hardly any money, he enjoyed the script. Plus, what's another Western under the belt going to hurt?
"It's so far out that I guess you could call it a James Bond Western," he said. "I'm supposed to be the hero, but there's only a thin line between me and the heavy."
Eastwood described his character, Joe, as the kind of person who settles all arguments with gunfire and does maybe one good deed in the entire film.
"When I read the script, I told the director and producers that either this picture is the greatest flop of all time, or it's the best Western satire yet," he said. "I played it as satire, a little tounge in cheek. Apparently, we succeeded in Italy, at least. They're sharp audiences."
No matter how A Fistful of Dollars did at the box office, Eastwood said he was glad he redeemed himself with Rawhide.
In a 1965 interview with Delaware County Daily Times, Eastwood described what it was like visiting Italy after the film came out. Which at this point in time, Eastwood was making headlines in newspapers for being Italy's hottest movie star.
"The first time I went to Italy, I just sneaked in," he said. "I had a beard, but, it didn't matter. Nobody knew me anyway. And no one paid me any attention. But this time, I was mobbed. I'd walk down the Via Veneto and people would come up and ask for my autograph. I was wined and dined and treated like a king."
Eastwood said he had to play a second role while filming A Fistful of Dollars in Spain, too.
"I kind of acted as technical advisor," he said. "I had to. The Italians aren't too up on Western customs."
So, remember, if at first you don't succeed in Hollywood, just go to Italy.