Who was Sondra Locke?
Sondra Locke, born Sandra Louise Smith, was an American actress and director. She was best known for her roles opposite Clint Eastwood in hit movies, including ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales,’ ‘The Gauntlet,’ ‘Every Which Way But Loose,’ among others. Born and raised in Tennessee, US, she made her film debut with Warner Bros. ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,’ which won her Academy Award nomination. Before commencing her film career, she had married (reportedly gay) sculptor Gordon Anderson, but the marriage was not consummated. She first appeared opposite Clint Eastwood in ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’ and they proved a popular onscreen pair with a number of successful films together. In personal life, too, the two had a live-in relationship. Locke later turned towards direction and helmed several films, such as ‘Ratboy,’ ‘Impulse,’ ‘Trading Favors.’ Her relationship with Eastwood ended bitterly with Locke filing Palimony and fraud cases against him.
Childhood & Early Life
Sondra Locke was born on May 28, 1947, in Shelbyville, Tennessee, (some references report her birth year as 1944 and the birth place as Madison, Alabama.) to Raymond Smith, a military man and Pauline Bayne, a pencil factory worker from Huntsville, Alabama. Her parents had already separated before her birth. She has a half-brother, Donald (from her mother’s brief marriage to W. B. Elkins). Later her mother married a local construction company owner, Alfred Locke, and the two siblings adapted his name.
Locke studied at ‘Shelbyville Central Senior High School.’ She was a class valedictorian during her junior and senior high years; she was also a cheerleader in her school. When she graduated in 1962, her classmates voted her the ‘Duchess of Studiousness.’
She joined the ‘Middle Tennessee State University’ to study drama, but did not complete her graduation. She performed in several stage productions for ‘Circle Players, Inc.’ where she met sculptor Gordon Anderson, and they became close friends.
Locke moved to Nashville, where she lived for nearly 3 years and worked for ‘WSM-TV’ and also did modeling for the fashion page of ‘The Tennessean.’
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In 1967, she moved to New York in pursuit of a career in acting and participated in a nationwide talent search by ‘Warner Bros.’ Locke got the role of ‘Mick Kelly’ in ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,’ which was based on Carson McCullers’ famous novel. The film released in 1968 and received critical acclaim, and won her ‘Academy Award’ nomination and two ‘Golden Globe’ nominations for ‘Best Supporting Actress’ and ‘Most Promising Newcomer.’
In spite of an impressive debut and accolades, Locke did not receive significant film offers in the immediate years. She portrayed ‘Mellise’ in the 1970s ‘Cover Me Babe,’ and also appeared in a psychological thriller, ‘Willard’ (1971), which proved a commercial success. Her next movies were ‘A Reflection of Fear’ (1972), and ‘The Second Coming of Suzanne’ (1974).
During this period, she also made guest appearances in TV series, including ‘The F.B.I.,’ ‘Cannon,’ ‘Kung Fu,’ and ‘Barnaby Jones.’ Locke worked with Norman Lloyd in ‘Night Gallery’ (episode: ‘A Feast of Blood’) (1972) and ‘Gondola’ (1973).
In 1975, she got a chance to play a small romantic role opposite Clint Eastwood in ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales.’ This changed her professional as well as personal life. The two played lead roles together in a number of successful movies. Eastwood and Locke were involved in a romantic relationship from 1975 to 1989 and during this period, Locke worked only with Eastwood, except for the 1977 film, ‘The Shadow of Chikara,’ and another film, ‘Death Game,’ filmed in 1974, but released later.
In ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales,’ she plays a pioneer woman who is rescued by a man, played by Eastwood, who is seeking revenge for the murder of his family. Next, she played the lead role of foul-mouthed prostitute to Eastwood’s down-and-out cop in ‘The Gauntlet’ (1977). The film did not received good reviews but proved a commercial success.
In the 1978 off-beat adventure comedy film, ‘Every Which Way But Loose,’ she played a country singer, ‘Lynn Halsey-Taylor. It became the second highest grossing film of that year. Its sequel, ‘Any which Way You can,’ was released in 1980, and this too proved successful. Locke recorded a number of songs for the soundtracks of these films.
In the 1980 film, ‘Bronco Billy,’ she portrayed a harsh and unfriendly heiress. This film wasn’t as successful as her other movies. Her last movie with Eastwood was the 1983 released ‘Sudden Impact,’ in which Locke essayed a victim of gang-rape, who methodically kills her rapists and takes her revenge. This was the fourth and highest earning film of the ‘Dirty Harry’ franchise.
Rosemary Clooney personally asked Locke to star in her biopic. She portrayed Rosemary in the 1982 ‘CBS’ film, ‘Rosie: The Rosemary Clooney Story.’
Locke made her directorial debut in 1986 with ‘Ratboy,’ a film about a boy who is half rat. The film was produced by Eastwood’s company, ‘Malpaso,’ and was appreciated more in Europe than in the US. Next, she directed ‘Impulse,’ which starred Theresa Russell. Her next projects included a TV film, ‘Death in Small Doses,’ (1995) and an indie film, ‘Trading Favor,’ (1997). In 1999, Locke appeared in small roles in direct-to-video films, ‘The Prophet’s Game,’ and ‘Clean and Narrow.’
On September 25, 1967, she married sculptor Gordon Leigh Anderson (who is reportedly gay); the marriage was more of an unconventional expression of their lasting friendship. Later, she was involved in a 13-year-long live-in relationship with Clint Eastwood. In her autobiography, ‘The Good, The Bad, and The Very Ugly – A Hollywood Journey,’ published in 1997, she wrote that she had 2 abortions during the 1970s and later had a tubal ligation done and Eastwood was responsible for these decisions. (During the 1980s, he sired two children from another mistress). In 1989, he moved all her possessions and changed the locks on their Bel-Air home. Locke filed a ‘Palimony’ suit against him and after fighting for 1 year, she settled for a film development/directing contract with ‘Warner Bros.’ Later in 1999, she again filed a suit for fraud, alleging that the deal was bogus (as the Warner Bros. never used her as director and rejected all her 30 proposed projects.) and the case was tried in 1996. She, however, agreed to an ‘out-of-court settlement’ for an undisclosed amount.
In 1990, she underwent double mastectomy and chemotherapy for breast cancer. From 1991, Locke dated and then cohabited with her surgeon, Scott Cunneen, who was 17 years her junior. Later, the two separated.
Sondra Locke died on November 3, 2018 from a cardiac arrest related to metastatic breast cancer.