Actress known for her troubled association with Clint Eastwood

Born: May 28, 1944

Died: November 3, 2018

SONDRA Locke, who has died of cancer aged 74, was the long-time partner and regular co-star of Clint Eastwood in such movies as the classic 1976 western The Outlaw Josey Wales and the 1978 comedy Every Which But Loose.

They made six films together in the 1970s and 1980s, but it ended in tears, in the law courts and in a blaze of publicity after Eastwood ended the relationship in 1989. Locke said the locks were changed on the house she thought had been a gift from Eastwood and she found her belongings dumped outside.

She sued Eastwood for “palimony” and subsequently for fraud. She claimed the deal he set up for her to develop and direct films for Warner Bros was a sham, simply so she would drop the original palimony action. With a jury seemingly poised to find in Locke’s favour, the two sides finally agreed a last-minute settlement in 1996.

Eastwood dismissed the whole thing as “a dime-novel plot”. The details of the settlement were confidential, but Eastwood’s lawyer said: “It allows both parties to end the war and get on with their lives.” Locke told reporters: “I don’t have to worry about working” – which is probably just as well.

Locke enjoyed some success before teaming up with Eastwood – securing an Oscar nomination for her film debut as a troubled teen who befriends Alan Arkin’s deaf-mute protagonist in the touching drama The Heart is a Lonely Hunter in 1968. But her career never really picked up again after the split with Eastwood.

She said former friends and powerful Hollywood figures sided with Eastwood and cut her off. “He’s like the emperor,” she said in an interview with the Washington Post in 1997. “If you were in Clint Eastwood movies, you were in the Clint Eastwood movie business. You weren't in the movie business. You weren't part of Hollywood.”

After she and Eastwood split and Warners refused to finance any of her projects, she concluded that she was very definitely not a part of Hollywood and wrote a book The Good, The Bad and the Very Ugly, the title of which was a play on one of Eastwood’s most famous movies and the contents an expose of her troubled relationship with the star.

She said she had two abortions because Eastwood did not want any more children, but later discovered he had secretly fathered two more children with another woman during the latter stages of their time together.

She died at the beginning of November, although her death was only picked up by the American media in the last few days. The death was reported to the authorities by Gordon Anderson, a gay actor and artist to whom Locke had in fact been married for more than 50 years, though she described him as more like a sister than a husband.

She was born Sandra Louise Smith probably in Madison, Alabama, though some sources suggest Tennessee. Her father was in the military, but her parents split up before she was born and she took the surname of her stepfather. She first met Gordon Anderson at school in Tennessee when she was about 11. He was a few years older.

She described herself as a shy and dreamy child. She hit it off with the sensitive older boy and they would re-enact scenes from movies together, with Anderson holding up a mirror so Locke could watch herself in close-up. They won a state drama competition together and Anderson encouraged her to apply for the role of Mick, the tomboy in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

The character is only 14 and Locke was in her twenties by this time, but she was small and fragile-looking, with blonde hair and big blue eyes, and reportedly weighed only about seven stones. She lied about her age at the audition, claiming to be only 17.

Around this time Locke and Anderson married, moving to Los Angeles where she attempted to develop her acting career and he painted portraits to order.

She was the female lead in the classic horror movie Willard (1971), but was working mainly in television when Eastwood cast her in The Outlaw Josey Wales, impressed by the fact that “she didn’t look like she came out of some Hollywood casting session”. She played a young woman rescued from attackers by Eastwood’s eponymous hero.

Eastwood and Locke began a relationship, he set her up in a house and eventually left his wife for her, though it seems Anderson came as part of the package. Richard Schickel in his 1997 biography of Clint Eastwood noted: “At no point in her 14-year relationship with Clint did Locke ever move in permanently with him or totally abandon Anderson.”

After their split, Eastwood told Playboy magazine that her continuing relationship with Anderson had been a problem and described it as unhealthy.

In the meantime Eastwood and Locke went on to make another five movies together – The Gauntlet (1977), Every Which Way But Loose, with orang-utan co-star Clyde, its sequel Every Which Way You Can (1980), Bronco Billy (1980) and the Dirty Harry movie Sudden Impact (1983).

Locke did play singer Rosemary Clooney in a 1982 biopic, but it was one of the few projects she did that did not involve Eastwood. She said producers and directors simply bracketed them together and did not offer her roles.

She also had ambitions as a director. She starred in and directed Ratboy (1986), a drama about a character who is half-man and half-rat. It was made by Eastwood’s Malpaso Productions for Warners, with whom he had an ongoing relationship. It was a commercial and critical flop in the US, but fared better in Europe, especially in France.

She directed three more movies in the 1990s, none of which attracted much attention. After her split from Eastwood, she did very little acting. In the midst of the lawsuits she developed cancer and had a double mastectomy. She had a lead role last year, opposite Keith Carradine, in Alan Rudolph’s romantic drama Ray Meets Helen. It got mixed reviews and has not been released in the UK.