Saturday, September 14, 2013

The case of the Clint Eastwood cutout and an unknown hombre

Reg Green of La Cañada Flintridge enjoys a brisk early morning hike, and that's what he was doing in the hills behind Descanso Gardens when he came upon an imposing figure standing motionless on the trail. Green, 83, was briefly alarmed, then realized he was looking at a life-size plywood cutout of a man, and not just any man. It was Clint Eastwood in a pose from the movie "A Fistful of Dollars." The rugged cowboy was wearing a poncho and chomping a stogie. "What a great idea this is," Green thought at the time, back in May. "This is really a way of bringing art to the people." A few weeks later, Green hiked the same trail and discovered that a bad hombre had ambushed Clint. "I saw a young man on his knees where the cutout had been," said Green. It was the artist, who was picking up the pieces of his vandalized creation. Justin, a 31-year-old Glassell Park resident, explained how he had done similar cutouts of John Wayne and Gene Autry and then planted them on nearby hills for the amusement of motorists traveling on the 2 Freeway between Eagle Rock and La Cañada. Why? Justin had moved to Los Angeles from Oregon in 2006 and was struck by the region's extremes, with modern urban density so close to barren landscape straight out of an old western movie. "Clint Eastwood, Gene Autry and John Wayne — they're like pillars of this community in a mythical kind of way. They're Hollywood legends and they're also cowboys." When they met on the hill, Green couldn't help but tell Justin why he has such an appreciation of public art. In 1994, Green and his wife and two young children were on vacation, driving in southern Italy when highway robbers gave chase and shot at their car. Green managed to speed away, but his son, 7-year-old Nicholas, had been shot in the head and died two days later. In their despair, Green's wife, Maggie, suggested they donate Nicholas' organs and corneas. In death, Nicholas gave new life to seven Italians, four of them critically ill teenagers. One would later give birth to a boy and name him Nicholas. "It was as though the whole country wanted to put its arms around us," Green said of the response from Italians. In Bodega Bay, where the family lived at the time, a memorial tower was built by a San Francisco sculptor named Bruce Hasson, who told the Greens he had once made bells fashioned from melted firearms. As the story of Nicholas and the memorial tower spread, bells began arriving in Bodega Bay, sent from people in distant lands. The bells, which were hung from the tower on the wind-swept coast, still chime today. One of the bells was blessed by Pope John Paul II after it was manufactured in a foundry used by the Vatican for hundreds of years.

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