The Candy Clark Interview:
American Graffiti, David Bowie and more!
by Lee Sobel (10/28/30)
"Did anybody ever tell you you look just like Connie Stevens?"
So says Terry the Toad played by Charles Martin Smith as he beckons sexy blonde Debbie Dunham (Candy Clark) over to his car in George Lucas' classic movie American Graffiti (1973). The entire movie is set on the last night of summer vacation in 1962 and its soundtrack, wall-to-wall oldies, inspired a huge 50's revival from Happy Days to The Stray Cats. The movie was made for less than $800,000 and made $140 million at the
box office, making it possible for Lucas to then make Star Wars. The rest is history.
Born Candace June Clark on June 20, 1947, Candy Clark made her debut for legendary director John Huston in the movie Fat City (1972). One year later, she became a hot commodity in Hollywood after the huge success of American Graffiti. In 1976 she starred in another classic movie, The Man Who Fell To Earth with David Bowie. Other movies she has appeared in include Jonathan Demme's Citizen Band with her American Graffiti co-star Paul LeMat (1977); The Big Sleep with Robert Mitchum (1978); More American Graffiti (1979); the cult film Q directed by Larry Cohen (1982) and many, many others.
Lee Sobel: You were born in Oklahoma but grew up in Fort Worth, Texas. Did anything in your childhood lead up to you becoming an actress?
Candy Clark: No, nothing in my childhood led up to my becoming an actress. It wasn't anything I thought about. I wasn't in any theater classes or plays at school. I was actually kind of timid and shy. The last thing I would want to do would be to get in front of people. When we had to do our book reports in front of the class it was very difficult
for me. I would just be blushing and not remember what I was supposed to say. I was introverted back then. But I came
out of it. I had to get away from Texas. I moved to New York and got into modeling and that drew me out. Being around photographers and other people brought out my personality. The modeling segued into extra work and that segued into auditioning for movies.
Lee Sobel: How did you get to L.A. to make movies? Your first movie was Fat City directed by the legendary John Huston.
Candy Clark: I went into Lynn Stalmaster's casting office to see someone who had given me an extra job in the movie Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? (1971). I was in a crowd scene with about a hundred extras. I really loved it. I liked seeing famous people and eating off the craft services table, and hanging out and talking to the other extras. So I went to the casting person and gave them my picture and I said, "I'd like to do more extra work." At that moment there was a big-time casting director named Fred Roos standing next to the person I gave my picture to. Fred Roos said to me, "Would you like to come with me and watch them cast The Godfather?" Back
then it was kind of a free-wheelin' time, people were hitchhiking and not as uptight. So we went out to watch them cast The Godfather and I met Francis Coppola. Things just kind of fell into place. It wasn't anything I was pursuing or even thinking about. Fred Roos was not local to New York. He was a big shot casting person in L.A. He had my phone number and he kept
Above: American Graffiti with Charles Martin Smith.
Below: Fat City with Jeff Bridges
insisting that I come to California and try out for this part in a movie called Fat City. I didn't want to do it. I just wanted to stay an extra but he convinced me. I had all these long scenes that I had to memorize and I had no idea how to do that. I wasn't a good student in school. When I auditioned I literally read the scene because I hadn't memorized it in the least. John Huston was there, Fred Roos, and some casting assistants. After I read, I went to the elevator and I couldn't wait to get out of there. Fred Roos came running up to me and said, "They want you to come back and do a screen test." I said, "No, I just want to be an extra." I fought it all the way but the next thing I knew I was staying at the Chateau Marmont and I memorized the scene, went to a soundstage, and did a screen test opposite Jeff Bridges. There were two others actresses there: Jennifer Salt and Margot Kidder. Jeff and I hit it off. It was kind of like love at first sight. I got the part. Jeff thought, she'll be my girlfriend and we'll have a good time when we make the movie in Stockton, California. I loved Stockton and we shot the movie there over a couple of months. Jeff Bridges and I ended up being together for about four years.
Lee Sobel: That's an incredible story. What was John Huston like?
Candy Clark: I didn't know his work. I wasn't a movie buff. But I was very impressed with him. I realized as we went along what a giant he was in the directing world. He was very friendly and elegant, very
handsome and dressed really well: suits and capes and Sherlock Holmes hats and everything matching. He and Ray Stark really loved each other. They would have little gatherings with all of the actors and dinners on the weekends, so we got to know each other really well. We had a very good working relationship and it was a lot of fun.
Lee Sobel: Being that you were shy, did you go to dailies or watch yourself on screen when the movies came out? How did you feel about seeing yourself on screen?
Candy Clark: I wasn't that happy with my performance. But what can you do? It's printed, it's there and it's kind of forever.
With David Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth
Lee Sobel: In 1973 you played Debbie Dunham in George Lucas' American Graffiti. I heard that Cindy Williams originally wanted your role. Do you remember the process of auditioning and getting cast in the movie?
Candy Clark: I went and met with George along with hundreds of other people because there were many, many parts to fill in the movie. Lo and behold they wanted me to do a screen test which was shooting at Haskell Wexler's commercial shooting house which was called Dove Films. We were doing that pickup scene where Toad tells me I look like Connie Stevens. There was just a park bench that was supposed to be the car and I did the scene with Charlie and I didn't think I was going to get it because I was never very good at auditions. Not long after that, my manager Pat McQueeny got the phone call that I got the part.
Lee Sobel: What was shooting the movie like?
Candy Clark: We shot in the Bay Area. We were based in San Rafael, California. We wound up shooting the movie in Petaluma, CA. Charlie and I drove up in my Volkswagen but the car had broken down in Santa Barbara and we got there
Above: The Big Sleep
really late. When I got to San Francisco to the offices and wardrobe, everybody was waiting for us. It was before cell phones and we didn't get there until midnight and they said I had to do wardrobe right away. They had about three or four spaghetti strap dresses for me to try on that they had gotten from a second hand store. I tried on that blue and white striped one that I wore in the movie and it fit perfectly and they didn't have to alter it at all.
Lee Sobel: Debbie is such a badass. How much did you love playing that part?
Candy Clark: I thought it was the best part in the movie and I identified with the
character because that's exactly what we did in Texas -- smoked cigarettes, looked for parties, drink liquor. That's what the kids were doing in Fort Worth so it wasn't much of a stretch.
Lee Sobel: The 50's hadn't really been revived yet and the movie had a lot to do with that, inspiring Happy Days and later rockabilly revivalists like The Stray Cats. It being the time of Watergate and just after the 60's, did it seem weird to recreate the 50's when you made American Graffiti, shot in 1972?
As Debbie in American Graffiti
More American Graffiti
Candy Clark: The music and fashion had changed so much by 1972 with bands like Creem and The Rolling Stones but it was only ten years later and it was fun and the movie was such a success with such a huge viewing audience that it wasn't a surprise that other producers jumped on the bandwagon when they realized the 50s was something people liked. The script was so good that I felt right away it was going to be a smash hit. Once I saw it with the music and Wolfman Jack, I just loved it. We're in the 100 top films of all time by the American Film Institute, up there with The Wizard of Oz and Gone With The Wind. It's a great honor.
Lee Sobel: The movie was pretty low-budget and was shot at night. What were shooting conditions like?
Candy Clark: The shooting conditions were pretty spartan. There were no chairs so if you wanted to sit down you either had to sit in a car or sit on a curb somewhere or lean up against a building. The dressing room and the makeup trailer were the same so when I was getting the makeup put on and my wig there were lots of clothes hanging all over the place. It was a low budget film but it didn't feel that way, and we were all young and we didn't know any different. We were brought to location and would shoot from 6pm and would finish around 6am. It was very chilly because it was the Bay Area and it would get very foggy and breezy and damp. Charlie and I had to act like it was the middle of a hot summer night. There were a few challenges.
Lee Sobel: Did the cast hang out when you weren't shooting?
Candy Clark: Yeah, we were all at the same hotel. If we weren't working we'd have lunch together. We all took over the Holiday Inn.
Lee Sobel: What was it like working with George Lucas?
Candy Clark: There was a guy working on the movie named Geno Havens and if you were working you'd meet in his room and run the dialogue until we had it memorized and then we'd get picked up and brought to the location. We quickly realized there weren't going to a lot of takes. One or two and then George would move on. The whole movie was shot in 28 nights so there was limited time to get it done so we just plugged away at it. George was working day and night. He'd be editing by day and shooting at night so he got to be pretty exhausted.
In Larry Cohen's Q
In the remake of The Blob
Lee Sobel: You were nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for the movie. When they said your name in the list of nominees the camera was on someone else but then they did put you on camera before the winner was announced (Tatum O'Neal for Paper Moon). What was it like being nominated and what do you remember about that night?
Candy Clark: That was back in the day when there wasn't a lot of advertising or studio help to get a nomination, so I decided to run my own campaign because I thought, why not? So I designed some ads and I ran them in The Hollywood Reporter and Variety every other day for a week or two and lo and behold, it worked. So I got a nomination and
I went to the Academy Awards with Jeff Bridges. We didn't have a studio paying our way. Jeff and I got dressed up and Jeff rented a limousine and we went to the Shrine Auditorium. I noticed we got placed in the second row, but I had a feeling I wasn't going to win. Sylvia Sidney was nominated for a movie she'd made called Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams and I thought sure she would win since she'd been in the business a long time and lo and behold, Tatum O'Neal won for Paper Moon. They had a big banquet at the Governor's Ball and we went over there and had a big meal and it was very exciting.
Lee Sobel: You worked with David Bowie in the movie The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). I understand you didn't really know his music before you work with him.
Candy Clark: It was a professional actor relationship. He had his people with him and his wife was there so we weren't really hanging out after hours that much. He had a house that they had rented for him. I thought he was great in the part. He looked the part. I thought his acting was amazing. What I really liked about him was his willingness to just jump in and be this character and wear the contact lenses. He had a very good work ethic. He liked to run the lines over and over again so we would have it memorized backwards and forwards so it would sound really natural. That movie has become a classic with a big following.
Lee Sobel: In 1978 you made The Big Sleep based on the Raymond Chandler novel starring Robert Mitchum -- what was he like to work with?
Candy Clark: He was great. He liked to entertain us with stories about old Hollywood. He was very approachable, easy-going, nice guy, very handsome.
Lee Sobel: In 1979 you played Debbie a second time in the sequel movie, More American Graffiti - what are your impression and memories of that movie?
Candy Clark: I really wanted to do a sequel and I pitched it to George to see what happened to these characters and George thought it was a good idea and they moved forward with a script. But I was thinking more like the next night, or soon after the events in the first movie. What they did instead was to do New Year's Eve but on different years, so we weren't all together. I think what they did was more complicated and I think the fans really just wanted more of what we had done before and just pick up a week later or whatever.
Lee Sobel: You were in the movie Q in 1982 with Michael Moriarty and directed by Larry Cohen. What are your memories of that film?
Candy Clark: Michael Moriarty is such a good actor and did a great job with that crazed character. I played his girlfriend. The movie was a lot of fun and it was a trip to New York.
For more about Candy Clark's career you can look up her movie credits at: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0163748/?ref_=tt_cl_t6