Monday, July 6, 2015

CANDY CLARK TELLS ALL...ABOUT AMERICAN GRAFFITI

Photo by Alan Mercer

In my usual quest for finding things related to American Graffiti on the Internet I discovered host, Frank MacKay’s wonderful interview with actress Candy Clark. It took place right before the 40th anniversary of American Graffiti. Now, I've spoke with Candy several times and videotaped the conversation and posted it here and on You Tube but I thought it was nice to get a fresh perspective because each conversation with the wonderful actress can contain little nuggets of trivia that one hasn't heard before as is the case here. Recently, I spent many hours at Starbucks, gulping iced espresso, listening to the interview with my ear buds and transcribing the portions about Candy’s involvement in American Graffiti on my laptops' word processor.  The transcription is not verbatim but it's pretty close.

 MacKay has a radio talk show where he engages America's politicians, entertainers, business leaders and other newsmakers in one-on-one interviews that delve into the past to reveal significant moments in time that defined their success. For more information on Turning Point with Frank MacKay, visit: http://frankmackaymedia.com/

_____________________________________________________________ 

Candy signed this for me a few years ago in Feb 2013

Q: Candace June "Candy" Clark (born June 20, 1947), an American film and television actress, is well known for her role as Debbie Dunham in the film American Graffiti (1973), which gathered her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress nomination. She revisited the role in the sequel More American Graffiti (1979). Candy, you have a large body of work. You’ve been in over 50 movies and many TV appearances but American Graffiti seems to have had the most lasting appeal…


American Graffiti is extremely popular. It is on cable all the time. It lives on television. It stands up over time. I’ve met people who’ve seen it thousands of times. Jeff Beck, the guitarist has seen it 3,000 times, he told me, because he wanted to build a replica of the car [Milner’s ’32 yellow coupe]. Plus, he’s Graffiti mad. And, he built a car exactly like the yellow 5-window coupe. Millions of people have approached me and told me they loved the film. I’ve done a lot of hotrod shows. I’ve traveled to Sweden twice. I’ve gone to Japan and across the U.S. I’ve been doing hotrod shows since 1999 and just millions of people. And they’ll get teary-eyed about it. Talking about how they took their wives who were their girlfriend at the time to the movie and now they’ve been married for, ya know, 40yrs.  They’ve got into the pin-striping business because of American Graffiti, they started collecting hotrods and collector cars, and they got their custom shop because of American Graffiti. All those oldies, ya know the music? George Lucas got all 41 songs for $40,000. *(1) That’s like a $1,000 a piece. At the time the movie came out in 1973, those artist’s careers were pretty much over with. It was The Beatles… it was disco… And it really revived so many of those musician’s careers. The groups re-joined and started playing at fairgrounds. It just rebuilt their whole careers. So, I and a lot of people owe their lively hoods to American Graffiti.

Candy Clark & legendary guitarist, Jeff Beck. "He's Graffiti mad!," say Clark.
Q: When you were hired for American Graffiti what were the expectations?

I thought it was a great script; it was exactly what we were doing in Ft. Worth Texas: Cruisn’ looking for action, drinking, smoking, listening to Wolfman Jack.  He was broadcasting out of Mexico from a huge tower. There were all kinds of theories of who he was just like in the movie. It says a lot about his mystique.


Q: What do you remember about the audition for American Graffiti?


There was really no audition I just met with George. At the time I was really desperate for the part. I hadn’t read the script. I was told it took place in the ‘50s. So, I dressed for the part. I had on blue jeans rolled up, saddle oxford shoes, a lettermen’s sweater, I put a high school ring on a chain. Pulled my hair back in a ponytail. I’m sitting there in the lobby; there were all these actors there who weren’t dressed up. I felt like such an idiot. But, I go in to this tiny, tiny little office, it was like a closet. There was only room for a desk, which George sat behind, and myself. George sat behind the desk and didn’t say anything to me. I knew I had struck out. A few weeks later a got a hold of the script and I told my manger, Pat, you got to get me back in this movie. She said, we’ll ‘you’ve already talked with Lucas and he didn’t respond. But, I kept bugging her and she finally got me in. I don’t mention anything about my previous meeting where I was dressed up. So, the next thing I know they asked me to do a screen test. So, it wasn’t as glamorous as you might imagine. There were about 200 actors over at Dove Films. Its very intimidating and you can see everyone doing their screen tests. There were a lot of TV stars there. I remember Judy Strangis the star from the series ROOM 222 was there. So, I had my once scene memorized. So, they call my name and I go into this alcove area and there’s this park bench and I meet Charles Martin Smith and he’s much shorter than me he’s 5’4” inches and I’m 5’9”, so I’m thinking, they’ll never hire me. There goes that. So, I just went through the motions of the screen test where he tells me I look like Connie Stevens. So, basically I gave up. But low and behold I got the part. And, George Lucas was video taping the screen test with this cheap pink plastic video camera.  Years later I asked him, ‘George whatever happened to that screen test and he said well it turned out black. I asked him then why’d you hire me and he replied, ‘Well I liked what I saw in through view finder.’  So, it was all like an accident. He never knew I was on my second go around.  I certainly didn't mention it and he saw so many girls I'm sure he didn't remember me the first time I met him. I was so thrilled. I've heard other actors in the the film tried out for other parts than the ones they eventually got but I thought my character was the best character and I was happy to get the part.
 
Q: What’s your impression of George Lucas?


Long hours editing in the day & filming at night took a tole on Lucas' health
My impression of Graffiti’s director is that he is a really quiet person. He’s introverted. As far as directing me, he hired people that he thought who could do the job. We would rehearse the scene. George was quiet he talked mostly to his cinematographer, Haskell Wexler. As the movie went on he got thinner and thinner, and quieter because in the day he was editing the film and at night he was shooting. So he was working non-stop day and night. He was very pleasant to be with-he wasn’t yelling at anyone. Ya know, he was kind of there but not there. I think he never really enjoyed directing. That’s why he later had other people directing his stuff and then he just edits. That’s what he likes doing. Ya know, I never thought he’d be a billionaire. He’s the one who got the idea to make the toys for STAR WARS. To this day at Target there’s a whole isle devoted to STAR WARS toys-to this day. It’s amazing.

What was the filming production experience like?

It was a low budget movie I think the whole film cost including the music was $850,000 *(2). That includes music, editing, hiring the actors, and location. We shot in Petaluma, CA. We didn’t have much in the way of equipment or dressing rooms, chairs. If you wanted to sit down you had to sit down on the curb or in one of the cars. It was very basic. We shot at night in Petaluma and that summer it was so foggy and so cold it was about 50 degrees at night maybe less. We were supposed to be acting like it was a hot summer’s evening. It all took place in one night. The whole idea was very unique, with the interaction of the multitude of stories plus the music interweaving kind of building the stories and adding to the scenes.  

Clark & Charlie Martin Smith
What was it like working with Ron Howard?

My impression of Ron Howard (Steve Bolander) was that he was one of our true teenagers at the time. He was dating his high school girlfriend, Cheryl whom he’s now married to. She looked just like him too; she had red hair and a light complexion. The rest of us were older. I remember he had a little film that he had shot with his brother as the main actor. He had entered it into the Kodak film contest for student filmmakers and he had won second prize. He told me about it. I watched the film in a viewer where you hand-crank it and it was really good. I said, ‘Ronny you’re going to be a big director one day [laughing].’ And, he wanted me to be in this film called EAT MY DUST  (1976) [Produced by Roger Corman and directed by Charles B. Griffith] I was supposed to be his romantic interest and I turned him down. *(3) He never asked me to be in one of his films again. I guess he’s still miffed about that [laughs]. I turned him down because I didn’t like the script. It’s easy to look back on stuff. 20/20 hindsight is easy. There are a lot of things I would have done in retrospect like buy gold when it was $45 an ounce [laughs].

Are there any actors in the film that you thought would become big stars?

Not really… of all the actors who in retrospect who would have been most likely to succeed Harrison Ford was the last person I thought would make it big.  He was kind off-putting. He really took his character seriously and he was that Falfa guy day and night. He would always glare at you. I look at the pictures I took of the cast during filming and he was always glaring, like, ‘You have no right to take my picture!"


Any thoughts about the other actors at the time?

 In regards to Richard Dreyfus (Curt Henderson) he was mourning the breakup of his girlfriend and he was kind of in a depression really. He spent a lot of time in his hotel room, alone, crying, I think.  I really liked Mackenzie Phillips (Carol). She was great! We hung out allllll the time. I think she was 11yrs-old. But she seemed like my age. She was one of the gang. Only later you find out about her childhood and John Phillips as her father and that lifestyle. She was just very feet-on-the-ground, a kid like maybe Jody Foster would have been. She was more mature than you’d expect. She was precocious. She was really good in the film. ‘Cause they just put her on a plane and was like, ‘Here I am.’  No guardian. Now, you have to have a guardian. She just arrived on the set and wound up staying with one of the producers, Gary Kurtz. Her parents were, ya know, hippies.  I never saw her drink or smoke. She just hung out working which was before she got so entrapped in the drug abusing lifestyle. By the time she was on the TV series, ONE DAY AT A TIME she was a lot older and had problems at that point. [Her starring role on the CBS sitcom One Day at a Time made her an overnight success. Drug and alcohol abuse soon led to problems, however, and she was fired twice and went in and out of rehab before becoming completely clean and sober].

Clark & Mackenzie on her 18th birthday (Nov. 10, 1977)
  Q: Do you remember when American Graffiti was first released?

I do. It was at the Avco theater right here in Westwood. *(4). They had the cars there. They parked them a few blocks away. That’s where the actors had to meet, and then they drove us over to the front of the theater.  Then we walked in.  It was pretty special.
Candy & the coupe/courtesy of Candy Clark
Q: When you saw Happy Days emerge in January 1974 [5 months after the premiere of American Graffiti] were you thinking about work on there?

No. I was a movie actress. A movie snob and I didn’t want to do TV.  I tuned out of TV. I don’t think I’ve even seen one episode of Happy Days. I think Garry Marshall was the creator of the series. I met him once at an audition for a TV series called, OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT. I went with my manger to his office and then I proceeded to say, “I don’t really want to work in TV [laughs]. That was really stupid. Now I wish I had started in TV. I’d have a big TV queue and I’d still be working in television. Sometimes you learn too late and the opportunities are behind you.
Kathy O’Dare & Ron Howard of Happy Days

 Q: You’re character is the most memorable and visible of the female roles in the film.

The makeup ladies [Gerry Leetch and Betty Iverson] and the wardrobe lady [Aggie Guerard Rodgers] and I designed the character. The makeup/hair ladies said if you have really light blonde hair you’ll really show up. So we found this wig, ‘cause my hair was so straight and it wouldn’t hold a curl, cause you had to have that look that flip and all that tease. So we found this great wig but was really too small for me so we had to split it up the back and then artfully smudge the hair around so it covered the split. It was kind of like a child’s wig.  The hairdresser said it was made of Yak hair that’s why it held such a curl.  After the film, the wig went back to the rental place. And we found it again ‘cause we did MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI and I said it was at a rental place in the valley. It was kind of out of someone’s private home but also a rental place and they remembered. So, I never kept the wig. It went back to the rental place.

  What are your thoughts about More American Graffiti (1979?)

 Bill Norton directed it. Well, it was really nice to get the part. My character wound up in Haight /Ashbury [San Francisco] and that was certainly fun. I was working with Mackenzie Phillips again. When I was living in New York back in the ‘70s you would read about Haight /Ashbury and all the fun that was being had. I always wanted to be there. But I got to be there, ya know, we were recreating Haight /Ashbury and that was fun. Ya know, I got to be with a lot of the familiar people we had already worked with in the first film. But, the story was a little too serious. I think people wanted to see where we had picked up where we left off in the first Graffiti. But it got all serious about Haight /Ashbury and demonstrations, civil rights. Some of the characters got killed. Bo Hopkins, the leader of the Pharaohs got killed in a helicopter crash.


Q: Whom do you keep in touch with from the American Graffiti cast on a regular basis?

Paul LeMat (John Milner), Bo Hopkins (Joe the Pharaoh) Cindy Williams (Laurie Henderson) Mackenzie (Carol), Sometimes I call up Charlie [Martin Smith] (Toad). He lives in Canada. He doesn’t attend any of the hotrod shows.  It’s been many years since I spoke to George Lucas

With co-star, Bo Hopkins/ Photo: Stephanie Keenan
Candy & co-star, Charlie Martin Smith 2009/ Courtesy Candy Clark
Q: Has anybody in the original cast passed away?

 Yes, Mani Padilla [Manuel Padilla, Jr] (7/13/1955 – 1/29/2008) passed away. He was the little Hispanic guy in The Pharaohs. There are others involved in the film who’ve died but nobody else in the main cast. Mani reprised his role in an early episode of Happy Days.  He was a good friend of Ron Howard so he used him for a few things. Before he died he was attending a lot of hotrod shows with Bo Hopkins and myself.

Manuel Padilla, Jr. was friends with Ron Howard and worked with him on a few things including the series, Happy Days and TV film, Cotten Candy (1978)

  Any closing thoughts about American Graffiti?

It’s a film I’m very proud of and a film I’ll be forever connected to. If that’s the film I’m most famous for then so be it. It’s a classic. It’s on one of the best 100 classic films by the American Film Institute *(5). Every so often I’ll do one of these hotrod shows and they’ll have a drive-in screening of American Graffiti ‘cause that really goes with the hotrods.  And. I’ll watch the film and it’s not like I’m looking at myself but I’m looking at these characters. I’ve seen it over 50 times but it’s like I’m seeing it for the first time. I forget where the jokes are and they always make me laugh. It’s very PG, its very Americana. There’s nothing offensive about it but its just hilarious. It’s a very funny film.


Candy today. Photo Alan Mercer

~ FIN ~  
-->
FOOT NOTES:


*(1) [Lucas claims the price to secure the rights to the music in the film cost approximately  $70,000.  It was a 10th of the entire movie budget

*(2) George Lucas told National Public Radio (NPR) in early 2010 that the total budget for the film was $700,000. 

*(3) Since Candy turned down the role for the romantic lead in the low-budget, car chase film, EAT MY DUST the role went to T.V. actress Christopher Norris. The film also featured Howard’s brother Clint Howard and his dad, Rance Howard. In addition, Kathy O’Dare was also in the film. O’Dare (1957-2010) co-starred with Howard in 2 early episodes of HAPPY DAYS including the first episode of the TV show, ALL THE WAY (Jan. 15 1974) as Mary Lou Milligan and in FONZIE’S NEW FRIEND (Nov. 25, 1975) as Lois.


*(4) The Graffiti premiere was on 8/01/73, Los Angeles, CA at the Avco Center Triplex & had it's New York  opening on 8/12/73.


*(5) In 1995, Library of Congress added the film to the National Film Registry of culturally, historically and aesthetically significant American films. In 2005, Lucas was awarded AFI’s Life Achievement Award, and in 2007, American Graffiti was ranked 62nd on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies—10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films, moving up from the 77th position it held on AFI's 1997 list.


   
BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Coate, Michael. (8/01/2013) Where Were You In ’73? Remembering American Graffiti On Its 40th Anniversary. [Press ads for American Graffiti] Info on premiere and release dates. Website: History, Legacy and Showmanship http://www.thedigitalbits.com/columns/history-legacy--showmanship/where-were-you-in-73-american-graffiti-40th. Retrieved 7/04/2015.



Mackay, Frank. (2013) [Interview]Radio Show. Turningpointwithfrankmackay.com



Thursday, July 2, 2015

WAY BACK: S.F. CHRONICLE 1972: NOSTALGIA - - ON SOUTH VAN NESS


"Heeeeeeey," as The Fonz would say. Welcome back to Kip Pullman's American Graffiti Blog. Our latest post is an article I came across while combing the archives at The San Francisco Public Library. As it turns out, American Graffiti made the news several times a year before it was first officially released in theaters. Making a movie is always big news and so when a director named George Lucas was filming some movie with the odd working title, American Graffiti at the local Mels Drive-in at 140 South Van Ness in San Francisco you can bet the press was there. The following article was first published in the San Francisco Sunday Examiner & Chronicle (in what is known to locals as the Pink Section) on July 3, 1972. That's forty-three yrs ago. WOW that was a long time ago!
___________________________________________________



Click to enlarge article
__________________________________________

Sunday, June 28, 2015

WAY BACK: 1979: SONGS OF INNOCNECE & EXPERIENCE: THE BLAKEAN VISION OF GEORGE LUCAS

Welcome back to KIPS' AMERICAN GRAFFITI BLOG.  It's time to take your head out from under the hood of your hot rod and dig this examination of your favorite movie from a unique perspective. Today for your reading pleasure I've posted an examination of American Graffiti like no other.   Published in 1979 and written by B. H. Fairchild, Jr. the author compares George Lucas with visionary painter/poet William Blake. It's quite fascinating and recognizes Lucas' American Graffiti as a vision of the universal mythological depths that are at the heart of the experiences of all people, all generations and all cultures that must endure change.  ENJOY!

___________________________________________









Copyright 2002 EBSCO Publishing


________________________________________________

Saturday, June 6, 2015

MELS & MUSTANGS

The 2015 Mustang retains its classic look: Long hood, short rear deck, fastback roof, tri-bar taillights, & shark-nosed grill
 
Way back in the Fall of 2014 when Ford Motor Company wanted to introduce it's new line of Mustangs to the automotive press they decided to begin their International Auto Drive each morning at Mels Drive-in located at 8585 Sunset Blvd in West Hollywood,  California (CA.) It seemed only natural to match a classic with a classic: The Ford Mustang was first introduced in late 1963-64 and Mels, of course has been around since 1947. I recently spoke with Mels Drive-in co-owner, Steven Weiss (pronounced Weese) and he recalled the event with enthusiasm.  "Ford Mustang brought out auto writers from across the country and Europe and put them up in a hotel down the street from our Mels drive-in in West Hollywood," Weiss explained. The restaurant at the West Hollywood location normally stays open 24 hours a day but during the course of a week it was closed to the general public three hours each day from 6am to 9am during which time the Ford Motor Company photographed, filmed, and promoted the 2015 Mustangs under the tantalizing glare of the restaurant's neon lights  "They lined up twenty-four brand new Mustangs, all different models, engines and color types in our parking lot. It was fantastic!," Weiss recalled.  


Each day a different group of writers had their chance to test drive the new vehicles. They'd bring them in, give them a speech about the new line of Ford Mustangs as the press devoured the delicious classic American style breakfast at Mels. "The excited writers would get in the cars and drive all over the city on a route planned for them," Weiss recalled. It took most of the day and driving through the city is often stop and go traffic, but the drivers were able to stretch out and reach high speeds on the freeway in the San Gabriel Mountains bordering LA.  After a day of driving they'd reach the end of the course located at Peterson’s Automotive Museum in LA. At the famous museum the press were treated to dinner to top off their exciting day.

 The LA Times had this to say about the 2015 Mustang's driveability: 
The GT and its V-8 still proves the old muscle car adage: There's no replacement for displacement. This is the Mustang's valedictorian and the one to pick if you consider white-knuckle driving an athletic endeavor.  There's meaty torque everywhere during acceleration, but it's predictable and approachable. Our GT tester had the six-speed manual transmission with an easy clutch and a straightforward shifter.  The GT is surprisingly lively and fun on tight roads. Though wider, higher and a little heavier than before, the power and size of this car are perfectly matched.  Our loaded $44,290 tester had the optional performance package that included larger wheels, wider tires, a stiffer suspension setup and larger front brakes. This combination helped the GT stay planted and flat through hard cornering.  But the GT's engine growl -- half the fun -- loses something in translation through the exhaust. Like an opera singer in a ski mask, this Mustang doesn't roar like a 435-horsepower car should.
 "They put together these great videos of the event which they later posted on the internet," said Weiss. Below is a 30 second clip of footage that highlights both the new Mustang and Mels. It is slick, cool and way too short.  Not sure if this was ever made into a TV commercial for the new Mustang but it certainly works as both a promotion for the car as well as the classic-style restaurant.


2015 Ford Mustang at Mels Drive-In


Below are a few pix of the 2015 Mustang from the event. 
Please click on photos to enlarge.

The 2015 Ford Mustang GT parked at Mels Drive in on Sunset Blvd. In Hollywood, CA
_____________________

They lined up twenty-four brand new Mustangs, all different models, engines and color types in our parking lot.
- Steven Weiss.
___________________________

Base prices start at $23,600 for the V-6, $25,170 for the EcoBoost four-cylinder, $29,170 for the EcoBoost Premium, $32,100 for the V-8 GT and $36,100 for the GT Premium.

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/cars/article2297648.html#storylink=cpy
 

A 435-hp 5.0-liter V-8 matched with a six-speed manual transmission
 On the freeway in the San Gabriel Mountains bordering L.A.


_______________________________________________
NOTES
  • Gelinas, Gabriel. [first 2 Photos of Mustangs at Mels.]  Guide Auto Web. 2015 Ford Mustang. A Brave New World.  http://www.guideautoweb.com/en/galleries/26639/2015-ford-mustang-a-brave-new-world/?im=21  
  •  Mustang. Car and Driver website. http://www.caranddriver.com/ford/mustang. Retrieved 5/22/2015.
  • Jordan, Michael. 2015 Ford Mustang Review, Automobile website.http://www.automobilemag.com/reviews/driven/1409-2015-ford-mustang-gt-premium-review/
  • Undercoffler, David. FIRST DRIVE; New Mustang aims to please everyone; In the 2015 model, Ford blends 50 years of history with demands for modern powertrains, technology, safety and styling. Los Angeles Times. [Los Angeles, Calif] 18 Sep 2014: B.1. Retrieved June 2015
  • Weiss, Steven. Personal conversation with Steven Weiss 5/26/2015