Monday, December 14, 2015


No matter  how she looks-Candy Clark always looks good!               Photo: Alan Mercer

Candy Clark is a film and television actress who is best known for her role as Debbie Dunham in the film, American Graffiti, for which she garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She revisited the role in the 1979 sequel, More American Graffiti. Recently I spoke with her about her role in the classic coming of age comedy-drama.

Q:  Candy, you have a large body of work. You’ve been in more than 50 movies and TV appearances, and you're an intelligent and humorous actor, but American Graffiti seems to have the most lasting appeal. Why do you think that is?  

CANDY:  American Graffiti is extremely popular. It is on cable all the time. It lives on television! I’ve met people who’ve seen it thousands of times. Jeff Beck, the guitarist, is Graffiti mad.  He told me he saw it 3,000 times because he wanted to build a replica of Milner’s ’32 yellow coupe. I’ve done a lot of hotrod shows since 1999 and thousands of people have approached me and told me how much they loved Graffiti.

The late, great, David Bowie with the versatile Candy Clark in THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (1976)

I’ve traveled to Sweden twice. I’ve gone to Japan and across the U.S. The fans sometimes get teary-eyed talking about it. Many people have been so inspired by the movie that they started building hotrods, they began collecting cars, they went into the pin-stripping business, and opened up custom shops. Did you know George Lucas got all 41 songs for $40,000? When the movie came out in 1973, the artists’ careers on the soundtrack were pretty much over with. It was The Beatles… it was disco… it was a whole different sound. Because of the success of the movie it rebuilt so many of those musician’s careers. The bands got back together and started playing at fairgrounds, casinos, all over the place.  So, a lot of people and I owe their success to American Graffiti. 
Candy Clark & legendary guitarist, Jeff Beck.  "He's Graffiti mad!," says Clark
Q: Did you identify with the script? 

CANDY:  I thought it was a great script; it was exactly what we were doing in Ft. Worth Texas: Cruisin’, looking for action, drinking, smoking, and listening to Wolfman.  The rumor was he was broadcasting from an enormous tower somewhere out of Mexico. His show would begin around midnight. He had a darker style. He played bluesy, sexy, down and dirty kind of music that you didn’t hear on all the other white bread American Top-40 stations. Wolfman played the kind of stuff your parents didn’t want you to listen to such as James Brown, Howlin’ Wolf, Johnny Otis, and B.B. King. He played a lot of music by black artists.  He was cutting edge and a lot of DJs wound up copying him.  The signal from the station he broadcast from was kind of hazy and full of static. You'd really have to adjust the radio dial just right and it would fade in and out. This added to his ethereal mystique. There were all kinds of theories of who he was-just like in the movie. Was he black? Was he a wolf? Was he half animal?' 

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

CANDY:  There was really no audition, I just met with George. At the time I was really desperate for any part. I hadn’t read the script. I was told it took place in the ‘50s. So, I dressed ‘50’s style.  I had on blue jeans rolled up, saddle oxford shoes, a lettermen’s sweater.  I put a high school ring on a chain, and pulled my hair back in a ponytail. I’m sitting there in the lobby. There were all these other actors there who weren’t dressed up. I felt like such an idiot.  I went into this tiny little office, it was like a closet. There was only room for a desk, which George sat behind, and myself who was standing. George was just staring at me and didn’t say anything.  I was very awkward. I knew I had struck out. A few weeks later a got hold of the script and I told my manger, Pat McQueeney, you have to get me back in for this movie. She said, “Well, you’ve already had a meeting with Lucas and he didn’t respond. So he’s not going to see you again.” But, I kept bugging her and she finally got me in. 

I didn’t mention to George about my previous meeting where I was dressed up. The next thing I know they asked me to do a screen test.  It wasn’t as glamorous as you might imagine. There were about 200 actors over at Dove Films, Haskell Wexler’s studio.  It was very intimidating and you could see everyone doing his or her screen tests. There were a lot of TV stars there. I remember Judy Strangis, the star from the series ROOM 222, was there. I had my one scene memorized.  They called my name and I go into this alcove area. I meet Charles Martin-Smith and was stunned because he was so much shorter than me. He is 5’4” and I’m 5’7”. I’m thinking they’ll never hire me because I’m too tall and he’s too short. I went through the motions of the scene where he tells me I look like Connie Stevens. So, basically I gave up. But lo and behold, I got the part.

Years later I asked George, whatever happened to that screen test and he said ‘Well it turned out black.’ I asked him, Why did you hire me and he replied, ‘Well I liked what I saw through the view finder.’

Q: What’s your impression of George Lucas?
Long hours of directing and editing appeared to take a toll on Lucas' health

CANDY:  He’s introverted. George was quiet.  He talked mostly to his cinematographer, Haskell Wexler. As the movie went on he got thinner, and quieter. In the day he was editing the film and at night he was shooting.  Twenty-eight days of being up day and night.  

Q: What was the filming production experience like?

CANDY:  It was a low budget film. I think the whole film cost $750,000. That includes music, editing, hiring the actors, and location. We didn’t have chairs or dressing rooms. 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, California and that summer it was foggy and cold.  It must have been 50 degrees at night, maybe less. The story took place in one night. But we actually shot the film in 28 nights. 

Candy & Charlie Martin-Smith

Q: What was it like working with Ron Howard?

CANDY:  Ron Howard was one of our true teenagers at the time. He was 18 years old. The rest of us were older. Ronnie always wanted to be a director. I remember he had a short Western film that he had shot with his brother, Clint, as the main actor. He had entered it into the Kodak film contest for student filmmakers and he had won second prize. I watched the film in a viewer where you had to hand-crank it and it was really, really good. I said, ‘Ronnie, you are going to be a big director one day.’ Several years later he asked me to be in his first film, EAT MY DUST. I was supposed to be his romantic interest, but unfortunately I couldn’t fit it into my schedule at the time. He never asked me to be in one of his films again. I guess he’s still miffed about that [laughs].  

Q: Are there any actors in the film that you thought would become big stars?
CANDY:  In retrospect, of all the actors who would have been most likely to succeed Harrison Ford was the last person I thought would make it big.  He was intimidating. He really took his character seriously and he was acting like that Falfa guy day and night. He would always glare at you. 

Q: Any thoughts about the other actors at the time?

CANDY:  In regards to Richard Dreyfus, he was mourning the breakup with his girlfriend and he was in a depression. He spent a lot of time in his hotel room, alone, crying. I really felt sorry for him.

I enjoyed hanging out with Mackenzie Phillips. I think she was 12yrs-old.  She was one of the gang. She was more mature than you’d expect for a kid her age. She was precocious. It surprised me how her parents just put her on a plane without a guardian and sent her to the Bay Area to be in the film. She just arrived by herself on the set, ‘Here I am!’ She wound up staying with the producer, Gary Kurtz and his family.

The other actors were all great Cindy Williams, Bo Hopkins, and all the others. I could go on forever. Everyone was great.

Celebrating Mackenzie's 17th birthday, November 10th.

Q: Do you remember when American Graffiti was first released?

CANDY:  I do. It was at the Avco Theater in Westwood, California.  Universal Studios had the movie cars parked a few blocks away.  That’s where the actors had to meet. Then we were driven over to the front of the theater.  We walked down the red carpet.  It was pretty special. 

Candy & the coupe.      Photo: Candy Clark

Q: You’re character is the most memorable and visible of the female roles in Graffiti.
The wig was made of Yak hair & that's why it held such curl
CANDY:  Well, I credit the wig.  My hair was so straight it wouldn’t hold a curl. For that time period you had to have that flip and all that tease. So, rather than attempting to curl my hair every evening, we used this great wig.  But it 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. The hairdresser said it was made of Yak hair and that’s why it held such curl.

Q: What are your thoughts about More American Graffiti?

CANDY:  Well, it was really nice to get the part. My character wound up in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco and that was certainly fun. When I was living in New York City in the late-‘60s I would read about Haight-Ashbury and all the fun that was being had. I always wanted to be there.  Well, I eventually got to be there. We were recreating Haight-Ashbury and that was a blast.  I was thrilled to be working with Mackenzie Phillips again.
But, the script was a little too serious. It got very somber about Vietnam, demonstrations, drug addiction and civil rights.  In addition, some of the main characters were killed. For example, a sniper’s bullet kills Joe The Pharaoh after having promised to make Toad, a member of The Pharaohs once they get back from Vietnam.  Also, a drunk driver kills Milner. So, I think the realism upset many fans of the first film. I think the audience was expecting to see where the characters had left off from the first Graffiti and they were disappointed. 

Q: At the end of More American Graffiti your character winds up performing with a country-and-western music group. Does that seem a bit at odds as her chosen career?

CANDY:  Yes it does. I always thought Debbie would become a hairdresser. 

Candy & co-star, Charlie Martin-Smith 2009.   Photo: Candy Clark

Q: Any closing thoughts about American Graffiti?
CANDY:  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 the best 100 classic films by the American Film Institute. Every so often I’ll do one of these hotrod shows and they’ll have a drive-in screening of American Graffiti because that really goes with the hotrods.  I’ll watch the film and it seems like I’m not looking at my actor friends or myself, but I’m looking at these great characters. I’ve seen it over 50 times but each time it seems 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, it’s very Americana. There’s nothing offensive about it. It’s just hilarious. It’s a very funny film.

Candy today.       Photo: Alan Mercer

~  ENDE  ~

Candy & co-star, Bo Hopkins      Photo: Stephanie Keenan

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