Graffiti Artist

Fort Worth native Candy Clark is the Hollywood star next door.
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Posted July 3, 2013 by JEFF PRINCE in News
Jeff PrinceJeff Prince

The prospect of visiting her childhood home was making Candy Clark giddy. She sat in the passenger seat while her brother, William Clark, drove toward Chickasaw Avenue in the Polytechnic neighborhood. They’ve always been close, and they chatter easily, although Candy is more animated in her delivery.

She recalled the house her family had rented during the 1950s as small and nondescript with only two bedrooms. The family had no car, no TV, not much of anything beyond the essentials. On the bright side, the Clark kids had pet frogs that hung out near a drippy hose faucet, a big backyard that bled out into a huge pasture packed with potential adventures, and a lack of parental supervision that allowed the latchkey kids to do what they pleased while Mom worked.

William turned right on Chickasaw, and Candy started scouring the modest frame houses, jabbering excitedly. Who might live there now? Would they invite her inside to look around?

Suddenly, there it was.

Just over 500 square feet, the house was now an uninhabitable shack with boarded-up windows and rotted wood.

Candy hooted and burst out laughing. “What a dump!” she said and laughed some more.

In fact, for the rest of the day she randomly burst out laughing whenever she thought about the house. She takes pride in having made a name for herself despite the challenges of her youth, which included poverty and learning disabilities. She struck out on her own as a teenager, first as a model in New York, then as an actor in Hollywood. Her second movie earned her an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of Debbie in American Graffiti in 1973.

For the next few years, Clark’s star sailed high in Hollywood. Her third movie, The Man Who Fell to Earth, became a cult classic. It was the freewheeling 1970s, and she was hanging out with the A-list crowd in the most happening place in the world back then, Tinseltown.

But life isn’t scripted, and unexpected plot twists pushed her in directions she never imagined, toward Plan B. And Plan C. And D and E.

An alphabet’s worth of plans later, she’s happy, healthy, secure, and proud of the hometown she couldn’t wait to ditch all those years ago. Ironically, she tapped into those Cowtown years when developing the character that made her a star.

“I identified with the whole American Graffiti story because we lived it in Fort Worth,” she said.

 

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I was writing a feature about Trimble Tech High School last year (“Tech Revolution,” Oct. 3, 2012) when I noticed Candy Clark listed among the alumni. Her movies were seared in my psyche, particularly the four-star favorite Graffiti, which won an Academy Award for Best Picture and earned Clark her Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

Jeff Prince

Jeff Prince

The movie starred a newly matured Ron Howard, already famous for portraying Opie on The Andy Griffith Show, and introduced actors who would become household names: Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfus, Mackenzie Phillips, Suzanne Somers, and Cindy Williams. Set on a single night in 1962, the movie captured the innocence of a generation that hadn’t been jaded by political assassinations and the Vietnam War.

A review in Variety praised the film as the best of its genre and predicted, “All the young principals and featured players have a bright and lengthy future.”

But it was Clark’s depiction of a gum-smacking peroxide blonde and Charles Martin Smith’s portrayal of her geeky suitor “Toad” who stole the laughs and the movie.

I messaged Clark on Facebook, described the Trimble Tech story in progress, and set up a phone interview a few days later. The conversation flowed easily. She recalled her time at the high school in the 1960s, with hot rods, cruising, and drive-in movies.  “She would go out every night if she could,” her brother said. “All her boyfriends had cars, and she was into that cruising-around-Fort Worth scene.”

Her appreciation of cruising was colored by the fact that the Clarks had no car. Until the boyfriends with cars arrived, the family walked or took the bus. Her mother once saved up enough money to treat her children to a circus –– and equally exciting –– a cab ride.

“We were very poor,” Clark said. “We were living on beans, a lot of pintos. There were a lot of us, five kids and my mother. And this was before they had social services. We struggled a lot. There were times when we wouldn’t have utilities on. We didn’t get a lot of medical or dental work done back then.”

Her father left the family when the kids were young.

Candy, the oldest, caught horned toads with her brothers and sold them to a neighbor who used the critters to aerate his compost pile. One of the few toys she remembered getting as a child was a secondhand tricycle. She named it “Squeaky” for obvious reasons.

Clark was in charge of the brood while her mother worked. The twig-thin Clark walked her siblings to school and back and took them on longer jaunts after the family moved to a rental near Seminary Drive. In the summer, Clark and her four brothers put on their bathing suits and flip-flops, draped towels around their shoulders, and walked several miles along busy streets to the public swimming pool on Forest Park Boulevard.

After a day of swimming, they barely found strength to walk home.

“I can’t imagine walking that today,” she said. “It makes you tough. It makes you streetwise. You learn how to take care of yourself. You don’t develop a lot of fear because you’re interacting with the world at an early age.”

Still, she was shy and unsure of herself, partly because dyslexia made it difficult to learn right from left, north from south, and other basic things, much less algebra and science. At Trimble Tech, she told a counselor she had no college plans. “They let me off the hook,” she said. “I took shorthand and typing and home economics.”

She would have preferred to attend an “elite” high school such as Arlington Heights or Paschal, she said. “For a long time I felt kind of embarrassed about going to a trade school, but now I feel like it was the right decision,” she said.

What she lacked in money and school smarts, she made up for in good looks and a talent for having fun. She began smoking unfiltered Pall Malls in her early teens. “Back then you could send a kid to the corner market, and a 5-year-old could buy cigarettes and take them back home,” she said.

Booze followed.

“I think I was a teenage alcoholic,” she said, only half joking.

After graduation, she went to work as a secretary at Dickson-Jenkins Manufacturing Co. near downtown. Not long afterward, she and a girlfriend planned a one-week vacation to New York. Her friend canceled at the last minute, and Clark went alone. Circling the Big Apple at dawn, she looked out of the airplane window, saw the city awash in pink and gold sunlight, and fell in love.

“I thought to myself, ‘I’m never going back to Fort Worth,’ ” she said.

She sent for her things, got a bed at the YWCA, knocked on doors, and parlayed her Texas charm and fresh look into modeling gigs despite having no experience.

“All I ever had was little snapshots in the front yard with my brothers and my mother,” she said. “I didn’t understand the concept of photography and how pictures freeze you. I thought you had to freeze and the camera took a picture of you. I had it backward for the longest time. All my pictures were fixed and forced, and I had this unblinking stare. It came to me one day –– you don’t have to think about it.”

Experience brought more jobs, including exposure in Glamour and Mademoiselle, and she supplemented her modeling income with office jobs when needed. “I don’t even think I called home for a year,” she said. “Back in the day, just to make a long distance call was very costly.”

After four years, she decided to try her luck in Hollywood.

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13 Comments


  1.  
    Winfrey

    Cool lady




  2.  
    Candy Clark

    Thank you,Jeff Prince for the best profile piece ever done on me. I think you really captured me. No wonder you have won so many awards for your writing. Liked the pictures you took too. It was great spending time with you. All the best, Candy




  3.  
    Wolverine

    No wonder they named you Candy, you’re sweet!




  4.  

    Good article on Candy…I met her only once so far, at her house for Thanksgiving 2005, invited by my good friend Jon Iverson. The article describes her very well, humble and very nice, but busy, energetic and entrepreneurial all at the same time. Candy, you may not remember me, but hope to see you again with my wife Darlene when you and Jon are available. Great article, Jeff.




  5.  
    Darlene Thompson

    Candy,
    “Debbie” Does Not Hold A Candle To YOU!!!
    You are the Most Beautiful, Real Actor I have ever had The Pleasure To Meet!
    Thanksgiving 2005! You Opened Your Home and made me and my Husband so Welcome!!!
    Jon Iverson is a Life Long Friend and You Truly Make Him HAPPY!!!
    You Are The Salt of the Earth!!!!
    And Exactly Perfect as You Are!!!
    Love Your True Character… YOU!!!
    Great Article!!!
    The TRUTH is Awsomesome!!!
    Love You, Candy Clark!
    Darlene
    P.S. Jeff, Very Well Done!!!




  6.  
    john david

    Jeff, I really enjoyed reading this story on Candy Clark. I’ve been a fan of hers since I saw American Graffiti in the theater. I really liked that the article was written with such candor, which many interviews lack in my opinion. Very informative, and inspirational, really.
    Again, enjoyed reading, well done.

    john




  7.  
    Blaker

    I always had liked her in movies I’d seen. Now I see why. She’s got substance and it showed through.




  8.  
    jeff.prince

    I am leaving this comment for local film director Tom Huckabee, who was having trouble navigating our Captcha system (the little math equation you must perform before being bestowed the honor of commenting):

    “Hey, Jeff. I tried ten times to make the Captcha work on the FW Weekly site. I guess I don’t know what 2 minus 1 equals… or 2 times 6. So, here’s what I wanted to say: Jeff: Great article on Candy! I met her in an elevator once in Hollywood. Didn’t actually meet her. But we said hello, which was strange, because people usually don’t talk to each other in elevators. She just seemed so nice. I’m definitely a fan. But I had no idea she was from Fort Worth.”




  9.  
    William Clark

    Fort Worth Weekly and Jeff Prince: Thank you for a very well written article on Candy. I knew from reading many of your other articles that you are a very talented feature writer, but I was surprised to find that you are also an experienced photographer as well. Sincerest congratulations on a well researched and nicely presented story. Your high quality standards are appreciated, and I look forward to reading more of your stories on the local scene here in Fort Worth. All the best.




  10.  
    Chuck E

    The Man Who Fell To Earth is one of the most interesting movies I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to believe that the quirky actress in that movie is such a downhome and level headed Texas gal. Thank you Candy Clark for sharing thoughts on your life and career. your insights about the movies are appreciated. Good luck to you in the future.




  11.  

    This is a fine article about a truly gifted, extraordinarily unique actress. Candy’s performance in “American Graffiti” is nothing less than brilliant.




  12.  
    Lindy Wilson

    Hello Candy… I really love Jeff Prince’s profile article on your amazing and heartfelt life and career…so far. Donna and I have been some of your biggest fans and have loved you even before we moved across the street from you in the Hollywood Hills. Since we did not know that you lived there, we were very pleasantly suprised when we found out. I remember (April/1983) as we were driving my Dad’s Big RV up to our new house to move-in, I saw Robin Williams standing in your front yard, looking pleasantly at our entourage of dignified vehicles. I thought Oh My Goodness…”That is Mork, from The Mork and Mindy TV Show”. Of course I was a big fan of Robin, but I was not expecting a Big TV Star to be standing in front of a Big Movie Star’s house. The next day I found out that the Big Movie Star was indeed, Candy Clark. I am sure that I never saw Robin Williams again in that wonderful neighborhood again. So that was pretty cool to see him watch us for a moment and smile.
    After a week or so, My wife Donna came home and told me that she had been visiting with Candy and her wonderful vegetable and fruit garden. Candy had orange trees and avacados growing in the back yard of her Pink mansion. The orange juice was so fresh that it tasted like an Orange Julius…so..creamy. All of my young, working TV actor friends were so respectful of Candy’s natural acting talent and her cinema verite’ (truth-in-filming) delivery, that they would come over to my house (I think) just to perhaps get a glimpse of her, while they were hanging out with me in my recording studio. Candy had wonderful Thanksgiving and Christmas parties, which Donna and I attended from 1983 to 1987. I think that Spago’s provided the oyster dressing for some of the events. Her invited guest were always eclectic and thoughtful…and delightfully brilliant people. Candy and her brothers (who also lived in Hollywood) were very generous, kind and focused people. I never knew Candy’s early Fort Worth childhood story until reading this article. I am so impressed with the Clark family for all that they have accomplished…so far.
    We Love You..!

    Lindy and Donna

    Lindon H. Wilson II (Lindy) MCSE
    Network Systems Director/ Technology Director
    Ross & Matthews Law Firm
    Fort Worth, TX 76107




  13.  
    Candy Clark

    Wow, Lindy. Thanks so much for your heartfelt memories. It seems all these years later, I am still doing the same things. Interesting to read. xx





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