There are many films that focus on seemingly more innocent periods of time, in this case the early 1960′s. Such films as Where The Boys Are, Bye Bye Birdie, and many other films epitomize this era. There is, however, one film that brings much of this era to light from the teenage perspective. On August 11th, 2023, the film AMERICAN GRAFFITI will celebrate its 50th anniversary.
This film was released in 1973. It included an all-star cast with some very memorable actors to this day. Ron Howard, Cindy Williams, Richard Dreyfuss, Charles Martin Smith, Mackenzie Phillips, Bo Hopkins, Suzanne Sommers, Paul Le Mat, Harrison Ford, Wolfman Jack, and a relative newcomer to the film industry at that time, the actress Candy Clark. All these actors went on to carve their own niche in the film industry over many decades. As part of this 50th Anniversary tribute, I recently had the pleasure of interviewing one of the original cast members from the film, the actress Candy Clark, who played the character “Debbie/Deb” introduced in the first film. Her character was brought back for the second film as well.
Candy was a Midwestern girl then, who has made a lifelong career in the film industry, and successfully so. While modeling, she was fortunate enough to have her name dropped by a New York casting director to a colleague in California and soon she headed to the west coast, landing a role in the film “Fat City” directed by John Houston. Thereafter, she went on to star in AMERICAN GRAFFITI, and also in many other well received films (The Man Who Fell To Earth, Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye, Blue Thunder, At Close Range, etc.) of which she was nominated in the category of best supporting actress twice (American Graffiti 1973, and The Man Who Fell To Earth 1976). She’s also starred in numerous television series as well. Candy still continues to act, and as recently as 2018, in the film “5 Weddings”, a Bollywood production. You can view this romantic/comedy film on YouTube, and other streaming online channels.
With that being said, I invite you to meet the actress…Candy Clark.
Anthony Northrup – How, and when did you first hear about the auditions for AMERICAN GRAFFITI?
Candy Clark – I had finished my first film, FAT CITY directed by John Houston, and my manager set the audition up. I was told it was a “50′s film”. I came to the audition dressed in jeans, a class ring on a chain, and my hair was in a ponytail. There were other actors there for the audition, but I was the only one who came dressed up in costume. It was obvious I needed the job if I came in costume. The audition was in a very small office with a desk, and small enough my back was practically against the wall. It was a tiny office almost like a closet. Director George Lucas was sitting there behind the desk. He was very quiet (an introvert) and serious. It was awkward.. He had nothing to say to me, no feedback. He just stared. I called my manager and said the audition didn’t go too well…I blew it again! I was going to a lot of auditions but just not bringing home the bacon. I had read the script a couple of weeks later and at that time I could identify with the character. I did all the things in real life growing up that my character did in the film (cruising, drinking, staying out late). There was a screen test and George Lucas was once again there. How I got there, I don’t know. A screen test is one up from an audition.This time I dressed as myself. There were 200 actors there at the screen test reading for various parts in the film. George seemed interested this time around. I got a call from my agent saying “you got the part”.
AN – What are your thoughts on AMERICAN GRAFFITI?
CC – It is a classic film like “Gone WIth the Wind” or “The WIzard of Oz”. It is one of the AFI 100 Best Films of all-time. I just love the film!
AN – Share with us a little about the fans you’ve met over the years. What are they like?
CC – I love them! I’ve met some who have tattoos of the Car Hop waitress on roller skates from the movie soundtrack album cover, and I’ve seen other “Graffiti” tattoos, and I just love the fans, they’re great! There’s one super fan who has seen the film 3,000 times…legendary guitarist Jeff Beck. He loved the movie so much! I love, love, love the fans!
AN – Where was the movie filmed, and were there challenges filming?
CC – The movie was filmed in San Rafael and Petaluma, California. We stayed at a Holiday Inn hotel for 28 days. We filmed at night, and slept during the day. Well, we tried to. It was hard, long hours. We’d try to sleep during the day and guests at the hotel would slam doors, housekeeping would knock at your door, guests of the hotel were swimming outside at the pool (that I could hear from my hotel window). Biggest challenge was LACK OF SLEEP!
AN – We all know the director of the film, George Lucas for his Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises. What was it like working with him?
CC – George was quiet and very serious. He worked day and night for 28 days. He would edit during the day and film at night. He lost a lot of weight and was very thin. He worked so hard, he was exhausted by the end of filming.
AN – What are some fun facts you can share with us about the film?
CC – The film was made for $850,000. The producer, Frances Ford Coppola, I didn’t see much. The studios didn’t like the title of the movie “American Graffiti”. Frances suggested the title, “Rock Around the Clock!” He asked cast members for their idea for a title. Universal Studios didn’t think the film would do well. That it was a low budget B movie,and wouldn’t go anywhere. They thought it would go straight to the Drive-In.
AN – What was it like filming at night, and the scenes of you and “Terry” in the woods?
CC – The story takes place in the summer, but we filmed the “Goat Killer” scenes at night, it was freezing! It was supposed to look and feel like summer, but it was only 40 to 50 degrees at night. We filmed in May. For the night scenes in the woods, we cheated! You got me there! We actually filmed those scenes during the daytime, but the cameraman put a special filter on the camera lens to make it look like nighttime. If you look close, you can tell in some shots. Also, look at the scene where John and Carol put shaving cream on the car, and John takes the air out of the tires. You can see their breath coming out of their mouths.
AN – This is one of the greatest cast ensembles for a film, and all went on to very successful careers, including yourself. What was working with the other cast members like?
CC – We all got along, we all bonded, we didn’t lose track, we stayed in touch, and we all see one another often, and that includes seeing some of them at Hot Rod shows. We’re still friends. I have always been a photographer, so I took a lot of pictures on-set and while making the movie.
AN – There was a sequel made to the film in 1979 called, MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI. What can you share about that film?
CC – I actually suggested a sequel! I was happy with what happened with my character “Debbie”. The film didn’t do as well because the time jump (too complicated). It takes place on New Year’s Eve but over different years. The split screen feature just didn’t work. The fans wanted more adventures of these teens. Like the “next day” sort of thing. It was just too different, it’s just not what the fans wanted.
AN – Some actors bring home a prop or memento from the movie they are part of. Did you bring home a prop from either of the films?
CC – YES! I brought home the top hat with the wings on the side from “More American Graffiti”.
AN – Between both films, did you have a favorite scene in particular you enjoyed most?
CC – The whole thing. I always have fun on a movie set. It’s like a circus. The 14 – 15 hour schedule, make-up, costume, the long waits, the whole process. It’s a lot of fun making a movie. I love it all!
AN – Your co-star in both films, actress Cindy Williams passed away this January 25th, 2023. Do you have any thoughts or memories you can share with us about her?
CC – In the films, we didn’t have any scenes together, but she was a great friend, a super person, ate out a lot together, and just hung out a lot of time together.
AN – As we approach the 50th Anniversary of AMERICAN GRAFFITI, do you have any final thoughts looking back at the film and its success?
CC – I loved being on-set! I enjoyed the adventure, the memories. THANK YOU GEORGE LUCAS!
Thank you George Lucas, indeed, for bringing moviegoers a fun film, and giving a start to some of our greatest stars today. To think, it all began with a little film called, AMERICAN GRAFFITI…which has become a memorable classic!
This movie was filmed throughout various locations in California, and with a modest budget of less than one million dollars. AMERICAN GRAFFITI went on to gross $140 million at the box office, making it a super hit for Universal Studios. Director George Lucas (who would later stake his claim in film history with the franchise STAR WARS) and producer Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather trilogy) truly captured the spirit of a summer’s night in 1962. The film features an all star cast, and features an outstanding soundtrack as well, with some very memorable songs that many still enjoy today.
The story of four teens living in Modesto, California, who are enjoying their last days of summer vacation in 1962, could happen in Anywhere, USA. These four have their own experiences throughout that particular night as they go their separate ways with uniquely different events unfolding for each of them. Curt sees a hot blonde in an equally hot Ford Thunderbird, and is instantly infatuated with her. Steve has relationship problems with his girlfriend Laurie, and deals with that all night long. Terry the Toad, meets a beautiful blonde named Debbie (Candy Clark) and they spend their night getting to know one another while scoring liquor, and trying to find Steve’s (stolen) car. Lastly, John Milner (the hot rod street racer) in the yellow Ford Coupe, lands the unfortunate fate of having to babysit Carol, a mere child compared to him.
With everything from cruising, playing tricks on the cops, picking up girls, teenage angst, these four friends face many typical events that would take place in this period film. By the end of the film you really feel for these characters, and want to see more of them.
That’s exactly what happened on August 3rd, 1979, with the theater release of MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI. Although this film was successful among die hard American Graffiti fans, it never quite matched the success of the first film. Still, along with the originally released AMERICAN GRAFFITI it’s considered a classic coming-of-age film, and has earned its own place in film history.
Many thanks to the actress, Candy Clark for this wonderful interview. As you can see, she is just as beautiful today (TCM Film Awards April 2023) as she was back in the 1970′s in these film clips. She has a great sense of humor, is a great storyteller, and has a very kind natured spirit about her that’s sweet as…CANDY!
As always, I like to give you a little insight into how a film has impacted me. I remember watching American Graffiti for the first time on cable television in the early 1980′s, when I was about 12 years old. This film was my first introduction to 1950′s and 60′s music, which I fell in love with. Not to mention, a look at teen life in an era that was several years before I was born, and vastly different. I have since watched this film many times. I hope you will take a couple of hours to sit and enjoy watching AMERICAN GRAFFITI. Perhaps it will bring back some enjoyable memories for you during your own teenage years, no matter which era they were in.