A Q&A With Candy Clark

Actress Candy Clark, who played Debbie Dunham in the movie American Graffiti, will be in Dallas February 14-16 for the Autorama show at Dallas Market Center.

BORN IN NORMAN, Okla., CANDY Clark grew up in Fort Worth. American Graffiti celebrates its 30th anniversary this year . We spoke to her at her home in Los Angeles, Calif.

texasmonthly.com: You recently moved back to Los Angeles, correct?

Candy Clark: I moved back to Los Angeles, yes. I was living in New Jersey for 11 years, and I had a very nice boyfriend, but we broke up and I moved back. I now live in an area called Valley Glen that used to be known as Van Nuys. My house used to be a 22-acre orange ranch—it's just the best house. I love it.

texasmonthly.com: How did you get into doing these car shows?

CC: When I was living in New Jersey periodically I would do general autograph shows—there's a lot of that going on—and when I moved back to California I discovered the collector car and hot rod world, and they just loved the movie. These people got their inspiration from American Graffiti . So Bo Hopkins and I, and sometimes Mackenzie Phillips do these shows together, signing autographs.

American Graffiti is still so big. We are in our 30th anniversary year. It was placed in the best 100 films of all time by the American Film Institute in 1999, and we all went to Aspen and were honored and given plaques by the American Film Institute. George Lucas came to that. And then in 2000 we had a three-page fold-out in Vanity Fair , it was in the April 2000 issue. Even Harrison Ford showed up for that. It was a great photograph, taken by Annie Leibowitz. I get Christmas cards from George every year. We see each other quite often at festivals, or the 25th anniversary, or this or that. I guess it's just going to keep happening, which is fine with me.

People have seen American Graffiti thousands of times. There was one man we recently met, and he had seen it two thousand times. He was replicating the yellow car, the hot rod, and had to keep playing it over and over. There was a man whose whole back was tattooed with American Graffiti , it says "where were you in '62?" It's just got a lot of meaning for people.

I know the guy that runs the yellow hot rods, and those are becoming like the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz . He bought them at an auction at Universal in the '80s when nobody was interested. And a company just came out with a model car with a figurine of Debbie, one of Toad, one of Wolfman Jack. I'm about two inches tall, with that dress and wig on.

texasmonthly.com: Did you have to give the dress back after the shooting?

CC: I probably didn't have to, but at that time the collector world was nonexistent—if I had known [its value] I would have kept it. It was just a dress that was bought at a secondhand store at the time and it really had no value. Who knew that the movie was going to become the classic that it became. It was just a little low-budget film. It cost under a million dollars to make, including music. It revived all those artist's careers. A lot of people benefited from that movie.

texasmonthly.com: You've made many other movies...

CC: My first film I worked with John Huston. I worked with Robert Mitchum in a film called the Big Sleep . I've worked with a lot of great people. I really enjoyed The Man Who Fell to Earth .

texasmonthly.com: With David Bowie...

CC: He was perfect for the role. He looked like he belonged on another planet. Very gorgeous — that was the height of his beauty. He was very nice and hard-working. We had a great time together. You look at that film you can see he's just so talented. I was looking at it a month ago, and his complexion... he's just so beautiful.

texasmonthly.com: And he smokes...

CC: Yes, and I think he smokes those European cigarettes. Gitanes, or something. Those Europeans don't believe in lung cancer.

texasmonthly.com: Did you go back to Fort Worth for Christmas?

CC: No... I had Christmas here. My mother really does not celebrate Christmas, or like Christmas. She just thinks it's really commercial. I think it's a time to think about your friendships, send a little honorary gift. A good excuse to give something to somebody that you like; a good time to get together and hang out.

texasmonthly.com: Do you have fond memories of growing up in Texas?

CC: It was an okay time. In those days we were allowed to run, disappear around the area. We didn't have the fear that people have today. We would go for miles and walk down railroad tracks, go through alleys. After Christmas we would go collect all the trees from the alleys and drag them back to our yard and make forts. Sometimes we would have 40, 50 trees in that yard. We had a collection of tires and boxes. We just ran for miles, until midnight and came back. I always made it home. Now parents don't allow their kids to disappear all day. We were just gone all day, playing all kinds of games. My brother had to be pulled out of the stream once. You know, a little bit of danger...

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