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‘American Graffiti’ star Candy Clark speaks at alma mater Trimble Tech

Posted 7:13am on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013

After Candy Clark graduated from what was then Fort Worth Technical High in 1965, she spent a few more years in Fort Worth before taking up a former boss on his casual offer to drop by if she was ever in New York. She intended to stay in New York for a week, but made up her mind to move before her plane landed.

“My vow was never to come back [to Fort Worth],” Clark, who went on to receive a best supporting actress nomination for 1973’s American Graffiti, said at her alma mater -- now Green B. Trimble Technical High School, aka Trimble Tech -- on Friday. “But those vows don’t come true.”

Clark spent the better part of an hour talking to a mostly student assembly at the near south side school, reminiscing about her teen years in Fort Worth and about her movie career, and giving students life advice, in a discussion moderated by Fort Worth Weekly’s Jeff Prince.

Prince had been working on a story about Tech when he contacted Clark for a quote. That later evolved into a Weekly cover story about Clark herself, which in turn led to Candy Clark Day in Cowtown -- officially Saturday, Oct. 26. On Friday, Clark was a guest speaker at the Green B, Trimble Distinguished Lecturer Series in the Tech auditorium. Saturday’s festivities will include a classic car show from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Tech to raise funds for programs at the school.

In American Graffiti, Clark plays Debbie, a sweet, slightly ditzy young woman who goes cruising with the nerdy Terry (Charles Martin Smith) -- not suspecting that the cool car that Terry is driving is borrowed, or that Terry’s friends call him Terry the Toad, not Terry the Tiger as he identifies himself.

Clark’s Tech years were in the early ’60s, when Graffiti is set, and she has said she did a fair amount of cruising on her own in Fort Worth. “Debbie was very much how I was back in the day,” Clark said, adding that the curly hair she sports in Graffiti was a wig -- made of yak hair.

Clark talked of growing up poor in Fort Worth, and about how part of her drive for success stemmed from a desire never to be poor again. She did some modeling in DFW and New York, which led to working as an extra, which led to her being discovered by casting director Fred Roos, who found roles for her in John Huston’s Fat City and in American Graffiti.

At first, the once-introverted Clark was reluctant to become an actress, preferring to say in the background as an extra. But that changed. “Once I got a taste of acting,” she said, “that was all I wanted to do.”

The assembly was then shown clips from Graffiti and some of Clark’s other projects, including The Man Who Fell to Earth (with David Bowie), the 1988 remake of The Blob (a goofy but graphic horror movie; Clark said her performance partly consisted of screaming for two days), and a clip from a recent episode of CBS’ Criminal Minds, with Clark appearing in a relatively sweet scene from the usually dark drama.

Clark appeared to get a big kick from the clips, especially a couple of jolting scenes from The Blob and The Man Who Fell to Earth that had a good portion of the crowd screaming. (Viewer discretion advised with the next clip.)

Things turned more serious later on, when Clark reminded students that success doesn’t come overnight, and that it’s wise to save up money, build up credit and work hard and consistently Clark has been working fairly steadily since her acting career began in 1972. Prince pointed out (as he did in his profile of Clark) that Clark kept herself going with non-acting work as well, such as owning a Hollywood limousine service or making designer pillows.

Clark will be at Saturday’s car show and available for autographs. Anyone with a ride they want to show off -- and that includes modern cars, trucks and motorcycles as well as Graffiti-era vehicles -- is welcome to participate. The show starts at 10 a.m., but registration for car entries begins at 8:30 a.m., all at 1003 W. Cannon St. in Fort Worth. For information, call 817-815-2575.

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