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The warm and personable director behind such seminal films as "A Christmas Story" and "Porky's," Bob Clark masterfully combined warm sentiment with a sharp edge. What other sex romp had such a sense of innocence; what other holiday classic conjured up such a vivid image of the f-word without actually uttering the phrase? Clark started in low-budget horror films, and was also credited with jump-starting the slasher movie craze with his darkly comic, "Black Christmas" - his other less-than-jolly yuletide movie. While later efforts like "Baby Geniuses" failed to live up to his earlier output, Clark was in the middle of a revival of his early hits, with a remake of "Black Christmas" already on DVD and, with the help of radio mogul Howard Stern, a planned remake of "Porky's" in the works. All this came to a shocking end on April 4, 2007, the 67-year-old director was tragically killed in an automobile accident, along with his 22-year-old son along the Pacific Coast Highway in Los Angeles.Born Aug. 5, 1939 in New Orleans, LA, Clark grew up relatively poor in Fort Lauderdale, FL once his father died when Clark was young, leaving his barmaid mother to make ends meet. It was in the sunny spring break...
The warm and personable director behind such seminal films as "A Christmas Story" and "Porky's," Bob Clark masterfully combined warm sentiment with a sharp edge. What other sex romp had such a sense of innocence; what other holiday classic conjured up such a vivid image of the f-word without actually uttering the phrase? Clark started in low-budget horror films, and was also credited with jump-starting the slasher movie craze with his darkly comic, "Black Christmas" - his other less-than-jolly yuletide movie. While later efforts like "Baby Geniuses" failed to live up to his earlier output, Clark was in the middle of a revival of his early hits, with a remake of "Black Christmas" already on DVD and, with the help of radio mogul Howard Stern, a planned remake of "Porky's" in the works. All this came to a shocking end on April 4, 2007, the 67-year-old director was tragically killed in an automobile accident, along with his 22-year-old son along the Pacific Coast Highway in Los Angeles.
Born Aug. 5, 1939 in New Orleans, LA, Clark grew up relatively poor in Fort Lauderdale, FL once his father died when Clark was young, leaving his barmaid mother to make ends meet. It was in the sunny spring break destination, where he played sports and chased girls - his desire to be a writer and some keen powers of observation, would bring those days to life in "Porky's" decades later. In college, Clark pursued both athletics and theater, but it started thinking about film as a career. He studied philosophy at Catawba College in North Carolina, before accepting a football scholarship at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, MI, where he played quarterback. He transferred to the University of Miami - turning down offers to play professional football - where he studied theater and met fellow aspiring screenwriter and makeup artist, Alan Ormsby, with whom he would later collaborate.
After college, Clark played semi-pro football for the Ft. Lauderdale Black Knights, and continued to work in theater, directing local stage productions. He also began delving into the local film industry, first as an actor, then a director of a few very low-budget horror films that were never even released. After collaborating with Ormsby, they did create the horror comedy, "Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things" (1972). The film, about a theater company which goes to a party on a small island and are killed off one by one by the deranged host, was budgeted at just $50,000, and shot over a period of 11 days in Florida. The film drew attention mainly in tight-knit horror circles, but produced enough of a following that Clark and Ormsby put together some follow-ups, including "Dead of Night," (1974), followed by the film that would go on to become a cult classic - "Black Christmas" - released that same year. Featuring a young Margot Kidder in an early role, the film, about a sorority house attacked by a killer over the holidays, was a hit with teenagers, and was often credited with inspiring the splatter movie phenomenon of the 1970s and '80s, a la "Halloween" (1978) and "Friday the 13th" (1980) franchises. "Black Christmas" continued to play at fan festivals, and a revived interest in the picture resulted in a remake in 2006.
Moving into producing as well as directing and writing, Clark served as an executive producer on the low-budget road movie "Moonrunners" in 1975, about a group of bootleg moonshiners running from the law. While the movie drew scant attention, it served as the basis for the cheesy hit TV series, "The Dukes of Hazzard" (CBS, 1979-1985). Much later, Clark would produce the CBS reunion movie "The Dukes of Hazzard: Hazzard in Hollywood" (2000) but then, along with others, sued the Warner Bros. studio over its 2005 feature film version starring Sean William Scott and Johnny Knoxville, winning a settlement before the movie was even released in theaters.
By the mid-1970s, Clark had moved to Canada, where making movies was even then, a cheaper endeavor. Eager to branch out from low-budget exploitation movies, Clark directed "Murder by Decree" (1979), a Sherlock Holmes thriller about the famous detective's search for Jack the Ripper. Filmed in London, the film boasted by far his most impressive cast, including John Gielgud, Christopher Plummer and James Mason. The film was followed by 1980's "Tribute," an adaptation of the Broadway play, which earned star Jack Lemmon an Oscar nomination for his performance.
Still interested in veering out of horror territory and having opted out of a proposed sequel to "Black Christmas," Clark focused on his dream project, based on his life growing up in 1950s. Combining his own memories and the stories from friends he had culled together over 15 years, Clark wrote the script for "Porky's" (1982). The story went that Clark dictated his recollections into a tape recorder and upon hearing the tapes for the first time, collaborator Richard Swaybill - who went on to write the sequels - could not stop laughing. Filmed on location in his native Ft. Lauderdale, the $4 million teen comedy was a curious combination of sex and innocence and went on to gross over $150 million. The most iconic image that stayed with moviegoers through the years, was the shot of the teen boys peeking though a peephole into the girl's shower room - with unexpectedly hysterical results. Although the film spurred two sequels, Clark only directed the first, "Porky's II: The Next Day," (1983) and neither it, nor the final film, "Porky's Revenge" (1985) were as well-received as the original.
His star firmly on the map, Clark had his pick of projects - again he veered toward nostalgia, but again, he offered it some bite. Collaborating with humor writer and radio talk show host Jean Shepherd, and working from Shepherd's book, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, Clark directed the film for which he would be most fondly remembered - "A Christmas Story" (1983). The project was another that Clark had been working on for a decade, before being in the position to persuade MGM to back the film. To the delight of moviegoers of any age, MGM ponied up the cash and the rest was holiday movie history.
"A Christmas Story" told the tale of an adolescent boy and his quest to receive a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, despite the universal objection from grown-ups that "you'll shoot your eye out!" Played by Peter Billingsly with minimal dialogue in order to allow for Jean Shepherd's effusive narration, young Ralphie navigated his way through strict teachers, belligerent bullies, and distracted parents - played memorably by Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon. Shot on an everyday street in Cleveland, OH, dressed to look like a typical, post-war Indiana town, the movie eschewed the glossy, over-produced look of later holiday films, evoking a sentimental feel tempered by the realism of cheap household decorations and cloudy winter days. Clark appeared in a cameo, playing a nosy neighbor asking about the bizarre leg lamp awkwardly placed in the family's front window. While it earned no Oscars, Clark won two Canadian equivalent Genies - one for directing; one for writing, which he shared with Shepherd and his wife, Leigh Brown.
The film earned just $19 million at the box office during its initial Thanksgiving, 1983 release - a modest, respectable take for the time. But its popularity steadily grew exponentially over years of reruns on television. In 1997, the TNT cable television network broadcast a 24-hour marathon of the movie starting on Christmas Eve - such a successful move, it became a tradition thereafter. Affection for "A Christmas Story" hit a peak some 20 years after its theatrical run, with the release of an anniversary edition DVD, reuniting Clark with the cast, including Billingsly - by then a long-retired actor, now producer in his own right. The DVD also revealed that such was the film's timeless appeal, the Cleveland house where filming took place was purchased and turned into a museum devoted to the film.
Due to the magic draw of "Christmas Story," Clark, not surprisingly, hit his peak with that film. He continued to direct, but never again attained that level of critical or commercial success he had with "Porky's" and "Christmas." His follow-up feature, "Rhinestone," (1984) starring Sylvester Stallone and Dolly Parton, was an unmitigated disaster, providing Clark with the first of two Razzie nominations for Worst Director. He followed the film with less memorable fare such as "Turk 182!" (1985) starring then-hot actor, Timothy Hutton; "From the Hip" (1987); and "Loose Cannons" (1990). He also helmed an episode of the Steven Spielberg-produced "Amazing Stories" series (NBC, 1985-87) entitled "Remote Control Man," featuring a bevy of television all-stars such as Barbara Billingsly, Gary Coleman and Lou Ferrigno.
In 1994, Clark took a stab at more Jean Shepherd material, with "My Summer Story;" later retitled, "It Runs in the Family." Although it was intended to be a sequel to "A Christmas Story," because it was filmed nearly 10 years later, the characters had to be recast, with Kieran Culkin as Ralphie, Mary Steenburgen as his mother and Charles Grodin as his father, "the old man." Despite narration by Shepherd, the film failed to find an audience, with its release a few years prior to the boom in nostalgia for the original.
Clark followed the film with a string of made-for-television movies, such as "Fudge-a-Mania" (ABC, 1995), adapted from the Judy Blume series of books for young readers and "Derby" (ABC, 1995) - both of which re-teamed him with McGavin; as well as Hallmark Entertainment's "The Ransom of Red Chief," (1998). On the big screen, Clark directed the mildly profitable "Baby Geniuses" in 1999, despite scathing reviews from critics who could not abide the talking CGI babies. He followed the film with "The Karate Dog" in 2004 and "Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2," that same year, for which he earned that second Razzie nomination for Worst Director.
Despite his artistic setbacks later in his career, Clark remained upbeat, often appearing at reunions for "A Christmas Story." A new boom in horror films resulted in a new appreciation for his early genre films, and filmmakers lined up for the chance at remakes, often involving Clark. Aside from the profitable remake of "Black Christmas," Clark himself was set to redo "Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things," and was in talks with radio personality Howard Stern about a remake of "Porky's."
Clark's revived career was cut tragically short, however, when 67-year-old director and his 22-year-old son Ariel were killed in an automobile crash not far from his home in Pacific Palisades. Clark was living in the apartment with his other son, Michael, after relocating from New England after a divorce. He and Ariel were driving on the Pacific Coast Highway around 2:30 in the morning of April 4th, 2007 when an SUV coming from the opposite direction veered across the center line and struck their vehicle; the driver was suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol. Not just the Hollywood industry mourned him. All children who came of age watching Ralphie don his pink bunny costume mourned a loss of their own childhood as well when Clark was killed. His films influenced a generation of young moviegoers, and the timeless "A Christmas Story" promised to entertain for generations to come.
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"I like to move the camera into an environment without disrupting time and space with unnecessary close-ups or editing. The movie flows better without a lot of close-ups. I prefer to let the scenes continue. Close-ups connote power and should be saved for times when you want to be intimate with the character . . ." --Bob Clark quoted in the press notes for the Family Channel's "Stolen Memories: Secrets From the Rose Garden"
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