The Lost Films of Clyde Clack

 

Clyde Clack was born in a small coal mine in Western Virginia in 1904. He was the second eldest of eleven children, so he was expected to grow up and get out sometime between baptism and seventh grade.

When America joined the war effort against the Central Powers in 1918, Clack walked thirty-two miles just to avoid the draft. Then he bummed around awhile, doing as little work as possible, and occasionally successfully hopping on and off freight trains without spraining his ankle.

In 1921 he arrived in Hollywood. He had no skills, could barely read or write, and was not particularly good looking, so, naturally, he became a character actor.

His acting career was short-lived, like most of his relationships and all of his pet beagles. After a bit part in 1922’s The Curse of the Crab King, Clyde Clack found himself typecast as a particularly pale Chinaman with a tiny little mustache.

Abandoning acting as unceremoniously as he had abandoned his only child, in a hay loft in Nebraska with a bottle and a pacifist, he soon turned to that most esteemed of artforms: screenwriting.

1923 brought Nobody’s Bidnez, a race picture starring the blackface actor Stephen Steppedinit involving the Ku Klux Klan and a box of bagels. Nobody’s Bidnez has not aged well, not even among white supremacist silent era-centric film critics.

In 1924, the German-born auteur Vlan Vlook made his least popular picture, Every Gal a Golem, and, movie legend has it, was so distraught at the premiere of the picture that he knocked his screenwriter upside the head with the butt of his trademark bullwhip.

A year later, the thumbwrestling epic Callous and Nail came and went to very little acclaim for the very many broadsheets the studio printed up for it. Warner Werner is reported to have exclaimed, “If we ever make another thumbwrestling picture . . . I hope it does better than that one did.”

Clack’s fortunes were in dire need of a tire change but that change did not come in 1926. Instead, Ride Warm the Warhorse did, and although it starred a future silver screen legend in Brocko the Horse, movie critics were generally lukewarm to its merits and movie audience were generally asleep.

Then came The Long Lunger, an action/adventure picture about a masked man’s adventures in vertical crime fighting, and, in particular, his valiant effort against a criminal syndicate of skyscraper window washers. Alone amongst the Clack pictures, the reputation of The Long Lunger has improved over time – about one tenth of an IMDB point.

By 1928, Clyde Clack’s career had pretty much stalled, as had his car and his fiancée.

However, silent comedy star Lenny Lennon took pity on Clack and hired him to craft a few gags for his soda fountain picture Soda Fountain Lenny. Most of Clack’s contributions were deemed “about as funny as your average Russian novel” but one of his ideas did make it in: the part where Lenny’s hat got an ice cream cone thrown on it.

1929 was a bad year for both the stock market and the struggling screenwriter. Clack was brought so low as to become a movie reviewer for a campus newspaper. He was fired from that gig when it was discovered that not only was he not enrolled in school, he had never even finished seventh grade orientation.

But sometimes a man brought low can rise up again – if someone big enough reaches down to pick him up.

Van Vlook, the German sadomasochist who had directed Clack’s second screenplay, had become quite the commodity over the following decade with a string of successful melodramas such as Crimson Cry Baby and Dames of Doom Indeed. When Vlook found himself contractually obliged to make one more picture for a studio he had grown to despise, he turned to Clyde Clack knowing full and well that Clack was a terrible hack with terrible breath.

No one was more surprised than Vlan Vlook himself when Clack turned in a three hundred page epic about a Sudanese nomad and his child bride to be called Rise with the Wind Gust. It would go on to become one of the biggest sleeper hits of 1930. It did particularly well in the deep south, where they go for that sort of thing.

Clack had always wanted to direct motion pictures, mainly so he could more easily sleep with the script girl, and now that the studios were actually returning his phone calls, he used his newfound status to negotiate a deal. He would forfeit all percentage of the profits and a director’s salary to direct, co-star, and fluff the dresses for his magnum opus: Jill Skegg, Girl Pirate. There would be no profits, of course. The swashbuckling extravaganza went far overbudget and Audrey Allan, the eponymous girl pirate, wound up impregnated by the prop master.

Over the next twenty years, Clyde Clack drifted through a series of low-paying jobs: dishwasher, horse patter, bank step-based shoeshine boy, amateur barber, professional bullfighter, something to do with water quality, arsonist, and professor of sociology. His drinking problem grew worse and worse, as did his fingernail fetish.

In 1957, Clyde Clack, by then somehow both completely bald and gray-haired, was discovered stealing library books by the writer-producer Stanley Stalling. As a boy, Stalling had been a big fan of Jill Skegg, Girl Pirate, although he would later admit that he had terrible taste. Still, on the spur of the moment, and quite hungover from the night before, Stalling offered Clyde Clack a job on his hit television anthology The Weird World.

Seven months later, Clyde Clack’s final credit, “The Haunted Dog Pound” premiered. One week after that, The Weird World was unceremoniously cancelled. Clack’s episode was so poorly reviewed that it ruined not only Stanley Stalling’s career but the careers of several men who just happened to look like Stanley Stalling, including the junior senator from Rhode Island.

Clyde Clack, dejected, addicted to certain glues, and having finally been found by the son he had abandoned, decided that he had had enough. He shot himself in the left nipple in a dumpster behind a movie theater. The garbage man who found his corpse found it rather grimly poetic. “All that popcorn,” he said. “What a waste.”