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Interview with Gary Clarke

Gary Clarke born on August 16, 1936, in Los Angeles, California, began acting in 1957, guest-starring in a couple of series until he secured a supporting role in the private detective drama Mike Shayne, which starred Lloyd Nolan. From 1962-1964 he co-starred on The Virginian with James Drury, Doug McClure and Lee J. Cobb.

Although both Steve and Gary attended the Pasadena Playhouse, it was in different years, and they did not meet until at an audtion for the movie Dragstrip Riot, in about 1957. [Although Gary and Steve were best friends, almost forty years have passed, and Gary couldn't be exact on any individual year.]

[The video on your right is a clip from The Virginian Season 2, Episode 18, "The Fatal Journey," the first episode in which Steve Ihnat guest-starred, as a supporting villain for the main villain, Robert Lansing.

Brief Candle: So where and when did you first meet Steve Ihnat? Gary Clarke: First time I met Steve was on a movie interview. I was working as a machinist. My agent called me and said… will you come on down and meet the producer and you might get a job as a as a member of the good gang, as opposed to a member of the bad gang. Because I look like a good guy. Gary Clarke: So I told my boss [at the machinist’s shop] I was sick and I drove in from San Gabriel to downtown LA in Hollywood. And met the producer and auditioned, then I came back to work. I hadn't met Steve yet. Went back to work the next day my agent calls me and says they lost the guy who was going to do the lead so…. So I went back and long story short I got the part. And it was during those five to seven days of audition that I met Steve and we just became fast friends right away. Connie Stevens was also on that movie. Dragstrip Riot (1958).

So that's where I met Steve and we just became good friends during that shoot. We were actually paid to shoot for three weeks and we ended up shooting for about six months. And Steve and I went through a whole lot of stuff, after we stopped being paid.. and it wasn't very much. it was a couple hundred dollars a week. But we would take any kind of job that we can get whether in construction or working in a market, anything. Anything we could do and eventually the producer of the movie and Steve and I moved in together to, you know, to save money. There were times that we had no money maybe two or three bucks between us.

Brief Candle: Then he enlisted and served in Korea?

[Steve never obtained American citizenship. So he enlisted and served as a Canadian.]

Gary Clarke: I know he was in for a couple of years. We exchanged letters and then when he came back we were roommates again.

When I started working at Universal…I was luckier than Steve. I was under contract at Universal and I knew Steve's talent. Steve was a hell of an actor, and we wrote stuff together. We wrote Strike Me Deadly (1963) together. Pretty much on the go…

Well this guy T.V. Mikels, who had five kids and a lovely wife, mortgaged his home and everything he had and came down to L.A. from Bend, Oregon. And I don't know how he found us, somebody knew somebody who knew us, and he met us. And said would you like to do it and I can pay you this much and you'll have to drive up and I was on hiatus from I think, it was the Virginian. I don't know if it was that or Mike Shayne.

That was at Review Studios and may have been there or Universal. But I wasn't working at the time so we were going to go up to Bend, Oregon. So we drove up and brought an actress up with us, Jeanine Riley. And the guy T.V. Mikels was directing. He knew nothing about directing, he knew nothing about putting movies together.

He just was so enthusiastic about getting this done and he had the script, it was terrible. And Steve and I each night we go out and shoot and we come home and say, OK this is what we got to do tomorrow. And Steve and I would re-write what we were going to shoot the next day.

As a result ya know the picture got done.

Brief Candle : Did you do all your own stunts? There's one scene where you kick a log off while Steve was standing on and Steve falls into this a creek. Gary ClarkeThere were no stunt people. Mikels could barely afford a camera let alone stunt people.

Brief Candle: In the credits, he’s listed as Stefan Ihnat as writer, but he's called Steve Quinn as the actor. Do you know why he chose that name? Gary Clarke: Well, it was during that time when most actors were changing their names. And later he back to Ihnat. He was just looking for a name that people could pronounce.You know my real name is L'Amoreaux. And, what they did with that name, well we won’t talk about it. But he went back to Ihnat, and just changed it because he thought maybe it would work better.

Brief Candle: His family left Chzechoslovakia when he was 5. Could he speak Czech? Gary Clarke: He spoke Czech. He only spoke Czech when he wanted to let somebody know he could speak Czech.

Brief Candle: Share some more about him. Gary Clarke: He Had a great sense of humor. We were constantly telling jokes. He loved Shakespeare. He [probably] learned to fence at [the Pasadena Playhouse.] So we used to have fencing matches with each other. He was a little more proficient then I was, but I would get him sometimes.

Brief Candle: Anecdotes about Dragstrip Riot?. Gary Clarke: We were out in on Laguna Canyon and there's a lot of windy roads there and it was a time when we were doing, when the motorcycles were chasing me in my corvette. There's actually one scene where I am chasing myself.

There are five motorcycles on this particular day and usually they had five riders. But this particular day we only had four bikers. So, they locked down the camera, and I drove by, close to cameras so they could see I was driving, and then they turned the camera off. I put on some motorcycle attire, jumped on a motorcycle, and got in with the other four guys, and then they turned the camera on, and here we come. And I’m chasing myself.

So Steve and I weren’t... you know we could ride a bike okay, but we weren't that proficient. But we hadn't spent days and days on motorcycles or years. And we talked the producer into letting us take the motorcycles home after one days shoot and take them back. We thought we just uh get the feel of them.

So we'd look better on the motorcycles, or he would. And we were driving along the Canyon, Steve was about 20 or 30 yards in front of me and suddenly his bike started to vibrate and it vibrated more and more and more and then it went out from under him. And he slid for I don't know how far.

The skin had been completely taken off his knee. I mean the bone was there and visible. And he had scraped his knuckles, and he had a big ring that he wore and that saved really, some considerable damage that could have been done to his hand. So off he goes to the hospital. They took the skin around his knee and just pulled it up above, but first of all they scrubbed it with a brush. They just got in there and scrubbed it. No anesthesia or anything. And he let them know that it was a little painful, and then they pulled the skin up around his knee and tied it off like you would tie off a paper sack. And the next day he was back shooting.

There's a scene at the end where I'm down on the beach with Yvonne Lime and there's a shot of Steve up in the bushes. And he gets up from behind the bushes and starts to come down. And if you look you can see, I forget which leg it was, his left leg or whatever, that when he moves that leg if felt very stiff, he couldn't bend it.

Brief Candle: So was Steve a Method Actor? Gary Clarke: It was, I would call it methodic. You know, but we talked about it... we talked about Stanislavsky and Brando and the Actor's Studio all that stuff, and we ultimately did what we did.

Brief Candle: Did he ever approach you for help with how he should do a scene? Gary Clarke: We worked; I always felt he was more proficient than I was. But there were times when I could see that he was doing something that I didn’t think worked and I'd tell him and he'd say "oh yeah" and try it and it would work. So in that respect we helped each other out a lot.

Brief Candle: You got him his first guest-starring role on The Virginian? Gary Clarke: I kept talking to my producer about him, and a couple of the directors, and I forget what it was Bernie McCabe comes to mind but I don't know if that was the first director. But I just felt that if he could get a shot, then, because he was he had a great look and made a great hippie. He also like [The Outer Limits: "The Inheritors".] He did a lovely job in that.

Brief Candle: Did he know how to ride a horse prior to that? Gary Clarke: Well, he was a pretty physical guy so he did fine on the horse. There wasn't anything major that he had to do to begin with but, I think he did fine. I was the one who didn’t know how to ride a horse.

Yeah, the first time I had to do anything was the first day of shooting, on the first show that I did on The Virginian. And I just faked it and it worked out. You know, I'm physical and, well I managed to stay on.

Brief Candle: Was he a reader? Gary Clarke: If I recall correctly I think one of the books we appreciated was The Prophet. It's written by Khalil Jibran and it was, well, he was around well two hundred years ago. And he would philosophy about marriage and happiness and love and children and things like that. And it was popular and it was worth reading.

Brief Candle: So was Steve into sports? Gary Clarke: Well I wouldn’t say that he was into it but, from time to time we'd go out and play baseball. When I was in school I ran track and I pole vaulted and we were we went down to the Hollywood High School a few times during track season and I was showing him how to pole vault, and you know he did it like eight feet or something like that.

And we'd play touch or flag football and he was good. He could run and catch and that kind of stuff.

Brief Candle: Steve had worked with Jeanine Riley in a play. How did you get together for Strike Me Deadly? Gary Clarke: I think we put the word out [that we were looking for an actress] and Jeanine was one of the actresses that came. Mikels came and he hired Basil Bradbury as the cameraman. We called Bradbury, Brad. Brad introduced him to us and we had a conversation for a while and he hired us on the spot. We put the word out and several young ladies came in to audition and Jeanine was the best, so Brad and Jeanine and Steve and I, drove up to Bend, Oregon.

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