Day Twenty-Seven of Noirvember: Unlikely Film Noir Folks — Fred Clark

The other day I saw a post on Facebook with a picture of Fred Clark that described him as “the immortal film noir actor.” One member of the group responded that “he was never noir,” and a quite a little brouhaha ensued – to which, I admit, I briefly contributed. In thinking about it later, though, I had to concede Clark is almost certainly remembered more for his comedy, including films like The Lemon Drop Kid (1951), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), and The Solid Gold Cadillac (1956), as well as a featured role on TV’s The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show.

But for my money, Clark deserves just as much credit for his noir appearances – he was seen in five features from the era in a three-year span, from 1947 to 1950: The Unsuspected (1947), in which he played a crafty homicide bureau chief; Ride the Pink Horse (1947), portraying a hard-boiled mobster with a hearing impediment; Cry of the City (1948), playing another homicide detective; White Heat (1949), where he was what one critic called a “powerfully sinister” fence for stolen bills; and Sunset Boulevard (1950), in which he was seen in a small but memorable part as the studio exec who shoots down William Holden’s idea for a screenplay.

In Cry of the City.

Born Frederic Leonard Clark in 1917 in Lincoln, California, this versatile performer initially planned to pursue a medical career and enrolled as a psychology student at Sanford University. All that changed in his senior year, though, when Clark appeared in a school production of Yellow Jack and, after his graduation, landed a scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. After several years playing roles in a number of Broadway plays, stock productions, and repertory theater, Clark caught the attention of famed director Michael Curtiz, who signed him to a personal contract. Clark’s first feature for Curtiz was both his first feature film and his film noir debut, The Unsuspected.

Over the next couple of decades, Clark stayed busy, eventually dividing his time between film and television work. On the small screen, in addition to his Burns and Allen gig, Clark was seen in such series as The Twilight Zone, in which he played a crook who finds a camera that predicts the future (remember that one?), and The Beverly Hillbillies, where he had a recurring role as Dr. Roy Clyburn.

Sadly, Clark left us all too soon in December 1968, after entering the hospital for treatment of a back spasm. While there, he developed a liver ailment and died three weeks later. He was just 54 years old. But he left us with a delightfully versatile body of work – whether he was portraying a cantankerous funny man or a ruthless villain, Fred Clark showed us that he had the stuff.

Do yourself a favor, and check out one of his movies!

And join me tomorrow for Day 28 of Noirvember!

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~ by shadowsandsatin on November 27, 2018.

5 Responses to “Day Twenty-Seven of Noirvember: Unlikely Film Noir Folks — Fred Clark”

  1. Saw Fred Clark driving in the Hollywood area about 1963, when I was a kid. Waved at him, and he gave me a grumpy face, much like parts he played on screen, and he reluctantly waved back. When I persisted, he gunned his motor and passed my parent’s car going about 90 on the freeway. Good ole Fred.

  2. So unfair that actors are pigeonholed and not appreciated for their versatility and range.The disproportionate exposure of t.v. appearances over movie roles unfortunately contributes to this misguided perception. Fred Clark’s role in RIDE THE PINK HORSE is a noir classic.Fred’s career started with a personal cotract with the esteemed director Michael Curtiz who recogonized Fred’s talent. Vince Edwards is another actor shortchanged by the same predicament as Fred Clark is. Vince is better remembered as t.v.’s Ben Casey than his noir roles in THE KILLING, MURDER BY CONTRACT, CITY OF FEAR and a personal fave of mine THE SCAVENGERS. Thanks for defending Fred’s noir credentials.

  3. Thanks for the Fred Clark post! I always liked him in How to Marry a Millionaire and Sunset Blvd. as well as on Burns and Allen. I’ll look forward to catching him in a couple of the Noir titles you mentioned!

  4. I doubt an actor like Fred Clark ever thought of himself as a specific genre actor. That’s up to the rest of us. I think his noir work stands up very well alongside his comedy roles.

    My first memories of him are as Dr. Clyburn on The Beverly Hillbillies having his battles with Granny Clampett. I hope he and Irene Ryan had as much fun doing the job as I had watching them.

  5. I’m glad you paid tribute to Fred Clark. He’s terrific in everything!

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