Champ Clark has a new noir novel and a play about Marlon Brando’s son – and his own life is quite a story – Chicago Tribune
Champ Clark’s life, while far from over and about to have a creative moment this summer, would make a terrific book. We were recently talking about his second noir crime novel, “Buh-Bye Cruel World,” which features a dead woman on its cover.
In a life marked by all kinds of artistic pursuits, he is new to writing novels. It started when the pandemic arrived. “It was three hours or 1,000 words a day,” he said. “I was able, pretty much, to stick to that.”
Her first noir detective story was “Venetian Blonde,” which begins “Frankie was a tall, long-limbed, flat-chested, red-haired Alabaman with many admirers…all of whom she cheered on. Me included. He It took a long time before I realized that Frankie was as bogus as the color of his hair.
In “Buh-Bye,” we meet Drake Haynes again, a somewhat jaded former journalist now relegated to the position of advice columnist, “Mr. Drake,” for the Hollywood Daily Drum newspaper. He has a dangerous penchant for margaritas. (with salt) and though world-weary, he can still get excited by pursuing a story, in this case, that of two missing teenagers with tangled histories.
Both books have been picked up for possible movies, which isn’t surprising since both are cinematic and were written in that movie bastion of Santa Monica, where Clark has lived for 25 years.
It was there that he moved from Chicago in 1994 for a reason that motivated many. “I wanted to see if I could make it as an actor,” he said.
He had lived in Chicago since the age of 16, arriving from suburban New York in the summer of 1969 with his parents and three sisters and settling in Kenilworth, the posh suburb that suited his father’s position in as Time magazine’s Chicago bureau chief.
His father was also called Champ. It is a family name, passed down with variations from his great-grandfather, James Beauchamp Clark, who served as Speaker of the House from 1911 to 1919, and his grandfather, Bennett Champ Clark, who was a senator. American from Missouri.
The current Champ Clark never aspired to politics but rather to the creative life. “I was 10 when I saw ‘The Sound of Music’ on stage and I was like, ‘I want to be one of those kids,'” he says.
“Living in Kenilworth and attending New Trier East didn’t start out happily for me,” he said. “The best I can say about those years is that I was cast as ‘Macbeth’ in last year’s play.”
He spent a semester at Ripon College in Wisconsin, but soon returned, working as a dishwasher, Christmas tree vendor, and at a bookstore. He studied dance with Shirley Mordine at Columbia College and acted a little.
He taught an after-school program at Sacred Heart School on Sheridan Road for almost a decade. He developed “Be Who You Want to Be”, a children’s filmmaking program, and was artist-in-residence for a time at the Art Institute.
To earn a living, he worked as a housekeeper, artists’ model, singer telegram deliverer, summer camp counselor, waiter and bartender. He worked for a summer with Cirque du Soleil around the same time he started working in the offices of the People magazine office here, eventually becoming a journalist and writer.
Then he began to perform on the stages of various local companies and for seven years joined the ensemble of the Center Theater. It got good reviews and some not so good. He fell in love with a woman in the publishing business named Monica Portalatin. They got married and a few years later decided to move to California.
“A month after we arrived, Monica got pregnant and that ended my acting ambitions because I had to get a real job,” he said.
He became a reporter and writer for People magazine’s Los Angeles bureau and enjoyed the position. “It gave me a real sense of this complicated city and the entertainment industry,” he said. “It’s a city of hopes, dreams and aspirations and a lot of them never come true. I realized it was never going to be good for me. It’s a tough job, d ‘acting. I still have some regrets. Maybe if I had stayed in Chicago, I might have had a career there, not so much in theatrical stardom, but maybe a life of steady work on the scene.
A daughter, Sarah, was born, and he and his wife eventually divorced. In 2014, he was fired by People and has been working freelance ever since.
He had already written a beautiful book, “Shuffling to Ignominy” in 2005, the first biography of black film actor Lincoln Perry, known by the stage name of Stepin Fetchit. It was favorably reviewed, with The New Yorker calling it, “obstinate and absorbing”.
For many years he was writing plays and this is where we come to his final milestone.
The piece is called “Wild Son: The Testimony of Christian Brando”.
Surely you remember the name Brando, as in Marlon, that mercurial and captivating star who died in 2004. Christian, born in Los Angeles in 1958, was one of Brando’s 11 children and was always the food of the tabloids, first in a nasty public custody dispute. between his father and his mother, actress Anna Kashfi; as a victim of kidnapping at the age of 13; and, most notoriously, for the 1990 murder of Dag Drollet, her younger half-sister Cheyenne’s boyfriend (and father of her unborn child) in the living room of Marlon’s Mulholland Drive estate.
The young man pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. Cheyenne died by suicide and Christian served five years of a 10-year prison sentence. He later became involved with actor Robert Blake’s wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, who was murdered in 2001.
For a few years Clark had been on the “Brando beat” for People, but most of his work focused on Marlon until he received an unexpected phone call from Christian in 2005.
They bonded over numerous interview sessions in which Christian, “always with a beer in hand”, detailed his turbulent, dysfunctional life. He also shared stories from stars like neighbor “Uncle Jack” Nicholson and schoolmate Michael Jackson.
Clark told me he found Christian “damaged, unstable, and dangerous,” but he also told me he was “one of the sweetest lost souls I’ve ever met.”
Christian died of pneumonia in 2008 when he was just 49 years old and the recordings of his interviews with Clark did not become a book, as the two men had initially discussed, but a play directed by Clark.
It had its premiere at the Santa Monica Playhouse in 2019. Chicago’s Chaz Ebert called it “superb”, elaborating in writing, “with a gripping performance by actor John Mese…I can’t recommend it enough .”
Playwright Beth Henley, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her ‘Crimes of the Heart’ in 1981 and whom Clark had worked with in two plays during his time as an actor in Chicago, has “a burning gem” . John Mese is fascinating. A rare theatrical experience where magic sparkles.
The solo piece was selected for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world. It will be played there in August and Clark will be in Scotland for it.
There is no third novel in the works but he plans to continue his musical career. Yes, he is also a singer-songwriter with a substantial and engaging body of work. He has released six albums. “Three under my name with me singing and three by ‘various artists’ singing my songs,” he said. “I had never written a song until about nine years ago when I fell in unrequited love, which is a great impetus for songwriting. . Since then I have written a hundred songs, but none conquered the object of my affection.
“And I also play the accordion,” he said. “I’m seven and I’m studying banjo. If I were to add bagpipes, it would be a trifecta of the most hated musical instruments.
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