Director of ‘Christmas Story’ dies in collision
Tuesday was usually family night for film director Bob Clark -- best known for “A Christmas Story” and the “Porky’s” movies -- and his grown sons, Ariel and Michael.
Ariel, 22, who had been studying music composition at Santa Monica College and was a part-time card dealer at a casino, would typically join his father and brother at the condo they rented in Pacific Palisades. They were night owls, said Lyne Leavy, who headed Clark’s production company, Film Classic Productions.
In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Bob, 67, and Ariel headed out; it’s unclear whether they were going to get something to eat or driving to Ariel’s Santa Monica apartment.
They had just driven a few blocks and were heading south on Pacific Coast Highway near the Bel-Air Bay Club at about 2:20 a.m. when a GMC Yukon swerved across the lane, striking their Infiniti Q-30 sedan head-on. Father and son were pronounced dead at the scene.
The driver of the sport utility vehicle, Hector Valazquez-Nava, 24, of Los Angeles and passenger Lydia Mora, 29, of Azusa were taken to UCLA Medical Center and treated for minor injuries. Valazquez-Nava was booked on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol, operating a motor vehicle without a driver’s license and gross vehicular manslaughter.
About 8 a.m., a coroner showed up at Edgewater Towers to inform Michael, the older of the two sons by a few years, of the deaths of his father and brother.
Michael was asleep at the apartment, said Leo Dodier, the complex’s manager, but left a short time later with the coroner.
Dodier had been up since 5:30 a.m. -- awakened, he says, by the strange quiet created by the closure of PCH. The thoroughfare would remain blocked for eight hours.
“He was a nice guy, good to everybody, a quiet guy,” Dodier said of Bob Clark. The producer-director had lived at the Edgewater complex since he relocated to Pacific Palisades from New England after his divorce. Starting out in a one-bedroom unit, he moved into a two-bedroom, second-floor condominium a few years later to make room for his sons, Dodier said. He had rented the larger unit for more than a decade.
“He was a gentleman, one of the nicest people I knew,” said his New York business manager, Stuart Ditsky. “He always kept his word. He would never hurt anybody or put in anything in his movies to embarrass anyone.”
Clark produced, directed and co-wrote “A Christmas Story,” which was released in 1983; more than two decades later, it remains a holiday favorite, shown on television and racking up big DVD sales.
Set in the 1940s and adapted from humorist Jean Shepherd’s novel “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash,” the film starred Peter Billingsley as Ralphie, a young boy determined to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas despite everyone’s fears that he’d put his eye out. In 1997, TNT showed the film for 24 hours straight -- a first for the cable channel. On the film’s 20th anniversary in 2003, a two-disc commemorative DVD was issued.
In a 1997 interview with The Times, Clark said the movie struck a chord with audiences because it deals with a “special time and special feeling. Shepherd’s material had the truth and heart in it.”
Clark’s prolific movie and TV directing career spanned four decades. In addition to producing and directing the cult classic “Porky’s” and its first sequel, he also directed “Turk 182" with Timothy Hutton, Robert Urich and Robert Culp; “Rhinestone” with Dolly Parton and Sylvester Stallone; “Loose Cannons,” a Gene Hackman-Dan Aykroyd cop comedy; “From the Hip” and “Baby Geniuses.”
The “Porky’s” franchise earned an estimated $150 million domestically after taking years to get off the ground. The films were based on Clark’s experiences during the ‘50s with five high school buddies in Florida. In a 1985 interview with The Times, co-writer Roger Swaybill talked about how Clark dictated the outline for the movie into a cassette recorder while sick.
“I was weeping with laughter,” Swaybill said. “I became convinced that I was sharing in the birth of a major moment in movie history. It was the funniest film story I had ever heard.”
Clark also made darker, more brooding pictures. His seminal horror film, “Black Christmas,” was recently reissued on DVD. Though hardly the first slasher film, some fans credit it with influencing other horror films.
“Whether you are a fan of the genre or not, we never would have had films like ‘Friday the 13th’ without ‘Black Christmas,’ ” said Paula Haifley, who in December saw Clark introduce a screening at the New Beverly. “He was funny and friendly, had true respect for the horror genre and its fans, and seeing him was an experience I will never forget. He will be sorely missed by his fans.”
Clark was scheduled to sign a letter of intent tonight to begin production of “There Goes the Neighborhood,” one of three movie projects he was ready to begin, Leavy said.
Ariel Clark, who also went by Ariel Hanrath-Clark, was an avid musician, juggler, gymnast and card dealer, Dodier said. While studying music at Santa Monica College, he came to classes for weeks with his leg in a cast after breaking it while turning cartwheels on the Santa Monica Pier, music professor David Goodman said.
After finishing the college’s applied music program last year, Ariel was assembling a portfolio to continue his studies elsewhere and was intent on composing scores for films and video games, Goodman said. A few of his compositions had been performed by the college’s jazz ensemble.
Ariel was blessed with creativity, and he was upbeat and open to criticism, Goodman said, adding that he had no doubt Ariel would have succeeded. “He was an incredible kid -- with incredible raw talent.”