It’s pretty remarkable that the director of A Christmas Story – the perennial family-friendly favorite about a boy who really wants an air gun – made one of the raunchiest teen movies of its time.
His Porky’s was credited (or blamed) for launching a cascade of teen puerilism such as American Pie and Superbad.
Could it be that the creator of Porky’s was influenced by his years in Fort Lauderdale?
Born in New Orleans, Bob Clark spent his early childhood in Birmingham, Alabama, and moved to Fort Lauderdale at age 7.
“I was quite a savage little being – we were very poor, my father died, my mother was a barmaid, so I pretty much ran the streets,” he once told the Guardian.
Interest in movies started early, he said: “I used to go down to the theaters on Las Olas Boulevard.” (They’re long gone.) Running the streets or not, he graduated from Fort Lauderdale High, and Porky’s was based on his high school misadventures with five friends. (In the film, the teens attend the fictional Angel Beach High School.)
Clark knew early on he wanted to be a writer but didn’t find his niche until he attended the University of Miami. There he got involved in theater and did some acting in the burgeoning film industry. His first attempt at a movie, described in an interview with Icons of Fright, was shot in a “jungle community on the edge of the Everglades” using a studio in the back room of a funeral parlor.
Said Clark, “Nobody knew what they were doing, me included.”
But in 1972 he shot a film in a Miami park and it was picked up for release in Canada, where he later resided. Family and friends had put up $40,000 for a movie blending comedy and horror, with the great title Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things.
Soon thereafter, his path took a higher trajectory with Black Christmas (1974); Murder by Decree (1979), which found him at the age of 29 in London with the likes of John Gielgud and James Mason; Tribute (1980), with Jack Lemmon; and A Christmas Story (1983). As a director and a producer he worked on a variety of film and TV projects, including The Dukes of Hazzard and duds such as Baby Geniuses and Rhinestone.
Porky’s was released in 1981. Slammed by many critics, it soon drew a cult following – and then took off. It earned $150 million domestically and remains Canada’s box-office champ.
In a 1985 interview with the Los Angeles Times, his Porky’s co-writer Roger Swaybill said Clark dictated the outline for the movie into a cassette recorder while sick in bed.
When he heard the recording, Swaybill said, he “was weeping with laughter.”
“I became convinced,” he said, “that I was sharing in the birth of a major moment in movie history. It was the funniest film story I had ever heard.”
Among the film’s fans, according to Clark: “Arthur Miller loved it, Norman Mailer was a huge fan, David Mamet, even Pauline Kael.”
The film drew scattered charges of misogyny but Clark maintained, “It’s not the women who are the subject of ridicule in Porky’s, not at all! It’s continually the men who are made to be fools.”
The sequel, Porky’s II: The Next Day almost matched the first’s success. Clark was not associated with the third incarnation of the franchise.
Canuxploitation – a Canadian website that explores “B movies” – caught up with Clark for interviews in the years just before his death in 2007. He and one of his sons were killed in a car crash, the fault of a drunk driver on a California highway.
Asked about a scene in Porky’s where a cop uses the N-word, Clark emphatically argues that it was to expose the racism, not celebrate it. By way of this discussion, we get a little more flavor of his days in Fort Lauderdale.
Where he grew up in Birmingham, he used to go to black neighborhoods to “play with the kids there—I loved them.” But when he moved to Fort Lauderdale in the 1950s, “I went to a segregated high school. There were ‘No Jews Allowed’ signs on the beach still, and I didn’t understand this; it shocked me.”
With an amazingly eclectic career, Bob Clark rose to the top echelons of directing with films like A Christmas Story and Tribute. He was busy on projects up until the time of his death. But it’s clear the fast times at Fort Lauderdale High, captured so unforgettably in Porky’s, had a special place in his heart.