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Let's face it, Lana Clarkson was not the best actress around, her
legacy to cinema history is not all that insurmountable, and in a bitter
ironic twist, her main claim to fame is actually her death from a gunshot
in the foyer of legendary music producer Phil Spector's Alhambra,
to just dismiss Clarkson as a mere footnote in Spector's own biography would not do the woman justice either, she should at least be credited for
being one of the few females to play lead roles in the extremely macho
barbarian movie genre, one of the few American 1980's action heroines, and a woman
who just tried to push her career onwards even when the odds were against
her, and who, should need arise, was able to switch gear from action
heroine to other fields of performing, most surprisingly of all even in stand-up comedy.
Early Life, Early Career
Lana Clarkson was born in 1962 in Long Beach, California, but spent
most of her childhood and youth in Cloverdale, California, where she
enjoyed a fairly normal upbringing. And she grew up do be quite a beauty,
and long-legged, too, so when the family - after Lana's dad's death -
moved to Los Angeles, she didn't take long to attract the attention of photographers and the like, and at age 16, she became a model, and had
quite some success in the profession.
From modelling, it was
only a small step to doing extra parts in movies and on television.
the 1982 highschool comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High
(Amy Heckerling) starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold and Sean
Penn was nothing more than just another extra gig for Lana, but then apparently
fate struck: According to legend, character actor Vincent Schiavelli, who
plays a science teacher in the film, came up with the idea to give his
character a really hot blonde wife - and since this idea was made up on
the spot, he pretty much had only the extras on hand to choose from ...
including of course Lana Clarkson, whose model looks made her the obvious choice.
Sure enough, Clarkson's role wasn't particularly big, she just had a
handful of lines, but it was enough to catch the attention of Hollywood,
and soon enough she was cast in a few more movies including Brian De
Palma's Scarface (1983) starring Al Pacino and the Kirstie
Alley-starrer Blind Date (1984, Nico Mastorakis), again in supporting roles, and she made guest appearances on pretty much every
other popular TV-show of the 1980's, including Three's Company
(1983), The Jeffersons (1983), Mike Hammer
(1984), Knight Rider (1984), Who's the Boss
(1984), The A-Team (1985), Hotel (1986), and Amazing
above-mentioned film- and TV-work at least meant steady work and presence
in the public eye, none of it was destined to make Lana Clarkson a star,
this was left to a comparatively cheap movie, the Roger Corman-production
Deathstalker (1983, John Watson) [Roger
Corman bio - click here].
Deathstalker wasn't all that great a movie, simply a barbarian
flick shot at the height of the genre trying to cash in on the success of Conan
the Barbarian (1982, John Milius), but it gave Lana Clarkson
plenty of opportunity to shine: Though she didn't receive top-billing and dies
halfway through the film, her appearance as the feisty barbarian ready to
shed her already revealing costumes at appropriate moments in the film's
narrative easily outshines Rick Hill's bland hero and his goodie-two-shoes
love interest Barbi Benton.
Of course, Lana's effect on the (male) audiences didn't go unnoticed by prodcuer Roger Corman, who elevated her to
leading role status in a later barbarian movie, Barbarian
Queen (1985), directed by
Deathstalker's co-producer Héctor Olivera. The film, which Roger
Corman with some justification later dubbed "the original Xena
Warrior Princess", wasn't particularly good, but it was
significant inasmuch as it was one of the very few films of the barbarian
genre that had a woman in the lead. But despite all of the feminist messages
the movie is supposedly transporting, there is hardly an actress in its
doesn't have a rape and/or topless scene at one point or another - which
is probably why the film was way more appealing to a male, beer-drinking
audience than to any self-respecting feminist ... and despite all of its
Queen featured just enough action and nudity to become a cult
classic with a fanboy audience.
Lana's role as female barbarian did definitely catch on with the audiences, so much so that in 1989, she
returned in the not at all related sequel Barbarian Queen II: The
Empress Strikes Back (Joe Finley). Compared to the first film, number
two features a few more supernatural elements (not too many though, since
the budget was tight), but its main focus is of course Lana Clarkson
again, and there are numerous excuses woven into the plot to get her
topless (including a mud-wrestling scene).
Lana was also a barbarian woman in the film Wizards of the
Lost Kingdom 2 (1989, Charles B.Griffith), another Roger Corman
production also starring David Carradine, Mel Welles and Sid Haig, but
this one's really bottom-of-the-barrel, inasmuch as it recycles most of
Lana's action scenes from Barbarian
Queen and has her only doing some linking sequences. And to avoid
redubbing of the old material, her character in this one's even called
Amathea, just like in the first Barbarian
Queen. Still, bad movie lovers might get a chuckle or two out of
Even before Barbarian Queen II and Wizards of the
Lost Kingdom 2 though, Lana Clarkson acted in a film that
successfully spoofs her action babe persona: Amazon Women of the Moon
(1987, John Landis, Joe Dante, Peter Horton, Robert K.Weiss, Carl
Gottlieb), a spoof of contemporary television programming in anthology
film format. Clarkson can be seen in the titular episode (directed by
Robert K.Weiss), a parody of 1950's style space operas - but her appearance
is overshadowed by the performance of Sybil Danning [Sybil
Danning bio - click here], maybe the only other female action
star of the USA of the 1980's.
the early 1990's, Lana Clarkson's greatest successes turned into a sort of
curse: She had become so popular as a female barbarian (at least with a
certain audience segment) that only few people wanted to see her in other
roles - but by 1990, the barbarian genre was pretty much as dead as a
doorknob, and nobody had the slightest interest in resurrect ingit, which
meant for Lana it was back to supoporting roles in films and on television, and the
two feature films she shot in the 1990's are not especially worth
mentioning, Jim Wynorski's Edgar Allan Poe adaptation The Haunting of
Morella (1990) starring David McCallum and produced by Roger Corman, and a
very small role in the ill-conceived, belated sequel Another 9 1/2
Weeks/Love in Paris (1997,
Anne Goursaud) starring Mickey Rourke and Angie Everhart ... not that her
television work in series like Night Court (1990), Wings
(1992), Silk Stalkings (1993, 1995) or Land's End
(1996) was much more significant though.
During the 1990's
though, Lana Clarkson did a lot of work on commercials, often with a comic
edge, to keep herself in the public eye, and she even did stunt work on
the film Retroactive (1997, Louis Morneau), a science fiction
thriller starring James Belushi.
It was only in 2000 that Lana Clarkson's career seemed to get back on track (as sexy action babe) with the film Vice Girls
(Richard Gabai), in which she plays one of three female cops (the others
are played by Liat Goodson and Kimberley Roberts) who go undercover in the
porn industry to catch a serialkiller. Now of course, this is a pure piece
of sexploitation of the B-movie variety ... but not without its amusing
moments. Trash filmmaker Jim Wynorski had his hands in production by the
Besides this film, she also appeared in the short Little
Man on Campus (2000, Morgan Lawley), a highschool comedy/melodrama, in
a supporting role in March (2001, James P.Mercurio), a quite
serious drama, and she had a role in the episode Virtual Vice
(2001, Susan Tuan) of Roger Corman's
sexy-superheroine series Black Scorpion that also featured
Lou Ferrigno [Lou Ferrigno
bio - click here].
Clarkson could not use the momentum of all these films to make
a comeback as action heroine though as in 2001, she broke her wrists,
which put her plans for career recovery on hold - yet she remained
optimistic about her situation, tried her hands on standup comedy and
started production on Lana Unleashed, a showcase reel of herself.
Plus, she appeared at numerous conventions around the country to get in
touch with the fan following she still had thanks primarily to Barbarian
Yet, in the early 2000's, it got harder and harder for
Lana Clarkson to make ends meet, so she eventually accepted a job as a
hostess in the legendary House of Blues in West Hollywood ...
In a bitter twist of irony, the job at the House of Blues, the
job she took to finance restarting her faltering career, eventually led to Lana
On the night to February 3rd, 2003, Clarkson, then 40,
met 62 year old music producer Phil Spector at the House of Blues, and for
some reason, she allowed him to invite her to his home in Alhambra,
California, after her shift had ended.
They seem to only have met that evening, since there is no evidence they
were acquainted with each other before that night.
Phil Spector, it should
be noted, was a legendary music producer in the 1960's and 70's, known for
his work for such diverse acts as the Righteous Brothers, the Ronettes,
the Crystals, Leonard Cohen, Ben E.King and even the Ramones, known for his
development of multi-layered production techiques dubbed the Wall of
Sound, but also known for kitsching up the Beatles' Let it Be
(who only in recent years released an alternative version of the album, Let
it Be Naked, with all of Spector's input gone) and Ike
and Tina Turner's River Deep Mountain High ... by the early 2000's
however, his big successes were all a thing of the distant past.
from having once been a successful music producer, Spector was also known
for his egocentric behavious, his notoriously bad tember, and there were
rumours about several incidents involving gunplay. Nothing but rumours, sure,
Fact is: In the early morning hours, Lana Clarkson was found
shot dead in the foyer of Spector's home. She had been shot in the mouth
and the gunshot must have immediately killed her. The
police was informed by Spector's driver, who claimed he heard his employer
saying "I think I killed somebody". The gun Clarkson was shot
with apparently belonged to Spector, however he later denied having
anything to do with her death - but then he would, right?
Spector was formally charged with murder
only in November of 2003 but released on a $ 1 million bail. In the trial
that followed, Spector tried to present Clarkson's death as accidental
suicide (?), was represented by a series of celebrity lawyers (most of
whom he fell out with during the trial), and presented the jurors with a
panel of questionable experts. Eventually, the jurors found themselves in
a deadlock (10 voted for guilty, only two for not guilty) and the judge
declared a mistrial in late 2007.
A new trial is set for fall
2008, but what exactly happened between Spector and
Clarkson we might never learn, since his attorneys and so called experts
make it impossible to find out the truth - even if he should be innocent.
Fact is though that Clarkson was indeed killed by Spector's gun at his
home, and that the gun was apparently shoved down her throat.
add insult to injury, some foreign media, not quite familiar with
the expression hostess, dubbed Lana Clarkson a call-girl, which quite
simply she was not.
enough, her death in Phil Spector's home made Lana Clarkson way more of a
household name than any of her films did. That isn't to say that any of
Clarkson's films was particularly great or she was too great an actress,
but she was one of the few women of 1980's action cinema who was not just
a pretty face but showed some considerable guts, who knew how to use a
just as well as her female charms to get what she wants, and who wasn't
afraid to combine a feminist attitude with very revealing outfits.
apart from her onscreen persona she was a woman who wasn't likely to give
up, who despite of all setbacks worked on her comeback - she was only 40
at the time of her death and not too old to make it again -, and who even
tried different routes (like standup comedy) to not vanish from the public
And of course, with films like Barbarian
Queen - despite of all their shortcomings - she has played herself
into the hearts of a loyal fanboy audience that isn't likely to ever
forget her again ...
Update: In April 2009, Phil Spector
was sentenced to 19 years to life for the second degree murder (~
non-premeditated murder) of Lana Clarkson. At least in some cases, justice