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Marlene Clark, actress in ‘Sanford and Son’ and ‘Ganja & Hess,’ dies at 85


Marlene Clark, the statuesque actress who played Lamont’s fiancé Sanford and Son and stood out in 1970s movies like Ganja & Hess, Switchblade Sisters And Slaughter, has passed away. She turned 85.

Clark passed away at her Los Angeles home on May 18, her family announced. No cause of death was revealed.

Clark also played the role of a reptilian seductress in Roger Corman’s Night of the Cobra Woman (1972) and as one of the suspected werewolves in British horror film The beast must die (1974), and she was an early victim in the Larry Hagman-directed Look after! The Blob (1972).

Clark played John Saxon’s secretary Enter the Dragon (1973), starring Bruce Lee, and also including her big screen body of work Black mamba (1974), Newman’s law (1974), Lord Shango (1975) and The Baron (1977), where she appeared opposite her Beast must die on-screen husband, Calvin Lockhart.

In the surreal Ganja & Hess (1973), directed by Bill Gunn, starred Clark as a widow named Ganja who is turned into a vampire by Dr. Hess Green (Duane Jones), an anthropologist turned immortal leech. He eventually gives up on that way of life, but she fights on. The film played as the only American entry in the Critics Week sidebar at the Cannes Film Festival that year.

“There are so many levels to her personality,” she said of her character in 2000 Temple of Schlock interview. “She’s such a collection of contradictions. Playing that role was very rewarding.

Clark portrayed a government agent in the lead role of Jim Brown Slaughter (1972) and Muff, the leader of an all-female black gang bent on derailing murderous drug dealers, in Switchblade Sisters (1975), directed by Jack Hill.

She then returned as Janet Lawson, the love interest of Demond Wilson’s character, in six episodes of NBC’s Sanford and Son from 1976-77. Lamont’s puppet, Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx), doesn’t approve of them initially getting engaged, but he comes by.

Marlene Clark with Calvin Lockhart in 1974’s ‘The Beast Must Die’

Courtesy of the Everett Collection

Born in Harlem on December 19, 1937, Clark often spent her summers in West Virginia, her mother’s hometown.

She attended Morristown Junior College in Tennessee and City College in New York and worked as a model before making her film debut in For the love of ivy (1968), starring Sidney Poitier.

Clark followed with parts in John Schlesinger’s Midnight cowboy (1969), Robert Downey Sr.s Putney Swope (1969) – she was a topless flight attendant in an airline commercial spoof in it – and Hal Ashby’s The landlord (1970), co-written by Gunn.

Gunn hired her for his directorial debut with Stop! (1970), but the film received an X rating, shelved by Warner Bros. and haven’t seen it in years.

“Most of the movies I was in didn’t come out when they were supposed to or didn’t come out at all — and if the movies don’t come out, the studios won’t do anything to promote them,” she said. “So you miss out on all that publicity that can lead to other jobs.”

However, Clark managed to find work on episodes of Marcus Welby, physician, Bonanza, Mod Squad, McCloud, The rookies, Barbara Jones, Flamingo road, Highway to heaven And Head of the class before retiring from acting in the late 1980s.

While still acting, she opened her own clothing store on Melrose Avenue in the 1980s and then became the manager of Hal’s Bar & Grill in Venice Beach.

“For 15 years she curated a vibrant restaurant scene where underground artists mingled with locals and the stars of film and television,” said her family. “She had a vision of culinary excellence coupled with dynamic professional service and would set the blueprint for the glamorous LA restaurant scene, cast brilliantly with her discerning eye.

“Marlene’s style was impeccable. She loved fashion, food and acting. Her big, full smile that could fill a room will be missed. She leaves behind friends and family who will forever be grateful for her grace, love and beautiful heart. Marlene was one of our finest examples of black beauty.”

She was the second wife of actor Billy Dee Williams (they were married from 1968-71), and they appeared together in the 1970 NBC telefilm Lost flight.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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