My father was nothing if not a good sport. He had an active and lively sense of humor, which I am pleased to have inherited; he delighted in posing for goofy photos and scenes in home movies. Sometimes these were his idea, sometimes mine.
The oldest gag shots I have. Dad served in Germany in World War II, and upon his arrival back in Brooklyn in 1945, had these taken by an admiring family member. If he wants to have some fun with a bottle, an American flag or take a nap, I figure he earned the right.
Here's one that I think is from 1956, when I was born. That's my Mom on the phone at right. Obviously, it's Christmas. Dad's hilarity wasn't confined to the camera. The family lore is that on this particular Christmas Eve he went out in this Santa costume, got drunk, was picked up by a cop who had the last name Angel, and spent all or most of the evening in jail. The papers next day had the headline, "Angel of Mercy Incarcerates Santa."
Back on the subject of World War II, who better to make fun of Hitler than a World War II veteran? Taken in 1973, a little bit of black electrical tape serves as a mustache. (He used to use a black pocket comb for a quick impression, as well.) Yes, he's in his underwear under the bathrobe - his usual housewear during the hot summer months. When I'd bring girls by the house I'd have to yell and check to see what level of undress the Old Man was in first, to keep from traumatizing females.
Here, in a majestic Polaroid photo from 1972, Dad is wearing a couple of Mom's acrylic crocheted throws in what I thought at the time might make a convincing sort of Romano-British tribal cloak. (I was heavily into Arthurian literature at the time, and my entire life was influenced by Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy.) That sword was a pot-metal ornamental thing we found in a store which specialized in Spanish decor. We also bought a phony mace there, and hung up both on the den walls (along with some pistol-shaped Avon bottles) as a sort of militant statement that the Clarks were not meant to be trifled with. You'll notice that the sword is somewhat curved, and that it seems to follow the line of my dad's chest. That's because I snapped it in half while hacking up cardboard box Saxons. The duct tape repair left it a little less than straight. That black armband - favored wear of countless chiefs - is a piece of naugahyde. Of course, the Romano-British chieftain is sitting in an avocado Stratolounger, and that the fabric arm protectors came from some other piece of furniture, now lost to memory. (We may have gotten it from another family!) You can barely see it, but on his left pinkie Dad is wearing the Montgomery Ward fake amethyst ring Mom bought for me. I used to pretend it was derived from the great purple stone on the pommel of Excalibur that Rosemary Sutcliffe describes in a favorite book, Sword at Sunset. Finally, Dad ties the whole look together with his majestic gaze. Will his men be able to hold back the North Sea invaders? Or will his reign represent the final flowering of a great Celtic people before the darkening of civilization's light?
This time Dad is modeling a blanket, a plastic handgun, a partially-hidden Avon bottle/pistol and an ornamental Knights of Columbus sword (that also defeated many a cardboard box Saxon) and a fake bullwhip, all of which I supplied. He supplied the take-no-prisoners grimace.
That's Mom's New Hampshire painting in the background - and thereby hangs a tale.
Me Mighty Ape-Man! Me pound on chest and drink beer! Me blow you a kiss! (Undated photo from the late Fifties.)
From c. 1977. That is not a cigar. If I remember correctly, it's a Lincoln Log I found in the street.
From c. 1970. I used to call my Dad "The Bear," and indeed, he was very bearlike. He used to sing a song (about "The Love Bug") adapted from an old Little Rascals short: "The Bear will get you if you don't watch out/And if he ever gets you, you will scream and shout/You'll say doodley-doodley-doodley-doodley-doodley-doodley, doo/The Bear knows you." My idea for this shot was that he was going to menacingly stumble out of the trees and shubbery behind the pool.
At the time this photo was taken, the comedian Rich Little was getting a lot of mileage out of President Richard M. Nixon's double victory fingers stance - so did Dad. (Later on, the line "I am not a crook" would get repeated a lot in our house.)
So you want to be a rock and roll star/Then get a guitar/And learn how to play. Well, perhaps not. From 1975, Dad is holding the cheap Fender Jazz bass copy I got in Texas.
From 1971 or 1972. When I realized that I could make double exposures using the Polaroid, my first and most easily-willing subject was, as usual, Dad.
From 1976. Here's a rather poor photo of Dad choking one of Mom's hanging plants - or at least he's choking the pot it's in. He was never a big fan of this particular hobby of Mom's.
Dad was a fan of Laurel and Hardy, and could do a pretty convincing Oliver Hardy impression when he wanted. In fact, there are certain little stares and mannerisms I see Oliver Hardy do in the comedies that remind me strongly of Dad. I think this is one of those moments, as he receives a Beatles hairstyle from Kitty Holland. April, 1964.
From a 1964 trip to the Movieland Wax Museum - and a typical facial "take" from Dad. When this shot was taken I was thrilled to have my photo with Frankenstein, as he was my favorite movie monster. As a child I somewhat resented my Dad being in the shot. As an adult, looking fondly back on my childhood years, I have no doubt as to who the true star is in this photo.
Speaking of Frankenstein, I must have been thinking about the lighting in those old Boris Karloff films when I took this one. From 1977.
Del Mar racetrack, 1976. The little girl at right with the dubious expression on her face is probably thinking, "What's with the weird Gringo?"
From 1976 or 1977. Not a gag photo per se, except that the combination of the checkered pants, the bizarre shirt and the orange sweater made people gag. The truly odd thing, in retrospect, was that I was never embarassed to be seen with him dressed like this in public!