- Bob had me reading scripts (along with "I, Claudius") by the time I was 12 or so. He had me go through them for basic typos, and to get my reaction. He said I had a good eye for dialogue and could imagine the words translated into pictures. Which kind of begs the question, why did he suggest "I, Claudius"?
- He gave me "Chinatown" to read one afternoon. The studio had sent it over to see if he would want to direct it. I know now what a big deal that was, and why, and I'm not sure exactly why he didn't take or get the gig. When it came out, we thought it was well-directed, but again, I didn't understand at the time what that must have meant to Bob.
- He wrote several scripts that I got to read before they were produced. The most unforgettable was "Something Evil". It was an absolutely terrifying read. He left it with me one evening while he and my mother were out. Remember that I have a facility for turning words into pictures. The story is about a Pennsylvania Dutch farmhouse possessed by the Devil. I know. Pretty scary. I was 14. When they got home, every light in the house was blazing and I was huddled under a blanket on their bed.
- It was (name-dropping spoiler) Steven Spielberg's first professional directing gig. He was just out of USC film school, and this made-for-tv film was his debut. In it he perfected the 'white out' or fade to white. Hollywood had never seen this technique before and he used it with great effect. The manipulation of light became one of Spielberg's trademarks. Bob was very impressed with the 'kid', and liked what he did with the script. For my money, the script was much scarier than the film. It's hard to generate the kind of malevolence Bob intended.
- The devil motif was not new to Bob. He had used the Devil in "The Legend of Jimmy Blue Eyes" back in early 1960. That film was his second short film and was another nomination for an Academy Award. But that's another story for another day. I just thought this was a good one coming up to Halloween.
- More about the Devil and its inspiration in Bob's scripts and films to come.
Bob got out of bed every morning at 5 am. He was absolutely disciplined. 5 am. Up, make a pot of coffee, sit down at the desk, write till 9. Like clockwork. His routine was only interrupted by occasional illness, or a family issue. I sometimes would be awake, or his quiet movements would bring me out of a light sleep. He would have set up the coffee maker the night before and would just push the button, sending the scent up the stairs, or down the stairs, depending. He wouldn't eat. He would just have his coffee at his desk in his office upstairs.
His desk was beautiful - it was burled maple, very simple, very masculine. No frills, no inlays, no turned legs or carvings - just straight lines. It suited him. It was in front of a large window facing out into the branches of an old oak. On the desk there would be a stack of fresh typewriter paper, unlined, and several roller-ball pens in black and blue. Medium point. Very nice for writing.
He would write, or sit and stare out the window. He would sometimes smoke his pipe, but not usually. He never left the desk except to use the bathroom, or maybe get one more cup of coffee after the first. He would lean back, but never put his feet on the desk.
When he did actually write he wrote fiercely, in a rush. He wrote in block print all caps letters laid out in neatly margined paragraphs with no indents. His writing was as disciplined as he was.
Around 9, he would drive into town, buy a paper, and sit at the coffee shop counter for a fresh cup and a donut. Always a white, powdered sugar donut. In that way he was not so much disciplined as habitual. When his weight was up, he would eat the donut, but guiltily. He would read the paper front to back, pushing his lips out when it annoyed him, which was usually, and spent a lot of time on the sports page. After the coffee and donut and paper were done, he would drive back home.
I have never been disciplined. At the time, it seemed silly to me. He could write any time of the day he wanted. Why would anyone get up at 5 if they weren't forced to? But Bob was motivated - he liked to write, he liked to get things down in concrete form. It was evidence of his efforts. I know now that it takes that kind of dedication, that kind of methodical tenacity to really hone your art. And writing is art - it takes practice and routine, just like playing the piano or running the mile. Bob was a director, yes, but he was a writer first. And now I envy his discipline, but I'm working on it.
OK - So this is much more than a blog... it is really the beginning of my work on the story of Bob's life, as I knew it, from the early 60's and up until the late 90's when he died of kidney failure in the Normandy Suite of The Waterside Inn that he and my mother built in Ashland, OR. I hope you will bear with me as I share the memories I have of the most influential person of my life - the one who always encouraged me, no matter what.
I am listening to Dvorak’s 9th Symphony, “From the New World”, and Smetana’s “Moldau”, a rich, moody, heroic and pastoral, orchestral feast. I recognized the music at one point, but didn’t know who the composer was or what it was called. Its music I remember hearing the sounds blasting through the floorboards of my basement room from the living room of our first house in Montecito. Bob would be sitting in a big leather wingback chair, facing an armoire with a built-in stereo system. The volume was very high so that he could hear it. The chair helped catch and hold the sound so that it went through his body and he was immersed in the lyric vibrations. He would close his eyes, lean back into the deep cushions, hands gripping the padded arms of the chair lightly. Sometimes he would toy with a smoldering pipe while the sun streamed in through the 12' span of enormous paned glass windows that overlooked 100 year old fig trees to the west. It was an amazing place to listen to music. And listen he did.
The room was long. My mom complained about it being badly proportioned, at 20’ by 35’, but with a 10’ ceiling which was too low. Still, it was a big, long room and I loved it. Of all things a room could be about, the floor was the focal point once Mom had reinvented it.
Isn’t it odd that every time I set out to write about Bob, it becomes ‘about Mom’?
One day in late July, a vast truck pulled into our circular driveway carrying a load of rough lumber. Just getting the truck in the driveway – and back out again – was a test of our resolve. Four hours later, by some magic of physics, the pile of lumber was transferred and left for us to prepare for installation. This 'recovered' lumber was from an old barn built in the last century from hand-hewn planks, most of them were 30’, and all 14’ wide by 3’ thick. They were massive, heavily worn, and dark under their sun-blasted surface. The planks had to be ‘cleaned up’ - that was Mom’s order – it was to be one of our ‘summer chores’. We, my brother, Rick, and I were to pull nails, bolts, screws, any kind of metal that would be problematic in the installation and refinishing process. We scrambled over those goddamned boards for a week. We started early in the morning while it was still cool, then stopped midday to eat and rest, then back out until near dark.
We found all manner of stays in those boards. Huge screws, some broken off inside the wood, gigantic staples, occasional hinges and hooks, and nails. There were literally buckets of nails to be pulled. They were very strange looking, not at all like the nails I had on rare occasion dealt with. Bob, who came out to help once in a while, to check on us and lend emotional support, explained that the nails were square because they were probably made on site by hand and only round nails were manufactured. This whole concept was a mystery to me. Why would anyone make nails at home, I wondered.
It was decided to leave a selection of particularly nice boards at their full length, 30’, to show off the rarity of the wood. We learned that modern lumber would rarely if ever be found in these dimensions, either in length or breadth. Presenting them in their full length was part of honoring both their makers and the trees they were made from, and a bit of a brag for my mom.
I was 16. I couldn’t have given a rat’s ass about old lumber and hand-made nails. We had only lived in the house for a month or so. We had moved from LA to Montecito in early June, and my loyalty to my old friends and home was sorely tested by the tantalizing potential for new and exciting adventures in this old money enclave just south of Santa Barbara. And there I was, pulling rusty old nails from nasty old lumber while all my new friends were at the beach or tennis courts or whatever, but definitely not working their asses of in their driveways all summer. I was resentful in the way that only a thwarted 16 year old ‘Valley Girl’ could be: I was a Bitch. My mother and I couldn’t even be in the same room for fear she would have to kill me.
One afternoon Bob was helping. There were some nails that were so deeply set I simply did not have the physical strength to pull them with even the heaviest hammer. He was wearing an old button down and jeans – his work clothes. His hands, though large and strong looking, were always white and soft having spent most of their lives working with a pen. He didn’t even type. Sometimes he painted trim or replaced electrical cords on lamps, but for the most part, those hands had not done any hard labor in decades. So, when his huge Belgian fingers grasped the hammer I could barely get my hand around, and began rocking back and forth, side to side, with one final twist, until the nail popped out, lay over on its side, and died a timely death, I was suitably impressed.
We worked together for a bit, in silence, as usual. Bob was hard of hearing bordering on deaf, the result of multiple ear infections in childhood. He lived in his head most of the time, but watched everything around him with an intensity I did not understand and took for granted. It was hot in the sun that day. I tanned as well as any European mutt can, but Bob just turned red under his freckles and would be uncomfortable for a few days after any time spent in full sun. I could see sweat beginning to bead up on his thinning scalp. He was resigned to the task, but it was not feeding his mind or solving his most recent story block or even distracting him from the usual adult worries I preferred to know nothing about. I could see all that, but I could also see that he was, like my brother and I, beginning to wonder what exactly was wrong with the old floor, and where my mother was as we crawled over dirty, old, splintering, nasty-ass lumber for her goddamned floor.
And then I did something I had never done before, and regretted forever. I took my frustration out on my beloved stepfather. I don’t remember what it was exactly – what I said. I know that it wasn’t a single statement, but a quick volley of standard 16 year old off-the-cuff nastiness. It was the culmination of months of stress and worry and physical exhaustion and anger and frustration all related to the move from one city to another, in the middle of High School, at an age of excruciating insecurity and self-consciousness.
It came out in a blurt, and even now I can feel the nest of rage those comments were housed in: Yet another one of my mother’s projects to be completed by her captives – her husband and children. I was pure resentment. And I took aim at my stepfather and unloaded. ‘Snip, snip, snip, Snipe!’ That’s how I think of it now.
I was about to add one more snipe over my shoulder with a dramatic flourish thrown in, when I heard Bob’s hammer come down with a particular thwack, an edgy sound that some of us have learned to listen for and recognize as a warning. I turned, surprised, to look at him. Bob was rarely if ever openly angry. He was looking at me with his huge blue eyes. There was an obvious and predictable look of disgust and a hint of anger, but deeper there was a sadness, a strange sense of loneliness. It struck me deeply at the time, and even now I can see, but not quite describe the look in his eyes. He shook his head a bit, then said, “You would never talk to me like that if your mother was here.”
He was right, and I was ashamed. He stood up, carefully lay down the hammer, turned his back on me, and walked away.
Days later, when the boards were ready, a professional came out and working directly with my mom, cut and lay the boards into place like a massive puzzle. He stained them a deep mahogany, and finally poured layers of urethane until the wood seemed to glow from within like amber. Even I, as a rebellious and resentful teenager, saw that the floor was gorgeous.
After all these years, with all the minutiae of memories attached to that house, to that room, it is the light I remember the most: the way it came - it streamed through those white-paned windows all day long - and the way it lit the surface of that floor. Every season brought new angles, new colors and shifting nuances to the events in that room, that beautiful room.
And in that beautiful room, absorbing musical masterpieces played back at full blast, watching backlit dust motes sliding along fragrant pipe-smoke causeways, Bob would create films in his head.
I caught just the barest hint of that smoky-listening-sunlit room just now in my tiny, bland, suburban apartment and it propelled me to sit down and write a bit about the father that I called 'Bob'.
I was thinking about Bob, about living with him. He was tall - just over 6' - and usually weighed about 180. He'd get really heavy around the holidays, maybe as much as 200'. Mom would put him on a really strict diet and he'd get pretty pissy and whiney. (After shooting a film he'd be down around 165', but it was a helluva way to lose weight.) I caught him nibbling out of the fridge once and he looked at me like I was a traitor, even before I threatened to tell on him. He had a lot of great 'looks'.
His usual 'funny' face included standing with his legs about a foot apart, one slightly in front of the other. His hands would go to his hips, his shoulders turn slightly to the side, and his head would dip down. With pouty lips, he would look at you from under his eyebrow, as if to say, "Oh, yeah, big guy?" It was a distinctly feminine gesture stolen from the actresses and models of the time. There used to be quite a lot of pictures of him in that pose, but then he stopped doing it. I think one of us told him he did it a little too well.
One of the funniest looks that I can remember, though, was just between us. I happened by the bathroom and the door was ajar just enough to see him standing in front of the mirror over the sink. It was odd, and I stopped to investigate. Pushing the door open just a bit, I could see that he had a tiny pair of scissors trimming the hair inside his nose. I was staring, flabbergasted - I had never seen anyone, let alone my dad, do anything like that in my life.
I looked up to his eyes, which were now looking at me through the mirror. He shook his head slightly and gave me this look - this hysterically funny look that I had never seen on him before - as if to say, "So this is what I've been reduced to..." We both just stood there for a second, but I started to crack up. Not at the nose-trimming, but at his expression. It was the funniest, strangest and most ephemeral of moments, and I had completely forgotten it until just now, thinking about what he was like when he thought no one was looking.
There are so many ways to get lost, and so many ways to get home again. But you can only get there from here. A friend says, "Write about your dad - write about Bob." My brother says, "Everyone wants to know about what it was like for you in the 70's..." Bob said, and keeps whispering from beyond the veil, "Write your stories, kid..."
So - here is a story about Bob Clouse, director of "ENTER THE DRAGON", my dad...
He looked out the window, felt the breeze cooling his feverish skin. Blue and white, sky, curtains, bedspread. Blue and white memories of cold air, bare branches.
Racine, WI 1946
The frozen sky of Wisconsin in winter, stark blue, bitter wind, dirty snow lying thinly over the acres of cabbage fields. Bob bent his long, thin frame over the row, grabbing the icy cabbage head with one hand while cutting it from its crisp stalk with the other, then tossed the head into the crate beside him. Over and over, he bent, cut, tossed, his fingers numb from the cold, his back aching. He tried not to think about his brother, found dead, 3 days ago. Anger flares, making his fingers rigid, his breath forming harsh little clouds in the air, misting his eyelashes and freezing the end of his nose. Suicide. God damn him. He stops, stands slowly, stretching out his back, and stares into the darkening sky.
Bob perches on the fence watching a football team skirmish in the mud. Green Bay Packers, winter training, grunts and whistles and the bellow of the coaches. He pulls the cap lower over his ears and slaps his hands on his thighs to stay warm. He should go home, but he can’t bear to hear his mother crying.
Trudging through the snow, avoiding puddles of slush and dirty water, his head lowered against the wind, Bob makes his way past the poor houses made of clapboard and black asphalt shingle roofs. Smoke settles in the air, softening the stark lines of bare trees against a grey sky. A line runs through his head: “Now is the winter… now is the winter…” He stops before one of the houses, looks into the window where his mother can be seen moving in the kitchen. He can’t bring himself to look at the garage, even now. He does not want to go in, but she needs him. There is only him now. He doesn’t know how to tell her he’s enlisted.