Towards the end of 1983's “Fast Times At Ridgement High,” ghoulish Mr. Vargas (played to perfection by Vincent Schiavelli) introduces his gorgeous blonde wife to some of his awe-struck male students. Mrs. Vargas looks and sounds just like Marilyn Monroe, except she's 6' tall and towers over everyone. Since Mr. Vargas seems to delight in conducting the dissection of a real human body for the edification of his nauseated class, the mere appearance of Mrs. Vargas is a visual joke, that someone as weird and creepy as her husband could possibly attract a vibrant goddess like her.
Lana Clarkson was just twenty when she played Mrs. Vargas, younger than several of the actors who played Ridgmont High students. Her work in “Fast Times” plus her appearance in “Scarface” as a Babylon Club patron seemed to ensure a bright future for the promising starlet. To be gorgeous and blonde in Hollywood does not guarantee the fame that Jean Harlow and Marilyn Monroe achieved once upon a time in the days before Botox, liposuction and collagen injections. As a cult favorite, though, Lana Clarkson did well enough and better than most members of the Screen Actors Guild.
She was a guest star on at least fifteen television series over the years. Among comic book buffs, she is best known as Amethea and Princess Athelia in two “Barbarian Queen” movies and “Wizards Of The Lost Kingdom II,” all released by Roger Corman in the late eighties. Clarkson seemed to delight in the affection of her fans when she made personal appearances at comic book conventions. Her career took her to Argentina, Mexico and France where her pictures were shot quickly on strict budgets. She was Kaira opposite Barbi Benton in 1984's “El Cazador De La Muerte,” released in the U.S. as “Deathstalker.” That same year, she played Rachel in “Blind Date,” also starring Kirstie Alley. 1987's “Amazon Women On The Moon” featured an all-star cast including Clarkson as Alpha Beta in a stunning space suit. It was the sort of movie best seen with giggling friends late at night, but it was panned by reviewers who may have resented several irreverent and unflattering references to movie critics sprinkled throughout the 85 minute spoof. Her 1996 portrayal as Jan Cooper in “Vice Girls” and a fleeting appearance in a fashion show sequence for 1997's “Another 9 1/2 Weeks” represented some of Lana Clarkson's more recent work.
She did not appear to be a suicide blonde and she did not die in a bed with an empty bottle of pills nearby. But this child of the sixties and seventies, born in Long Beach, California when Marilyn Monroe was struggling to make “Something's Got To Give” died far too young in the foyer of a home where anyone who had ever read Ronnie Spector's autobiography "Be My Baby" would never dream of entering. Lana Clarkson is the Capital-W Woman who remained unidentified in so many of the early news stories about the sixties music producer who is accused of taking her life. His friends talk about his genius or his apparent happiness recently or his classic work on “Imagine” or the fact that John Lennon was his friend, but they don't really focus on Lana Clarkson, whose twenty years as a bright personality, an actress and an AIDS activist have already faded into an instant blur. So many gorgeous blondes die young in Hollywood that only the shy, polite fans who attend comic book and collectors' conventions seem to remember the hard-working, hopeful, funny, eager-to-please human beings that they used to be. Alive, they're never identified as gifted, certainly not as gifted as the most recent dead blonde, but afterwards? Just watch every forty-year-old blonde scramble to win an Oscar playing Lana Clarkson, and who can really blame them? It's a living.
© 2003 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 2/5/03
Lana Clarkson - Hollywood Blonde
1962 - 2003