As we begin the month of February I am sadly reminded that it was during this month in 1987 that we lost one of the most enchanting of film historians Carlos Clarens. Carlos was always a welcomed figure in the lives of so many of us, during those early days of collecting memorabilia and screening films on both coasts. I first came to know Carlos well through another historian/archivist John Kobal. John lived and worked out of his Drayton Court flat in London as well as a smaller New York apt in the Village. Both these men would establish archives that would remain cornerstones in the field to this day.
One afternoon I received a call from John who had just arrived in LA and had already checked into the Chateau Marmont. He wanted me to collect some negatives from Clarence Bull and bring them over to him right away and before he hung up he also said to be prepared for a surprise. Well the surprise was of course Carlos whom John would refer to from time to time as "Lupe" or Carlito depending on his mood. It seems Carlos and I had met once before during one of my infamous pub crawls through the village and managed to spent that particular evening talking about what else films and memorabilia an unlikely choice considering what my original purpose was in going out to the clubs during my very misspent youth.
John had known what an impact The Illustrated History of the Horror film was on my life as I had told him in great detail when we first got to know one another. I was still in high school when our library received a copy of Carlos's book. The first time I opened those pages and saw for the first time stills from such hard to locate classic's as The Student of Prague or The Magician I was mesmerized and so then and there in that high school library I made a pact to see every single film in that book and meet as many of the survivors of these films as possible. We don't always get what we wish for yet for me every single part of my dreams that afternoon came to pass and I would not only meet many of the men and women mentioned in his book but would defy the odds of making friends not only with the illustrious author of my favorite film book but a number of other landmark historians like William K Everson , Peter deRome and Paul Morrisey.
Carlos was without a doubt one of the most amusing of all of the men I would meet during this period. Carlos possessed a wicked sense of fun and that coupled with a photographic memory for details made him a treasure trove of film history. One of his favorite films was The Great Waltz from the 30's, in it Lionel Atwill the infamous mad doctor of the horror movies plays a cad who lusts after the leading lady as usual only this time he used a deck of cards to make a point. Carlos would devise a game around this film and made us all play it over and over during car rides around both London and New York.
The very first time Carlos visited to my apt in Westwood back in 1977, My archive was modest to say the least with just one file cabinet and he chose to make me feel ten feet tall by sitting on the floor looking at one set of movie stills after another and then spotting my file on Tod Browning's Freaks he exclaimed "oh my god you have this in your collection! this is a very hard to find title little Daveed as he used to refer to me "these are roses from your garden never trade or let these out of your sight" I have never forgotten that afternoon or the way he made me feel about cinema. Carlos was unique among historians because he was a force of nature and not the stereotypical bookworm or pale introvert that never sets foot in the daylight. Carlos was a blinding rainbow figure whose humor and sense of fun made him a joy to be around. Carlos spoke five languages, was a production assistant for Jacques Demy and Robert Bresson. He did the english subtitles for Zeffrelli's La Traviata.
The sole reason I have a photo archive today is because of men like Carlos and of course John Kobal. Carlos took his thousands of movie stills out of mothballs and created Photofest with his partner Howard Mandelbaum which is still in place today and essentail to film history as is The Kobal collection. The DelValle Archives is a pale shadow in the glaring light of these monuments to cinema research.
On February 10th 1987 Carlos Clarens suffered a fatal heart attack during an asthma attack and died at the youthful age of 56. It was just three years before that I had diiner with him and he gave me a copy of his second book Crime Movies in which he wrote this inscription ":For David Del Valle Valley Boy Per Excellence Valiant and never down (in the valley) Valparaiso is waiting for us with affection Carlos.....
Valparaiso is indeed on my horizon Carlos......until we meet again....