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

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

Marlene Clark, the statuesque actress who played Lamont’s girlfriend Sanford and son and excelled in 70’s films such as Ganja & Hess, Switchblade sisters AND Slaughter, is dead. He was 85 years old.

Clark died on May 18 at her home in Los Angeles, her family announced. No cause of her death has been disclosed.

Clark also starred as a reptilian seductress in Roger Corman Night of the cobra woman (1972) and as one of the alleged werewolves in the British horror film The beast must die (1974), and was one of the first victims of the film directed by Larry Hagman Attention! The blob (1972).

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Clark played the role of John Saxon’s secretary Enter the dragon (1973), starring Bruce Lee, and also included his body of work for the big screen 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, Clark shone as a widow named Ganja who is turned into a vampire by Dr. Hess Green (Duane Jones), an anthropologist turned immortal bloodsucker. Eventually he gives up on that way of life, but she carries on. The film was the only American entry in the Critics Week sidebar at that year’s Cannes Film Festival.

“There are so many layers to her personality,” she said of her character in a 2000 Schlock temple interview. “She is such a collection of contradictions. Playing that part was very rewarding.”

Clark played a government agent in the film with Jim Brown Slaughter (1972) and Muff, the leader of an all-female black gang that aims to derail homicidal drug dealers, in Switchblade sisters (1975), directed by Jack Hill.

She then starred as Janet Lawson, the love interest of Demond Wilson’s character, in six NBC episodes Sanford and son from 1976 to 1977. Lamont’s pop Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx) doesn’t approve of their getting engaged at first, but he comes around.

Marlene Clark and Calvin Lockhart in THE BEAST MUST DIE, 1974

Marlene Clark with Calvin Lockhart in “The Beast Must Die” 1974

Courtesy of the Everett Collection

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

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

Clark followed with parts in John Schlesinger Midnight Cowboys (1969), by Robert Downey Sr Putney Swope (1969) – she was a topless flight attendant in a spoof of an airline commercial in that – and Hal Ashby’s The owner (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 hadn’t been seen in years.

“Most of the movies I’ve been in either didn’t come out when they were supposed to or never came out at all — and if the movies aren’t released, 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.”

Clark, however, managed to find work on episodes of Marcus Welby, MD, Bonanza, mod. team, McCloud, The rookies, Barnaby Jones, Flamingo Road, Highway to Heaven AND Class monitor before leaving 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, he curated a vibrant restaurant scene where underground artists mingled with locals and film and television stars,” his family said. “She had a vision of culinary excellence coupled with dynamic professional service and would outline the blueprint for Los Angeles’ glamorous restaurant scene brilliantly projected with his insightful eye.

“Marlene’s style was impeccable. She loved fashion, food and acting. We will miss her wide, full laughter that could fill a room. She leaves behind friends and family who will be forever grateful for her grace, her love, and her beautiful heart. Marlene was one of our best examples of black beauty.

She was the second wife of actor Billy Dee Williams (they married 1968-1971), and they appeared together on the 1970 NBC telefilm Flight lost.