He was excellent as the obnoxious Tornatore version of Jelly Roll Morton in The Legend of 1900. The scene showing the piano duel between him and Tim Roth is as devastating a humiliation as I ever hope to see on film.
Clarence Williams III made his film debut in a bit part as a “message runner” in the 1959 Korean War drama PORK CHOP HILL. Lewis Milestone (ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT) directed the film. According to Milestone, the film was cut by nearly 20 minutes because Gregory Peck's wife felt that her husband made his first entrance too late into the picture.
The incidents in the film were based on an actual April 1953 battle that raged while peace negotiations were being held. Leonard Rosenman's score has not had a release. The picture made it into the top 50 films of the year at the box office, with a $5.6 million gross.
THE COOL WORLD was a look at the horrors of Harlem ghetto life, in which “Duke” (Hampton Clanton), a black teenager and member of the Royal Pythons gang, lives in Harlem with his mother (Gloria Foster) and grandmother (Georgia Burke). Following the departure of their friend Littleman's father (Jay Brooks), the Pythons appropriate the apartment, installing “Luanne” (Yolanda Rodriguez) as resident prostitute. Despite the fact that Luanne is the girlfriend of Python president “Blood” (Clarence Williams III), she and Duke fall in love.
White independent filmmaker Shirley Clarke directed the film, which engendered some debate as to whether African Americans were better qualified to make films about their people. The film was the first cinematic venture for attorney-producer Frederick Wiseman. His own Wiseman Film Productions released the picture on 20 April 1964 at Cinema II in New York City, five days after it opened in Paris. The film’s score was by Mal Waldron, who performed it along with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, Yusef Lateef, Aaron Bell, and Arthur Taylor. The score was released on a Philips LP, which was re-issued on CD by Verve in 1996.
The film cost $250,000 to produce. On 26 October 1965, Daily Variety reported that the three “racial-themed” independent films of 1964, THE COOL WORLD; ONE POTATO, TWO POTATO; and NOTHING BUT A MAN, had proven to be commercially successful. THE COOL WORLD was selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1994.
The concept was to take three rebellious, disaffected young social outcasts and convince them to work as unarmed undercover detectives as an alternative to being incarcerated themselves. They were “The Mod Squad” ("One black, one white, one blonde"), described by one critic as "the hippest and first young undercover cops on TV". Each of the characters represented mainstream culture's principal fears regarding youth in the era: long-haired rebel “Pete Cochran” (Michael Cole) was evicted from his wealthy parents' Beverly Hills home, then arrested and put on probation after he stole a car; “Lincoln Hayes” (Clarence Williams III), who came from a family of 13 children, was arrested in the Watts riots, one of the longest and most violent actual riots in Los Angeles history; flower child “Julie Barnes” (Peggy Lipton), the "canary with a broken wing," was arrested for vagrancy after running away from her prostitute mother's San Francisco home. “Captain Adam Greer” (Tige Andrews) was a tough but sympathetic mentor and father figure who convinced them to form the squad.
Michael Cole, Clarence Williams III, and Peggy Lipton in “The Mod Squad”
Sporting a huge Afro, paisley shirts, dark shades and spouting catchphrase language like "dig it" and "solid," the gap-toothed Linc (and his mod partners) showed the requisite anti-establishment defiance and coolness to attract the hip generation--while still playing good guys.
A pilot film was shot in 1968, with a running time of 74 minutes, but it was never aired in its entirety. The film was edited to 50 minutes and aired as the show's first episode. The uncut 74-minute version was never seen until the DVD era, when it appeared on the initial set as the opening episode, "The Teeth of the Barracuda". When the series premiered Williams was 29, Cole was 23, and Lipton was 22.
“The Mod Squad” premiered on ABC on Tuesday, 24 September 1968, at 8 PM. It was an immediate hit, besting its time slot competition of “Lancer” on CBS and “The Jerry Lewis Show” on NBC, and finishing as the #28 show for the year.
In its second season (1969-70), “The Mod Squad” again beat “Lancer” and the NBC comedies “I Dream of Jeannie” and “The Debbie Reynolds Show,” and moved up to the #23 spot for the year.
“The Mod Squad” saw its highest ratings in its third season (1970-71), as it trounced the fading CBS comedies “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Green Acres” and NBC’s new “The Don Knotts Show.” “The Mod Squad” was the 11th-highest-rated show on the air that season.
During a 1995 interview with Terry Gross on the National Public Radio program "Fresh Air," Clarence Williams III poked a bit of gentle fun at the formulaic nature of some of “The Mod Squad's” plots: "I could always tell when the writers were having difficulty coming up with a different show for us. Because they would always bring out the old chestnuts. … One is that the police commissioners complain to Captain Greer that these young kids are running around. So, you'd do that show about two times a season. And then toward the end of the year when we're running low on funds because a few of the shows would go over-budget, there'd always be some kind of murder at a theatrical studio, so we could shoot one on the lot without going on location. So always some movie star who got knocked off, or some makeup person who got knocked off, and the Mod Squad was brought in undercover and so we'd wind up being a grip or a makeup person, or something or other, or a script supervisor, and we'd solve the case. Because that meant we could not go off the lot for that particular episode, because we [usually] used to shoot four days off and three days in."
In its fourth season (1971-72), “The Mod Squad” faced some serious competition from NBC’s “Ironside,” which was then in its fifth season and still potent enough to rank #15 in the ratings for the year. “The Mod Squad” held its own, however, coming in at #21 for the season, and received a renewal.
Asked about the relationship between the show and real life, Williams said, “I know a little about the street. I used to write numbers. I've seen police take bribes. I do know that a lot of officers love to get these jobs in the ghetto because they can shake people down. I know what's going on, but that has nothing to do with a TV show. I'm not appearing on the show each and every week to seduce people into believing in their police departments.”
In its fifth season (1972-73), ABC moved “The Mod Squad” to a new spot on the schedule, Thursdays at 8 PM. There, it went up against a new series on CBS--“The Waltons”—which beat “The Mod Squad” by coming in at #19 for the year. Even worse, the competition on NBC was the popular “Flip Wilson Show,” which ranked #12 for the year. “The Mod Squad” sank to #54 and was cancelled by ABC. Clarence Williams III, Michael Cole and Tige Andrews appeared in all 123 episodes. Peggy Lipton appeared in almost every episode with the exception of two.
Following the end of “The Mod Squad," Clarence Williams III purposely avoided the "blaxploitation" Hollywood scene and returned to the stage, where he had performed in the mid-1960s, prior to “The Mod Squad”.
Williams was coaxed back to television for the reunion movie THE RETURN OF THE MOD SQUAD. The film finds the group reuniting when several attempts are made on the life of their former commander. George McCowan directed the film, which aired on ABC on 18 May 1979. The film was scored by Shorty Rogers and Mark Snow.
Clarence Williams III returned to feature films with a co-starring role in PURPLE RAIN. Prince made his film debut in the 1984 rock musical drama, which was developed to showcase his particular talents. Prince plays a young musician, “The Kid.” His father (Williams), a failed musician, copes with his frustrations by beating his wife and the Kid. The Kid must also contend with a rival singer, a burgeoning romance, and his own dissatisfied band, as his star begins to rise.
Several aspects of the story reflected Prince’s personal life, including the musician “Father.” Prince’s real-life father, John L. Nelson, was a jazz musician and is credited onscreen for writing “Father’s Song.” The tune was released on the PURPLE RAIN album as “Computer Blue,” with words and music by Prince, Wendy Melvoin, Lisa Coleman, Matthew Fink, and John L. Nelson. Clarence Williams III, Olga Karlatos, and Apollonia Kotero were the only professional actors in the entire cast.
The film was directed by Albert Magnoli and written by Magnoli and William Blinn. The story was based loosely on Prince's own life. The film contains several extended concert sequences. The $7 million PURPLE RAIN grossed more than $80 million at the box office, and is the only feature film starring Prince that he did not direct. The film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, who deemed it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" in 2019.
The film won an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score, currently the last to receive the award. The film's background score was by Michel Colombier. The film's soundtrack was issued by Warner Bros. Two days after the film opened, a 29 July 1984 Hollywood Reporter column reported that the PURPLE RAIN LP had just reached sales of eleven million, making it the fourth soundtrack in U.S. history to be granted Platinum status by the Recording Industry Association of America. Since previous soundtracks had been compilations, Prince was the first solo artist to achieve the Platinum award.
When Cannon Group co-producers Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan optioned Elmore Leonard’s novel 52 Pick-Up in 1974, they had Leonard change the setting from Detroit, Michigan to Tel Aviv, Israel. The storyline was also changed: the wife of an American ambassador to Israel has an affair for which the couple is blackmailed, threatening the ambassador’s job. This version was filmed and released in 1984 under the title, THE AMBASSADOR. The picture was directed by J. Lee Thompson and starred Robert Mitchum, Ellen Burstyn, and Rock Hudson. The film took in a paltry $1.5 million at the box office.
Globus and Golan decided to try again in 1986 with the original Leonard story. Director John Frankenheimer had told his agent that he wanted to option Leonard’s novel after reading it. When he learned that Cannon owned the rights, he approached them and asked if he could direct 52 PICK-UP.
In the beginning of the film, industrialist “Harry Mitchell” (Roy Scheider) drives his Jaguar XKE to work as his wife, “Barbara” (Ann-Margret), a clean air commissioner, leaves in her car. After Harry takes care of a few perfunctory things at his office, he drives to a secret apartment to meet his mistress, “Cynthia ‘Cini’ Frazier” (Kelly Preston). Cini is missing, but two masked gangsters force Harry at gunpoint to watch video footage of his vacation with Cini in Palm Springs, when he was supposedly attending a convention. The blackmailers want $105,000 in exchange for the incriminating video. Clarence Williams II plays “Bobby Shy,” one of the partners in the blackmail scheme.
Clarence Williams III in 52 PICK-UP
Filming was scheduled to begin 9 April 1986 in Pittsburgh, PA, standing in for Detroit. However, weather conditions and budgetary concerns led filmmakers to relocate the production and the story's setting to Los Angeles. The film had a ten-week shooting schedule.
The film opened on 7 November 1986. 52 PICK-UP didn’t set the box office on fire, but it did better than THE AMBASSADOR, grossing $5.2 million. Gary Chang’s score was released on a Varese Sarabande LP, which was reissued by Varese on CD in 2016.
In TOUGH GUYS DON’T DANCE, “Tim Madden” (Ryan O'Neal) wakes up from a hangover and relates his troubles to his gritty dad, “Dougy” (Lawrence Tierney). He thinks he's mixed up in drug running and murders, and is the patsy of corrupt police Captain “Alvin Luther Regency” (Wings Hauser) and his own ex-wife, “Patty Lareine” (Debra Sandlund), who has left Tim for “Bolo” (Clarence Williams III), her chauffeur. Various conspirators, fruitcakes, and sexual transgressors include “Wardley Meeks III” (John Bedford Lloyd), a dissolute Ivy League dropout with too much money and not enough sense; “Lonnie Pangborn” and “Jessica Pond” (R. Patrick Sullivan and Frances Fisher) a psychotic pair of drug runners and libertines; and “Stoodie” and “Spider” (Stephan Morrow and John Snyder), local thugs. Added to this is Tim's bad memory—How did those two female heads end up in his basement?—and his discovery that his first girlfriend and lost love “Madeleine” (Isabella Rossellini) is now married to the conniving Regency.
Ryan O’Neal and Clarence Williams III in TOUGH GUYS DON’T DANCE
Norman Mailer wrote and directed the 1987 release. Angelo Badalamenti’s score was released on a Varese Sarabande LP. In 2014, Music Box Records released an expanded version on CD. The $4 million film was a big money-loser, grossing just $858,000. TOUGH GUYS DON’T DANCE would prove to be the final feature film directed by Norman Mailer.
Keenan Ivory Wayans and Bernie Casey co-starred in the 1988 spoof of Blaxploitation films I'M GONNA GIT YOU SUCKA. Wayans played Army veteran "Jack Spade" who has returned to his home town to avenge the death of his brother, with the help of local crime-fighting legend "John Slade" (Casey). Clarence Williams III made a “Special Appearance” as “Kalinga,” a Black Panther whose clout as a political leader has diminished.
Clarence Williams III in I'M GONNA GIT YOU SUCKA
Keenan Ivory Wayans made his theatrical feature directorial debut with the film. None of David Michael Frank's score appeared on the song-track album released by Arista. The $3 million production was a hit, grossing $13 million.
In 1990, Clarence Williams III appeared in two second-season episodes of the David Lynch television series “Twin Peaks”, as FBI Agent “Roger Hardy.” Interestingly, his “Mod Squad” co-star Peggy Lipton appeared in 24 episodes of the show, from 1989 to 1991, as diner owner, “Norma Jennings.” Angelo Badalamenti's music for season 2 was most recently released by Sacred Bones Records in 2013.
Clarence Williams III and Gavan O’Herlihy in “Twin Peaks”
In MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN COWBOYS, rodeo rider “H.D. Dalton” (Scott Glenn) decides to quit his line of work after a serious injury, but when he visits his family, he finds the house in disrepair, and discovers that his dad (Ben Johnson) is not well. So, he'll have to risk it one more time. Clarence Williams III plays “Deputy Virgil” in the film.
Clarence Williams III, Balthazar Getty, and Ben Johnson in MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN COWBOYS
Stuart Rosenberg directed this 1991 modern western drama, his last film. The RCA soundtrack release was a compilation CD of ten pre-existing country songs plus two original score tracks by composer James Horner. The film did below-average business, with a $3.6 million gross.
In DEEP COVER, “Russell Stevens, Jr.” (Laurence Fishburne) is a police officer whose traumatic childhood experiences have made him vow never to touch drugs and alcohol. However, he receives a proposal from a DEA agent named “Gerald Carver” (Charles Martin Smith), who offers him the chance to assume a new identity as “John Q. Hull” and go deep undercover for a major sting operation that will bring down some of the biggest drug suppliers in America. As Hull, Stevens completely disappears into his new life as a drug dealer, and eventually builds up so much street cred that he winds up coming into contact with an attorney named “David Jason” (Jeff Goldblum), who also happens to be the drug trafficker for a major drug kingpin named “Felix Barbosa” (Gregory Sierra). Barbosa enlists “Hernandez” (Julio Oscar Mechoso), a corrupt policeman, to set up a drug bust that exposes Russell. Clarence Williams III plays “Taft,” Hernandez’s upright partner.
Clarence Williams III in DEEP COVER
Bill Duke directed this 1992 crime drama. Only one track from Michel Colombier’s score appeared on the Epic Records song-track CD. DEEP COVER was produced for $7 million and New Line Cinema spent another $5 million on marketing. The film was mildly profitable, with a $16.6 million domestic gross.
There was a lot of black acting talent involved in the made-for-television film FATHER & SON: DANGEROUS RELATIONS, both in front of and behind the camera. Louis Gossett, Jr. was “Leonard Clay,” a boss con. A new prisoner, “Jared Williams” (Blair Underwood), is revealed as his long-lost son. When Underwood is released from jail, the parole board stipulates that Gossett live with him. Gossett gets a job as a car mechanic, and starts romancing “Yvonne” (Rae Dawn Chong). Underwood falls in with his old criminal buddies, who decide to rob the dealership where Chong and Gossett work. Clarence Williams III is “Raymond.”
The film was directed by Georg Stanford Brown, who appeared on “The Rookies” (1972-76). Mark Snow scored the film, which aired on NBC on 19 April 1993.
DEADFALL is loaded with name actors. In the film, Michael Biehn, his dad James Coburn, and associates Peter Fonda and Michael Constantine are all involved in a drug deal that turns out to be an elaborate con involving Coburn pretending to be dead. Unfortunately, things go awry and Coburn really does wind up dead. After this, Fonda suggests that Biehn get out of town, and Biehn decides to go and visit the uncle he never knew he even had until now. Said uncle is also played by James Coburn, and it’s not long before Biehn is running scams for Coburn, being set-up by Coburn’s coke-snorting thug Nicolas Cage, and being seduced by Cage’s moll, Sarah Trigger. The big con involves Coburn, Biehn, creepy Angus Scrimm, and some diamonds. But nothing is what it seems. Along the way, Charlie Sheen plays a pool hustler, Talia Shire is a bartender, while Mickey Dolenz and Clarence Williams III play two of Scrimm’s cronies.
Clarence Williams III, James Coburn, and Mickey Dolenz in DEADFALL
Christopher Coppola directed and co-wrote this 1993 crime drama. Jim Fox provided the unreleased score. The film barely had a theatrical release, grossing just $18,369 before going to video.