Wednesday, June 17, 2009

For Your Consideration: David Clarke

David Clarke
August 30, 1908 - April 18, 2004

Back when the Oscars were the only game in town performances of note were often overlooked at nominating time. Today we look at "the one" from David Clarke.

Chicago born Clarke was a modern-day Vincent Crummles. I shouldn't be surprised if he often said of the theatre "I had a dog that lived and died in it from a puppy...". A performer, playwright and stage manager. A fellow toiler beside the Lunts, Houseman, Welles, and Hepburn.

Nora Dunfee
December 25, 1915 - December 23, 1994

Clarke married Nora Dunfee in 1946. His marriage to the revered actress and coach (Master Teacher of Speech New York University Tisch School of Arts) lasted 48 years. Their daughters found life in the Arts as well.

Katharine Dunfee Clarke known as K.C. Ligon
August 26, 1948 - March 25, 2009

K.C. Ligon performed on stage with her parents and in films. She followed in her mother's footsteps as a renowned dialect coach. She followed in her parents footsteps with a long (1976 - 2009) marriage to actor Tom Ligon. In 1975 Tom directed a production of David's play Never a Snug Harbor for the New Dramatists in NYC.

Susan Dunfee (Clarke), born November 18, 1956, now Susan Bennet, performed on stage and screen as a youngster and is the married mother of two.


I first became aware of Mr. Clarke through his role in the 70s television series Ryan's Hope. He played old-school gangster Tiso Novotny. He played it well. Through the years I have seen him in such favourite movies as The Narrow Margin, Intruder in the Dust, The Boy With Green Hair and Edge of the City.

1949s The Set-Up directed by Robert Wise and based on a poem by Joseph Moncure March gave David Clarke the most memorable role of his screen career. (That's Clarke in the poster above with his arm around Robert Ryan.) The Set-Up is a story told in real time. One evening in the lives of boxers and gangsters, both scrambling for a living on the mean streets. The cast in this ensemble piece work together in theatrical and cinematic perfection. The role of a punchdrunk boxer could be such a cliche, yet in Clarke's capable hands, Gunboat Johnson seems revealed to us with his entire heartbreaking life story to view.

David Clarke had a life in the career of his choice and a family to be proud of and love. He didn't need an Oscar, but if that peer recognition were to come his way, it would surely have been for Gunboat.

The Set-Up is readily available on DVD for your pleasure. The year of its release it was nominated for a BAFTA (Best Film from any source/USA). The Cannes Film Festival Milton Krasner won for Best Cinematography and Robert Wise received the FIPRESCI Prize awarded by the International Federation of Film Critics. The film was not nominated for any Oscars.


  1. Wow. Thanks so much. If you're in NYC, we're having a memorial for K.C. at Circle in the Square (on W.50th Street, between 8th Avenue and Broadway) on Monday June 22, at 6:30 PM.

    Tom Ligon

  2. Tom, thank you so much for visiting this blog and commenting. It means a lot to me.

    My thoughts will be with you, your friends and family next Monday.

    Best wishes,

  3. David Clarke scared me so much as Tiso Novotny on Ryan's Hope. He looked so harmless, but you had better do what he wanted, of else. Bang, bang!
    I was compelled to write him a letter telling him how much I admired his ability to draw us into his world. Well, I'm happy to tell you that fine gentleman wrote me back. He told me how very pleased he was that I appreciated his performance, and took the time to tell him. It was a friendly letter in which he detailed his love of acting and included mention of previous credits. All these years later I remember the pleasure it gave me to receive his response.
    I saw 'The Set-Up' for the first time last year, and couldn't agree with you more. I wish I could write him and let him know how he pulled me into his world again.

  4. novabreeze - I'm sure David still appreciates your interest and caring. We are all so fortunate to have been with David and Nora for so many years of their creativity.

    David used to call Tiso "kindly, but sinister," and loved working on RYAN'S HOPE - and they loved him too, gifting him with a little something from Tiffany's at the end of his run.

    Be sure to check out David's performances in THE NARROW MARGIN (the original one, of course) and THE GREAT ST LOUIS BANK ROBBERY.

    Patricia - I passed the link to your article to K.C.'s sister, Susan, and some others, and they really appreciated it.

    Tomorrow is a day when many who knew her will celebrate K.C.'s being and her powerful influence in their lives and careers. It's going to be quite a gathering.


  5. Novabreeze, I love your story. Thanks so much for sharing.

  6. Tom,
    How nice to know David's time on Ryan's Hope was a pleasant one. The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery and The Narrow Margin are now my must see movies this summer.
    Have a wonderful day with your loved ones as you celebrate cherished memories.

  7. Tom, again I want to thank you for generously sharing your insights. From now on when I see David in a movie it will not be only as an actor I like, but somehow as an old friend - and the same for you.

  8. I am very sad to learn that Kathy passed away. She was my first friend and playmate. I grew up next door. Looking back I can see how fortunate I was to have the Clarke family as neighbors. I wish I had let them know how much I appreciate their friendship. For years I've been meaning to contact Kathy and Tom, who I met in 1976, to say hello but unfortunately it's too late. I only hope that Kathy was not in pain and I'm sure that all who knew her will miss her.

    William Barnes

  9. William Barnes - email me at

    Tom Ligon



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