Hollywood on the Comstock
November 7, 2009
If the words “lights, camera, action” start echoing around Virginia City one of these days, it’s a safe bet it’s the result of the hard work and dedication of a former Carson City man who has lots of creds in the film industry.
To label James (Jim) Clark a train buff would be an unforgivable understatement. After leaving Carson City in 1986, he became the go-to man in Southern California and the Southwest for movies and TV shows, building track and providing and running trains for Western, action and other productions. He also served as a stunt man. His film credits, now totaling about 250, include movies “Wild, Wild West,” “Under Siege II” and “Eraser,” and TV shows “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” and “MacGyver.”
When Clark returned to Nevada in 2007, settling in Virginia City, he again saw an enormous potential for Western pictures with the area’s sloping hills, canyons, charming mining town, and, most importantly, the resurrection of the V&T Railroad.
Clark said he still has a number of contacts in the film industry in Southern California, Arizona and New Mexico who urge him to return to build a railroad and run a train for a project. Instead he suggests they come up to Virginia City, where there already is a train and available property consisting of a 10-acre site parallel to the V&T track. The property owner is willing to partner for construction of a full-time Hollywood-type Western set, Clark said.
He said he got in touch with one film company that then came to Virginia City and did some filming to use to raise money for a project. A representative of the History Channel he contacted is due in Virginia City this month, Clark said. Also, the director of the Nevada film office in Las Vegas, at his behest, came to the Comstock for a look-see.
When Clark lived in Carson City, he participated in the construction of the little railroad at Mills Park, a popular attraction with children. It was his job at the State Railroad Museum that fueled the former race car driver’s passion for trains and his extensive knowledge of them.
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He owned three shortline railroads in Southern California over the years which were used for Hollywood movies. Clark also was active in the “Make-A-Wish” Foundation where he fulfilled the desire of sick children to ride on a train, an accommodation he said stirred his passion for the needs of children.
While in Carson City, Clark founded the Nevada Film Agency, not to be confused with the state’s later motion picture division, and was involved in 30 projects from 1982 to 1986 with Lake Tahoe, Carson City and other areas as backdrops for movies and commercials. He provided 10 of his vintage cars for Clint Eastwood’s “Honkytonk Man,” after which he steered the producers to film locations in addition to the original Dayton site, including Genoa and Gardnerville. Filming continued for an extra two weeks, he said, adding that Tennessee had originally been selected for the other locations.
While in Tombstone, Ariz., in addition to his motion picture work, Clark organized six film festivals centering on Western movies and cowboy stars.
Clark bought a home in Virginia City last year “because that’s where my heart always was” and, in addition to promoting Virginia City for films, has participated in numerous promotional events for the town. He also shows train movies and gives lectures at Piper’s Opera House from time to time.
Clark is determined to see cameras roll on the Comstock.
The Virginia City area, he said, “needs a worldwide presentation, and that’s what’s missing … something that’s constantly drumming people all around the world that they need to come visit this area.”
• Sue Morrow of Carson City is a longtime journalist and a member of the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame.