Buzzfeed once proclaimed: “Edie McClurg has been in every TV show and movie you ever loved.”
And she kind of has.
The Kansas City native accumulated hundreds of credits during her 40-year career. Now that effort is being celebrated when she returns to her hometown this weekend to receive an honorary doctorate from University of Missouri-Kansas City. McClurg earned her undergraduate degree there in 1967 and served as a DJ and producer at KCUR before relocating to California to pursue her ambitions.
The Star spoke to McClurg about some of her most “loved” roles.
McClurg portrays one of the gym class tormentors who provoke telekinetic Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) into torching their high school during prom. In addition to transforming author Stephen King and director Brian De Palma into A-listers, the movie provided McClurg with her first big-screen credit,
“I was much older than the other girls who were there,” she says of co-stars who included Amy Irving and Nancy Allen. “De Palma was pretty stern, though. I was sort of timid, and I remember being very frightened of him.”
The screenplay originally featured no dialogue for McClurg’s character. But her training in L.A.’s Groundlings troupe prompted her to improvise, and the filmmaker ended up keeping all her lines.
“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”
“Oh, well, he’s very popular, Ed. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads — they all adore him. They think he’s a righteous dude.”
That monologue to the school principal in the 1986 John Hughes comedy may not have turned McClurg into a household name, but it did turn her into a household voice. As secretary to the principal tracking AWOL student Ferris (Matthew Broderick), her memorably cheery Midwestern delivery led to numerous voiceover roles.
“I was so happy when ‘Ferris Bueller’ became iconic,” she says.
The point was driven home last year when she attended Chicago’s Ferris Fest.
“I met people from all over the world who wanted me to (quote the lines),” she recalls. “I just love that people keep remembering the film.”
“Natural Born Killers”
It’s not only Hughes comedies and animated Pixar movies (“Cars”) that would define McClurg’s later career. She also appeared in one of the most controversial pictures of the 1990s: Oliver Stone’s satirical crime epic “Natural Born Killers.”
The film follows the exploits of married serial killers Mickey and Mallory Knox (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis). We’re introduced to Mallory’s abusive father (Rodney Dangerfield in his lone dramatic role) and passive mother (McClurg) in a flashback shot as a garish TV sitcom, complete with a canned laugh track.
Clad in a hideous purple wig and blue eye shadow, McClurg supplies some of her edgiest work.
How did she land a gig like that?
“I’m versatile,” she deadpans.
“Planes, Trains & Automobiles”
She may be best known for “Ferris Bueller,” but McClurg’s appearance in Hughes’ followup feature offers her most unforgettable onscreen moment.
In this holiday comedy, she plays a front desk employee of Marathon Car Rental who endures the wrath of a hapless traveler (Steve Martin). The irate Martin drops 18 F-bombs during his tirade, but the scene ends when McClurg shuts the customer up with a vulgarity of her own.
“A lot of it was scripted, but many of the actions were improvised,” she says.
Initially, her phone conversation was rehearsed as more mundane. Yet she further improvised with each new take, leading to a giggly exchange involving a Thanksgiving menu that showcases ambrosia with miniature marshmallows.
“Gobble. Gobble,” she quotes the scene, laughing.
“I feel blessed. A lot of things have flown past my mind for a while. But I know there are many people who still remember and still talk about (my work). They recite the words that were mine to begin with. I’m so pleased people still care about me. I love that they laugh when they think of me.”
Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”