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Clara Clayton-Brown
Biographical information
Date of birthOctober 25, 1855
Age (1885)30 (deceased in original timeline)
Physical description
Eye colorBrown
Behind-the-scenes information
Played byMary Steenburgen
Voiced byMary Steenburgen
Back to the Future: The Animated Series
Karen Strassman
LEGO Dimensions
" He [Doc] took his first real look at the woman he had saved. / "Thank you, sir," she began, as she turned her face to look up at him. / And what a face. Doc stopped breathing all over again. Her face had been hidden in shadow before, framed by that attractive bonnet. But then she smiled. / And what a smile. Doc thought it was like looking at the sun for the first time. / "—you saved my—" She paused as she, too, really looked at Doc. / She sighed the sweetest sigh Doc had ever heard. "—life," she concluded. / And what wonderful features surrounded that smile! That pert nose, that strong chin, those deep, large brown eyes that a man could get lost in — Doc sighed, then realized that, perhaps, he should say something in return. "
—From Back to the Future Part III by Craig Shaw Gardner (quote, pages 98 and 99)
"Clara was one in a million... One in a billion... One in a googolplex... The woman of my dreams, and I've lost her for all time."
—Doc Brown

Clara Clayton-Brown is the tritagonist of the Back to the Future franchise, serving as the deuteragonist of Back to the Future Part III and the tritagonist of Back to the Future: The Animated Series. She was a schoolteacher, living and working in the schoolhouse outside Hill Valley in 1885. She met Dr. Emmett Brown and Marty McFly by chance when she was about to fall over Shonash Ravine.

Clara was a very independent woman and did not take much fuss from anyone, especially Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen. Clara did not like being lied to and believed that people should tell the truth. She often saved the day after coming up with ideas, she did however try and take actions that helped her or other people avoid dangerous situations in the first place.

Clara was a very intelligent woman. Like Doc, her favorite author was Jules Verne, and she was very interested in astronomy and science. One of her favorite possessions was her telescope, which she often used to look at the Moon and the stars; she also appeared to know where a lot of the constellations were. Clara was a thinker and most of the time thought things through. If she believed something to be too "wacky" or too fantastic to be believed, she would not believe it (such as when Doc tried telling her about the time machine); this, after her marriage to Doc, changed.


Original History[]

Clara Clayton was born on October 25, 1855, in New Jersey,[1] the daughter of Daniel and Martha Clayton. Her uncle, Ulysses S. Clayton, was a general in the American Civil War.

When Clara was 11, she caught diphtheria and was quarantined for three months, so her father bought her a telescope and put it next to her bed so she could see everything outside the window. This ignited a love of science and astronomy that would stay with her for the rest of her life.

Little is known about her life between 1873 and 1885, except she became a schoolteacher and had been doing the job for some years before 1885. When she heard that the position of the new schoolteacher in Hill Valley was available, she decided to leave New Jersey behind and head out West to start a new life in California.[2]

On September 4, 1885, Clara moved out to Hill Valley, California, taking up a job as a schoolteacher. But as no one had come to pick her up, she rented two horses and a wagon buckboard from Joe Statler. However the horses were spooked by a snake and she died falling into Shonash Ravine, which was renamed Clayton Ravine in her memory. The story of her death became a legend among Hill Valley school children who had teachers they wished would also fall into the ravine.

First altered timeline[]

Doc volunteered to pick up Clara from the train station, in September 4, 1885. where they met and fell in love at first sight and she invited him to attend the Hill Valley Festival, Sadly, Doc was shot in the back by Buford Tannen in the festival the next day, and died on September 7, 1885. Clara helped pay for Doc's tombstone, engraving it with "Beloved Clara".

Clara's fate after Doc died from Buford's wounds is left ambiguous, both in the film and in extra-textual statements by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis: in their official summary of this timeline, her ultimate death was unconnected to the ravine, suggesting that if Marty had visited the ravine on his second trip to 1955 he would have noticed it was still called "Shonash Ravine." In this scenario, she either stayed in Hill Valley as a schoolteacher or moved elsewhere to start her own life without Doc. Another scenario they proposed, inspired by a popular fan theory, is that she took her own life on September 15, 1885 due to her distress over Doc's death by throwing herself into the ravine, and it was thus renamed "Clayton Ravine" in her honor. Gale and Zemeckis have avoided canonizing either possibility to allow viewers to decide for themselves.[3]

Second altered timeline[]

Whatever her fate, when Marty traveled back to 1885 and made contact with Doc, starting a completely new timeline, Doc learned of his relationship with Clara the day before they could meet and decided not to pick her up from the station — as he thought if he never met her, he could never fall in love with her and thus cause irreparable damage to the space-time continuum.

On September 4, 1885, after Doc failed to pick her up from the train station, Clara hired a buckboard from Joe Statler. The horses were spooked by the snake, but luckily for Clara, Doc and Marty were around to save her life. Once again Clara and Doc fell in love at first sight, which caused problems for Marty who was anxious to get back home to 1985. Doc and Clara attended the Hill Valley festival on September 5, 1885 and spent the night watching the stars through her telescope. They discovered a common love for the novelist Jules Verne. Doc soon realized that he had to say goodbye to Clara and go back to the future. He tried telling her where he was going, but she did not believe him and slapped him across the face.

Heartbroken, on September 7, Clara decided to leave Hill Valley and move to San Francisco for good. However, on the train, after hearing about Doc from the man who was at the Palace Saloon with Doc all night, Clara stopped the train and ran back to town. Clara discovered that Doc was telling the truth after seeing the demonstration model on how the time machine was going to get back to the future. She jumped on a horse to catch up with Doc and Marty, who had "borrowed" a train to push the DeLorean up to 88 mph. Clara found the detached passenger cars of the locomotive they took, and hurried down the track to reach it. She caught up to the train on horseback and reached out for the ladder on the firewood car. Just as her gloved hand grasped it, the first "presto" log exploded, causing Clara to fly up in the air and land safely on the ladder.

Clara climbed up the ladder and saw Doc on the side of the train. She tried to get his attention, but he couldn't hear her because of the loud noise of the train. She continued to slowly crawl along the logs of firewood until the second presto log exploded, knocking her backward. She recovered and managed to get into the cab where she blew the train's whistle, thus alerting Doc and Marty to her presence. Clara proclaimed her love for Doc, prompting a discussion between him and Marty. Marty informed Doc that they were past the "point of no return," and Doc consequently decided he would take Clara with them to the future.

Clara on the Ledge

Clara risks her life to be with Doc.

Doc convinced a hesitant Clara to climb out of the cab. She gave a look down at the churning wheels before mounting herself on the seat of the cab. She swung her legs out and over the seat to carefully step her high-heeled boots on the thin, precarious ledge. Doc approached Clara as she kept inching the tips of her boots along the ledge to his encouragements. Clara continued to come closer, grasping a metal bar with her gloved hands, and the lovers were soon close enough to reach one another.

Right as their hands were about to touch, the last presto log suddenly exploded, causing the metal bar Clara was holding on to broke, and her boots slipped off the ledge. However, Clara's fall was broken when her long dress became caught on part of the train. The dress began to rip from Clara's weight. With Clara's dress ripping more with each passing moment, Marty hurriedly sent Doc his hoverboard. Doc caught it and made his way over to Clara, grabbing her just as the dress tore completely from the metal knob. They hovered off into the distance as Marty watched and he was forced to go back to 1985 without them.

The DeLorean had been destroyed by a train once back in 1985 (Marty having gotten out in the nick of time) so he could not come back to 1885 to pick up Doc and Clara. As such Doc started work on a new time machine built into a steam train, as neither he nor Clara (who should have been dead) belonged in 1885. The two married on December 15, 1885 in a small ceremony. Since everyone believed that "Clint Eastwood" (Marty's chosen alias in 1885) perished in the ravine, in 1985, the ravine is called Eastwood Ravine, instead of Clayton Ravine (since Clara never perished).

Over the next 10 years, Doc and Clara worked on the train as their family grew. Clara gave birth to the couple's first son, Jules in 1886, followed by younger brother Verne in 1888. Eventually the time machine was finished and the Brown family left the 1890s to travel to the future (where the train would be fitted with a hover conversion), and later to 1985 to visit Marty and his girlfriend Jennifer Parker, before departing for times unknown.

After some time, Clara, along with the rest of the family, moved to the 20th century. The Browns lived part time[4] in a farmhouse outside of Hill Valley by 1991, and Clara settled into 20th Century life very well, becoming a teacher at Hill Valley Elementary. She occasionally joined her husband, sons or Marty on their time travel adventures, including escaping from Lord Biffingham in medieval England and helping Marty's great granddaughter fix a spaceship in 2091.

Behind the scenes[]

  • The first draft screenplay for Back to the Future Part III, set in 1888 rather than in 1885, said that Clara was a widow from Silver City, Nex Mexico, but this is not applicable to the finished film.
  • In the film, Clara does not happen to mention when or where she was born.
    • The animated series postulates that her parents rode in a covered wagon on the Oregon Trail, and that they met in Wyoming in 1850. A return east to New Jersey before 1855 would have been difficult, since the there was no railroad link until 1869, when the First Transcontinental Railroad was completed to link the eastern and western railways.
      • The fifth issue of Back to the Future: Untold Tales and Alternate Timelines, co-written by Bob Gale, established that Daniel Clayton was in the western territories on a butterfly exhibition when he met Martha O'Brien. Therefore, he never intended to settle in the west and had always intended to head back east. It's possible that they were able to return to New Jersey within the four years before Clara's conception, since a typical journey across the Oregon Trail took about six months by wagon.
  • Clara can be seen in the background waiting on the station platform for Doc to pick her up while he and Marty are inspecting the map. It is worth noting the reason she does not notice Doc and Marty, despite how close they are to her, is because she was instructed someone would meet her at the station. Therefore, to her Doc and Marty are simply two other passengers looking at a map.
  • Mary Steenburgen was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress for this role.
  • Clara Clayton appears in the 2015 Lego Dimensions game as a character in peril. Here, she is voiced by Karen Strassman.


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  1. Back to the Future: Untold Tales and Alternate Timelines: Issue 5 - "Clara's Story"
  2. She may have been influenced by her parents, who met on the Oregon Trail according to the animated series.
  3. Official BTTF FAQ answer on Clara's fate.
  4. The first issue of Harvey's Back to the Future comic revealed that Clara commuted between the 19th and 20th centuries.

The McFly Family
Marty McFly | George McFly | Lorraine Baines McFly | Jennifer Parker | Seamus McFly | Maggie McFly
Dave McFly | Linda McFly | Martin McFly, Jr. | Marlene McFly | Arthur McFly
The Brown Family
Dr. Emmett "Doc" Brown | Clara Clayton-Brown | Jules Brown | Verne Brown | Einstein
The Tannen Family
Biff Tannen | Buford Tannen | Griff Tannen | Irving "Kid" Tannen
The Strickland Family
James Strickland | Roger Strickland | Irene Strickland | Edna Strickland | Gerald Strickland
Other Individuals
Match, Skinhead & 3-D | Goldie Wilson | Douglas J. Needles | Marcus Irving