By the end of William Marshall’s career, he had compiled a resume that would make nearly every actor working today envious. He was never a superstar like the big box office draws, or even TV’s leading actors, but he was damn good.
He appeared on Bonanza, Rawhide, Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, The Jeffersons, Benson, and he even did a stint as the King of Cartoons on Pee Wee’s Playhouse, but William Marshall will forever be remembered as being Blacula.
Blacula remains one of the most recognizable blaxploitation characters of all time, if not by face, by name due to the catchiness of the beautifully simple title. Marshall made two Blacula films, then played a role in the cult classic Abby, a movie about a girl possessed by sex devils, that irritated the Exorcist people so much they forced the film to be pulled from theaters through legal action.
Marshall had a decent career going long before his blaxploitation roles, and he continued working steadily after it. The roles, however, probably weren’t equal to his talent.
There is a running theme among many of the actors we’ve featured on 28 For 28 this month, and that theme is actors not getting the opportunities they probably deserved after the blaxploitation craze died down in the mid-to-late 1970s. Marshall is another actor who had the talent to do much more than he never had the opportunity to do.
Clip from Scream Blacula Scream
Why We Love and Respect Him: Early in his career he was tainted with the label of “Communist,” but managed to rebound from that better than many others. He worked hard, and gave to others until he was no longer able to do so.
Best Known For: being Blacula, and for at least one generation, being the King of Cartoons. He is also known for portraying Fredrick Douglas. Marshall is to Frederick Douglass, what Hal Holbrook was to Mark Twain.
Blaxploitation Role Call:
Blacula (1972) as Blacula: A long, long time ago, African prince, Prince Mamuwalde, had an unfortunate run in with a cat named Dracula, and as a result, his soul was doomed to an eternity of being undead. His undead body gets shipped to Los Angeles, where he busts loose and has himself a grand old time in town. In his exploration of Los Angeles, he finds a woman that looks like his girl from the old country and then creepily stalks her.
Scream Blacula Scream (1973) as Blacula: Voodoo brings Blacula back to life, and this time he’s out to become a real boy again and leave his vampirous ways behind. Not so fast though. He was brought back as part of a family squabble among a voodoo queen’s family, and that is a mess that keeps getting in his way.
Clip from Abby
Here’s an awesome, hour-long interview with William “Don’t Call Me Bill” Marshall.
Good stuff. It’s interesting to see that yes, he really did speak that way. This interview was conducted by his son, Tariq Marshall, in January of 1993. The editing gets irritating at times, but the subject matter is interesting.
Some good quotes from the interview:
“ She said, ‘Bill,’ and I’m not a Bill guy, but to Mahalia (Jackson), I was Bill…”
“It’s like Sam Nunn, and whoever they are, worried about homosexuals. What are they talking about? I’m willing to put up the first $100 to pay an investigator to check out the sexual preferences of Douglas Macarthur, Harry Truman, who was in the Army, a captain, and who’s this other guy I”m trying to think of… oh, and Colin Powell. I want to know about their preferences, and when we really put a spotlight on these characters, they’ll stop bothering those other people out here who are willing to become soldiers, both male and female.”
“Film has been, in a sense, where the people who are on the lowest rung economically and socially in this country has been one of the most devastating things to them in this country because it depicted them as buffoons, as a people who are ignorant, people whose function it is to serve anybody above them, and anybody would be above them in terms of how the choices have been made and how they were stationed. These terrible stereotypical roles they created in order to justify the exploitation of a people”