28 For 28 The Lost Episodes: Day 8 – Jim Kelly

Obit Kelly

While we have made it a point to stay away from Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, Richard Roundtree, Pam Grier, and Ron O’Neal in oru 28 For 28 project, because even people who know nothing about blaxploitation typically have some idea who they are, and what they’ve done. We’ve gone back and forth on whether we should include Jim Kelly in 28 for 28, or put him into the list of blaxploitation elite, and obviously, we ultimately decided to go ahead and include him, and here’s why.

Jim Kelly died last year, and while there was a great deal of discussion about it among the hardcore film fans, it didn’t seem to have the impact in pop culture news that it should have made. While he was a superstar of blaxploitation films, the vast majority of people just know him as the black guy from Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon.

Jim kelly deserves much more respect than that.

Kelly was a top-notch athlete, just like his on-screen co-stars in several films, Fred Williamson and Jim Brown. While he played a little football in college, his primary claim to fame was being a real-deal, karate champion. He won several titles in the sport very early in the 1970s before finding his way into films by teaching Calvin Lockhart a few moves for the movie Melinda.

A year later, he was side by side with Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon and his career took off from there. He would go on to become Black Belt Jones and Black Samurai, as well as teaming up with Williamson and Brown for several films.

He eventually bowed out of acting and focused on playing tennis, a sport which he played frequently when he wasn’t kicking ass on the big screen in the 1970s.

He was a dual genre threat at the height of his career. Blaxploitation fans loved him for his roles like Black Belt Jones and Three the Hard Way, and kung fu fans loved him for his karate work in Enter the Dragon, “Black Belt Jones 2” and Hot Potato. I put Black Belt Jones 2 in quotes, because it was essentially a kung fu movie he made in Hong Kong years before it was ever released in the United States under the BBJ2 title in an effort to cash in on his box office momentum.

Jim Kelly with Fred Williamson and Jim Brown in Three the Hard Way.

Jim Kelly with Fred Williamson and Jim Brown in Three the Hard Way.

Why We Love and Respect Him: While he might have been an actor, he was one of the few action stars who really knew how to do the things he appeared to do in the movies. This guy was a real badass, not just a movie-magic one.

Best Known For: being the black guy in Enter the Dragon with Bruce Lee.

Jim Kelly awesome Three the Hard Way Fight

Blaxploitation Role Call:

Melinda (1972) as Charles Atkins: Atkins is a martial arts instructor who teaches radio DJ Frankie Parker, played by Calvin Lockhart, who was really trained by Jim Kelly for the role. Parker is mixed up in a frame-job by the local mob.

Black Belt Jones (1974) as Black Belt Jones: Jones is hired by Sydney to avenge the death of her father, whose life was cut short by the mafia who desperately wants to get their hands on Papa Byrd’s dojo. Black Belt Jones comes to the rescue.

Three the Hard Way (1974) as Mister Keyes: Keyes is the martial arts master out of a trio of heroes, the others being a record producer and entrepreneur,  who stumble onto a plot by white supremacists to poison the water supply to kill black people.  Keyes has one of the best fight scenes in the film, which takes place in the middle of the street.

Take a Hard Ride (1975) as Kashtok: Kashtok is a mute scout who assists Tyree (Fred Williamson) and Pike (Jim Brown) in transporting a large sum of cash through the old west. Along the way they have to deal with western movie badass Lee Van Cleef. Kashtok is a highly skilled martial artist.

One Down, Two to Go (1976) as Chuck: Chuck believes a high-stakes karate tournament is rigged, and when he investigates the matter he’s put in his place by the folks who did the rigging. He calls in some old friends to help him get back at the hucksters who rigged the tournament and took the prize money which was rightfully his.

Black Samurai (1977) as Robert Sand: Sand is called on to stop an evil conglomerate from creating a super-weapon, but that isn’t their only intention. The group is up to their neck in voodoo and drugs, all of which create problems for Sand as he tries to save his girl and stop the creation of the weapon.

Bio Links:

Jim kelly talks about Bruce Lee and his filmmaking experiences in an interview from WonderCon

Flashback – Interview: Jim Kelly on Life After “Black Belt Jones”

“When I saw Superman on screen, I thought I could fly. I thought if I was on top of a building and tied a sheet around me, and I wouldn’t get way up, but I went up on my grandmother’s chicken house and thought I could jump off and fly like Superman because I saw it on TV,” said Jim Kelly, the martial arts star of the 1970s

1996 Interview

Jim Kelly IMDB

Jim Kelly Wiki

28 For 28: 28 Days of Blaxploitation Legends – Day 28, Jeannie Bell

PDVD_021

If my count is correct, Jeannie Bell is the eighth woman to appear on our 28 For 28 list of blaxploitation legends, and when it comes to the number of blaxploitation films she appeared in, she was among the busiest of the era.

Just to reiterate here, our list does not include the likes of Pam Grier, Fred williamson, Richard Roundtree, JIm Brown, or Superfly Ron O’Neal. We decided to focus on the names and faces seen supporting these superstars, or those who simply starred in the many lower budget hits made in the 1970s.

Jeannie Bell played several bit-part roles in blaxplotation films before getting her big chance to star in TNT Jackson, a Cleopatra Jones/Coffy clone. The big difference between TNT Jackson and the others is TNT is allegedly more skilled at kung fu, which is displayed prominently in the movie’s Hong Kong setting.

If we’re going to be honest here, TNT Jackson is probably the weakest of the super badass leading woman films of blaxploitation. The karate is kind of weak, the film is nowhere near the quality of the others, but Jeannie Bell is certainly a nice bit of eye candy, and that is probably what led to the film’s limited popularity.

BellPlayboyCover

Bell was the first black woman to appear on the cover of Playboy Magazine — kind of.

She was on the January 1970 cover with four other women, but her image is the only one of the four to be cut in half, as she is situated near the spine of the magazine. She is in essence split right down the middle.

No worries though. She was the centerfold in the October 1969 issue of the magazine.

CenterfoldBell

She turned those appearances into acting roles quite quickly.

In 1970 she appeared in five episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies among the honeys in several of Mr. Drysdale’s schemes, one of which being the creation of a slave girl/harem auction in an effort to fleece Clampett relative Shorty from his cash.

She suddenly disappeared from acting in the late 1970s. According to some online sources, this was about the time she met mutli-millionaire, and future husband, Gary Judis.

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 11.21.58 AM

Why We Love and Respect Her: We love her looks, and respect her attempts to be an action superstar.

Best Known For: being TNT Jackson, the other blaxploitation action heroine — the one who would put you in traction.

Blaxploitation Role Call:

Melinda (1972) as Jean: Minor role, listed around 20th in the credits order, in this film starring Calvin Lockhart, Vonetta McGee and Rosalind Cash, about a DJ the mob is trying to frame for murder. If you’ve seen Melinda, and know her role, we’d like to hear about it. Can’t recall it without watching it again.

Trouble Man (1972) as Leona: Another small-time role in a movie that has been deemed one of the 50 worst films of all-time.

Black Gunn (1972) as Lisa: Bell is billed 28th in the credits of this Jim Brown feature about a nightclub owner who is embattled between family and the mob.

Cleopatra Jones (1973) uncredited: The fact Bell’s appearance didn’t even earn a credit says a lot about her importance to the plot of this film about a super badass federal agent determined to put an end to dope pushers. I’ve seen this one multiple times, although it’s been several years since my last viewing, and I don’t recall her even being in it.

tnt_jackson_01

TNT Jackson (1974) as Diana TNT Jackson: BOOM! This remains Bell’s breakout performance, and first opportunity to play the lead in a film, after doing bit parts, and lesser roles for several years. TNT Jackson is in Hong Kong, where she is searching for her missing brother. Her brother, per usual in many blaxploitation films, was mixed up in mob business before going missing. TNT Jackson uses her karate skills to kick and chop her way to a resolution.

Three the Hard Way (1974) as Polly: Three the Hard Way was the big collaboration between Fred Williamson, Jim Kelly, and JIm Brown, where they save the nation from a polluted water supply that is only toxic to the black population.

The Muthers (1976) as Kelly: This is Jeannie Bell’s second starring role in a feature-length motion picture. Kelly and Anggie are out to save Kelly’s sister from imprisonment by a coffee plantation owner. To do this, they go to jail themselves. There they meet another badass named Marcie, who is played by Trina Parks of Darktown Strutters fame.

Disco 9000 (1977) as Karen: Karen is Fass Black’s girl, and Fass Black is the man who not only owns the hottest discos in Los Angeles, but he also runs the record label whose songs his popular dance clubs play. Others are getting tired of his monopoly on the disco scene and try to squeeze in on his action.

Bio Links:

Jeannie Bell IMDB

Jeannie Bell Wiki

28 For 28: 28 Days of Blaxploitation Legends – Day 27, Teresa Graves

TeresaGraves

Teresa Graves is another actor who didn’t do a lot of blaxploitation films, but her impact in the roles she did do is significant. Graves’s biggest claim to fame is converting the concepts used in the films featuring powerful, ass-kicking, black women, like the films of Pam Grier and Tamara Dobson, into a tv show.

The series, Get Christie Love!, lasted just two seasons. It’s cult status is apparent in Quentin Tarantino’s work. There is a scene in Reservoir Dogs several characters have a discussion about the show, and her catchphrase, “You’re under arrest, Shugah,” was recycled in Austin Powers: Goldmember.

Graves got her start on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In. After several more television roles, she had a supporting role in the Fred Williamson film, That Man Bolt. She would work with Williamson again in the movie Black Eye a few years later.

We unfortunately lost Graves to Jehovah, when she focused her energy on spreading the word about her religion. We lost her permanently in 2002, when she died from complications incurred during a house fire.

Get Christie Love Trailer:

Why We Love and Respect Her: We love a woman who knows how to kick ass, and Teresa Graves knew how to do that on film.

Best Known For: being the Pam Grier of TV.

Teresa Graves in That Man Bolt:

Blaxploitation Role Call:

That Man Bolt (1973) as Samantha Nightingale: Samantha is a lounge singer who has a history with Jefferson Bolt. While Bolt is running an “errand” to deliver a briefcase full of cash that might or might not be counterfeit, he visits the casino where Samantha sings. The pair hook up in Bolt’s hotel room, but while bolt is getting his nut, a gunman sneaks in and opens fire. Seeing the gunman in the mirrored walls, Bolt rolls over putting Samantha between him and the bullet. Bolt goes on to battle the corrupt forces behind the cash delivery and her murder.

Old Drac (1974) as Countess Vampira: Originally titled, Vampira, Old Drac underwent a title change after Young Frankenstein hit big at the box office. Is it blaxploitation? Probably not technically, but it does focus heavily on the issue of race and it has Graves in it, who is a blaxploitation figure. Vampira is Dracula’s old squeeze, and he tries to revive her with new blood. The problem is he used some blood from a black person to do the deed, and his girl undergoes a transformation into a black woman. Dracula spends the rest of the film trying to reverse this change.

Get Christie Love! (1974) as Christie Love: Get Christie Love was a TV movie inspired by the success of Coffy, Cleopatra Jones, and films of that ilk, starring Graves. Christie Love is an undercover cop who works the drug beat, and does her best to break up the drug rings that are destroying Los Angeles. This is the role Graves is most well-known for, because it was parlayed into a television series that lasted 22 episodes from 1974-1975.

Black Eye (1974) as Cynthia: Cynthia makes Shep Stone’s life a complicated mess. The two are a couple, but there are forces from the outside possibly pulling them apart. That force is another woman, but it’s not a woman chasing who you might think. The woman is interested in stealing Stone’s bisexual girlfriend. This is a subplot to the primary plot of Stone’s work as a private investigator trying to solve a murder and crack up a drug ring.

getchristielove

Bio Links:

Teresa Graves IMDB

Teresa Graves Wiki

28 For 28: 28 Days of Blaxploitation Legends – Day 26, William Marshall

The-regal-Mamuwalde

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.

Blacula appeared on The Simpsons in the episode "All's Fair in Oven War" Season 16, Nov. 14, 2004.

Blacula appeared on The Simpsons in the episode “All’s Fair in Oven War” Season 16, Nov. 14, 2004.

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.

William Marshall was Dr. Richard Daystrom on Star Trek.

William Marshall was Dr. Richard Daystrom on Star Trek.

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

Bio Links:

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”

William Marshall’s IMDB

William Marshall’s Wiki

28 For 28: 28 Days of Blaxploitation Legends – Day 25, Rosalind Cash

Rosalind-cash-trailer

Rosalind Cash worked steadily from her debut in Klute with Jane Fonda, until her death from cancer in 1995, the year of her final film role, which was Tales From the Hood.

Cash made a huge splash alongside Charlton Heston in The Omega Man before she found herself playing roles in blaxploitation films. Then she appeared in several blaxploitation films before the 70s came to an end and she focused more on television roles.

Cash was another of those female actors who was more than capable of being an on-screen badass, as she proved in Omega Man, but didn’t really get the chance to show that side of her talent again.  Like so many other actresses of the era, she was relegated to being the girlfriend, the mother, the sister, or the anything else but the lead in a film. Had she been in her prime 30 years later she likely would have been another Milla Jovovich or Michelle Rodriguez.

Why We Love and Respect Her: After making an impact with her role in Omega Man, she then made movies like Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde, The Monkey Hustle and Death Drug. Whether she did it because she wanted to, or whether it was all that was being offered, is irrelevant as far as we’re concerned.

Best Known For: Omega Man, obviously, and maybe for being Dorothy’s black daughter in law in an episode of The Golden Girls.

Rosalind Cash in Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde as Dr. Billie Worth

Blaxploitation Role Call:

Melinda (1972) as Terry Davis: Terry is a former lover of radio DJ Frankie J. Parker, and becomes involved in a mafia-ordered hit on Melinda, Frankie’s current squeeze. Melinda was the former girlfriend of MItch, a local crime boss, and when she left him, she took some valuable information with her and he wants it back. After they kill Melinda, they set their sights on Frankie because there are still unresolved issues with Melinda’s transgression. Terry tries to help Frankie, but becomes a victim herself.

Amazing Grace (1974) as Creola Waters: Who doesn’t love a good movie about corrupt local politics, and a community of people trying to put an end to such shenanigans? Well, that’s what you have here in Amazing Grace. While it was primarily a vehicle for Moms Mabley, it also featured Moses Gunn, Slappy White, and Rosalind Cash.Cash is Creola, the wife of Welton Waters, Grace’s neighbor, who is running for political office, but is in reality little more than a pawn for the corrupt political machine looking to suck money out of the community and into their own pockets. Creola drinks too much, and is a bit snooty with the women in town, and is also a participant in the effort to get Welton elected under false pretenses.

Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde (1976) as Dr. Billie Worth: Dr. Worth’s boyfriend, Dr. Pryde, is working on a cure for liver disease, and eventually tries the serum he’s created on himself. The result is he’s turned into an ashy-white madman who likes to kill whores.

The Monkey Hustle (1976) as Vi’s Mama: Win is Baby D’s older brother and gets sucked into a small-time hustling gang when he returns from being on tour with his band and finds Baby D already involved. Win’s girlfriend, Vi, has kicked him to the curb for an older man, despite her mother’s protests. , and he hates seeing his younger brother among a group of young guys who get sucked into an apprenticeship at Monkey Hustle Inc., with Daddy Foxx, Yaphet Kotto,

Death Drug (1978) as Doctor Harris: This is one of those movies I’ve heard about for years, but still have not managed to actually see, unfortunately. This thing is notorious for its over-the-top portrayal of the effects of PCP. When it comes to Rosalind Cash’s role in the movie, I can’t say exactly what it is because I’ve read several different versions of it. I know this is a horrible description of a movie, and it falls short of every other one I’ve done this month, but it is what it is. Here’s the IMDB nutshell plot:

A young man in Los Angeles dreams of striking it big as a singer in the music business. One day he gets signed to a big record contract, but along with the fame and money he develops an addiction to the drug PCP.

Rosalind Cash in Death Drug as Dr. Harris

Bio Links:

Working: The Black Actress in the Twentieth Century, Rosalind Cash, by Irma McClaurin-Allen, University of Massachusetts Amherst, A Journal of African and Afro-American Studies, Volume 8, Article 6, 1-1-1986

Cash talks about her youth, how she began acting, and the role of race in film based on her experiences from the 1960s-1980s. It’s a damn good read. Here’s something she said regarding her efforts to learn acting:

If you had a play I would do it for a meal. I did shows in churches, basements, people’s houses, and storefronts. I traveled through the South-before the CiviI Rights Bill was passed-in a station wagon with a little heater in the middle. I went to a lot of junior colleges, dressed in the ladies’ room, stayed over in people’s houses because we couldn’t afford to stay anywhere. So I had a lot of rough training. I never went to an institution to leam.

The Museum of Uncut Funk’s profile of Rosalind Cash

Rosalind Cash’s Obituary from The Independent

Rosalind Cash IMDB

Rosalind Cash Wiki

28 For 28: 28 Days of Blaxploitation Legends – Day 24, James Earl Jones

James Earl Jones in The Man.

James Earl Jones in The Man.

Before lending his voice to the man in black in Episodes IV, V, VI and III, of the Star Wars series, James Earl Jones was a pseudo-blaxploitation star. I say pseudo because classifying some of his films as blaxploitation is probably inaccurate. Many were just good movies that some people mistakenly throw into the blaxploitation genre.

What qualifies one film blaxploitation, and not another is subject to some interpretation. It’s also something a lot of people don’t understand.

This past weekend I told someone I knew that I had been writing posts about blaxploitation actors all month, and he reacted with a mild political diatribe about the actors not being exploited just by appearing in a movie, which is factually correct.

The exploitation comes via subject matter and marketing, not necessarily who is in the films.

Blaxploitation films were created and marketed with the goal of drawing in black audiences. The films were heavy on style, cultural experience, sweet music of the day, and in most cases, the inequality that existed, and some claim still exists, in America. In some ways, a good blaxploitation film might be considered a ghetto fairy tale, like SuperFly for example.

The trailers for these films usually dripped with visual swagger overdubbed with a narrator who was unafraid of slinging some street slang in his description.

In these films the actors weren’t necessarily exploited any more than other working actors, especially those in low-budget, independent films, who had to work hard for very little pay. That exploitation isn’t a black or white thing.

James Earl Jones appeared in several films in the 1970s featuring black casts, facing problems common in the black community of the day. While these films have some of the components of blaxploitation by way of the subject matter and the cast, the marketing separated them from a genre known primarily known for action films and B-movies.

Jones’s role as Rupert “Roop” Marshall, the garbage man who falls in love with a single welfare-mom with six kids in Harlem, in the movie Claudine (1974) is a captivating film that takes a deep look at the issues surrounding government assistance, and the struggles and shenanigans many had to go through to get by during tough times.

It has every element of a blaxploitation film until you get to the marketing of it. The trailer wasn’t designed specifically to appeal to a black audience. In fact, they went overboard in an effort to separate the film from the blaxploitation genre. The trailer pitched it as an every man story that can be enjoyed by blacks, whites, and even the greens.

1974 Trailer for Claudine:

Most of James Earl Jones’s movies were handled this way during the 1970s. Just enough was done to separate the films from the onslaught of blaxploitation films that seemed to get worse as the 70s moved on.

Claudine would be among the best non-action movies in blaxploitation history if it was only technically blaxploitation.

The movies of James Earl Jones are often lumped into the blaxploitation thing by mistake, and it’s easy to see how that mistake could be made .I’m glad this mistake gets made from time to time, because that’s how I found films like Claudine, The Man, and The Great White Hope.

That’s why we’re bending the rules a little bit this year, and including James Earl Jones, and his blaxploitation era films, in our 28 for 28 ode to the genre. While the films of Fred Williamson and Jim Brown were important to the industry because they proved there was a viable market for films featuring black actors, living in black communities, dealing with the issues that comes with it, by putting butts in seats and making money; it was movies like Claudine that elevated the game by proving black actors not named Sindey Poitier can be the lead in a film.

This made actors like James Earl Jones and Pam Grier, a good one-two punch in the fight to even the playing field in the entertainment industry.

Why We Love and Respect Him: For a man with a deep, booming voice, he was great at playing characters with traits one wouldn’t commonly associate with someone who has a voice like that. He was also Darth Vader, dammit.

Best Known For: Being the voice of Darth Vader and reading text messages/social media posts in commercials with Malcolm McDowell.

Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones, and Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor. I just couldn't resist putting Pryor's full name. I hope it's right. ha.

Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones, and Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor. I just couldn’t resist putting Pryor’s full name. I hope it’s right. ha.

Pseudo-Blaxploitation Role Call:

The Man (1972) as Douglas Dilman: Senate President pro tempore Douglas Dilman becomes the nation’s first black president following a series of unfortunate events. The elected president and speaker of the house are killed when a building collapses. The sitting vice president declines to be sworn in as president, which constitutionally leaves the position open to the senate president. Dilman accepts the job and his experience is the storyline of the movie.

Claudine (1974) as Rupert Marshall: Claudine is a single mother whose family of six children survives on welfare and Claudine’s side jobs. She falls in love with a garbage man named Rupert. The relationship is complicated because Claudine will lose her welfare status if Marshall moves in.

The River Niger (1976) as Johnny Williams: Johnny is a poet whose wife is dying of cancer, and he must do what he can to support them while living and working in a poverty-stricken, economically-depressed community.

The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings (1976) as Leon Carter: Bingo Long is sick of the treatment of the talent in baseball’s negro leagues, so he recruits several players and forms an exhibition team he takes on the road. Carter, a catcher, is among the best of the best, and becomes a star as the popularity of the exhibition team grows and cuts into negro-league game attendance numbers. The success of the exhibition team leads to a high-stakes baseball game with a team of negro league all-stars. If Bingo’s team wins, his team will be accepted into the league, if his team loses, all of the players on the exhibition team must return to their original negro league teams.

A Piece of the Action (1977) as Joshua Burke: James Earl Jones pairs up with Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby for this one. Dave Anderson and Manny Durrell (Cosby and Poitier) are criminals who are blackmailed into working at a youth center by retired detective Joshua Burke. Things are great, until one more heist opportunity pops up.

Biographic Links:

He doesn’t talk about blaxploitation, but this is nice, short  James Earl Jones interview with NPR. You do get to hear him talk about his stuttering problem as a young man.

In an interview with Pride Magazine in 2011, James Earl Jones answered a question about black actors today that gives some insight into why he was choosy about his roles, and what the future holds for black actors.

How do you think black actors are faring in Hollywood today? Do you think there’s still a glass ceiling in terms of quality of roles and variety?

I don’t have a clue. It’s not that I don’t care, but acting in the movie industry is an unusual form of employment.  It requires an intricate confluence of elements: the right casting, the right writing, the right directing, all have to converge at the same time. There’ve been a couple of movie stories I have liked over the past couple of years, but the timing was never right. As far as ethnic performers are concerned, the opportunities are not only based on fate. When writers do more stories about ethnic life, or directors ignore ethnic lines and cast more freely, the field of work can broaden.

James Earl Jones IMDB

James Earl Jones Wiki

28 For 28: 28 Days of Blaxploitation Legends – Day 23, Julius Harris

Black-Caesar_Julius-Harris-Fred-Williamson-patch-pocket-DUrville-Martin_cap

Julius Harris, Fred Williamson, and D’urville Martin in Black Caesar.

I don’t know whether to say Julius Harris had the face of a movie gangster, or whether movie gangsters over the years have aspired to have a face like his. It’s the proverbial chicken and egg scenario as far as I’m concerned.

At the risk of offending Samuel L. Jackson, seeing Harris now in movies, always makes me think of Ving Rhames for some reason. They do have some similarities, and that’s probably why both have done well as character actors in films.

His looks helped him land the job of being Capt. Bollin in Shaft’s Big Score. Then he flipped to the world of crime for several movies in a row.

He’s most well known in blaxploitation circles for playing Scatter in Super Fly.

Scatter is a standout character for Harris, in that Scatter is reluctant to get back in the crime game, and the only reason he does is as a favor to a friend. Scatter risks everything to help Priest and his partner score a big shipment of cocaine.

None of his other blaxploitation roles really gave him the opportunity to be as vulnerable as he was in Super Fly.

Harris would go on to be in tons of stuff up until his death in 2004.

JuliusHarrisFilmStrip

Why We Love and Respect Him: When Julius Harris is on screen, no matter how many other people are on screen with him, he’s the one you’re gonna look at. He demands attention with just his presence. Power like that deserves respect.

Best Known For: being Tee-Hee, the hook-handed villain in the James Bond movie, Live and Let Die. He gets a lot of love for his portrayal of Scatter in Super Fly too.

Blaxploitation Role Call:

Shaft’s Big Score! (1972) as Capt. Bollin: One of Shaft’s good friends is murdered, and he’s out to find out what happened with or without the help of Capt. Bollin, the detective assigned to work the case. Bollin expects Shaft to give him updates and share any information he gets while doing his job as a private dick.

Super Fly (1972) as Scatter: Scatter runs the restaurant where Priest and Eddie go to score a kilo of cocaine to up their drug dealing game. The endeavor gets all three into trouble. This is bad news for Scatter who came out of retirement to do the favor of setting up the big deal for Priest and Eddie. The trio then battle corrupt cops and criminals while trying to find their way on the streets.

Trouble Man (1972) as Big: Chalky and Pete’s dice games keep getting knocked over by thugs, so they hire T to help stop it. At the same time, the sleazy pair are setting T up for a confrontation with another gangster in town known as Big. Big is at war with Chalky and Pete, but soon finds himself fighting with T too.

Black Caesar (1973) as Papa GIbbs: Tommy Gibbs’s father wasn’t around when he was a kid. In part, that’s how he became involved with the mob. When his father, Papa Gibbs, comes back and tries to make amends, Tommy pushes him away in favor of continuing his ascent into underworld power.

Hell Up In Harlem (1973) as Papa Gibbs: Papa Gibbs and Tommy start to patch things up, and soon after, the cops lean on Papa to snitch on his son. When the cops push too hard, Papa has no choice but to handle his business. After crossing that line, Papa becomes Tommy’s associate in his crime family. The tension between the two continue as they take on other crime families.

Friday Foster (1975) as Monk Riley: Monk Riley is the editor of Glance Magazine and he wants a picture of the elusive Blake Tarr, the black Howard Hughes, and sends Friday Foster to get it. While trying to get the pic, Foster uncovers a conspiracy to kill prominent black political figures.

BioLinks:

Julius Harris makes an appearance in this short documentary about Super Fly. Whether you’re interested in Harris or not, the documentary gives some good insight into what went into making a blaxploitation film.

Julius Harris’s Obituary; Los Angeles Times (2004)

Julius Harris IMDB

Julius Harris Wiki

A special thanks to 1000MisspentHours.com for helping jog my memory on films I haven’t watched in several years. This site was among the resources I used to write character-specific summaries for movies in the Bio section. This sounds much easier than it actually is, especially when an actor might have a bit part in the film.

28 for 28: 28 Days of Blaxploitation Legends – Day 22, Carol Speed

Carol Speed was one of the premier ladies of the blaxploitation era, appearing in seven movies in just two years. Unfortunately, like many other leading women of the genre, she was typically cast as the male lead’s love interest, but occasionally she got to be tough too.

Her most successful film, depending on your point of view, is probably The Mack, as she had a big role in the film, and it is universally considered a classic. Abby, however, gives The Mack a run for its money.

Speed played a woman possessed by a demon who is in desperate need of an exorcism. The film was off to a great start at the box office until attorneys from The Exorcist got involved.

Pam Grier and Tamara Dobson get all of the attention from the perverts looking back and judging attractiveness, btu Carol Speed is every bit as good looking as those two. She just never had the opportunity to be a true lead in a film or an  on-screen badass like those two did.

We’ll take more Speed please.

Why We Love and Respect Her: Working with Rudy Ray Moore in Disco Godfather and trying to actually act in scenes with him. We’re not sure if anyone else has ever done that before, or since.

Best Known For: Being Goldie’s bottom bitch in The Mack.

CarolSpeedBeachPic

Blaxploitation Role Call:

The Mack (1973) as Lulu: Lulu is Goldie’s bottom bitch who also happens to be a childhood friend. Goldie encounters Lulu shortly after the Blind Man convinces him that pimping is the way of life he should pursue. Lulu is a prostitute without a pimp, but sides with Goldie immediately after learning he was in the game.

Savage! (1973) as Amanda: Amanda is a high wire act performer who gets involved with a black militant trying to lead a revolution. She helps lead an all-women army against The Man.

Dynamite Brothers (1974) as Sarah: In this Al Adamson classic, Sarah is Stud Brown’s girl, and he’ll do anything to protect her. In the meantime Stud Brown has teamed up with Larry Chin to battle local pimps and drug dealers who are making life in the city unbearable. Oh yeah, Sarah is a deaf mute.

Black Samson (1974) as Leslie: Lesile is the girlfriend of nightclub owner Samson, and Samson’s competition, especially from the underworld, are out to bring Samson down, and they aren’t afraid to go through Leslie to get to him. Leslie sports one of the best afros in blaxoploitation history in this one. You get a good look at it around 90 seconds into the trailer.

Abby (1974) as Abby: Abby is one the most controversial films of the blaxploitation era. Sure, there were movies that were a lot more outrageous, but this one was actually yanked from theaters after the people behind The Exorcist unleashed their legal team on it for copyright violation. Abby is a marriage counselor who gets possessed by an African sex spirit, and Blacula, William Marshall, is one of the guys who has to exorcise that spirit.

Disco Godfather (1979) as Noel: Noel is a community activist who helps the Disco Godfather, Rudy Ray Moore, spread the word about the dangers of PCP. The drug has been growing in popularity in the community, and the kids are falling victim to it. The Disco Godfather can’t stand to see kids fall into the clutches of drug addiction, and neither can Noel.

Bio Links:

Neat Interview with Carol Speed by the people at WilliamGirdler.com, where she talks about meeting the filmmaker and her experiences making Abby.

CarolSpeedBlackSamson

Carol Speed in Black Samson.

Carol Speed IMDB

Carol Speed WIki

28 For 28: 28 Days of Blaxploitation Legends – Day 21, Scatman Crothers

Close your eyes and listen for the Scatman laughing. It’s quick, but I know it’ll jump out at you.

Scatman Crothers has one of the most distinct voices in cinema history. It only takes the utterance of just a few syllables to know it’s Scatman making the sounds. This could be because of the familiarity a generation of cartoon watchers have with Crothers’s voice over work in the 70s and 80s. His voice was everywhere. He was Hong Kong Phooey for Christ’s sake.

When the voice comes through the speakers of my entertainment system, I immediately look at the TV no matter where I am or what I’m doing, just to figure out whether a classic cartoon is playing.

Scatman was much more than that though. He appeared in some of the best movies ever made, like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or The Shining. At the same time, though, Crothers could be found playing parts like Duke, the retired pimp friend of Truck Turner.

People make jokes about NIcholas Cage not being able to say no to a part, a review of Scatman’s career, might make one believe the same thing about him. He never had the same kind of leading man opportunities a guy like Cage has, but when it comes to secondary roles and bit parts, nobody did it better than Scatman, and Scatman did it a lot.

Scatman Crothers in Slaughter's Big Rip-Off.

Scatman Crothers in Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off with Jim Brown.

Why We Love and Respect Him: Scatman Crothers is to films what a shaker of seasoning is to a gourmet chef. Too little of him and the consumer will be thrown off balance and out of rhythm with movie. With just the right amount of Scatman used accordingly by trained professionals great creations can emerge from the creative kitchen. The Scatman seasoning recipe might not make a 5-star dish every time, but it’ll be a dish good enough to make most people at least smile a little.

What more can you ask for than that?

Best Known For: Playing the wise Yoda-like character who pops into a movie, and then pops right back out. And other times, he’s known for just playing guys named Pops.

Scatman Crothers in Black Belt Jones.

We love Scatman Crothers too.

Blaxploitation Role Call:

Detroit 9000 (1973) as Reverend Markham: The Reverend is yet another crooked character in the crooked world of politics and organized crime depicted in Detroit 9000. You can’t trust anybody.

Black Belt Jones (1974) as Pop Byrd: Pop founded a karate school but he and his students were no match for the gangsters buying out the business by leaning on Pop to sell. They lean too hard and Pop dies. His daughter Sydney calls in Black Belt Jones to help set things straight.

Truck Turner (1974) as Duke: Duke is an old-school pimp who tips off his buddy Truck Turner the location of a close friend of Gator, the man Truck was hired to capture. Duke’s tip leads Truck right to Gator where a shootout occurs.

Coonskin (1975) as Pappy / Old Man Bone (Animated): Pappy tells the tale of a rabbit, a bear, and a fox who do battle with the mafia, try to straighten out a racist, homophobic cop, and ultimately figure out what life in America is like for black people.

Friday Foster (1975) as Reverend Noble Franklin: Franklin is a somewhat slimy reverend who hangs out with the politically elite and financially blessed. It just so happens some of these very people are the ones Friday believes are being targeted by terrorists.

Bio Links:

Voice Director Wally Burr talks about Scatman Crothers as the voice of Jazz on the original Transformers cartoons.

Great discussion until they can’t remember the name of THE SHINING. THE S-H-I-N-I-N-G. Holy shit people. Took forever for them to come up with that. Cartoon and toy geeks can be so trying on my patience sometimes. I can say that, right? I mean, some of my best friends are cartoon and toy geeks. Anyway, the video is by Rosemary Ward, a Transformers and GI Joe geek a who does interviews and writes about the subjects.

There’s also an entire kick-ass Playlist of Scatman Crothers YouTube Videos somone put together for your perusal,  just in case you’re bored and have a few hours on your hands.

Scatman Crothers IMDB

Scatman Crothers WIki

Phil Harris and Scatman Crothers sing a little bit.

This kind of reminds me of the classic scenario comedians go to sometimes, “White folks are like… and Black folks are like…”

Scatman Crothers also appeared on a few records back in the day, including one with the Exactly Like You, which happens to be the YouTube video right after the picture of the cover of an album with Exactly Like You on it.  Convenient, Huh?

ScatmanARecord

28 For 28: 28 Days of Blaxploitation Legends – Day 20, Roger E. Mosley

foodshack

Roger E. Mosley has a face you can’t forget. I don’t know what it is about him, but he just has one of those faces to me. It is distinctive. So much so, every time I see him in a movie, I impulsively point at the screen and yell out, “Oh, shit! Mosley!”

I don’t get that excited when I see him on screen in the many television shows he’s done in his career, but real-deal, classic movies of the 1970s are a different thing entirely.

In addition to making a small splash in blaxploitation films, he found his way into much higher profile films as well, including a role in McQ, one of John Wayne’s final films released in 1974.

Many of Mosley’s roles are just plain fun.

His role as a hit man disguised as a reverend who tries to muscle his way in on the mob in Sweet Jesus, Preacherman, is a character that frequently seeks laughs and gets them. His character Huey was continually outsmarted by Tyrone Tackett and provided some much needed comic relief to the dark, dark, dark, plot of Hit Man. Then there’s Darktown Strutters, which is one of those films that defy explanation.

Why We Love and Respect Him: Roger E. Mosley wasn’t afraid to take risks. One year he might appear in movies with John Wayne and Jeff Bridges, and then show up as the boyfriend of a woman leading a motorcycle gang who dress like Solid Gold dancers the very next year.

Best Known For: Flying Magnum PI around Hawaii, but for blaxploitation fans, he’s best known for being Goldie’s brother in The Mack.

Blaxploitation Role Call:

Hit Man (1972) as Huey: Huey is one of the thugs sent to see to it Tyrone Tackett takes the fast track out of town. The only problem is every time Huey and his buddy try to come down on Tackett, he makes the two stooges look like clowns.

The Mack (1974) as Olinga: Olinga is Goldie’s nagging brother who doesn’t like the fact Goldie pimps hos downtown. Olinga is a black nationalist whose group is determined to rid the ghetto of drug dealers and pimps. This puts Olinga and Goldie at odds with each other. The two do reconcile long enough to avenge their mother’s violent death.

Sweet Jesus, Preacherman (1973) as Holmes/Lee: Rev. Jason Lee isn’t what he appears. This preacher isn’t out searching for lost souls, he’s out searching for a new racket and he’s found one in this town. He slips in as a preacher, and then slowly starts muscling in on the local thugs who control things. It soon becomes a violent battle of wills the preacherman refuses to lose.

Sweet Jesus Preacher Man

Darktown Strutters (1975) as Mellow: Mellow is Syreena’s boyfriend, but isn’t worth much when it comes to tracking down the missing folks in town and stopping the conspiracy threatening the community. For a movie as goofy as this one, that description sounds so serious doesn’t it?

How about we try…

Mellow’s girlfriend is leading a motorcycle gang in a revolution against a Colonel-Sanders lookalike who is using a chain of rib joints to gain the trust of the black community only to do cloning experiments on them in an effort to create voters who will pull the right lever at the polls. Mellow’s girlfriend is also on the hunt for her missing mother and several other prominent members of the black community.

Film Threat sums it up pretty well in their ode to Dark Town Strutters.

Big Time (1977) as J.J.: Don’t know much about it, never seen it. This is what IMDB says:

“A small time con-artist gets between the FBI and a suitcase filled with money. (Josiah Howard, ‘Blaxploitation Cinema: The Essential Reference Guide.’)”

And here’s a clip featuring J.J….

He also did two biographical roles in the mid-1970s I didn’t include here because I don’t believe they should be considered blaxploitation. The first was his portrayal of Leadbelly in the movie Leadbelly. Second, was his portrayal of Sonny Liston in a Muhammed Ali bio pic starring Ali as himself.

Bio Links:

Roger E. Mosley IMDB

Roger E. Mosley Wiki

Roger E. Mosley and Antonio Fargas interviewed at a party for stunt men

Sounds boring, but Mosley saves thing with his wit. They talk about stunt men and Bill Cosby for most of the interview. Mosley gets passionate near the end when discussing black stunt men breaking into the business to do stunts for Fred Williamson and Jim Brown.

Mosley Hosting Evening at the Improv

He’s got jokes.