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 17, Vonetta McGee

thomasineandbushrod-still2.jpg?w=529

Vonetta McGee was one of the go-to ladies during the height of the blaxploitation explosion of the early 1970s. She appeared in five films in just two years. In all but one of those films Vonetta was the love interest of the leading male character. She was a hooker in the other film.

McGee fell into that leading-man’s-girlfriend trap during her blaxploitation days, which is unfortunate. She did play the Danger-Prone-Daphne role to perfection, and when you do something so well, it’s hard to make people see you in another light. This might be one reason she did mostly television work after 1980 or so.

Vonetta McGee is too often overlooked for stars like Pam Grier or Gloria Hendry. She had acting chops and good looks to boot. She was every bit their equal.

McGee passed away in 2010

Why We Love and Respect Her: Vonetta McGee nailed her performances in blaxploitation movies, which is why she was continually brought back to work on project after project. Also, if she’s hot enough to give Blacula a bad case of rigor mortis in his shorts, then that’s good enough for us.

Best Known For: Being the main man’s girl and eventually being kidnapped.

Blaxploitation Role Call:

Melinda (1972) as Melinda: Melinda finds herself on the bad side of the mob by sticking her nose where it didn’t belong and ends up dead. Her disc jockey boyfriend, played by Calvin Lockhart, ain’t going to take this lying down. He rounds up some friends and fights back.

Blacula (1972) as Tina: Tina is Blacula’s modern-day love interest because she just happens to look like his wife back in the 1700s. He stalks her, makes her his, and then converts her. Blacula manages to do all of this while being chased down by a determined investigator who is looking into recent murders.

Hammer (1972) as Lois: Lois is the secretary of a shady boss who gets involved with BJ Hammer in a romantic way. She is kidnapped and used as leverage to get Hammer to take a dive in a fight, but Hammer has other plans.

Shaft in Africa (1973) as Aleme: Aleme is the daughter of the Emir Ramila, and is one of Shaft’s first contacts for the job he was hired to do in Africa. Shaft strikes up a casual romance with her while he is trying to stop a slavery ring in Africa.

Detroit 9000 (1973) as Roby Harris: Roby Harris is the hooker with a heart of gold. The Detroit Police Department is investigating a major robbery. Harris is questioned by an officer of DPD, and shares some valuable information with him. Her pimp finds out she squealed and she ends up dead. The robbery investigation continues after her demise.

Thomasine and Bushrod (1974) as Thomasine: Thomasine is the Bonnie to Bushrod’s Clyde. The duo are on the run and determined to stay out of jail. Their Robin-Hood-like exploits make them small-time celebrities.

VonettaMcGeeFilmStripjpg

Bio Links:

Vonetta McGee’s IMDB

Vonetta McGee’s Wiki

Vonetta McGee dies at 65; film actress during 1970s blaxploitation era; LA Times; July 15, 2010

Vonetta McGee, Film and TV Actress, Dies at 65; NY Times; July 16, 2010

Vonetta McGee doing a promo for Black Power Films:

28 For 28: 28 Days of Blaxploitation Legends – Day 16, Thalmus Rasulala

Thalmus Rasulala has one of the coolest names in history.

Rasulala. Thalmus Rasulala.

I dig it.

Thalmus is truly a blaxploitation legend.

He has fought off Blacula.

He has committed a jewel heist with noble intentions.

He has put on a suit and taken up the torch of justice by going after criminals like those he’s played before. He’s nothing if not versatile.

He worked as an actor for three decades.

After the blaxploiation boom died down, Thalmus focused on doing television but stilll managed to make a few films like New Jack City. He was the police commissioner in New Jack City, which was released in 1991, the same year Thalmus died of a heart attack.

Why We Love and Respect Him: He’s so good at his craft he could be wearing the same suit in side by side photos, and it would be easy to tell whether he was a good guy or bad guy in each one just by reading his eyes.

Best Known For: being Blacula’s Van Helsing. He was also on One Life to LIve.

Do Vampires Exist? – Clip from Blacula

Blaxploitation Role Call:

Cool Breeze (1972) as Sydney Lord Jones: Sydney and a crew of jewel thieves set out to pull off a jewel heist so they can establish a legit bank to serve the black community. Things get out of hand from there.

Blacula (1972) as Dr. Gordon Thomas: Dr. Gordon Thomas is a CSI-type guy with the police department, and he is the first to suspect a vampire could be responsible for several recent deaths. The rest of the department thinks he’s crazy so he’s left to investigate and manage the situation with the help of just a few close friends. He leads the way to stop Blacula.

Willie Dynamite (1974) as Robert Daniels: Robert Daniels is an attorney who is determined to rid the streets of pimps and drug dealers. His girlfriend runs a program where she tries to convince steet hookers to get off the street. Their efforts to change things, run afoul of Willie Dynamite’s efforts to make a ton of cash, off all that ass.

Bucktown (1975) as Roy: After Duke clashes with a corps of crooked cops while trying to open his dead brother’s night club, he calls his old friend Roy and asks him to round up some the gang and bring them to town. There’s a war going on, and Duke doesn’t intend to lose it.

Friday Foster (1975) as Blake Tarr: Blake Tarr is a reclusive billionaire and Friday Foster is hired to get a picture of him when he arrives for a special New Years event. When Friday shows up to get a picture of him arriving in town, he is ambushed by terrorists and a conspiracy is uncovered.

Adios Amigo (1976) as Noah: Noah is a minor character in ths Fred Williamson western about the adventures of Big Ben and Sam Spade.

Thalmus-Rasulala

Bio Links:

Great Thalmus Rasulala Retrospective on The Museum of Uncut Funk. They pay homage much better than we can do.

Thalmus Rasulala’s IMDB

Thalmus Rasulala’s Wiki