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 19, Richard Lawson

Richard Lawson in Sugar Hill.

Richard Lawson in Sugar Hill.

Richard Lawson has played a lot of roles in his career, but it could be argued some of his best came during the blaxploitation era. Two roles in particular stand out from the rest of Lawson’s 1970s resume, and those are Scream Blacula Scream and Black Fist.

In Scream Blacula Scream Lawson’s character is the equivalent of the dog pissing on the grave of a horror legend and bringing him back to life. The film has voodoo, vampires, Richard Lawson, and Pam Grier. It’s probably better than the first Blacula movie, if we’re going to be honest about things.

In Black Fist Lawson shows he’s got what it takes to be the hero in an action movie. The only thing Lawson’s action movie lacked that other action stars of the genre had at their disposal, was the luxury of a slightly bigger budget. Action films are hard to do, and do well, on the cheap because car chases, explosions, bullets, and fire, cost money.

These days he’s still making movies and he’s teaching the craft to others.

Why We Love and Respect Him: Sugar HIll is an in-house favorite, and anybody with a significant role in that film has our respect and attention.

Best Known For: his television roles after his blaxploitation days, but if we’re just talking blaxploitation, Scream Blacula Scream is where most people have seen him.

Black Fist Movie Poster

Blaxploitation Role Call:

Scream Blacula Scream (1973) as Willis Daniels: Willis is pissed about his dying, Voodoo-queen mother naming Lisa as her replacement. Willis believes he is the rightful heir to throne and he resurrects Blacula who he intends to use an expression of his anger. The plan backfires.

Fox Style (1973) as Little Henry: (Courtesy of IMDB) A wealthy nightclub owner struggles to reconcile his country upbringing with his city environs. Never seen it. Don’t know much about it. I smell a research project wafting from just around the corner..

Sugar HIll (1974) as Valentine: Valentine is a cop who starts sticking his nose into Sugar’s business when bodies start piling up around town. It doesn’t take a zombie slave army to throw Valentine off the trail. No, Sugar handles this one herself.

Bogard aka Black Fist (1974) as Leroy Fisk: Fisk is a fighter. It’s all he knows how to do. He rides this talent into a gig fighting for some gangsters for big stakes. Leroy eventually realizes the gangsters are taking advantage of him and decides to put a stop to it. In an all-blaxploitation battle royal with Shaft, Hammer, Jesse Crowder, Slaughter, Tyrone Tackett, Too Sweet, and the like, I wouldn’t count him out.

Black Fist Trailer

Bio Links:

Great links to audio interviews with Richard Lawson can be found on his website.

Richard Lawson’s IMDB

Richard Lawson’s Wiki

Richard Lawson discusses acting and changes within the business in the video below.

“Now Hollywood is Plan B.” – Richard Lawson