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Grier, Pam 1949–

Pam Grier 1949

Actress

Spotted by Agent in Pageant

Established Reputation in Blaxploitation

Death of Friend Marked Return to Acting

Landmark Performance in Jackie Brown

Career Booming in the Millennium

Selected filmography

Sources

Film critic Roger Ebert, in his Movie Home Companion, referred to Pam Grier as one of the most intriguing action stars of the 1970s. Though she continued to work in the ensuing decades, Grier established herself as a box-office draw in the blaxploitation genre, generally playing tough, sexy crimefighters. Vibes Darius James an expert on the genrerhapsodized, Grier reigned over the altars of adolescent onanism in a dangerous double-D cup like a black-skinned [Hindu religion deity of destruction] goddess Kali.

Some twenty years earlier, Ms. contributor Jamaica Kincaid dismissed the films themselves as mostly simplistic, sensational, violent, and technically faulty but celebrated their presentation of a woman who is independent, resourceful, self-confident, strong, and courageous. Above all, they are the only films to show us a woman who triumphs! Yet rather than be hemmed in by such roles, Grier took a break from her film career that began to look like retirement until she returned in a challenging, unglamorous role in 1981s Fort Apache: The Bronx. Since then she has pursued a variety of film and television work, though 1970s nostalgia has only made her blaxploitation heroinesFriday Foster, Coffy, Foxy Brown, and othersloom ever larger.

When I was a young girl, I never thought of acting, Grier claimed in an Ebony profile. I never thought of television, of fans, movie stars, signing autographs. It never crossed my mind. She was born in Winston-Salem, South Carolina; her fathers military job kept the family traveling, and she grew up in Europe, returning to the United States when she was 14.

Military jargon prevailed even at home: It was a [totally] different mentality, a way of life, she told Los Angeles Times writer Bob Ellison. Like, Daddy, can I go to the movies? Negative! Why cant you say No, like anybody elses father? Hed say Negative! or Affirmative. They settled in Denver, Colorado, which she described to Kincaid as rough. With her slight English accent, fastidious manners, hand-me-down clothes, and fondness for afternoon tea, she scarcely fit in with her peers. I wasnt popular with boys, and I almost didnt have a date for the senior prom, she recalled. I felt strange, and I just couldnt find a balance.

Spotted by Agent in Pageant

Having enrolled at Denvers Metropolitan State College, Grier envisioned a career in medicine. It was the death of her boyfriend in the Vietnam war that made her consider acting, for the catharsis it allowed. High tuition costs, meanwhile, drove her to enter the Miss Colorado Universe contest in hopes of winning prize money. As the only black contestant in the 1967 pageant, she knew she faced an uphill battle; though she did not win, she placed second and attracted the attention of agent David Baumgarten, who handled comedians Rowan & Martin, among others. Baumgarten invited her to Hollywood, having immediately recognized her star quality. In a reversal of the traditional story, Grier was disinclined to

At a Glance

Born Pamala Suzette Grier on May 26, 1949, in Winston-Salem, NC; daughter of a U.S. Air Force maintenance mechanic. Education: Attended Metropolitan State College, Denver, CO.

Career: Worked as switchboard operator at talent agency and American International Pictures, c. 1969. Film appearances include: The Big Bird Cage, 1969; Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, 1969; Black Mama, White Mama, 1972; Scream, Blacula, Scream, 1973; Coffy, 1973; Foxy Brown, 1974; Friday Foster, 1975; Sheba, Baby, 1975; Drum, 1976; Greased Lightning, 1977; Fort Apache: The Bronx, 1981; Something Wicked This Way Comes, 1983; Stand Alone, 1985; On the Edge, 1986; Tough Enough, 1987; Above the Law, 1988; Class of 1 999,1989; Bill and Teds Bogus Journey, 1991; Posse, 1994; Original Gangstas, 1996; Escape from L.A., 1996; Mars Attacks!, 1996; Jackie Brown, 1997; Jawbreaker, 1999; In Too Deep, 1999; Holy Smoke, 1999; Fortress 2, 1999; Snow Day, 2000; 3 A.M., 2000; Chosts of Mars, 2001; Bones, 2001; Love the Hard Way, 2001; Pluto Nash, 2002. Television appearances: Badge of the Assassin, The Elizabeth Morgan Story, Miami Vice, Knots Landing, Franks Place, The Cosby Show, and Monsters. Stage appearances: Fool for Love, Frankie and Johnny at the Clair de Lune, and The Piano Lesson.

Awards: NAACP Image Award for best actress, for Fool for Love, 1986; National Black Theatre Festival Achievement Award and African American Film Society Achievement Award, both 1993; Career Achievement Award, Chicago International Film Festival, 1998; Golden Globe nomination for Jackie Brown, 1998.

Addresses: Agent Gold/Marshak/Liedtke Talent and Literary Agency, 3500 West Olive Ave., Suite 1400, Burbank, CA 91505.

go, but she was encouraged by her mother to take the agent up on his offer.

Signed to his Agency of the Performing Arts, Grier attended acting classes and worked the office switchboard. But the film roles didnt come; eventually she took a switchboard operator job at the famed low-budget studio American International Pictures (AIP), earning a higher salary. She claimed to be well versed in AIPs more complicated system, then came in early to work every day until she learned it. She also uncovered a great deal about the film business by listening in on the calls she routed.

Eventually she visited producer Roger Cormanarguably the eras king of bare-bones moviemakingand asked for a part in his film The Big Bird Cage. She landed a small role. I thought she had everything we were looking for in an actress to play in our action-adventure films, Corman recalled to Moviegoer years later. She was a big, good-looking girl with a lot of energy, and I knew those qualities would come through on the screen. She was an untrained actress, but she always had a natural ability. And as she learned she became very skilled.

Even so, the education came at a priceminor parts in B pictures like Twilight People and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls before Grier secured a lead in Black Mama, White Mama, a prison escape melodrama loosely modeled on the Tony Curtis-Sidney Poitier vehicle The Defiant Ones. This Corman outing got Grier noticed, and she went on to stardom in the burgeoning black exploitation, or blaxploitation, field.

Established Reputation in Blaxploitation

After hits like Shaft and Superfly demonstrated the box-office potential of black-themed action pictures, the market was more or less flooded with attempts to cash in. Aside from the profitable Cleopatra Jones, starring Tamara Dobsonwith whom Grier has often been confused nearly all the blaxploitation features with a female lead starred Grier. In Coffy, she portrays a nurse who takes revenge on the drug dealers who destroy her sister; the film is often remembered for the title characters emasculation of her adversaries with a shotgun. As Foxy Brown she arranges the castration of a nemesis and sends the severed member to his girlfriend, while Sheba, Baby concludes with Griers character dispatching the primary evildoer with a speargun.

Alongside her starring roles in action vehicles were appearances in such fare as the black horror sequel Scream, Blacula, Scream and the plantation melodrama sequel Drum, which VideoHounds Golden Movie Retriever described as bad taste at its best. Yet Grier had become that raritya bankable female star. Only Barbara Streisand and Liza Minelli shared that distinction during the 1970s. Ebert, quoted in Moviegoer, compared Grier to venerable action hero and dramatic star Sean Connery, in that she knows how to keep her action in character, make it believable. She remained likable in those roles while doing some truly horrible things to her enemies. She should have done them to her directors.

It was a formative period for modern feminism, but Griers tough-sexy image was sufficiently malleable to accommodate both a cover story in feminist journal Ms. and a pictorial in Playboy. Her self-sufficient heroines managed to commit their mayhem in skimpy outfits and usually enjoyed a tender tryst with a sensitive man, thus staying within the realm of acceptability for the largely male audience her films attracted.

Grier herself expressed dissatisfaction with AIPs editing of her films, complaining to Ms. that the company took Coffy and cut it uptaking out the most important parts, like tender scenes between me and my sister. So all you see is bang, bang, bang, shoot em up tits and ass, bang, bang, bang, shoot em up tits and ass. But they kept saying, people will love it now. Its entertainment. She added, AIP policy is to give the niggers shit. Even so, she insisted to Stephen Farber of Moviegoer years later, I learned a lot about the business from making those movies.

She moved in a more conventionally dramatic direction for 1977s Greased Lightning, portraying the wife of a race-car driver played by Richard Pryor. It was a small role in a critically praised though relatively minor film, but it initiated a romantic relationship between Grier and Pryor; the actor-comedian encouraged her to expand her repertoire. Despite admonitions that she was endangering her career, she began turning down work. I said, I think Ill sit back and see who I am, see if I want to remain in the businessand on whose terms, she told Farber. Everyone warned me that its usually hard to make a comeback when you drop out. I said, Well, if I want it that badly, Ill just have to work real hard, wont I?

I played those [Cqffy-type] parts because they had women in positions of power, Grier told Los Angeles Times contributor Dennis Hunt. It was a good positive image for black women. But the films became redundant and I dont like being redundant. As it turned out, Grier jumped off the blaxploitation ship just before it began to sink; by the late 1970s, box-office returns for ghetto action films were virtually nonexistent. Unfortunately, so were roles for the performers who had helped create the genre. Rather than lobby for acting work, however, Grier pursued other interests, among them intensive dance training, singing, and piano; aside from appearances on televisions Love Boat and the Roots II miniseries, little was heard from her during this period.

Death of Friend Marked Return to Acting

It was the loss of a friend, singer Minnie Riperton, that drove her back to film work. I watched Minnie struggle with cancer for a year and a half, Grier recounted to Farber. I saw her trying to make her last album in extreme pain, raising her family at the same time, loving and giving and sharing without one complaint. She said to me, We live such a very short time. You have a lot to give, and you should be giving. So just from watching her try to live and live fully, I started to realize a lot about myself. After she died, I withdrew for several months. But when I came out of it, I decided to go back to work.

This time, however, Grier asked her agent to seek more demanding roles; soon she was offered the part of a murderous, drug-addicted prostitute in the drama Fort Apache: The Bronx. If people thought of me as glamorous before, she told Hunt, they will change their minds after seeing this film. She called the part the hardest role Ive ever played and I couldnt have played it as effectively without getting really into the character. Ive never gotten that deeply [into] a character before. Her preparation, by her own reckoning, required radical self-neglect. I stopped shaving. I let the hair grow under my arms and on my legs. I painted my nails and let it chip away. During the three months of shooting I wasnt getting much sleep. I was losing weight. I was eating a pizza a day to keep weight on, but it wasnt working. I was so skinny in the film you can almost see my jawbones sometimes. People thought makeup made me look that way but it wasnt makeup. Those dark circles were real. My friends thought I was sick. They said I looked like death.

Grier also researched her character by hanging out on the street, lingering long enough to blend in and acquire her [characters] moves, her attitude and everything else about her. Farber quoted venerable New Yorker film critic Pauline Kaels remark that each time Pam Griers angel-dusted hooker appears, making snaky movements with her tongue, she gives us a feeling of obscene terror. For his part, Hunt called the actresss performance stunning.

The success of this performance led to appearances in Tough Enough and the Disney screen adaptation of Ray Bradburys fantasy-horror novel Something Wicked This Way Comes. The latter allowed her to play the Dust Witch, a belly dancer. She told Moviegoers Farber that Bradbury was one of her favorite science fiction authors and that she enjoyed working with both Disney and the splendor of her character. What a great fantasy, to play someone described as the most beautiful woman in the world! Director Jack Clayton explained, Pam was the most exotic person I could find. So we changed the character to a black lady. I chose her because she was beautiful and strange and exotic. She has remarkable presence, but she doesnt have to depend on that. She is also a very good actress.

Grier worked sporadically during the rest of the 1980s, appearing as Steven Seagals partner in Above the Law, as Bruce Dems lover in On the Edge, and on televisions Miami Vice. She also appeared on stage in Los Angeles in the acclaimed Sam Shepard play Fool for Love, for which she was honored with an NAACP Image Award for best actress. By the 1990s, Griers cult statusthanks to the roles shed spent two decades trying to transcend was assured. Despite this cult status, however, Grier was only offered small roles in such films as Bill and Teds Bogus Journey (1991), the all-black western Posse (1993), and Mars Attacks! (1996). She told Farber that the lack of leading roles doesnt disturb me. I feel that even in a small part, people will see my work. The performance isnt judged by the size of the role.

Grier found great happiness in her personal life after she met former RCA Records executive Kevin Evans. Though Evans was 13 years younger than Grier, the couple fell deeply in love and became engaged. Age is irrelevant! Grier told Jet. Evans agreed, telling Jet, It was always about the personality, about the inside qualities Pam possesses.

Landmark Performance in Jackie Brown

Noted filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, whose work owes a substantial debt to 1970s exploitation films, was among Griers many admirers. Grier had auditioned for a role in Tarantinos career-making 1994 film Pulp Fiction, but lost the role to Rosanna Arquette. However, a year later, Grier ran into Tarantino and he told her that he had a part for her. Tarantino had been working on the script for Jackie Brown, and Grier possessed, according to Rebecca Ascher-Walsh in Entertainment Weekly, the exact beau-ty-cum-wisdom quality he was looking for. Tarantino explained to Entertainment Weekly, One thing you get with someone like Pam is theyve been up and down and sideways and out. And its all there, in their body and their face, ready to be drawn upon.

Although Jackie Brown was Griers 50th film, it was her first starring role in over twenty years. In this adaptation of Elmore Leonards 1992 novel, Rum Punch, Grier took on the title role of a flight attendant smuggling money and drugs for Odell, an arms dealer played by Samuel L. Jackson. The film also featured Michael Keaton, Bridget Fonda, and Robert DeNiro.

Reviews for the film were mainly positive, and of those reviewers who found the film disappointing most praised Griers performance. Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly noted that Grier is, as always, a commanding actress; she blends street smarts and melancholy the way she used to blend street smarts and Amazonian hauteur. The New Republics Stanley Kauffmann commented, Tarantinos best achievement in this film is his casting and use of her. For her work in the film, Grier received a Golden Globe nomination.

While promoting the film, Grier revealed to the press that she had been diagnosed with cancer in 1988. My doctor gave me 18 months to live, Grier told Entertainment Weeklys Rebecca Ascher-Walsh. My whole life changed. I became a different person at that point. She underwent treatment for two years, and there were times when she considered ending the pain. Dr. Kevorkian wasnt around back then, she told Ascher-Walsh. There would be days where I thought, Take bottles of pills. I would look at the ceiling, saying Should I live? Should I die? Grier took those two years one step at a time, and in the end, Grier had survived not only the deadly disease, but its difficult treatment.

Following Jackie Brown, Grier appeared in several 1999 films, including Jawbreaker, In Too Deep, Holy Smoke, and Fortress 2. For In Too Deep, Grier shared the screen with a veritable cornucopia of stars, not the least of whom were LL Cool J, Omar Epps, Stanley Tucci, Veronica Webb, and Nia Long. Holy Smoke placed Grier alongside Harvey Keitel and Kate Winslet.

Career Booming in the Millennium

After a small role in 2000s Snow Day, Grier won a starring role in the Showtime film 3 A.M. (2001). Here Danny Glover plays a New York cab driver who works the late shift and is dating Griers character, a waitress named Georgia. Reviews for the film were not glowing, but Kirk Honeycutt of the Hollywood Reporter noted that Grier and Glover, anchor the wispy film.

Also in 2001, Grier appeared alongside Ice Cube in John Carpenters Ghost of Mars, as well as in Bones with Snoop Doggy Dogg. In the latter, Dogg plays a ghost who, twenty years after his death, awakens, seeking out revenge on those who killed him. Grier plays his clairvoyant girlfriend. Grier was also seen that year in the role of a New York City police detective in the independent Love the Hard Way. In addition, she began working with Eddie Murphy on Pluto Nash, a futuristic film set for release in 2002.

Throughout her career, Pam Grier has known many ups and downs. Recognizing the fickle nature of show business, she has never allowed herself to get caught up in the Hollywood hype. She told Interview, I always thought that not living here in Hollywood was a way of showing that Im not afraid of losing my career; Im afraid of losing me.

Selected filmography

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, 1969.

Black Mama, White Mama, 1972.

Scream, Blacula, Scream, 1973.

Coffy, 1973.

Foxy Brown, 1974.

Friday Foster, 1975.

Sheba, Baby, 1975.

Drum, 1976.

Greased Lightning, 1977.

Fort Apache: The Bronx, 1981.

Something Wicked This Way Comes, 1983.

Stand Alone, 1985.

On the Edge, 1986.

Tough Enough, 1987.

Above the Law, 1988.

Class of 1999, 1989.

Bill and Teds Bogus Journey, 1991.

Posse, 1994.

Original Gangstas, 1996.

Escape from LA., 1996.

Mars Attacks!, 1996.

Jackie Brown, 1997.

Jawbreaker, 1999.

In Too Deep, 1999.

Holy Smoke, 1999.

Fortress 2, 1999.

Snow Day, 2000.

3 A.M., 2000.

Ghosts of Mars, 2001.

Bones, 2001.

Love the Hard Way, 2001.

Sources

Books

Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Volume 20, Gale, 1998.

Ebert, Roger, Roger Eberts Movie Home Companion, Andrews & McMeel, 1993, p. 2.

VideoHounds Golden Movie Retriever, Visible Ink Press, 1993, p. 199.

Periodicals

Ebony, June 1976, pp. 33-40.

Entertainment Weekly, December 19,1997; January, 9, 1998; August 7, 1998.

Hollywood Reporter, October 1, 1998; November 20, 1998; February 7,2000; November 13,2000; February 1, 2001.

Interview, January 1998.

Jet, March 2, 1998; April 13, 1998.

Los Angeles Times, August 19, 1979, calendar section, p. 34; March 12, 1981, section 5, pp. 1, 7.

Moviegoer, May 1983.

Ms., August 1975, pp. 49-53.

Multichannel News, June 18, 2001.

New Republic, January 26, 1998.

New York, May 19, 1975, pp. 43-6.

Vibe, September 1994.

Online

Internet Movie Database, http://us.imdb.com.

Other

Additional information for this profile was provided by the Irv Schecter Company, 1994.

Simon Glickman and Jennifer M. York

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Grier, Pam 1949–

Pam Grier 1949

Actress

At a Glance

Recognized As a Natural

Established Reputation in Blaxploitation

Death of Friend Marked Return to Acting

Sources

Film critic Roger Ebert, in his Movie Home Companion, referred to Pam Grier as one of the most intriguing action stars of the 1970s. Though she continued to work in the ensuing decades, Grier established herself as a box-office draw in the blaxploitation genre, generally playing tough, sexy crimefighters. Vibes Darius James an expert on the genrerhapsodized, Grier reigned over the altars of adolescent onanism in a dangerous double-D cup like a black-skinned [Hindu religion deity of destruction] goddess Kali.

Some 20 years earlier, Ms. contributor Jamaica Kincaid dismissed the films themselves as mostly simplistic, sensational, violent, and technically faulty but celebrated their presentation of a woman who is independent, resourceful, self-confident, strong, and courageous. Above all, they are the only films to show us a woman who triumphs! Yet rather than be hemmed in by such roles, Grier took a break from her film career that began to look like retirement until she returned in a challenging, unglamorous role in 1981s Fort Apache: The Bronx. Since then she has pursued a variety of film and television work, though 1970s nostalgia has only made her blaxploitation heroinesFriday Foster, Coffy, Foxy Brown, and othersloom ever larger.

When I was a young girl, I never thought of acting, Pamala Suzette Grier claimed in an Ebony profile. I never thought of television, of fans, movie stars, signing autographs. It never crossed my mind. She was born in Winston-Salem, South Carolina; her fathers military job kept the family traveling, and she grew up in Europe, returning to the United States when she was 14.

Military jargon prevailed even at home: It was a [totally] different mentality, a way of life, she told Los Angeles Times writer Bob Ellison. Like, Daddy, can I go to the movies? Negative! Why cant you say No, like anybody elses father? Hed say Negative! or Affirmative. They settled in Denver, Colorado, which she described to Kincaid as rough. With her slight English accent, fastidious manners, hand-me-down clothes, and fondness for afternoon tea, she scarcely fit in with her peers. I wasnt popular with boys, and I almost didnt have a date for the senior prom, she recalled. I felt strange, and I just couldnt find a balance.

Having enrolled at Denvers Metropolitan State College, Grier envisioned a career in medicine. It was the death of her boyfriend in the Vietnam war that made her consider acting, as she explained to the Los Angeles Times, for the

At a Glance

Born Pamala Suzette Grier, May 26,1949, in Winston-Salem, NC; daughter of a U.S. Air Force maintenance mechanic. Education: Attended Metropolitan State College, Denver, CO.

Worked as switchboard operator at talent agency and American International Pictures, c. 1969. Film appearances include The Big Bird Cage, 1969; Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, 1969; Black Mama, White Mama, 1972; Scream, Blacula, Scream, 1973; Coffy, 1973; Foxy Brown, 1974; Friday Foster, 1975; Sheba, Baby, 1975; Drum, 1976; Greased Lightning, 1977; Fort Apache: The Bronx, 1981; Something Wicked This Way Comes, 1983; Stand Alone, 1985; On the Edge, 1986; Tough Enough, 1987; Above the Law, 1988; Class of 1999, 1989; Bill and Teds Bogus Journey, 1991; and Posse, 1994. Television appearances include Badge of the Assassin, The Elizabeth Morgan Story, Miami Vice, Knots Landing, Franks Place, The Cosby Show, and Monsters. Stage appearances include Fool for Love, Frankie and Johnny at the Clair de Lune, and The Piano Lesson.

Awards: NAACP Image Award for best actress, 1986, for Fool for Love; National Black Theatre Festival Achievement Award and African American Film Society Achievement Award, both 1993.

Addresses: Agent The Irv Schecter Company, 9300 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212.

catharsis it allowed. High tuition costs, meanwhile, drove her to enter the Miss Colorado Universe contest in hopes of winning prize money. As the only black contestant, in 1967, she knew she faced an uphill battle; though she did not win, she placed second and attracted the attention of agent David Baumgarten, who handled comedians Rowan & Martin, among others. Baumgarten invited her to Hollywood, having immediately recognized her star quality. In a reversal of the traditional story, Grier was disinclined to go, but she was encouraged by her mother to take the agent up on his offer.

Recognized As a Natural

Signed to his Agency of the Performing Arts, Grier attended acting classes and worked the office switchboard. But the film roles didnt come; eventually she took a switchboard operator job at the famed low-budget studio American International Pictures (AIP), earning a higher salary. She claimed to be well versed in AIPs more complicated system, then came in early to work every day until she learned it. She also uncovered a great deal about the film business by listening in on the calls she routed.

Eventually she visited producer Roger Cormanarguably the eras king of bare-bones moviemakingand asked for a part in his film The Big Bird Cage. She landed a small role. I thought she had everything we were looking for in an actress to play in our action-adventure films, Corman recalled to Moviegoer years later. She was a big, good-looking girl with a lot of energy, and I knew those qualities would come through on the screen. She was an untrained actress, but she always had a natural ability. And as she learned she became very skilled.

Even so, the education came at a priceminor parts in B pictures like Twilight People and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls before Grier secured a lead in Black Mama, White Mama, a prison escape melodrama loosely modeled on the Tony Curtis-Sidney Poitier vehicle The Defiant Ones. This Corman outing got Grier noticed, and she went on to stardom in the burgeoning black exploitation, or blaxploitation, field.

Established Reputation in Blaxploitation

After hits like Shaft and Superfly demonstrated the box-office potential of black-themed action pictures, the market was more or less flooded with attempts to cash in. Aside from the profitable Cleopatra Jones, starring Tamara Dobsonwith whom Grier has often been confusednearly all the blaxploitation features with a female lead starred Grier. In Coffy, she portrays a nurse who takes revenge on the drug dealers who destroy her sister; the film is often remembered for the title characters emasculation of her adversaries with a shotgun. As Foxy Brown she arranges the castration of a nemesis and sends the severed member to his girlfriend, while Sheba, Baby concludes with Griers character dispatching the primary evildoer with a speargun.

Alongside her starring roles in action vehicles were appearances in such fare as the black horror sequel Scream, Blacula, Scream and the plantation melodrama sequel Drum, which VideoHounds Golden Movie Retriever described as bad taste at its best. Yet Grier had become that raritya bankable female star. Only Barbara Streisand and Liza Minelli shared that distinction during the 1970s. Ebert, quoted in Moviegoer, compared Grier to venerable action hero and dramatic star Sean Connery, in that she knows how to keep her action in character, make it believable. She remained likable in those roles while doing some truly horrible things to her enemies. She should have done them to her directors.

It was a formative period for modern feminism, but Griers tough-sexy image was sufficiently malleable to accommodate both a cover story in feminist journal Ms. and a pictorial in Playboy. Her self-sufficient heroines managed to commit their mayhem in skimpy outfits and usually enjoyed a tender tryst with a sensitive man, thus staying within the realm of acceptability for the largely male audience her films attracted.

Grier herself expressed dissatisfaction with AIP s editing of her films, complaining to Ms. that the company took Coffy and cut it uptaking out the most important parts, like tender scenes between me and my sister. So all you see is bang, bang, bang, shoot em up tits and ass, bang, bang, bang, shoot em up tits and ass. But they kept saying, people will love it now. Its entertainment. She added, AIP policy is to give the niggers shit. Even so, she insisted to Stephen Farber of Moviegoer years later, I learned a lot about the business from making those movies.

She moved in a more conventionally dramatic direction for 1977s Greased Lightning, portraying the wife of a race-car driver played by Richard Pryor. It was a small role in a critically praised but relatively minor film, but it initiated a romantic relationship between Grier and Pryor; the actor-comedian encouraged her to expand her repertoire. Despite admonitions that she was endangering her career, she began turning down work. I said, I think Ill sit back and see who I am, see if I want to remain in the businessand on whose terms, she told Farber. Everyone warned me that its usually hard to make a comeback when you drop out. I said, Well, if I want it that badly, Ill just have to work real hard, wont I?

I played those [Coffy -type] parts because they had women in positions of power, Grier told Los Angeles Times contributor Dennis Hunt. It was a good positive image for black women. But the films became redundant, and I dont like being redundant. As it turned out, Grier jumped off the blaxploitation ship just before it began to sink; by the late 1970s, box-office returns for ghetto action films were virtually nonexistent. Unfortunately, so were roles for the performers who had helped create the genre. Rather than lobby for acting work, however, Grier pursued other interests, among them intensive dance training, singing, and piano; aside from appearances on televisions Love Boat and the Roots II miniseries, little was heard from her during this period.

Death of Friend Marked Return to Acting

It was the loss of a friend, singer Minnie Riperton, that drove her back to film work. I watched Minnie struggle with cancer for a year and a half, Grier recounted to Farber. I saw her trying to make her last album in extreme pain, raising her family at the same time, loving and giving and sharing without one complaint. She said to me, We live such a very short time. You have a lot to give, and you should be giving. So just from watching her try to live and live fully, I started to realize a lot about myself. After she died, I withdrew for several months. But when I came out of it, I decided to go back to work.

This time, however, Grier asked her agent to seek more demanding roles; soon she was offered the part of a murderous, drug-addicted prostitute in the drama Fort Apache: The Bronx. If people thought of me as glamorous before, she told Hunt, they will change their minds after seeing this film. She called the part the hardest role Ive ever played and I couldnt have played it as effectively without getting really into the character. Ive never gotten that deeply [into] a character before. Her preparation, by her own reckoning, required radical self-neglect. I stopped shaving. I let the hair grow under my arms and on my legs. I painted my nails and let it chip away. During the three months of shooting I wasnt getting much sleep. I was losing weight. I was eating a pizza a day to keep weight on, but it wasnt working. I was so skinny in the film you can almost see my jawbones sometimes. People thought makeup made me look that way but it wasnt makeup. Those dark circles were real. My friends thought I was sick. They said I looked like death.

Grier also researched her character by hanging out on the street, lingering long enough to blend in and acquire her [characters] moves, her attitude and everything else about her. Farber quoted venerable New Yorker film critic Pauline Kaels remark that each time Pam Griers angel-dusted hooker appears, making snaky movements with her tongue, she gives us a feeling of obscene terror. For his part, Hunt called the actresss performance stunning.

The success of this performance led to appearances in Tough Enough and the Disney screen adaptation of Ray Bradburys fantasy-horror novel Something Wicked This Way Comes. The latter allowed her to play the Dust Witch, a belly dancer. She told Moviegoers Farber that Bradbury is one of her favorite science fiction authors and that she enjoyed working with both Disney and the splendor of her character. What a great fantasy, to play someone described as the most beautiful woman in the world! Director Jack Clayton explained, Pam was the most exotic person I could find. So we changed the character to a black lady. I chose her because she was beautiful and strange and exotic. She has remarkable presence, but she doesnt have to depend on that. She is also a very good actress.

Grier worked sporadically during the rest of the 1980s, appearing as Steven Seagals partner in Above the Law, as Bruce Derns lover in On the Edge, and on televisions Miami Vice. She also appeared onstage in Los Angeles in the acclaimed Sam Shepard play Fool for Love, for which she was honored with an NAACP Image Award for best actress. By the 1990s, Griers cult statusthanks to the roles shed spent two decades trying to transcendwas assured. Noted filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, whose work owes a substantial debt to 1970s exploitation films, is among her many admirers. Yet she has settled for small roles in films like Bill and Teds Bogus Journey, Class of 1999, and the all-black western Posse. She told Farber that the lack of leading roles doesnt disturb me. I feel that even in a small part, people will see my work. The performance isnt judged by the size of the role.

Sources

Books

Ebert, Roger, Roger Eberts Movie Home Companion, Andrews & McMeel, 1993, p.2.

VideoHounds Golden Movie Retriever, Visible Ink Press, 1993, p. 199.

Periodicals

Ebony, June 1976, pp. 33-40.

Los Angeles Times, August 19, 1979, calendar section, p. 34; March 12, 1981, section 5, pp. 1, 7.

Moviegoer, May 1983.

Ms., August 1975, pp. 49-53.

New York, May 19, 1975, pp. 43-6.

Vibe, September 1994.

Additional information for this profile was provided by the Irv Schecter Company, 1994.

Simon Glickman

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"Grier, Pam 1949–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Grier, Pam 1949–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/grier-pam-1949

Grier, Pam 1949–

Grier, Pam 1949–

(Pam Greer, Pamela Grier)

PERSONAL

Full name, Pamela Suzette Grier; born May 26, 1949, in Winston-Salem, NC; daughter of Clarence Ransom (a military aircraft mechanic) and Gwendolyn Sylvia (a registered nurse; maiden name, Samuels) Grier; cousin of Roosevelt Grier (a professional football player and actor). Education: Attended Metropolitan State College, Denver, CO, and the University of California, Los Angeles; studied acting. Religion: Methodist. Avocational Interests: Skiing, scuba diving, horseback riding, tennis.

Addresses: Agent—Steve LaManna, Innovative Artists, 1505 10th St., Santa Monica, CA 90401.

Career: Actress. Performed as a singer and participated in beauty pageants. Switchboard operator at a talent agency and for American International Pictures, c. 1969. Some sources state that Grier founded a production company, sang at various venues with the singer Snoop Dogg, worked as a cheerleader for the Denver Broncos, was a presenter at the Newark Black Film Festival, and operated a design firm. Also known as Pam Greer.

Member: Screen Actors Guild, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Actors' Equity Association, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Amnesty International.

Awards, Honors: Image Award, best actress, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1986, for Fool for Love; Achievement awards, National Black Theatre Festival and African-American Film Society, both 1993; Tuesday, October 13, 1998, declared Pam Grier Day in Denver, CO, by Denver mayor Wellington E. Webb; Career Achievement awards, Chicago International Film Festival, 1998, and Acapulco Black Film Festival, 1999; Golden Globe Award nomination, best performance by an actress in a comedy or musical film, Screen Actors Guild Award nomination, outstanding performance by a female actor in a leading role, Image Award nomination, outstanding lead actress in a motion picture, Golden Satellite Award nomination, best performance by an actress in a motion picture—comedy or musical, International Press Academy, and Saturn Award nomination, best actress, Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films, all 1998, and Golden Slate, best female performance, Csapnivalo awards, 2000, all for Jackie Brown; Image Award nominations, outstanding lead actress in a comedy series, 1999 and 2000, both for Linc's; Daytime Emmy Award nomination, outstanding performer in an animated program, 2000, for "The Empress's Nightingale," Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child; Susan B. Anthony "Failure Is Impossible" Award, High Falls Film Festival, 2001; Black Reel Award nomination, best actress in a theatrical film, Foundation for the Advancement of African Americans in Film, 2002, for Bones; Image Award nomination, outstanding actress in a television movie, miniseries, or dramatic special, 2002, for 3 A.M.; Trumpet Award for film, 2003; Image Award nominations, outstanding supporting actress in a drama series, 2003 and 2004, both for Law & Order: Special Victims Unit; Image Award nominations, outstanding supporting actress in a drama series, 2005 and 2006, both for The L Word; named one of the 100 most fascinating women of the twentieth century, Ebony magazine.

CREDITS

Film Appearances

(As Pamela Grier) Partygoer, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (also known as Hollywood Vixens), Twentieth Century-Fox, 1970.

Grear, The Big Doll House (also known as Bamboo Dolls House, Women's Penitentiary, and Women's Penitentiary II), New World, 1971.

Alabama, Women in Cages (also known as Women's Penitentiary III), New World, 1972.

Blossom, The Big Bird Cage (also known as Women's Penitentiary II), New World, 1972.

(As Pamela Grier) Gozelda, Hit Man, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1972.

Lee Daniels, Black Mama, White Mama (also known as Chained Women, Chains of Hate, Hot, Hard, and Mean, and Women in Chains), American International Pictures, 1972.

(As Pamela Grier) Mona, Cool Breeze, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1972.

Aleysa the panther woman, Twilight People (also known as Beasts and Island of the Twilight People), Dimension Films, 1973.

Title role, Coffy, American International Pictures, 1973.

Lisa, Scream, Blacula, Scream! (also known as Blacula Is Beautiful, Blacula Lives Again!, Blacula II, and The Name Is Blacula), American International Pictures, 1973.

Title role, Foxy Brown, American International Pictures, 1974.

Mamawi, The Arena (also known as Naked Warriors and La rivolta delle gladiatrici), New World, 1974.

Aretha, Bucktown, American International Pictures, 1975.

Title role, Friday Foster, American International Pictures, 1975.

Sheba Shayne, Sheba, Baby, American International Pictures, 1975.

(As Pamela Grier) Regine, Drum, United Artists, 1976.

Mary Jones, Greased Lightning, Warner Bros., 1977.

(As Pamela Grier) Sandra, La notte dell'alta marea (also known as The Night of the High Tide and Twilight of Love), 1977.

Charlotte, Fort Apache, the Bronx, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1981.

Dust witch, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Buena Vista, 1983.

Myra, Tough Enough, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1983.

Cathryn Bolan, Stand Alone, New World, 1985.

Cora, On the Edge, Skouras Pictures, 1985.

Hunter, The Vindicator (also known as Frankenstein '88), Fox Home Video, 1986.

Sergeant MacLeish, The Allnighter, Universal, 1987.

Delores "Jacks" Jackson, Above the Law (also known as Nico and Nico: Above the Law), Warner Bros., 1988.

Ruth Butler, The Package, Orion, 1989.

Ms. Connors, Class of 1999, Taurus Entertainment, 1990.

Ms. Wardroe, Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, Orion, 1991.

Phoebe, Posse, Gramercy Pictures, 1993.

Captain Maggie Davis, Serial Killer, Republic, 1996.

Hershe Las Palmas, Escape from L.A. (also known as John Carpenter's "Escape from L.A."), Paramount, 1996.

Laurie Thompson, Original Gangstas (also known as Hot City), Orion, 1996.

Louise Williams, Mars Attacks!, Warner Bros., 1996.

Annabelle Lee, Fakin' da Funk, Octillion Entertainment, 1997.

Title role, Jackie Brown, Miramax, 1997.

Janette, Strip Search, A-pix Entertainment/Quadra Entertainment, 1997.

Detective Vera Cruz, Jawbreaker, Columbia/TriStar, 1998.

Diane, No Tomorrow, PM Entertainment Group, 1998.

Woo, New Line Cinema, 1998.

Carol, Holy Smoke!, Miramax, 1999.

Detective Angela Wilson, In Too Deep, Dimension Films, 1999.

Susan Mendenhall (some sources cite Susan Teller), Fortress 2 (also known as Fortress 2: Re-Entry), 1999.

Detective Della Wilder (title role), Wilder (also known as Slow Burn and Wilder: Profession detective), Dream Rock/Bedford Entertainment, 2000.

Tina, Snow Day, Paramount, 2000.

Commander Helena Braddock, Ghosts of Mars (also known as John Carpenter's "Ghosts of Mars"), Screen Gems/Columbia/TriStar, 2001.

Pearl, Bones, New Line Cinema, 2001.

Linda Fox, Love the Hard Way, Vine International Pictures, 2001, Kino International, 2003.

Flura Nash, The Adventures of Pluto Nash (also known as Pluto Nash), Warner Bros., 2002.

Mrs. Williams, Baby of the Family, DownSouth Filmworks, 2002.

(Uncredited; in archive footage) Herself, Undercover Brother, Universal, 2002.

Herself, A Decade under the Influence (documentary), IFC Films, 2003.

Zelda, Untitled Ryan McKinney Project, Dark Portal, c. 2006.

Film Work

Performer of title song, The Big Doll House (also known as Bamboo Dolls House, Women's Penitentiary, and Women's Penitentiary II), New World, 1971.

Performer of songs that have appeared in other films.

Television Appearances; Series

Suzanne Terry, Crime Story, NBC, c. 1986–88.

Eleanor Braithwaite Winthrop, Linc's, Showtime, 1998–2000.

Host, Women & the Badge, Oxygen Network, beginning 2002.

Kit Porter, The L Word (also known as Earthlings), Showtime, beginning 2004.

Television Appearances; Miniseries

Francey, Roots: The Next Generations, ABC, 1979.

Suzette Lermontant, Feast of All Saints (also known as Anne Rice's "The Feast of All Saints"), Showtime, 2001.

Herself, The 100 Most Memorable TV Moments, TV Land, 2004.

Television Appearances; Movies

Alexandra "Alie" Horn, Badge of the Assassin, CBS, 1985.

Linda Holman, A Mother's Right: The Elizabeth Morgan Story (also known as Shattered Silence), ABC, 1992.

Mrs. Quincy, Family Blessings (also known as LaVyrle Spencer's "Family Blessings"), CBS, 1996.

Sam, Hayley Wagner, Star, HBO, 1999.

George, 3 A.M., Showtime, 2001.

Claire Washburn, 1st to Die (also known as F1rst to Die and James Patterson's "F1rst to Die"), NBC, 2003.

Mrs. Cooper, Back in the Day, Black Entertainment Television, 2005.

Television Appearances; Specials

Herself, The Making of "Something Wicked This Way Comes," 1983.

Narrator, Paul Robeson: Speak of Me As I Am, PBS, 1998.

(As Pamela Grier) Voice of the nightingale, "The Empress's Nightingale," Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child (animated; also known as The Empress's Nightingale: An Animated Special from "The Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child" Series), HBO, 1999.

Herself, It Conquered Hollywood! The Story of American International Pictures (documentary), American Movie Classics, 2001.

The Sandra Bernhard Experience, Arts and Entertainment, 2001.

Herself, Totally Gayer, VH1, 2004.

Television Appearances; Awards Presentations

16th Annual Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, syndicated, 1989.

Herself, Fourth Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards (also known as Screen Actors Guild Fourth Annual Awards), TNT, 1998.

Presenter, The 25th Annual American Music Awards, ABC, 1998.

Presenter, The 29th NAACP Image Awards, Fox, 1998.

Presenter, The Source Hip-Hop Music Awards, UPN, 2001.

Presenter, World Stunt Awards, ABC, 2001.

Herself, 2003 Trumpet Awards, TBS, 2003.

Television Appearances; Episodic

Guest, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (also known as The Best of Carson), NBC, multiple episodes in 1973.

Guest, Soul Train, syndicated, 1973, 1977.

Cynthia Williams, "The Kinfolk/Sis and the Slicker/Moonlight and Moonshine/Affair: Parts 1 & 2," The Love Boat, ABC, 1980.

Valerie Gordon, "Prodigal Son," Miami Vice, NBC, 1985.

Valerie Gordon, "Rites of Passage," Miami Vice, NBC, 1985.

Benet Collins, "Hurricane: Parts 1 & 2," Night Court, NBC, 1986.

Samantha, "Planning Parenthood," The Cosby Show, NBC, 1987.

Neema Sharone, "Frank's Place: The Movie," Frank's Place, CBS, 1988.

Susan Province, "Blood Red," Midnight Caller, NBC, 1989.

Lieutenant Guthrie, "Dead but Not Buried: Part 1," Knots Landing, CBS, 1990.

Lieutenant Guthrie, "What If?," Knots Landing, CBS, 1990.

Valerie Gordon, "Too Much, Too Late," Miami Vice, NBC, 1990.

"Hostile Takeover," Monsters, 1991.

Grace Ballard, "My Favorite Dad," Pacific Station, NBC, 1992.

Janice Robertson, "M Is for the Many Things She Gave Me," The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, NBC, 1994.

Lynn Montgomery, "The Telethon," The Sinbad Show, Fox, 1994.

Major Vanetta Brown, "Rainbow Comix," The Marshal, ABC, 1995.

Herself, "All the Players Came," Martin, Fox, 1995.

Anita Grayson, "Pillow Talk," Sparks (also known as Sparks, Sparks, and Sparks), UPN, 1996.

Erica, "Goin' to the Net," The Wayans Bros., The WB, 1996.

Herself, "Show n97," Mundo VIP, 1998.

Voice of Julie Auburn, "Inherit the Wheeze," Steven Spielberg Presents "Pinky and the Brain" (animated; also known as Pinky and the Brain), The WB, 1998.

Guest host, Mad TV, Fox, 1998.

Guest, The Rosie O'Donnell Show, syndicated, 1998.

Brenda, "The Sins of the Mother and … the Boyfriend," For Your Love, The WB, 1999.

Voice of Mother Springbok, "Stick Your Neck Out," The Wild Thornberrys (animated), Nickelodeon, 1999.

Herself, Intimate Portrait: Pam Grier, Lifetime, 1999.

Bar owner, "Time Is on My Side," Strange Frequency, VH1, 2001.

Guest, The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn (also known as The Late Late Show), CBS, 2001.

Herself, Miami Vice: The E! True Hollywood Story, E! Entertainment Television, 2001.

Hollywood Unleashed, Animal Planet, 2001.

The Test, FX Channel, 2001.

Assistant United States attorney Claudia Williams, "Disappearing Acts," Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (also known as Law & Order's Sex Crimes, Law & Order: SVU, and Special Victims Unit), NBC, 2002.

Dr. Lewis, "Switch," Night Visions, Fox, 2002.

Voice of My'ria'h, "A Knight of Shadows: Parts 1 & 2," Justice League (animated; also known as JL, JLA, and Justice League of America), Cartoon Network, 2002.

Assistant United States attorney Claudia Williams, "Pandora," Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (also known as Law & Order's Sex Crimes, Law & Order: SVU, and Special Victims Unit), NBC, 2003.

Guest, The Wayne Brady Show, syndicated, 2004.

Herself, Snoop Dogg: The E! True Hollywood Story, E! Entertainment Television, 2005.

Also appeared in an episode of In Living Color, Fox.

Television Appearances; Pilots

Kit Porter, The L Word (also known as Earthlings), Showtime, 2004.

Stage Appearances

Frankie and Johnny at the Clair de Lune, c. 1980.

May, Fool for Love, Los Angeles Theatre Center, Los Angeles, 1985–86.

Telltale Hearts, Crossroads Theatre Company, New Brunswick, NJ, 1993–94.

Also appeared in The Piano Lesson.

RECORDINGS

Videos

Herself, Baadasssss Cinema (documentary), New Video Group, 2002.

Herself, Diggin' Up "Bones" (short), New Line Home Video, 2002.

Herself, Jackie Brown: How It Went Down (short documentary), Miramax Home Entertainment, 2002.

(In archive footage) Herself, Sex at 24 Frames per Second (documentary; also known as Playboy Presents "Sex at 24 Frames per Second: The Ultimate Journey through Sex in Cinema"), Playboy Entertainment Group, 2003.

Albums

Performed as a backup singer for albums recorded by Bobby Womack, early 1970s.

Music Videos

Snoop Dogg (as Snoop Doggy Dogg), "Doggy Dogg World," 1994.

OTHER SOURCES

Books

Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 31, Gale, 2001.

St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, five volumes, St. James Press, 2000.

Who's Who among African Americans, 18th edition, Gale, 2005.

Periodicals

Essence, July, 1996, p. 28; September, 2001, p. 72.

Fangoria, January, 2002, pp. 50-53.

Femme Fatales, May, 2002, pp. 60-61.

Interview, January, 1998, p. 78.

Jet, March 2, 1998; April 13, 1998, p. 36; August 3, 1998, p. 62; March 1, 1999, p. 49; August 23, 1999, p. 36.

People Weekly, May 13, 1996, p. 137; January 26, 1998, p. 138.

Request, May/June, 2002, p. 41.

TV Guide, August 1, 1998, pp. 20-22; February 1, 2003, pp. 20-22.

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"Grier, Pam 1949–." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Grier, Pam 1949–." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/grier-pam-1949-1

"Grier, Pam 1949–." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/grier-pam-1949-1