Pam Grier
Pamela Suzette Grier, 2012 (cropped).jpg
Grier in February 2012
Born
Pamela Suzette Grier

(1949-05-26) May 26, 1949 (age 73)
Alma materMetropolitan State College
OccupationActress
Years active1970–present
Known forCoffy
Foxy Brown
Sheba, Baby
Friday Foster
Jackie Brown
The L Word
Height5 ft 8 in (1.73 m)
RelativesRosey Grier (cousin)

Pamela Suzette Grier (born May 26, 1949) is an American actress. Described by Quentin Tarantino as cinema's first female action star,[1] she achieved fame for her starring roles in a string of 1970s action, blaxploitation, and women in prison films for American International Pictures and New World Pictures. Her accolades include nominations for an Emmy Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, a Satellite Award, and a Saturn Award.

Grier came to prominence with her titular roles in the films Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974); her other major films during this period included The Big Doll House (1971), Women in Cages (1971), The Big Bird Cage (1972), Black Mama, White Mama (1973), Scream Blacula Scream (1973), The Arena (1974), Sheba, Baby (1975), Bucktown (1975), and Friday Foster (1975). She portrayed the title character in Quentin Tarantino's crime film Jackie Brown (1997), and also appeared in Escape from L.A. (1996), Jawbreaker (1999), Holy Smoke!, (1999), Bones (2001), Just Wright (2010), Larry Crowne (2011), and Poms (2019).

On television, Grier portrayed Eleanor Winthrop in the Showtime comedy-drama series Linc's (1998–2000), Kate "Kit" Porter on the Showtime drama series The L Word (2004–2009), and Constance Terry in the ABC sitcom Bless This Mess (2019–2020). She received praise for her work in the animated series Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child (1999).

Early life

Grier was born on May 26, 1949, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the daughter of Gwendolyn Sylvia (née Samuels), a homemaker and nurse, and Clarence Ransom Grier, Jr., who worked as a mechanic and technical sergeant in the United States Air Force. She has one sister and one brother.[2] Grier has stated that she is of mixed ancestry, namely of African American, Hispanic, Chinese, Filipino, and Cheyenne heritage.[3] She was raised Catholic and later baptized as a Methodist.[4]

Because of her father's military career, the family moved frequently during Grier's childhood. When she was six years old, they relocated to Swindon in South West England, United Kingdom, where her father worked on an airforce base.[5] By Grier's account, hers was one of the only black families in town, though she recalled that they faced no racism or segregation compared to that in the United States: "They didn’t care that I was black since they hadn’t been raised to hate blacks. Instead they’d been raised to hate Germans... In the U.S., especially in the South, we were never able to get buses to stop for us, we couldn’t eat in certain restaurants, couldn’t use certain bathrooms. Up until 1969, there were department stores in which my father and I weren’t even allowed to try on clothing."[5][6]

After two years in England,[5] the family returned to the United States, eventually settling in Denver, Colorado. Grier also spent part of her upbringing on her maternal grandparents' sugar beet farm in rural Wyoming, where their ancestors had homesteaded after fleeing west via the Underground Railroad to escape slavery.[7] Grier attended East High School in Denver, and appeared in a number of stage productions, as well as participating in beauty contests to raise money for college tuition at Metropolitan State College.

Career

Grier in 1976
Grier in 1976

Grier moved to Los Angeles, California, in 1967, where she was initially hired to work the switchboard at American International Pictures (AIP).[8] She is believed to have been discovered by director Jack Hill,[9] who cast her in his women-in-prison films The Big Doll House (1971) and The Big Bird Cage (1972). While under contract at AIP, she became a staple of early 1970s blaxploitation movies, playing big, bold, assertive women, beginning with Jack Hill's Coffy (1973), in which she plays a nurse who seeks revenge on drug dealers. Her character was advertised in the trailer as the "baddest one-chick hit-squad that ever hit town!" The film, which was filled with sexual and violent elements typical of the genre, was a box-office hit. Grier is considered to be the first African-American female to headline an action film, as protagonists of previous blaxploitation films were males. In his review of Coffy, critic Roger Ebert praised the film for its believable female lead. He noted that Grier was an actress of "beautiful face and astonishing form" and that she possessed a kind of "physical life" missing from many other attractive actresses.[10]

Grier subsequently played similar characters in the AIP films Foxy Brown (1974), Sheba, Baby, and Friday Foster (both 1975). With the demise of blaxploitation later in the 1970s, Grier appeared in smaller roles for many years. She acquired progressively larger character roles in the 1980s, including a druggie prostitute in Fort Apache, The Bronx (1981) and a witch in Something Wicked this Way Comes (1983).

In 1985, Grier made her theatrical debut in Sam Sheppard's Fool for Love at the Los Angeles Theatre Center.[11]

Grier returned to film as Steven Seagal's detective partner in Above the Law (1988). She had a recurring role on Miami Vice from 1985 to 1989 and made guest appearances on Martin, Night Court, and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. She had a recurring role in the TV series Crime Story between 1986 and 1988. Her role in Rocket Gibraltar (1988) was cut due to fears by the film's director, Daniel Petrie, of "repercussions from interracial love scenes."[12] She appeared on Sinbad, Preston Chronicles, The Cosby Show, The Wayans Brothers Show, and Mad TV. In 1994, Grier appeared in Snoop Dogg's video for "Doggy Dogg World".

Grier with moderator Jarrett Crippen during a Q&A session at the 2013 Wizard World New York Experience
Grier with moderator Jarrett Crippen during a Q&A session at the 2013 Wizard World New York Experience

In the late 1990s Grier was a cast member of the Showtime series Linc's. She appeared in 1996 in John Carpenter's Escape from L.A. and 1997 with the title role in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown, films that partly paid homage to her 1970s blaxploitation movies. She was nominated for numerous awards for her work in the Tarantino film. Grier appeared on Showtime's The L Word, in which she played Kit Porter. The series ran for six seasons and ended in March 2009. Grier occasionally guest-stars in such television series as Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (where she is a recurring character).

In 2010 Grier began appearing in a recurring role on the hit science-fiction series Smallville as the villain Amanda Waller, also known as White Queen, head agent of Checkmate, a covert operations agency. She appeared as a friend and colleague to Julia Roberts' college professor in 2011's Larry Crowne.

In 2010, Grier wrote her memoir, Foxy: My Life in Three Acts, with Andrea Cagan.[13]

Grier received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in 2011. That same year, she received an honorary Doctorate of Science from Langston University.[14]

According to Essence, in Grier's career, "[s]o revolutionary were the characters Grier played that women reportedly would stand on chairs and cheer."[15]

She founded the Pam Grier Community Garden and Education Center with the National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum. The purpose is to teach people about organic gardening, health and nutrition among other things.[16] The museum named its first garden in honor of Grier in 2011.[17]

In January 2018, Grier revealed a biopic based on her memoir is in the works, entitled Pam.[18]

In April 2022, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) announced the fourth season of their podcast, The Plot Thickens, would focus on Grier's life and career.[19]

Personal life

Grier lives on a ranch in Colorado.[20]

Relationships

Grier has had several high-profile relationships.

She met basketball player Ferdinand Lewis (Lew) Alcindor before he became a Muslim; soon after they began dating, he converted to Islam and changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Abdul-Jabbar proposed to Grier, but gave her an ultimatum to convert to Islam.[21] He said, "If you don't commit to me today, I'm getting married at 2 this afternoon. She's a converted Muslim, and she's been prepared for me," adding, "once you become Muslim, you might appreciate another wife." Grier declined, so he got married that day.[22][23]

Grier met comedian Freddie Prinze while promoting her film Coffy in 1973. They began a relationship and considered marriage.[22][23][24] Prinze wanted her to have his baby, but she was reluctant due to his history of depression and drug addiction.[13][25] They remained in touch after she left him. She was one of the last people Prinze spoke to before he died in 1977.[18]

Grier met comedian Richard Pryor through her relationship with Prinze, but they did not begin dating until they were both cast in Greased Lightning.[22] She helped Pryor learn to read and tried to help him with his drug addiction.[18][13] After six months of sobriety, he relapsed.[22] In her memoir, Grier described how her sexual relationship with Pryor caused cocaine to enter her system. Grier confronted Pryor about protecting her health, but he refused to use a condom.[25] Pryor married Deborah McGuire while dating Grier in 1977.[26]

Grier was formerly romantically linked to Jimmie “Big Wheel" Wheeler, a famous boxing promoter, Soul Train host Don Cornelius[27] and basketball player Wilt Chamberlain.[28]

In 1998, Grier was engaged to RCA Records executive Kevin Evans, but the engagement ended in 1999.[29]

Health

Grier was diagnosed with stage-four cervical cancer in 1988, and was told she had 18 months to live. Through vigorous treatment she made a recovery and has been in remission.[30]

Filmography

Film

Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1970 Beyond the Valley of the Dolls Partygoer [31]
1971 The Big Doll House Grear [31]
Women in Cages Alabama [31]
1972 The Twilight People Ayesa [31]
Cool Breeze Mona [31]
The Big Bird Cage Blossom [31]
Hit Man Gozelda [31]
1973 Black Mama White Mama Lee Daniels [31]
Coffy Nurse Flower Child 'Coffy' Coffin [31]
Scream Blacula Scream Lisa Fortier [31]
1974 The Arena Mamawi [31]
Foxy Brown Foxy Brown [31]
1975 Sheba, Baby Sheba Shayne [31]
Bucktown Aretha [31]
Friday Foster Friday Foster [31]
1976 Drum Regine [31]
1977 Twilight of Love Sandra [32]
Greased Lightning Mary Jones [31]
1981 Fort Apache, The Bronx Charlotte [31]
1983 Tough Enough Myra [31]
Something Wicked This Way Comes Dust Witch [31]
1985 Stand Alone Cathryn Bolan [33]
1986 The Vindicator Hunter [33]
On the Edge Cora [31]
1987 The Allnighter Sgt. McLeesh [31]
1988 Above the Law Detective Delores 'Jacks' Jackson [31]
1989 The Package Ruth Butler [31]
1990 Class of 1999 Ms. Connors [31]
1991 Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey Ms. Wardroe [31]
1993 Posse Phoebe [31]
1996 Original Gangstas Laurie Thompson [31]
Escape from L.A. Jack 'Carjack' Malone / Hershe Las Palmas [33]
Mars Attacks! Louise Williams [33]
1997 Strip Search Janette
Fakin' da Funk Annabelle Lee [33]
Jackie Brown Jackie Brown [31]
1999 Jawbreaker Det. Vera Cruz [33]
No Tomorrow Diane [33]
In Too Deep Det. Angela Wilson [33]
Holy Smoke! Carol [33]
2000 Snow Day Tina [33]
Fortress 2: Re-Entry Susan Mendenhall [33]
Wilder Detective Della Wilder [33]
2001 3 A.M. George
Love the Hard Way Linda [33]
Ghosts of Mars Commander Helena Braddock [31]
Bones Pearl [31]
2002 The Adventures of Pluto Nash Flura Nash [33]
Baby of the Family Mrs. Williams
2005 Back in the Day Mrs. Cooper [33]
2010 Just Wright Janice Wright [33]
The Invited Zelda [33]
Machete Maidens Unleashed! Herself Documentary [33]
2011 Larry Crowne Frances [33]
Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel Herself Documentary [33]
2012 Woman Thou Art Loosed: On the 7th Day Detective Barrick [31]
The Man with the Iron Fists Jane [33]
Mafia James Womack [33]
2017 Bad Grandmas Coralee [33]
Being Rose Lily [33]
2019 Poms Olive [33]

Television

Year Title Role Notes
1979 Roots: The Next Generations Francey Episode: "Part IV (1917–1921)"
1980 The Love Boat Cynthia Wilbur Episode: "Kinfolk/Sis & the Slicker/Moonlight & Moonshine/Too Close for Comfort/The Affair: Part 1 & 2"
1985 Badge of the Assassin Alexandra Horn TV movie
1985–90 Miami Vice Valerie Gordon Recurring cast (season 1-2, 5)
1986 Night Court Benet Collins Episode: "Hurricane: Part 1 & 2"
1986–88 Crime Story Suzanne Terry Recurring cast
1987 The Cosby Show Samantha Episode: "Planning Parenthood"
1988 Frank's Place Neema Sharone Episode: "Frank's Place – The Movie"
1989 Midnight Caller Susan Province Episode: "Blood Red"
1990 Knots Landing Lieutenant Guthrie Recurring cast (season 12)
1991 Monsters Matilde Episode: "Hostile Takeover"
1992 Pacific Station Grace Ballard Episode: "My Favorite Dad"
A Mother's Right: The Elizabeth Morgan Story Linda Holman TV movie
1994 In Living Color Herself Episode: "Mrs. Ikefire"
The Sinbad Show Lynn Montgomery Episode: "The Telethon"
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Janice Robertson Episode: "M is for the Many Things She Gave Me"
1995 The Marshal Marshal Vanetta Brown Episode: "Rainbow Comix"
Martin Herself Episode: "All the Players Came"
1996 Sparks Ms. Grayson Episode: "Pillow Talk"
The Wayans Bros. Erica Episode: "Goin' to the Net"
1998 Mad TV Host Episode: "#3.25"
Pinky and the Brain Julie Auburn (voice) Episode: "Inherit the Wheeze"
Family Blessings Mrs. Quincy TV movie
1998–2000 Linc's Eleanor Winthrop Main cast
1999 The Wild Thornberrys Mother Springbok (voice) Episode: "Stick Your Neck Out"
Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child The Empress' Nightingale (voice) Episode: "The Empress' Nightingale"
Hayley Wagner, Star Sam TV movie
For Your Love Brenda Episode: "The Sins of the Mother and... the Boyfriend"
2001 Strange Frequency Episode: "Time Is on My Side"
The Feast of All Saints Suzzette Lermontant TV movie
2002 Night Visions Dr. Lewis Episode: "Switch"
Justice League My'ria'h (voice) Recurring cast (season 1)
2002–03 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Asst. US Attorney Claudia Williams Episode: "Disappearing Acts" & "Pandora"
2003 First to Die Claire Washburn TV movie
2004–09 The L Word Kit Porter Main cast (70 episodes)
2008 Ladies of the House Roberta "Birdie" Marchand TV movie
2010 Smallville Amanda Waller Recurring cast (season 9)
2015 Cleveland Abduction Nurse Carla TV movie
2018–19 This Is Us Grandma Episode: "This Big, Amazing, Beautiful Life" & "The Dinner and the Date"
2019 A Christmas Wish Mary TV movie
2019–20 Bless This Mess Constance Terry Main cast (26 episodes)

Video games

Year Title Role Notes
2013 Grand Theft Auto V Radio Presenter DJ on in-game radio station 'The Lowdown 91.1'
2017 Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare Herself Shaolin Shuffle DLC

Music videos

Year Title Artist Role Notes
1994 "Doggy Dogg World" Snoop Dogg Foxy Brown

Discography

Bibliography

Accolades

Awards

Nominations

References

  1. ^ "Pam Grier". Wizard World. Archived from the original on April 10, 2016. Retrieved June 29, 2015.
  2. ^ Mal Vincent (January 6, 1998). "She's Back, And She's Ready To Kick Butt. Pam Grier Is Baaaaaad, And Was not very nice The Man Who Doesn'T Take Notice". The Virginian-Pilot Archives. Norfolk, VA. Retrieved October 5, 2013.
  3. ^ John Petkovic, The Plain Dealer (September 18, 2010). "Pam Grier, queen of 1970s blaxploitation films, speaks in Cleveland on her book tour". cleveland.com. Retrieved September 15, 2013.
  4. ^ Baumann, Minerva. "Film festival workshop examines diversity in industry". Las Cruces Sun-News. Retrieved March 23, 2021.
  5. ^ a b c Hudson, Barrie (October 3, 2012). "When a Hollywood star, Pam Grier called Swindon home". Swindon Advertiser. Archived from the original on January 14, 2022.
  6. ^ Sloan, Ben (October 27, 2009). "Pam Grier Interview". Metro News. Archived from the original on January 14, 2022.
  7. ^ Rubenstein, Janine (November 18, 2016). "The Original Foxy Brown! '70s Star Pam Grier on Black Films, Strong Women and the Single Life". Yahoo!. Archived from the original on January 14, 2022.
  8. ^ Robinson, Louie (June 1976). "Pam Grier: More Than Just a Sex Symbol". Ebony. pp. 33–42 – via Google Books.
  9. ^ Dixon, Wheeler Wixon (March 1, 2005). "Filmmaking "for the fun of it": An Interview with Jack Hill". Film Criticism. 29 (3): 46–59.
  10. ^ "RogerEbert.com". Coffy. Retrieved May 11, 2006.
  11. ^ "Pam Grier Makes Debut In Stage Production". Jet: 62. October 21, 1985.
  12. ^ "JerryattheMovies". Foxy Brown and Elmer Gantry? Nay, nay. Retrieved March 15, 2012.
  13. ^ a b c Lee, Felicia R. (May 4, 2010). "Pam Grier's Collection of Lessons Learned". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.
  14. ^ Walker, Yvette (October 16, 2011). "Dionne Warwick, Pam Grier receive honorary doctorates from Langston University". NewsOK.
  15. ^ Amber, J. (2012). Pam Grier. Essence, 42 (11).
  16. ^ Nash, Suzi (February 26, 2015). "Pam Grier: Growing awareness through education, activism". Philadelphia Gay News.
  17. ^ "National Cowboys of Color Museum and Hall of Fame - Dallas/Ft. Worth". National Multicultural Western Heritage.
  18. ^ a b c Fleming, Mike (January 16, 2018). "'70s Screen Icon Pam Grier Speaks On Sex Harassment & Her Biopic With Jay Pharoah Playing Richard Pryor". Deadline.
  19. ^ "TCM's Critically Acclaimed Podcast To Spotlight Iconic Actress Pam Grier". WarnerMedia Pressroom. April 20, 2022.
  20. ^ Foxy (28 April 2010) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxnK-W5hlBA Hachette Book Group - via YouTube
  21. ^ Marchese, David (September 15, 2019). "Pam Grier on Maintaining Her Independence and Identity in Showbiz". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.
  22. ^ a b c d Getlen, Larry (April 18, 2010). "Foxy: my life in three acts". New York Post.
  23. ^ a b "The Illest Na Na". Vibe Magazine. February 1998. Retrieved June 11, 2018 – via Google Books.
  24. ^ "Freddie Prinze". Vibe Magazine. February 1998. Retrieved June 11, 2018 – via Google Books.
  25. ^ a b Grier, Pam (2010). Foxy: My Life in Three Acts. Springboard. ISBN 978-0-446-54850-2.
  26. ^ Summers, Chris (August 25, 2013). "The demons that drove Richard Pryor to make us laugh". BBC.
  27. ^ Blount Danois, Ericka (2013). Love, Peace, and Soul: Behind the Scenes of America's Favorite Dance Show Soul Train: Classic Moments. Backbeat Books. ISBN 978-1-4803-4101-2.
  28. ^ "People Are Talking About..." Jet. August 16, 1973. Retrieved June 11, 2018 – via Google Books.
  29. ^ "Pam Grier Talks About Her: Engagement To A Younger Man, Booming Career, Surviving Cancer, Plans To Have A Baby". Jet: 36–39. April 13, 1998.
  30. ^ Shaitly, Shahesta (December 10, 2011). "Pam Grier takes raunch to the ranch". The Guardian.
  31. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af "Pam Grier Filmography". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Los Angeles, California: American Film Institute. Archived from the original on March 10, 2020.
  32. ^ "Vintage posters for La notte dell alta marea aka Twilight of Love starring Pam Grier". May 19, 2019. Retrieved July 26, 2020.
  33. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y "Pam Grier Filmography". AllMovie. Archived from the original on February 4, 2020.
  34. ^ "Turner Broadcasting Announces 2003 Trumpet Awards Honorees". WarnerMedia.
  35. ^ "Trumpet Awards Honorees Include Destiny's child, Spike Lee, Pam Grier". Jet: 14–15. February 24, 2003.
  36. ^ "9th Annual 20/20 Award Winners Announced | 20/20 Awards | Films that have stood the test of time".

Further reading