Only Here For The Grier
Foxy - My Life In Three Acts
by Pam Grier and Andrea Cagan
Springboard ISBN: 978-0446548502
I first became aware of Pam Grier when I saw her in the films Foxy Brown and, my personal favourite of hers, Coffy. I later became aware of her in all kinds of films like Mars Attacks, Ghosts Of Mars and Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, loving the ‘strong woman’ type of character she portrayed in the majority of the films I’d seen her in. About a year ago I became aware that she’d written (with the help of Andrea Cagan) an autobiography, Foxy - My Life In Three Acts... so I managed to get a hold of a really good condition, ex-library copy of the now out of print hardback edition of her book.
Now as I’ve said before, some autobiographies are great and fascinating accounts of the writer’s life and, others... well, they aren’t all that. This one, as it happens, is absolutely all that and goes the extra mile too. It seems bizarre that one can find entertainment value in a series of anecdotes about a person’s life experiences, especially since Miss Grier has had her share of tough times over the years but, there you have it. This one blew me away and I couldn’t put the thing down. It’s fast paced, inordinately interesting and has a lot of unexpected surprises tucked within its pages.
I don’t know how easy it must have been for the writer to talk about the two rapes she suffered... once when she was six years old by a bunch of boys and another at the age of 18 in what I can only describe as... a bad date gone wrong... but it shows right from the outset that she’s not one to hide things away and mince words, that’s for sure.
The book is chaptered and then split into three sections (or acts, I guess) entitled The Early Years 1949-1970, ‘Fros and Freaks 1979-1989 and Finding The Balance 1990-present (where ‘the present’ is roughly ten years ago). And it’s filled with fascinating stuff and also demonstrates a good sense of humour when she refers to a car turning over on the motorway with her in it at the age of three as... her first stunt. Everybody in the car was just fine and without a scratch... apart from a goldfish being carried which was presumably thrown from its bowl.
I was surprised to hear that, between the ages roughly of about 6 and 8, because she was the daughter of an airbase father and so would be constantly moved around with the family, she came to live over here in the UK at Swindon for a couple of years. This would have been the early to mid-1950s when London and other places in England were still trying to recover from all the bomb damage of World War II. But she absolutely loved it over here by the sound of it. Where, in America, the whole family was segregated and treated like second class citizens because of the colour of their skin, here they were accepted and Pam’s education in those years is something she really seems to look on as some of the most valuable experiences of her life. Which is nice. I also smiled to myself when I learned her first movie at a cinema was Godzilla (the 1954 one so, my guess is she saw it about 1955 or ‘56 in its US version).
She doesn’t, like a lot of film-makers writing about their lives, give much specific detail about the actual making of her movies and, to be honest, most of them are not even mentioned... but she does have some nice anecdotes from some of them. So her early films with Corman and AIP where she was shipped out to the Philippines are something which, unlike certain other actors and actresses of the time, she viewed as valuable lessons because you couldn’t get that kind of education and experience out of a book. And talking about an education... she kind of fell into acting almost accidentally, it seemed. Her only interest in the opportunities that were thrown her way when she joined up with those AIP, low budget exploitation pictures was about saving the money for her college fund. She wanted to get more educated although, I have to say from her attitude and eloquence talking about how she learned to dissect things like classical music and jazz when she was around 7 years old, I’m not sure she was desperately in need of much extra educating.
The book also shatters some silly myths by revealing, for example, her strong friendship with Tamara Dobson (of the Cleopatra Jones movies), when the media were trying to turn them into rivals (as pretty much the two leading ladies of blaxploitation, is my guess). But even when she was shooting movies, in between jobs you’d find her working in a drug store or some such to just keep the money coming in for her college fund. Somewhere around the middle of the book, though, as she gets more and more successful and famous, the talk about the college fund stops although, as the book goes on, you realise she does appreciate the pursuit of a good education and she is always finding new things to learn about and enrich her life with.
The other thing you find out is about her various lovers over the years. In the span of the book, she has about five significant others. I’m not going to mention the last couple but there are some amazing things in the book about her first three, more famous ones.
Her first big love decided to take up the Muslim religion and revealed his new name to be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Bruce Lee fans and basketball followers will surely know this tall guy). However, after attempting to study the religion in the interest that she could convert and become his wife... well, Pam didn’t exactly take to it and you can certainly see why (and if not she makes it crystal clear).
Second big love was the even more famous stand up comic Freddie Prinz, who I’d only heard of through his dying fairly young but he’s something of a comedy legend. Again, though, there seems to be a pattern of tragedy in the path of Mr. Grier’s love life at the time and they all, in one way or another, treated her quite badly (and certainly not just the famous ones in that respect, either).
Her third big relationship was Richard Pryor. There’s a gripping ‘three strikes and you’re out’ accounting of the final period of their relationship including Pam being diagnosed with some vaginal problems which turned out to be because Pryor had ingested so much cocaine by that point that his semen was impregnated with it. It’s entertaining but tragic when she recounts how performing oral sex on him would make her lips go numb for the amount of drug residue on him. I’m probably explaining that badly but, you know, read the damn book, it’s fantastic.
It tells a little bit about the lead in to working with directors like Tim Burton and the bizarre chance meeting with Quentin Tarantino which helped land her Jackie Brown (completely unexpectedly) and also the big, long period in her life when she was fighting off cancer (and was once again treated quite badly by a boyfriend because of it). Not to mention a good amount of time talking about a show she did for a while which I’ll now need to check out sometime called The L Word. And there’s always lightness mixed in with the darkness, like the time she was thrown out of a nightclub with John Lennon and a few others after Lennon started throwing punches around. There’s even a photo of the apology card he sent her the next day.
Perhaps my favourite story, though, is how her horse started galloping uncontrollably (she’s a pretty good rider) on the set in the Colosseum for the Corman movie The Arena. One of the many places she and the horse went hurtling destructively through was the set of a new Fellini movie being made at the same time. Fellini was delighted by the chance encounter to meet her (and she him, of course, she’s a pretty cool film appreciating lass too, it turns out) and they ended up spending that lunch period together.
Of course, that’s just my personal highlight gleaned from Pam’s rich and wonderful book. Other readers will have their own but, even though she never reaches all her dreams (romantically, at least), her epilogue leaves the reader with a certain sense that she has found some peace, optimism and enlightenment during the course of her life. Which is a good space to be in, I imagine. Honestly, I’ve got nothing bad to say whatsoever about Foxy - My Life In Three Acts. If you like the actress then you’ll surely want to read this as it’s both one of the breeziest but also one of the more substantial, in terms of the content it covers, of the celebrity autobiographies I’ve read over the course of my life. So glad I picked this one up. Absolutely brilliant and it turns out the paperback is still in print. Seriously worth investing some time in, if you haven’t done so already.