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Cool Actor of the Week

April 20, 2011

Cool Actor of the Week: Fred Williamson

Fred Williamson was a defensive back with several NFL/AFL teams in the early 1960s. His propensity for hard hits earned him the nickname “The Hammer” and he quickly became an intimidating presence on the field. He retired in 1968 and, inspired by Jim Brown’s success in Hollywood, he decided to give acting a try. Guest spots on several TV shows got his career rolling, followed by his first movie role as Dr. Oliver “Spearchucker” Jones in Robert Altman’s 1970 movie MASH.

Racial attitudes were quite different in the 70s, as witnessed by the fact that a proud black man would play a character named Spearchucker or star in a movie titled The Legend of Nigger Charley. But The Hammer was simply paying his dues, as evidenced by his next major role: the title character in the blaxploitation classic Black Caesar. Written and directed by low budget legend Larry Cohen, Black Caesar is a classic rags to gangster riches story.

This was the role that put The Hammer over the top as one of the most popular blaxploitation heroes and a string of similar movies followed: Hell Up In Harlem, That Man Bolt, Three The Hard Way. These films were always shot on a low budget and didn’t have money to reshoot a scene if it dodn’t work out. Here’s a brief clip showing Fred looking less than heroic while leaping over a table during a gun fight with some white supremacist Nazis who plan to add poison to the water supply. Poison that only kills blacks!

Fred soon realized there was more money to be had if he became more involved with his movies so he formed his own production company and began to take more control, beginning with 1975′s Boss Nigger:

Truly astonishing. They took the same formula as the previous year’s Blazing Saddles and turned into an action packed blaxploitation western. The theme song is catchy as hell but you won’t catch me walking around singing it.

The Hammer went on to appear in over 100 roles as well as writing, directing and producing his own films and is still going strong. He’s a true throwback to the era of the great grindhouse and drive in auteurs. And like any good blaxploitation star, he was a spokesman for King Cobra malt liquor:

Don’t let the smooth taste fool you!

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  1. ScottD

    I met Fred Williamson at an autograph show a few years back and he was suave, smooth, and had a powerful physical presence. Quite a guy.

    Besides the original-recipe blaxploitation you mentioned above, I’d like to mention the good-but-not-great 1996 Larry Cohen-directed “Original Gangstas”, which got together some of our favorite black action stars including Pam Grier, The Hammer, Richard Roundtree, Ron O’Neal, and Jim Brown. Williamson was a producer on the film.

    While the movie wasn’t marvelous — somehow, not quite as punchy as the films it references — it is still a nice homage to those films and those actors, as they show the young punks how business gets taken care of, old-school.

    And everyone looks pretty damned good. Especially Pam Grier, but when *hasn’t* she looked damned good? Robert Forster and Charles Napier also make an appearance.


  2. clive jackson

    one of my fav .actor

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