Is That Sheba Baby?

Who doesn’t remember their first Foxy Brown movie? I mean Sheba baby. Even if you did not watch any of her classics. Who doesn’t remember her guest appearance on Martin in season 3 episode 18 as a judge for the Player’s Ball when Tommy almost lost his damn mind. Pam Grier has been breaking hearts since the 70s on camera. What I didn’t know is that she has been a heart breaker both on camera and off. In My Life in Three Acts, Grier is straight talk with no chaser. She is very explicit about her relationships and love life as an actress and model.

Act One

The opening chapters discuss Pam’s childhood as an army brat. The first few pages set up an ideal family with a father in the Air Force and a mother caring for a true country bell. A young girl who had a true zest for life until the unimaginable darkened her reality at the age of six. At this time Pam’s family was staying with her aunt, and the kids often found themselves at home without adult supervision. One particular summer afternoon…

“I felt several hands holding my arms and legs down. I had no idea what was going on, so I just waited. After all, I had no reason to mistrust these boys, but I was starting to feel some pain.” Page 23

At a young age Pam knew what is was to be betrayed and left for dead. She was gang raped and left to rot by a group of boys who were supposed to be her friends. A traumatized Pam would never be the same, neither would her speech. Afterwards, Pam barely spoke and when she did, her stuttering speech was often difficult to make out.  I don’t think anyone could imagine what she went through unless they’ve survived it themselves. No girl should ever have to ensure such a traumatic experience. This is why I think it is critical we  keep an open dialogue with girls about their bodies, what’s appropriate and how to protect yourself. As adults, we should always pay attention to non-verbal behavioral changes in young people. Effective communication can save a child’s life. To change another girls’ fate, we must start in our own homes with our children.

Grier opens up about living with this devastating secret and moving with her family to Swinton, England. After leaving the land of hope and opportunity, Pam and her family returned to discrimination, racism and hate.Very quickly the edges of Pam’s life began to quickly unravel. Her parents separated and she nestled into a protective cocoon of shyness. Her only outlet became playing the piano and singing in the gospel choir. So when the opportunity came for Pam to travel from Denver, Colorado to the sunshine state of Los Angeles, California, she could hardly believe her luck. On August 11, 1965, Pam and the choir gleefully waited on the bus for their first performance.

We couldn’t have timed it better if we’d planned it, as if anyone would plan such a thing. It just so happened that as we turned onto the main drag of Watts, heading for one of the churches where we were scheduled to perform, shots were fired at our bus. We’d planned to stay in nearby Bellflower, but as the gunshots zinged by our bus, just missing the windows, we were not about to keep driving. We were literally stranded in Watts during the most bloody California street riot in history. Page 57

This trip and the after-math of the infamous Marquette Frye incident would change Pam’s outlook forever on race. Since reading the book, I’ve done my own investigation on the Frye incident and there are more than a few versions of the story. To this day, the truth of the events that transpired that day are still rocky. However, something about this story seems vaguely familiar. From Crown Heights, New York in 1991 to Sanford, Florida in 2012 and Fergeson, Missouri in 2014, our world continues spin in this same cycle. Since the beginning of time, America has been plagued with incidents of crooked law enforcers as well as insubordination. Just as Pam will never forget her first encounter with community outrage, I pray we take a page from her book and speak out against injustice everywhere.

Not only did this urban kick-ass-warrior fight off bad guys on-screen, but she came face to face with some in real life too. After winning the Miss KHOW pageant, Pam decided to take a step outside of her comfort zone. One night in spite of lack of desire to socialize, Pam agreed to go on a date with a pro-athlete named Brian.

“Oh, my God, you idiot,” I said as I tried to wiggle out from underneath him. I simply couldn’t move, and as I made a last-ditch attempt to throw him off of me, a terrible pain shot up my spine. “Pam, you’re going to hurt yourself if you keep this up,” he said. I surrendered because he was right. There was no way to fight him and walk away afterward.” Page 65

Not once did she have to silently endure the trauma of gang rape as a child, but also as a young woman. This awful experience dictated her ideas of adulthood and womanhood. There is no wonder her depth of characters come from a real place on-screen. Reading this story, I could not help but wonder if anyone had noticed any changes in Pam’s behavior or appearance. And if so, did anyone try to console her? Why didn’t she feel comfortable enough to tell anyone about what happened? How many of my students have traveled this same road? Reading these chapters, my mind ran a mile a minute with questions. Little do we know how many times we pass by someone who may be silently suffering. This is an example of why it is important to speak up if you see something out of the ordinary. We must watch the interaction of our kids around family and friends, as well as enforce an open door policy of communication with our loved ones. Think about how different the situation may have turned out if one person noticed a changed.

Act Two

Pam Grier headed west with eyes set on attending film school at UCLA. Similar to most Hollywood stories, with the little money she had to relocate she bought some food (a bucket of chicken to be exact) and kept the rest for gas. Settling into Los Angeles, Pam knew she needed to find a way to support herself. One of the first jobs she landed was singing background for Bobby Womack and Sly Stone. One of Pam’s rare evenings out, she met a basketball player on the dance floor by the name of Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. However, we know him as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. They began dating and became a premiere couple. They were together even when Grier landed her first big Hollywood gig, The Big Doll House. During this time, An Actor Prepares became Pam’s bible. Nothing would stand in the way of this grand opportunity. While Pam was preparing to leave for shooting in the Philippines, Kareem was going through major life changes as well. He was moving to Milwaukee and converting to the nation of Islam.  This trip would test the strength of their growing relationship.

While in the Philippines, Pam’s work ethic was so strong that Roger Corman of New World Pictures asked her to stay and shoot another movie, Women in Cages. By the time the 2nd film ended, Pam was missing home and turned down the invitation to do a third film. She was also interested in reconnecting with Kareem to have a serious talk about the next phase of their relationship. He wanted Pam to convert and become a Muslim woman.

“You sound happy,” he said. “I’m sorry to have to do this on your birthday, but I need to know if you’re planning to covert so we can get married.” “You need to know right now?” I asked him. “Yes.” “Why?” He paused a moment and said, “Well… if you don’t commit to me today, I’m getting married at 2:00 this afternoon. She’s a converted Muslim, and she’s been prepared for me.” Page 120

Needless to Pam spent the rest of her birthday in tears. This chapter truly had me speechless. How does one respectfully handle such a delicate situation as religion with the one you love. How do you tell someone I do not believe in the religion that you submit to? I am a Christian and I believe true lovers cannot be unequally yoked, however this made me think. Would this have been a deal breaker for me? I can truly say it may have. When it comes to God versus a relationship, which would you choose? I don’t think I could jeopardize my relationship with God for the relationship with my man. Aye, but that’s just me. You can’t ever say what you will or won’t do for the sake of love. However, when it comes to freedom I do agree with Pam. I will not give up my independence or liberty for anything or anyone. The question is… why would you ask me to?

To cope, Pam kept working and keeping her eye on the ultimate prize… college. In the early seventies, she experienced love at first sight when she met comedian Freddie Prinze. They became close and started dating.

As much as we cared about each other, however, there were some serious obstacles that emerged the longer we dated. The drug culture was another major obstacle. It was not the rise, and many comedians (along with a whole lot of other people) were doing a lot of cocaine as well as LSD and other hallucinogens. Coke was becoming a daily thing for Freddie and the rest of his friends, but I couldn’t accept it. Pages 145-146

Their relationship ended as Freddie became more and more depressed. Pam went on to film Foxy Brown.  Freddie tragically died of a self-inflicted bullet wound to the head. However, this would not be Pam’s last dance of love with a comedian.

Actually Richard [Pryor] and I did not begin dating until several months after Greased Lighting had wrapped. He was single and lonely, just like me, when we dropped our facades and got to know each other as real people instead of constructed film images. I saw a wonderful side of him: the way he loved his family, his pride in his success, and his humility about his career. This was a good sign, since he had power coming to him that was unprecedented in the world of black comedians-or any comedian, for that matter. I wanted to be friends with him, and I thought we might become lovers, but I also heard what power and money would do to his psyche. Page 160-161

Pam and Richard’s relationship ultimately ended. Pam traveled back home to Colorado to check on her family. Pam knew they were not heading in the same direction and she still had goals. In order to stay focused, she cut ties with Richard. I’m sure this was not an easy decision. Love can be quite blinding. She could have chosen to ignore her intuition and nurtured her dead relationship, but she didn’t. This speaks a lot to Pam’s character.

Act Three

Hoping for a new start, Pam started dating a successful architect. During an unexpected trip to the doctor, Pam found out she had cervical dysplasia, a pre-cancerous condition where the cancer cells quickly advance to stage four after an emergency surgery. At age thirty-nine, she was given a year and half to live. Throughout the tests, scans and treatments Pam remained a trooper. She prepared for surgery with the same due diligence she prepared for acting. After all was said and done, she survived cancer only through what the Chinese call the art of balance. By ditching anything that was not healthy to her healing process (i.e. her successful architect of a boyfriend who never visited her in the hospital) to anything that would cause unneeded stress. Pam also moved out of Los Angeles during this time. With the help of herbs, acupuncture  and yoga Pam got more than her life back, she received an affirmation of life.

Through time Pam got stronger and began easing back into this life of an actor (minus the pressures from the city of angels). She ended up doing a guess starring role on the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Pam also worked with Quentin Tarantino on Foxy Brown, Spike Lee in Crooklyn and starred in the long-running showtime series The L Word.

Pam Grier has truly had some major ups and downs, but she has remained steadfast in her journey. Despite cupid’s crooked arrows of romance, there is one love story that has been unwavering throughout Pam’s journey… the love for her family. Before reading My Life in Three Acts, all I knew about Grier was her perfectly curly afro plastered on magazines from the 70s, her tall leather boots and bronze skin that smiled under her cropped tops. I know now that depth and beauty of her kick-ass characters comes from heartbreak, pain and loss. This read gets 5 stars!


I leave you with this “Let Her B” Moment by Pam Grier herself:

“She’s the godmother of them all… the BADDEST one-chick hit-squad that ever hit town!”

A Website.