Brenda Sykes(Old School Edition)

Brenda Sykes

Brenda Sykes was born on June 25,1948 in Shreveport, Louisiana. The daughter of a postal worker, Brenda Sykes seemed bound for an academic career when, at 19, she was made a Teaching Assistant in Black History in the UCLA High Potential Program. One year later, Brenda showed up as a contestant on TV’s The Dating Game. Her appearance not only won her an all-expenses-paid trip to New Zealand, but also caught the eyes of several Hollywood talent agents. In 1970, Sykes was personally selected by prestigious film director William Wyler to play a good featured role in The Liberation of L.B. Jones. After an excellent start, she was consigned to the standardized roles usually played by African American ingenues in the 1970s, showing up in such exploitational fare as The Drum and Cleopatra Jones. Brenda Sykes’ series-TV work has included Ozzie’s Girls (1973) and Executive Suite (1976).

Vonetta McGee(Old School Edition)

Vonetta McGee1

Lawrence Vonetta McGee – named after her father – was born in San Francisco on January 14,1945. Her family planned for her to have a career in law, and she began studying pre-law at San Francisco State College, but she became involved in amateur theatre and was bitten by the acting bug. Vonetta left college without graduating and joined the diaspora of American actors – experienced and aspirant – who moved to Rome in the 1960s to find work at the Cinecittà film studios.

Her filmographies list her first feature as Faustina, a comedy directed by Luigi Magni in 1968, but Il Grande Silenzio was made the previous year and opened in Italy at Christmas in 1967. In the film, Vonetta was a pioneer woman whose outlaw husband has been murdered by a bounty hunter, played by Kinski. She hires a mute gunfighter – Silence, wonderfully played by Trintignant – to kill the killer, thus setting in train the grim, tragic and terrible events of Corbucci’s film.

Vonetta gave a fine performance as the vengeance-bent widow, Pauline. She was extraordinarily beautiful: tall, dark, with enormous and expressive eyes. 20th Century-Fox bought the rights to Il Grande Silenzio and then suppressed the film, considering it too pessimistic. But it was hugely influential on other filmmakers (Eastwood attempted a remake, Joe Kidd, directed by John Sturges), and for Vonetta, a career in American movies followed inevitably.

Poitier invited her to return to the US to appear with him in The Lost Man (1969). She starred (as “the Negress”) in John Huston’s The Kremlin Letter the following year. Thereafter came the string of blaxploitation pictures which made her famous: Blacula, The Big Bust-Out (both 1972) and Shaft in Africa (1973). In essence, these were genre pictures that starred black actors instead of white ones. They proved immensely popular with audiences, but tended to be disdained or ignored by mainstream film critics.

Vonetta disliked the “blaxploitation” label: she was proud of the black part, proud of the strong, take-charge characters she had played in the films, but did not consider them exploitative in any way. She was a smart woman, who saw no difference between these and other popular entertainments, whatever the colour of the stars.

A role in Eastwood’s The Eiger Sanction (1975) and an increasing amount of episodic television work followed. Vonetta then suffered health problems and took a break from acting. Repo Man marked her return to the screen. When making the film, I grilled her about Il Grande Silenzio and about working with Corbucci. He was the nicest man, she told me (how appropriate, given the savagery and sadism that characterise his extraordinary films). “And he never tried to put the make on me! His wife, Nori, was usually on set, and they were such a happy couple. They made it a great environment to work in.”

Those were Vonetta’s two lessons to a young director: do not try to put the make on your leading lady, and make a nice environment for the actors to be creative in. This was excellent advice. In Repo Man she was both elegant and a perfect action heroine: diving into the fight sequences with gusto, demolishing a pair of blond brutes played by Biff Yeager and Steve Mattson.

In the mid-80s, Vonetta appeared in Cagney & Lacey as the wife of a detective played by Carl Lumbly. She and Carl married in 1986 and had a son, Brandon. In 1990, she appeared, briefly but memorably, opposite Sy Richardson and Danny Glover in Charles Burnett’s fine film To Sleep With Anger.

Judy Pace (Old School Edition)

Judy Pace

Actress Judy Pace Flood was born Judy Pace on June 15, 1942, in Los Angeles, California. Attending Marvin Avenue Elementary School, and Louis Pastuer Junior High School, Pace graduated from Dorsey High School in 1960. Trained in modeling by her sister, Betty, Pace auditioned for the Ebony Fashion Fair and became the youngest model for the show’s 1961 to 1962 national tour.

In 1963 Pace auditioned for Columbia Pictures and was cast in William Castle’s horror film The Candyweb. Pace played a regular role in the 1969 season of Peyton Place and went on to appear in many other shows, including Batman, Bewitched, The Flying Nun, I Spy, The Young Lawyers, The Mod Squad, That’s My Mama, Sanford and Son, What’s Happening?, Good Times, and Sucker Free City.. Cast in Billy Wilder’s The Fortune Cookie in 1966, Pace also played roles in the movies Three in the Attic, The Thomas Crown Affair, and the acclaimed TV movie Brian’s Song. In 1970, Pace won acclaim for her role as Iris in the Ossie Davis directed Cotton Comes to Harlem; in 1973, she played Adelaide in a Las Vegas production of Guys and Dolls.

Judy Pace2

Pace married Ironsides actor Don Mitchell in 1972 and took time out for civic duties and to raise her two children during the 1980s. Divorced from Mitchell in 1986, Pace then married baseball’s Curt Flood. Since Flood’s death in 1997, Pace acted as a major spokesperson for his role in establishing free agency in professional sports. Pace founded the Kwanzaa Foundation with Nichelle Nichols.