Let's wish a very Happy Birthday today to a couple of men who could definitely get a hearty salute during Black History Month. The first one can now be seen giving some needed racial history and avuncular wisdom to a young man in Lee Daniels' The Butler. He's done several other movies and he's got a Tony nomination to his credits for his supporting actor work on Broadway. He is the totally cool Clarence Williams III.
Aaron Spelling's cop shows usually had a older "papa bear" supervisor to the crimefighters whether they were The Rookies, Starsky & Hutch or Charlie's Angels. That was the Spelling formula. In The Mod Squad, brawny Tige Andrews was Capt. Greer.
Yesterday, we got the news that novelist and screenwriter Elmore Leonard died. Williams performed his words on the big screen. He had a supporting role in 1986's 52 Pick-Up starring Roy Scheider and Ann-Margret.
Clarence played Bobby Shy. Elmore Leonard wrote the novel and the screenplay.
It was excellent to see Mr. Williams in Lee Daniels' The Butler -- and still keepin' it real.
Also ready for some birthday cake today is another cool dude -- veteran and iconclast movie director, screenwriter, actor, Broadway playwright Melvin Van Peebles.
Then came Watermelon Man, the 1970 Hollywood satire Melvin directed for Columbia Pictures. The late comedian, Godfrey Cambridge, played a suburban white insurance man who makes racially insensitive comments about black people. He's a married man with two little kids. His wife, played by Estelle Parsons, seems to be more liberal than he.
We'll see just how liberal she is when he wakes up black and his life changes.
Maybe it's time for a gender switch remake with Wanda Sykes starring as a Paula Deen-type. Melvin had a black actor playing a white character nearly 20 years before Eddie Murphy played an old Jewish New Yorker in the comedy Coming to America (1988).
In the late 1980s, during my VH1 years, actor Mario Van Peebles was on my first talk show for the network. Mario was one of my most gracious and supportive guests. Supportive in the way that he expressed his happiness and pride at seeing another black performer (me) on national television. That, like seeing Clarence Williams on The Mod Squad, made me feel significant. It was a most cherished compliment.
To get my SAG card, I had a bit role in a one of Melvin's lesser efforts. A comedy starring Mario. If I recall correctly, the whole indie movie was shot in a week. I knew it wasn't a classic in the making, but I didn't care. I was working with Melvin Van Peebles and Mario Van Peebles. And I'd qualify for a SAG card! One of the most wonderful and memorable things about my day on the set was watching father and son. Mario affectionately calls him "Pop." They hug, they kiss. They love each other. They're respectful of others. My dad had so much trouble displaying physical and public signs of affection like that. It often hurt, because I was a shy bookworm who really just needed a hug many times when I felt overwhelmed by life. I wish we'd been like Melvin and Mario.
Wishing you a most groovy day, Clarence Williams III and Melvin Van Peebles. Happy Birthday...and Thank You for the bright light you've added to our show business history.
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