Cast & Crew
Roger E Mosley
Written by convicted ex-pimp Robert J. Poole, a crime story centered around straight-out-of-prison John "Goldie" Mickens, who rises to become the biggest, baddest, meanest "mack" on the streets of Oakland.
Roger E Mosley
Dick Anthony Williams
William C Watson
The Sisters Love
R Hansel Brown
R Hansel Brown
Frank C Decot
Robert James Poole
At the distance of forty years, authenticity is a crapshoot but the facts favor an alternate telling of The Mack mythos: that Poole was jailed not for five years but three, and not for pimping but for forgery. It may be that Poole had no firsthand knowledge of prostitution but was inspired by the writings of Robert Lee Maupin, aka Robert Beck, aka Iceberg Slim, whose 1967 roman à clef Pimp, a fictionalized account of his twenty year tenure as a Chicago fleshpeddler, was published during Poole's incarceration. Though the toilet paper treatment makes a good story, the reality is that Poole would have had had access to proper writing materials as a member of the Barbwire Theater Company. An outgrowth of the San Quentin Drama Workshop, the Barbwire Theater was founded by one-time lifer Rick Cluchey, who began writing his own plays from behind bars after seeing a 1957 staging of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot in the north dining hall at San Quentin. (The story of Cluchey's self-rehabilitation inspired John Hancock's 1987 film Weeds, starring Nick Nolte.) Paroled in 1967, Cluchey took his reform-minded prison play, The Cage, around the United States and to Europe; among the cast was Robert Poole, in the role of the crippled convict Al.
Interviewed by The Stanford Daily in January 1970 on the occasion of The Cage's premiere at the university's Dinkelspiel Auditorium (the play would hit New York that summer and enjoy a four month Off-Broadway run at the Playhouse Theatre), a paroled Poole copped to the forgery rap but waxed enthusiastic about his prospects as a fledgling screenwriter and his deal with Robert Gordon Productions. (A former contract director for Columbia Pictures, Gordon had helmed The Joe Louis Story  and the Ray Harryhausen romp It Came from Beneath the Sea  and had collaborated with black actor/writer James Edwards on a number of projects that remained stillborn with Edwards' sudden death from a heart attack in January 1970.) According to Poole, he had just sold his original screen story, The Black and the Beautiful, to Screen Gems as a vehicle for Sammy Davis, Jr. Given the trajectory of his career at that point, and his close ties to Richard Nixon's White House (and behind-closed-doors whispers about a potential ambassadorship), it seems unlikely that Davis would have signed on to play a pimp, which casts a shadow of skepticism even on Poole's own account of The Mack genesis but the accepted version of events places the property next in the hands of TV producer Harvey Bernhard.
Harvey Bernhard's path to Hollywood had come via Las Vegas, where he had learned the ropes of entertainment business administration prior to signing on as an employee of such industry mavericks as Sandy Howard and David L. Wolper. After associate producing Wolper and Mel Stuart's ABC-TV documentary The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1968), Bernhard formed his own production company. (Interestingly, Wolper and Stuart would go on to make Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory , whose tie-in single, "The Candy Man," was recorded by Sammy Davis, Jr.) The Mack would mark Bernhard's debut as an independent producer, a business proposition for which he partnered with the salt-and-pepper creative team of Michael Campus and Max Julien. Campus was a white filmmaker whose first feature film, Survival (1969), was still unreleased at the time of the failure of his second feature film, ZPG: Zero Population Growth (1972), a drab science fiction parable starring Oliver Reed. Available and affordable, Campus was all too happy to team up with Julien, a charismatic mixed race actor who had been given a strong showcase for his talents by Jules Dassin in Uptight (1968), a remake of John Ford's The Informer (1935) transplanted to the milieu of Afro-American militants.
The Mack was rewritten several times by Campus, Julien (who was set to star), and standup comedian Richard Pryor, who had made his serious acting debut in a supporting role in Paramount's Billie Holiday biopic Lady Sings the Blues (1972). Choosing Oakland as a filming location obliged the filmmakers to deal with, and beg the support of, local crime lords The Ward Brothers. Frank D. Ward had long ruled his patch of Oakland in the company of brothers Ted, Willie, and Andrew, who distinguished themselves by the cut of their fur-lined coats and the shine of their gold-plated Cadillacs. A street corner Svengali who controlled his stable of black and white street walkers with equal measures of mesmerism and closed-fisted brutality, Ward allowed The Mack to film on his patch but he wanted in on the film - including screen time. Ward's flamboyant lifestyle and modus operandi informed much of The Mack rewrites, as did his contentious relationship the Black Panthers, whose leaders, Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, also demanded of producer Bernhard a tribute in the form of $5,000; when the first check to the Panthers bounced, Campus' location was rained on by glass bottles thrown from the rooftops.
In the demilitarized zone that was The Mack's filming location, production on the film became as wild and potentially fatal as the narrative itself, leading to the murder of Frank Ward and one of his prostitutes mid-production while the two sat in his idling Rolls Royce. (Actress Carol Speed, who appears in the film as the prostitute Lulu, had a personal relationship with Ward during filming and was so unnerved by his murder that she fled to Kentucky and accepted a role in the low budget Exorcist ripoff Abby just so that she could get away from the West Coast.) Trouble arose also in the self-destructive behavior of the third-billed Pryor, whose unfettered cocaine use made him an unreliable and often unavailable team player, and who once during shooting had to be restrained by costar Julien from going after producer Bernhard with a sock filled with ball bearings. With Julien acting as a middle man between the Panthers and the now crumbling Ward empire, production was completed at a cost of $250,000, with the premiere of The Mack occurring in Oakland and used as a fundraiser for the Black Panthers' philanthropic free breakfast for children campaign.
Though booked by distributors Cinerama Releasing Corporation into a minimum of theaters nationwide, The Mack struck a nerve with the black community, who saw in it less of the wish fulfillment of such so-called Blaxploitation classics as Shaft (1971) and Super Fly (1972) and more of a much-needed dialogue between the fractious halves of African-American society... with Julien's hustler Goldie articulating the desire for success by any means necessary as the best revenge against an oppressive society and Goldie's militant brother Olinga (Roger E. Mosley) stumping for the Panther platform of pride and accomplishment through purity and purpose. Aided immeasurably by the success of Motown staff musician Willie Hutch's tie-in soundtrack album and its forward momentum not stilled a bit by derisive reviews from the majority of white film critics, The Mack became an unexpected success. Having authored the black spy pastiche Cleopatra Jones (1973), Max Julien enjoyed a brief time as a Hollywood player, even traveling to Baltimore to scout locations for an ostensible sequel to The Mack, to be titled Goldie. Though the follow-up never materialized, The Mack was re-released in 1977-78 (often on a double bill with American International Pictures' Pam Grier vehicle Foxy Brown (1974), the poster for which foregrounded Julien and Pryor and announced "They're Back!"
More so than any other film categorized as Blaxploitation (a label that Michael Campus rejected for the rest of his life), The Mack would prove extraordinarily influential in American popular culture, its dialogue sampled by such recording artists as R. Kelly, Ludacris, Dr. Dre, and Jay-Z, who rapped in his "7 Minute Freestyle" that "I mack like Goldie/Go back to the oldies." The film's Player's Ball, a convention-cum-tradeshow for pimps and their employees patterned after an annual Chicago event, was spoofed in the "Pimp of the Year" scene in Keenan Ivory Wayans' Blaxploitation lampoon I'm Gonna Git You Sucka (1988) while a moment from The Mack turned up in the Quentin Tarantino-scripted True Romance (1993). Though Pryor's film career was revived by the marketability of The Mack and Bernhard went on to produce The Omen (1976) and its sequels, star Julien and director Campus drifted to the periphery, unable to capitalize fully on their gains. The former partners did reunite for the making-of featurette "Mackin' Ain't Easy," which accompanied The Mack on DVD. Returning to Oakland at the distance of thirty years, the former partners found themselves mobbed by adoring fans who remembered The Mack as something significantly more meaningful than just a night at the movies.
By Richard Harland Smith
Reflections on Blaxploitation: Actors and Directors Speak by David Walker, Andrew J. Rausch, and Chris Watson (Scarecrow Press, 2009)
"The Mack's Back After 40 Years" by Susan King, The Los Angeles Times, September 25, 2013
Michael Campus obituary by Dan McNary, Variety, May 21, 2015
Michael Campus obituary by David Colker, The Los Angeles Times, May 30, 2015
Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot: A Reference Guide by William Hutchings (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2005)
"Star of The Mack: Max Julien... Actor, Writer, Producer," Baltimore Afro-American, March 20, 1973
"Brilliant Talent Inside The Cage" by Marilyn Morris, The Stanford Daily, Vol. 156, Issue 55, January 13, 1970
Don Gordon interview by Steve Ryfle, Shock Cinema Issue 19, Fall-Winter 2001
James Edwards: African American Hollywood Icon by Pamela S. Deane (McFarland & Company, 2009)
Harvey Bernhard obituary by Harris Lentz III, Obituaries in the Performing Arts 2014 (McFarland & Company, 2015)
Richard Pryor (1940-2005)
He was born Richard Thomas Pryor III on December 1, 1940 in Peoria, Illinois. By all accounts, his childhood was a difficult one. His mother was a prostitute and his grandmother ran a brothel. His father was rarely around and when he was, he would physically abuse him. From a young age, Pryor knew that humor was his weapon of choice to cut through all the swath he came across and would confront in his life.
After high school, he enlisted in the Army for a two-year stint (1958-60). When he was discharged (honorably!) he concentrated on stand-up comedy and worked in a series of nightclubs before relocating to New York City in 1963. In 1964, he made his television debut when he was given a slot on the variety program On Broadway Tonight. His routine, though hardly the groundbreaking material we would witness in later years, was very well received, and in the late '60s Pryor found more television work: Toast of the Town, The Wild Wild West, The Mod Squad ; and was cast in a two movies: The Busy Body (1967) with Sid Caesar; and Wild in the Streets (1968) a cartoonish political fantasy about the internment of all American citizens over 30.
Pryor's career really didn't ignite until the '70s. His stand up act became raunchier and more politically motivated as he touched on issued of race, failed relationships, drug addiction, and street crimes. His movie roles became far more captivating in the process: the piano man in Lady Sings the Blues (1972); as a wise-talking hustler in a pair of slick urban thrillers: The Mack (1973) and Uptown Saturday Night (1974); the gregarious Daddy Rich in Car Wash; his first pairing with Gene Wilder as Grover, the car thief who helps stops a runaway train in his first real box office smash Silver Streak (both 1976); and for many critics, his finest dramatic performance as a factory worker on the edge of depression in Paul Schrader's excellent working class drama Blue Collar (1978).
On a personal level, his drug dependency problem worsened, and on June 9, 1980, near tragedy struck when he caught fire while free-basing cocaine. Pryor later admitted that the incident, was, in fact, a suicide attempt, and that his management company created the lie for the press in hopes of protecting him. Fortunately, Pryor had three films in the can that all achieved some level of financial success soon after his setback: another pairing with Gene Wilder in the prison comedy Stir Crazy (1980); a blisteringly funny cameo as God who flips off Andy Kaufman in the warped religious satire In God We Tru$t (1980); an a ex-con helping a social worker (Cicely Tyson) with her foster charges in Bustin' Loose (1981). He capped his recovery with Live on the Sunset Strip (1982), a first-rate documentation of the comic's genius performed in front of a raucous live audience.
In 1983, Pryor signed a $40 million, five-year contract with Columbia Pictures. For many fans and critics, this was the beginning of his downslide. His next few films: The Toy, Superman III (both 1983), and Brewster's Millions (1985) were just tiresome, mediocre comedies. Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling (1986), was his only attempt at producing, directing, and acting, and the film, which was an ambitious autobiographical account of a his life and career, was a box-office disappointment. He spent the remainder of the '80s in middling fare: Condition Critical (1987), Moving; a third pairing with Gene Wilder in See No Evil, Hear No Evil; and his only teaming with Eddie Murphy in Harlem Nights (1989).
In 1986, Pryor was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease of the nervous system that curtailed both his personal appearances and his gift for physical comedy in his latter films. By the '90s, little was seen of Pryor, but in 1995, he made a courageous comeback on television when he guest starred on Chicago Hope as an embittered multiple sclerosis patient. His performance earned him an Emmy nomination and he was cast in a few more films: Mad Dog Time (1996), Lost Highway (1997), but his physical ailments prohibited him from performing on a regular basis. In 1998, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington gave Pryor the first Mark Twain Prize for humor. It was fitting tribute for a man who had given so much honesty and innovation in the field of comedy. Pryor is survived by his wife, Jennifer Lee; his sons Richard and Steven; and daughters Elizabeth, Rain and Renee.
by Michael T. Toole
Richard Pryor (1940-2005)
Stick yo' self nigga!- Goldie
"Hey, I don't hafta take this! I'm a rich nigga! I thought you paid these pooh- butts off! You beat walkin' motherfuckers!"- Pimp
According to director 'Michael Campus' , screenwriter Bobby Poole started developing the treatment and script on toilet paper while he was in prison.
Released in United States 1995
Released in United States Spring April 1973
Released in USA on video.
Released in United States 1995 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) as part of program "Blaxploitation, Baby!" June 23 - August 10, 1995.)
Released in United States Spring April 1973