Opening Line: "I was snuggled in my mother's arms in the backseat of the old Buick. My Dad's Air Force buddy was at the wheel, driving us from Fort Dix Air Force Base to Colarado, where Dad was being transferred."
I knew next to nothing about 70’s B-movie and Blaxploitation star Pam Grier before I began this. I’d only ever seen her in Jackie Brown and knew that Quentin Tarantino had written the role exclusively for her. However after receiving this book in a giveaway from the publisher I can now say that I’ve become an admirer of Ms Grier and her remarkable life. As far as biographies go this one is well written and flows easily with Pam telling her life story here in three “acts.”
Starting with: ACT ONE:THE EARLY YEARS. This was surprisingly my favourite part of the memoir. Pam tells of her childhood growing up in 1950’s Colorado as a tomboy and an army brat. Spending time riding horses on her grandparent’s farm, hunting and singing in a gospel choir. Pam always felt inferior because of her skin color and I found the details of racism and segregation during that time eye opening and frankly shocking.When her Air Force father gets transferred Pam also spends a fantastic year living in England and faces equality for the first time in her life. Throughout we get a feeling of Pam’s deep admiration for her mother, who as a strong, modern woman helped shape Pam’s work ethic and independent outlook for her entire life. In the early 70’s Pam’s beauty is discovered and after winning several pageants Hollywood calls her name.
ACT TWO:FRO'S AND FREAKS. Pam worked hard after arriving in Los Angeles. Holding down 3 jobs she goes on auditions and learns everything she can about the movie business. Along the way becoming a successful back up singer and model which leads to her eventual discovery and first movie role in The Big Doll House and a concurrent string of B exploitation movies. It was also during this time that Pam began dating a tall basketball star named Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr or Lew. Lew of course goes on to become Kareem Abdul-Jabbar after converting to Islam. This part of the book was totally intriguing, as I knew very little about the religion and could definitely feel Pam’s heartbreak as she watched the man she loved change and although she tried couldn’t bring herself to convert and therefore couldn’t marry Kareem.
We also gain insight into her relationships with Freddie Prinz Jr and Richard Prior, both of which ended because of the mens well documented drug use. Pam does a fantastic job here of discussing her relationships without giving away any of the dirty little details which I respected. Labelled one of the most beautiful women alive Pam’s career continues to flourish during the 80’s with numerous TV appearances, awards and magazine covers. A particularly humorous event is recalled wherein Pam and John Lennon are kicked out of club Troubadour.
In ACT 3: FINDING THE BALANCE we enter the 90’s through to present. Which to me represents Pam‘s strongest time as she battles cancer and journeys into self discovery, yoga and alternative medicine. Pam now knows who she is and has few regrets (although she still struggles to find a decent man.) This is also when Pam re-emerges as a Hollywood A-lister with the release of Jackie Brown and later the L Word.
One of my only issues with Pam’s memoir would be that she tends to come off a little self righteous. I can’t honestly believe that every relationship she had failed because of the other person’s wrong doing or that she never drank or did drugs yet lived with Richard Pryor and hung out in the 80’s cocaine culture. She also tends to name drop. A lot. But I got to thinking about that and I guess if all your friends are famous directors, musicians and movie stars and that’s who you’re hanging out with then its not really name dropping is it? Although instead of just saying out of the blue; Snoop Dogg dropped by for lunch you might give us a few details about the lunch, then it doesn’t sound like you’re just trying to impress us. We're already impressed, you‘re Pam Grier.