I like to think that I know EVERYTHING about films, but even I have to confess that I had never heard of this film before, until recently. an unknown Richard Pryor film that most likely you, me or anyone else will ever see in their lifetime.
I’m referring to the oddly titled Uncle Tom’s Fairy Tales: The Movie for Homosexuals, which was made back in 1968, produced by and starring Pryor. The film was directed by a young student filmmaker, Penelope Spheeris, who later went on to be more known for her rock music documentaries such as The Decline of Western Civilization and later in the mid-90’s directed a slew of Hollywood studio comedies such as Wayne’s Word, Black Sheep, The Little Rascals and The Beverly Hillbilles.
The film was intended to be for Pryor, who was, in the late 60’s, an increasingly popular up and coming stand up comic in the mold of Bill Cosby, and the now sadly forgotten Godfrey Cambridge – his first major film role – and dealt with a white man who is brought to trial for raping a black woman. Exactly what role Pryor would have played in the film (which one assumes would have been a comedy) is not exactly known.
So why is it that we’ve never heard of the film before? Well supposedly Pryor’s wife at the time was furious that he was more interested in spending more time with the movie than with her, and reportedly destroyed the negative of the then still unfinished movie in a fit a rage.
And that was that. Everyone assumed the film was gone forever.
But it wasn’t…
In 2005, just a few months before Pryor’s death later that same year, there was a retrospective tribute to him at the Director’s Guild of America in L.A., where some scenes from Tales were screened for the first time.
Outraged, Pryor’s then wife, Jennifer Lee-Pryor, who was his sveneth and final wife, filed a suit against Spheeris and Pryor’s daughter Rain, revealing that the film had not been destroyed after all, as had been thought, and that both Rain and Spheeris somehow conspired to take the film out of Pryor’s home some 20 years earlier.
She also claimed that Richard had in fact gotten in touch with Spheeris about Tales after the DGA screening, and she had revealed to him that he had indeed taken the film and given it to the Film Archive of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, where it presumably still sits there today.
The suit however is still, to this day, pending. But wouldn’t you, for curiosity’s sake, love to take a look at it? I know I would.