‘Uncle Tom’s Fairy Tales’ – The Secret, Never-Released Richard Pryor Movie

'Uncle Tom's Fairy Tales' - The Secret, Never-Released Richard Pryor Movie

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.

This Article is related to: News


Comments

Jennifer Lee Pryor

I see a comment from As Williams…about why I am trustee of the estate and control the ip: because Richard wanted it that way. I fight fiercely for him, always did and will continue to do so…when I returned(at Richard's request) things were falling apart and ip was flying out the door, all the locusts had descended—including some of the ex's and girlfriends and kids: Richard and I had to sue more than one person to get what belonged to him back. There would be no 'estate', if I had not returned. There would be a legacy in tatters, much like Sammy Davis's estate: before you go hating on me, do your damn homework!

Jennifer Lee Pryor

Let's get some things straight here: first of all, there are only portions of the film, there is not a complete film, such bits of footage here.
The suit was settled and Ms. Spheeris returned the footage as it belongs to Richard. She was simply 'a work for hire'…Richard paid for the film and wrote it and Ms. Spheeris was paid for her services.
It is a film about putting 'white people on trial'…radical for the times…
The tribute at the DGA was BEFORE Richard passed and he wanted his footage back; it was not Ms. Spheeris to keep or give to Rain or to the Academy, it was returned to Richard. Sergio is correct: I was his fifth and seventh(and final) wife. Ms. Spheeris gave it to Rain because "Richard was married to Shelly, Rain's mother at the time, and thought Rain should have it."
Rain was also named in the lawsuit as it didn't belong to her either; as I stated, suit was settled and footage was returned.

ALM

Jennifer was mad about the time he spent on the film, but she wasn't upset about the content of the film?!

Black Sun Tzu

Interesting that the rape of a black woman (or any woman for the matter, or any man – let's not discriminate) can be presented as a comedy. More interesting is the fact that no one in this comment thread seem to have noticed or given importance to that detail.

Reelblack

I hope it's better than Pryor's other "lost" film, THE THREE MUSCATELS (1991).

Darius James

Funny. In 1975-76, I lived in a office above a porn shop on Western Avenue in Los Angeles. I worked for a guy who claimed he was a movie producer but collected scrap metal for a living (ok, I was naive). I learned how to write screenplays while working for this guy. Apparently, he was a former UCLA film student who had an internship working for the editor of tv's "Batman". Further, in addition to the office he rented (and I lived in), he rented another room that was piled high with garbage. Among that garbage, was a stack of film cannisters. He claimed those cannisters contained Richard Pryor's "Uncle Tom's Fairy Tales". He was first A.D. on the film. One day, Richard Pryor ordered him to tell one of the extras to take off their clothes. The first A.D. wouldn't do it. He and Pryor had a fight so he stole the footage and it ended up in this room above a porn shop on Western Avenue. Eventually, I had a fight with this first A.D. and left the office. Last I heard, he hadn't paid his rent and everything in the garbage room had been trashed. True story. Maybe the film cannisters were salvaged before the landlord stepped in. Let's hope so. Otherwise, "Uncle Tom's Fairy Tales" is landfill.

JMac

I would give anything to see this – the title is provocative enough, the subject matter arouses all sorts of curiosity as to how he handled it. After Bounce played a marathon of Pryor's movies on his birthday (some I've never heard of but enjoyed nonetheless) I've been trying to find more of his "forgotten" films. Maybe this one will pop up on youtube one day. Stranger things have happened.

ASWILLIAMS

@Rozzi you got that all wrong. I read Pryor`s autobiography “Pryor Convictions and Other Life Sentences“ and in the book he recounts have sex with woman that he didn`t know was really a man. He just tells it in humor making it comical satire. Read his autobiographical story and then form your opinion without judging. He was wild back then snorting that coke.

aswilliams

It`s always the widow of the deceased that takes control of all the rights of the dead person. This all begins with the feud in the family on how everything should be handled. In this case with Jennifer she is so conceited and manipulative. She should not have all the r itvights to Richard`s assets. To me to me it is up to the children to have a say not the vindictive widow which she did not have any children by Richard. Jennifer should of have consulted with the whole family about this. Smdh. Hopefully in the near future this film will finally be released. I just hope that a biographical film on Richard that was suppose to star Marlon Wayans as Pryor will be made without the consent of Jennifer but the chidren.

wmjoseph

Word. Now sadly forgotten Godfrey Cambridge.

I useter listen to his records back when I was in HS maybe…

And of course, "Watermelon Man".

Donella

Nice to know that Pryor did not set tight boundaries on his creative work.

Gerg86

Well someone is gonna have to kill Jenny Pryor now.

urbanauteur

Thanks Sergio 4 shedding some light on this little known project;-)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *