Pam Grier has been in Hollywood for more than 50 years, but the screen icon almost quit acting back in the 1970s.
Grier, the subject of the fourth season of TCM podcast “The Plot Thickens,” revealed in a recent interview that she contemplated entering the field of science before “Foxy Brown” in 1974.
“When I did that film, I wasn’t sure I was going to continue making films,” Grier told Fox News. “I missed science, which was a part of my life as a child. I just didn’t know there was an audience for me.”
She continued, “But it turned out I developed an audience. It wasn’t just women, but also artists and filmmakers who loved to see a woman walk in a man’s shoes and be viewed as strong, combative. Here was a woman who freely expressed herself in a way that wasn’t portrayed…I come from the Black West, from women who are wholesome, but fierce. I wanted to bring that into my work. I lassoed people in and it opened the floodgates.”
Grier made her big screen debut in 1970, with “Coffy” coming out in 1973. One year later, “Foxy Brown” was everywhere. Grier deemed the explosive success of “Foxy Brown” part of the “Nipple Revolution.”
“Oh, they remember my nipples,” Grier said. “But I can see what they’re saying. Here you have a sister, a beautiful woman, expressing her sexuality and intelligence. Why should we judge and politicize that? It opened a dialogue about where women want to go. I didn’t know it would be analyzed as much.”
Grier added, “I’m still amazed by all of these incredible women who are now doing action films, who aren’t afraid of guns and won’t stick their heads in the sand. I feel great that it’s helped other women express themselves and be strong, fearless. I’m really pleased with that.”
Grier compared her career path at the time to ex-boyfriend Richard Pryor’s roles. Comedian Pryor “had so many opportunities” compared to what was offered to Grier, she recalled. The couple started dating in 1975 before parting ways the following year after Pryor “fell off the wagon” and began using drugs again.
“I would tell him, ‘I don’t need your fame or your light. I need nothing from you,'” Grier said. “He was just squandering it. As hard as it was for me, I felt he was getting all of these opportunities that I would never get in Hollywood as a woman. So, you go ahead and be a victim. You go ahead and be weak and stupid and squander all these incredible opportunities that Hollywood wants to offer you that I’ll never get…It’s hard to tell that to someone you love. But he had to manage his addiction. He had to manage his talent. I just couldn’t put myself in that situation…I saw him beating himself up and ruining his life.”
Emmy winner Pryor went on to top the box office throughout the 1980s, with films like “Bustin’ Loose” and “Stir Crazy,” plus landing his short-lived TV series “Pryor’s Place.”
“I just didn’t want to lose that talent,” Grier added. “I really wanted to hold up a mirror and show him how wonderful and loved he was, and that he’s really gifted. But as they say, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. I had to walk away.”
Pryor was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1986 and died in 2005 from a heart attack. The legendary comedian was 65 years old.
Now, 73-year-old Grier is working to adapt her 2010 memoir “Foxy: My Life in Three Acts” into a film.
“I didn’t know if I was going to stay in this industry for long,” Grier said. “But there are so many stories to tell, to create. And I just felt like I needed to give myself a chance and not depend on people who can offer you everything and then take it away when they want to. I wanted to have that power and control.”