Get the Unsung Hollywood line-up below and read more about the first season of stars who have devoted their lives to making their mark in movies, teleivsion, comedy and sports.
Tune in Wednesdays at 10/9c beginning February 26, 2014 to get the answers you’ve always had about your favorite stars, films and television series.
Best known as the Queen of Blaxploitation films, Pam Grier rose to stardom in the early 1970’s as a trailblazing black female action star in such films as Coffy and Foxy Brown. With her unparalleled beauty, sex appeal, and fighting skills, Pam showcased a new type of action heroine that would literally change the face of women in film. But to get there, Pam had to overcome a history of sexual abuse including multiple rapes. She eventually flipped the script on sexual violence, exacting vengeance on men and empowering herself on camera in graphic and unforgettable ways. In this episode of Unsung Hollywood, Pam Grier goes behind the stardom to give us an intimate look at her most iconic roles, and her astonishing life: her turbulent childhood, rise to the top, high-profile relationships with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Freddie Prinze, and Richard Pryor, and battle with cervical cancer. Tune in as we honor, celebrate and pull back the veil with exclusive stories of the life and career of the “the Original Foxy Brown.”
Best known for his quick-witted, off-the-street, raunchy style of comedy, Robin Harris inspired and paved the way for Martin Lawrence, Bernie Mac and a whole generation of comics who mixed street and stage in a whole new way. Harris honed his skills on the streets of Chicago and LA, defending himself from an early age with an ability to turn the table on bullies with the sharpness of his tongue. As his work matured, he came up with a signature riff on Bebe’s Kids. Along the way, Harris shined in I’m Gonna Git You Sucka and Do the Right Thing, and finally got his closeup in the cult classic House Party as Kid’s (Christopher Reid’s) stern but loving father. Tragically, Harris died within months of the film’s release, and while his wife was pregnant with his son, Robin Harris Jr. An animated Bebe’s Kids movie, put together by House Party director Reggie Hudlin, became a poignant coda to this Unsung comic’s too-brief career. Harris’ influence and legacy have only grown with time. For this episode of Unsung Hollywood, Robin’s family (including Robin, Jr.), friends, and fellow comedians have come together to tell the story of your favorite comedian’s favorite comedian: a stand-up guy who was loved by his community and on a mission to teach the world how to find the funny truth in just about everything.
It was a show the influenced ‘70’s pop culture unlike any other with its funky dance moves, trendy fashion, and unforgettable catch phrases like “Hey Hey Hey," “Ohhh," and " I’m gonna tell Mama!” It was the show that set the tone for good family fun for every age, race, and gender as we watched the lives of three teen boys (and one bratty little sister) on their careless adventure to adulthood. What’s Happening!! became an unexpected hit but for the young cast, the sudden rise to fame led to lasting troubles—drugs, family tragedies, and bitter squabbles over salaries and working conditions– ultimately fueling the show’s demise. This episode of Unsung Hollywood takes you down memory lane, reliving the greatest episodes, and the most fascinating behind-the-scenes stories from the surviving cast members: Ernest Thomas (Raj) Haywood Nelson (Dwayne) and Danielle Spencer (Dee) as they open up and tell the truth about what really happened on What’s Happening!!
Dick Gregory is best described as an African-American satirist, civil rights soldier, author, nutritionist, presidential and mayoral candidate. His wit, spontaneity and fearlessness gave him the skill to knock down the doors of racism, intolerance and corruption for over six decades. A close friend of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers, Gregory was politically engaged to a degree no comedian has ever been before or since. Gregory was a regular on the front lines of Birmingham and Selma, where he was jailed, beaten, blackballed and forever changed. For the rest of the 60s, he channeled his political and social passions into devastating satire about racism, politics, Vietnam, and much more. Though he broke the color line for African American comics in clubs and on TV, and paved the way for countless comedians who followed, many younger Americans today know him best as the inventor of the Bahamian Diet. In this inspirational episode of Unsung Hollywood, friends, family, civil rights leaders and fellow comics, including Bill Cosby, Dave Chappelle and Richard Belzer, weigh in on the man who changed the face of stand-up and officially ended the Jim Crow school of humor while raising the consciousness of the country and the world.
Way before mainstream Black male performers like Will Smith or Keenen Ivory Wayans were dominating network TV with their witty personalities, there was a lightning bolt named Flip Wilson. Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the legendary comedian and actor was the official king of the Nielsen ratings. Time Magazine called him TV’s first Black superstar. Wilson won Emmys, Grammys and his variety juggernaut The Flip Wilson Show was home to some of the hottest performers on the planet. His characters, including Geraldine and Reverend Leroy, are still classics. But Flip had many demons. Growing up in dire poverty in Jersey City, New Jersey, he endured foster homes, reform schools and came up on the ‘chitlin circuit’ before getting his break on the Johnny Carson show. He was fueled by a diet of drugs that kept him wired and sometimes paranoid. Unsung Hollywood explores the unpredictable and often unrecognized life of Flip Wilson. According to Flip’s longtime friend Rev. Jesse Jackson, the comedian changed the landscape of TV for Blacks forever. “Flip was a breakthrough artist for African Americans. He led with a brand of comedy that was clean and decent and not vulgar. To the end, he was a man I held in great esteem as a comedian and as a person.”
It was the height of the Blaxploitation era—films like Shaft, Superfly and Cleopatra Jones had all paved the way for an unprecedented wave of films about the violent and corrupt vicissitudes of African American life. And then, in 1975, came Cooley High, a sweet coming-of-age film about the intimacies of four male friends growing up in Chicago’s notorious Cabrini Green projects in the 1960s. The film, riding a classic Motown soundtrack, turned the corner on sensationalizing stereotypes and dared to show life in the hood in its bittersweet complexity, with humor, friendship, solidarity and love balancing out the violence and dead ends. Drawn directly from writer Eric Monte’s own life, Cooley High brought a new kind of realism to the screen. Directed by Michael Schultz, who would go on to direct Car Wash, The Last Dragon and other iconic films, Cooley High was shot in the projects of Chicago, with a cast consisting mainly of local non-pros who rose to the moment and gave the film a special kind of truth. Meanwhile, a pair of aspiring Hollywood actors—Glynn Turman and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs— made star-turns that launched both of their careers. In this exciting, fun-filled episode of Unsung Hollywood, Turman and Hilton-Jacobs go back on-location in Chicago and share a behind-the-scenes glimpse into some of their favorite scenes. The episode also features extensive interviews with director Schultz and many other actors and crew-members who helped make this much-loved, ground-breaking film.
Standing six feet, four inches tall, Bill Duke has been a towering presence as both actor and director in film and tv for the past forty-plus years. With his menacing eyes and iconic shaved head, he has played everything from a gay pimp (American Gigolo) to a militant muslim (Car Wash) to a seen-it-all detective (Menace II Society) with an iconic line—"You know you done f**ked up—you know that, right?” For a long time, Duke worried that he himself had messed up. A pre-med drop-out in the 1960s, he threw himself into the New York theater scene and struggled with poverty, drugs and overall discouragement before moving to LA and getting his first breaks in TV and film. He was passionate about acting, but on his terms, rejecting roles that he found stereotypical or demeaning. Looking for more control and substance in his work, Duke turned to directing in the early 80s and remade himself into an A-lister behind the camera, calling the shots in major films like A Rage In Harlem, Sister Act 2, The Cemetery Club. More personal projects like Cover, which examines AIDS and homosexuality in the black community, and Dark Girls, a documentary about skin tone, have kept Duke relevant and on the cutting edge of creative film-making to the present day. Meanwhile, the imposing man with the glowering look but gentle spirit has mentored hundreds of aspiring film-makers in inner city boot camps and after-school programs that complete the circle on his powerful, generous life and career. In addition to Duke himself, this episode of Unsung Hollywood features interviews with family members, friends, and Hollywood colleagues, including Whoopi Goldberg and Vivica A. Fox.
Five decades before Magic Johnson’s “Showtime” Lakers, Michael Jordan’s “highlight” moves, and the gravity-defying dunks of Dr. J, there were the Harlem Globetrotters. Born in 1927, the team took a stodgy game of controlled, plodding low-scoring basketball and turned it into a highlight reel of fast-paced, free-flowing, improvised action that set the template for today’s NBA. But the Harlem Globetrotters, and their irrepressible, controversial owner Abe Saperstein, didn’t just invent a new way of playing the game. They were pioneers, blurring the lines between sports and entertainment, breaking entrenched racial barriers, and, by dribbling their multi-colored ball all over the globe, introducing basketball to the world. The Globetrotters’ early black players were prophets without honor in their own land, worshipped by adoring white audiences in large arenas but denied access to hotels and restaurants after their games. In later years, the iconic squad was the target of criticism from black audiences put off by the organization’s growing clowning and minstrel act. Amazingly, they are still a phenomenon, touring non-stop with a sleek act targeting young audiences. Their story is a mesmerizing mix of racial progress and setbacks, soaring wins and crushing defeats, all within the microcosm of a vaudevillian basketball squad that changed sports, society and entertainment forever – unbeatable, unstoppable, unsung!
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