Pam Grier thinks Richard Pryor and Trevor Noah would have been best friends
By Kathryn Shattuck
“My life is very Forrest Gumpian,” Pam Grier said halfway through a marathon phone interview, and she has the anecdotes to back it up.
Of performing in a gospel group with Philip Bailey, later of Earth, Wind & Fire, as a teen in Denver.
Of singing backup for Bobby Womack and then Sly Stone, alongside Stevie Wonder’s Wonderlove, when Jimi Hendrix walked into the studio to jam — and it was only her first week in Los Angeles.
Of loading her boyfriend Richard Pryor’s injured horse into the back of her Jaguar to take it to the vet.
Grier, a dynamic storyteller, reveals all this and considerably more in “Here Comes Pam,” the fourth season of the TCM podcast “The Plot Thickens,” hosted by Ben Mankiewicz and premiering Oct. 25. She will also appear on TCM on Oct. 19 and 26 to introduce a showcase of the ’70s films — including “Coffy,” “Foxy Brown” and “Cleopatra Jones” — that transformed her into the queen of blaxploitation.
In 20 hours of interviews, Mankiewicz follows Grier, 73, across her New Mexico ranch, where she lives with her rescued horses and dogs when she’s not filming. (She is currently shooting episodes of Amazon’s “Them” in Atlanta, and ticked off coming projects like a “Pet Sematary” prequel, a limited series based on her 2010 autobiography that she’s developing and a World War II movie she wrote.)
In more difficult conversations, Mankiewicz revisits the sexual and physical assaults in Grier’s girlhood that for a time left her unable to speak.
“I stutter from my attacks,” said Grier, calling to discuss the things that keep her engaged and grounded — among them, green living, her Harley-Davidson and Trevor Noah. “It’s a part of me, and I use it as an instrument as if I was a musician playing several instruments.”
“My pain has been deep. But my joy is infinite.”
These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
1. My Horses: When I was traumatized, my family’s draft horse was very helpful in my rehabilitation. And I love to be surrounded by animals who’ve been rescued. I understand the cruelty of people and I want them to know they won’t have that, ever. We have six horses. Nora, a very flirty mare, can tell from how people touch her if they’re terrible or if they’re comforting, calm and loving.
2. My Dogs: I got one from Dr. Jeff at Rocky Mountain Vet, a puppy-mill Yorkie that had never walked in seven years — she was just bred. There are these myths: “Oh, don’t adopt a puppy mill dog. They have problems, mental and breeding and physical.” And it could be. But she was jumping over the jumps with the rest of the dogs and horses. She just fit in. I know people who swear by their dogs, that they save their lives every day, and it’s true. They keep me calm. They bring my blood pressure down.
3. Trevor Noah: I’ve always wanted to be interviewed by him because he’ll go right to my career — right to the brown-nipple movement that I brought to the screen, the confidence of African American women bringing their intelligence bonded with sexuality. He might say, “You’re from Wyoming. Were there any Black people up there?” “Well yeah, there’s a few.” I gave Richard Pryor some of that information when he was co-writing “Blazing Saddles” with Mel Brooks. You know, if Richard had met Trevor, they would be best friends. That’s the level of his intellect, his humor, his politics.
4. Organic Gardening: You’ve got to do that. Ed Begley Jr. will put you to shame. When you go to his house, he’s going to cook. It’s going to be like that first-picked carrot from your garden — it melts in your mouth. He’s got an organic green thumb. But most people do because of the pandemic and growing their own clean food.
5. Pottery: I’m going to set up a studio, because I started taking pottery lessons to learn how to throw clay and work the kilns. There was a place near Santa Clarita, where I was shooting “Bless This Mess,” and I would go to make gifts. I started making platters and bowls for friends, and they cherish them. Of course, they’re not using them. They don’t want to break them because Pam made it and signed it.
6. My Harley-Davidson Motorcycle: Yes, I’m building a Harley. I want it to be Ferrari red, a pretty low rider in a great color. I used to ride motorbikes up into the mountains from Denver to Evergreen with a group of kids. We could rent them for $50 a day, with a driver’s permit. That was always a thrill for me. When I’m on a film, they ground me. So as soon as I finish, I will work on my skills.
7. Conversion Garages: There’s a huge lower-income population, probably over 100 million, that have cars with internal combustion engines — the hoopties, as we call them in the hood — and you can convert them to electric vehicles from $3,000 to $5,000 in certain garages. There are 12 across the country. We need to cool off the air above the United States, and 100 million people cannot afford expensive cars. But now they can afford to convert what they have.
8. Playing Music: I’ve got a Yamaha keyboard, a Rose piano. I’ve got some drums, my granddad’s bass guitar and lead guitar, and my Marshall amp that he gave to me. People would come to my house and pick up guitars, have a few beers and sing through the night. But I haven’t been able to do it because everything’s in storage. I can’t wait for when I can set up one of the garage bays into a bandstand for instruments. I would love to have the Roots come out and play, just start jamming.
9. “Foxy: My Life in Three Acts”: It was going to be a film in 2010 when the book was published but now it’s going to be a limited series. Not to make light, but this will be a very sexy photographed drama where the lenses will accommodate a certain imagery of strength, the struggle of a movement. It’s going to be interesting. It’s going to look hot. It’s going to show some muscle.
10. My New Adobe House: I’ve been working on building a casa for everyone to come and chill. An environment of health and greenness. There’s no hallway. You walk out your door across the courtyard, which is covered and closed. You can sit out there and read a book or practice yoga when it’s snowing. It’s a house that is efficient: solar, thermodynamics, my own well. I want to create an environment for me. I want to be able to be cared for in my old age when I get up there. I want to be prepared for not being a part of the problems we’re trying to live through. I want to be a part of the solution.