Pam Grier, the legendary actress who launched her career by starring in several black cinema films of the 1970s, visited the Chicago area on Saturday.
She was in town to promote her new autobiography "Foxy: My Life in Three Acts" at Afri-Ware book and apparel store, 266 W. Lake St. in Oak Park. The title comes from one of her famous films and characters Foxy Brown. Her other films include Coffy, Sheba Baby, and 1997's Jackie Brown.
More than 100 fans poured into the shop for an autograph and glimpse of the beautiful, 61-year-old screen icon who helped change the perception of black actresses in Hollywood.
"I've always loved her, just her beauty, her essence; she is a queen," said Derrell Julius, a South Side elementary school teacher who heard about Grier's appearance from an Afri-Ware newsletter. He jumped at the opportunity to meet her.
"She was gorgeous, and portrayed a woman of color as being both beautiful and tough," Julius said. "There were not many representations of black women on TV or the movies that showed them in this light."
Grier's memoir includes her upbringing in Colorado and Wyoming during the 1950s and '60s segregation era. It also chronicles her Hollywood career and a few romantic relationships she had, like with comedian Richard Pryor.
Douglas Robinson, who admired Grier in her early films, was at Afri-Ware and has been a fan since the 1970s. Still, he feels Grier's film career has been greatly marginalized by not being given the chance to play more roles like in Jackie Brown, which garnered the actress Golden Globe and Screen Actor's Guild nominations.
"I think with Jackie Brown you saw just how wonderful an actress Ms. Grier is and how, if there weren't so many doors closed to black actresses at that time, she could have fully explored her talents and played even more challenging roles," Robinson said.
Because of her sassy screen presence and exotic beauty, Grier had a legion of male admirers, yet, she also struck a chord with many women, who saw her as trailblazer in the women's liberation movement.
"She is just an exceptional woman, beyond just her beauty," said Tonette Lumpkin, a real estate broker from North Lawndale. "I first saw her in Foxy Brown, which I saw with my family as a kid. I didn't understand much of what was going on in the movie plot-wise, but I did know that Grier seemed to bring strength to the screen that I had not seen from a woman of color. Later, when I found out about her love of horses and the diversity of her background, and her holistic approach to life, my admiration for her grew even stronger."
That diverse childhood is addressed in Grier's memoir. She talks about growing up in Europe while her father was in the Air Force. Her mother was a homemaker and nurse. At Afri-Ware, Grier talked about her book, life and film career, and how people perceived her on screen.
"Contrary to what some thought about the characters I portrayed in my movies, I never wanted to be perceived as a 'castrate the men feminist chick.' But I did want to be the best woman I could be," she said. "This is what I learned from the strong women I grew up with."