He's a complicated man—nobody understands him but his mechanic.
This is about as chill as you can get. The above shot, which has been floating around online for a while now, was first published in Custom Bike-Chopper, aka Custom Chopper, in 1976, and shows the legendary Isaac Hayes astride his turbocharged Kawasaki chopper on a sunny Southern California day. With the sandals and socks, it's like he never left his sofa. His bike has one-of-a-kind handlebars, a filigreed gearbox, a gold-plated roller chain, and more. It's extravagant, but the guy wrote the massive hit song, “Theme from Shaft.” He had to do something with all that royalty money. As the lyrics explain, nobody understands him but his woman—who we assume built his bike.
We've talked about Hayes before. He starred in a number of films, but of the ones we've seen so far, the most interesting is the 1974 blaxploitation flick Truck Turner. We talked about it at length a while back, and long story short, it's terrible but amusing. He also appeared in the fun John Carpenter b-movie Escape from New York in 1981, and was a running character on the animated show South Park. We'll get back to Escape from New York later, probably. In the meantime, you can see U.S. and Italian Truck Turner posters here and here, read our thoughts about the film at the first of those links, and check out a promo image of Hayes in considerably less relaxed mode here.
He scored big in 1971. In 1972 he returned for a double dip.
Once you go blaxploitation you never go back. At least for a day or two. Above is the U.S. promo poster for another movie from the genre, 1972's Shaft's Big Score, starring the legendary Richard Roundtree. Shaft is obviously a name meant to conjure sex, so it makes sense that the poster is so phallic, with Roundtree sticking that long black rod in the viewer's face. Shaft's Big Score was the sequel to 1971's Shaft, which was a landmark in American cinema that hammered home the growing realization in Hollywood that there was money to be made by showing audiences people like themselves. White audiences had lived that reality since the first moving pictures, but mostly never considered the privilege they were enjoying. Shaft helped demonstrate that all people liked it, and helped define the future for film studios. The focus was black, the cast was diverse, and the money rolled in. Which brought about Shaft's Big Score. We've seen better movies, but we've sure seen worse too. You can read what we thought about it here.
You never forget the first time.
We recently saw the latest reboot of the classic blaxploitation film Shaft with Samuel L. Jackson, Jesse Usher, et al, and while the parties involved in that effort have their unique charms, this photo pretty much covers what made Richard Roundtree the best. He was, and remains, a bad mother— Shut your mouth! He was born today in 1942, and this photo dates from 1971.
Who's the hardest dick in New York City? You know who.
We don't know about you, but we had no idea Shaft was a novel that predated the movie until we saw the above cover art. Written by Ernest Tidyman, this originally appeared in 1970 and was quickly snapped up by Hollywood. That edition was a hardback with a black and white cover by Mozelle Thompson and is rare. The edition you see at top was published in 2016 by Dynamite Entertainment and is widely available.
Plotwise, Shaft is hired to find a drug kingpin's kidnapped daughter with the help of Black Panther style revolutionaries. Tidyman's take on New York City and the social climate of the time is entertaining and the violence is swift and brutal. Because filmdom's Shaft was inclusive in his views, even to the extent of a jokingly flirtatious friendship with a gay bartender, we were surprised by the book's homophobia. Tidyman saw Shaft as ultra tough and therefore anti-gay, but the filmmakers saw right through such silliness and decided to turn that aspect of the book on its head. Another change is the treatment of the drug kingpin's daughter. In the movie she's merely kidnapped, but in the novel her captivity takes the form of narcotic and sexual slavery.
In terms of white authors inhabiting the personas of black Big Apple detectives, the trailblazing Ed Lacy did it better with 1958's Room To Swing, but Tidyman manages well enough, we think, even if his prose sometimes meanders. Though we read Shaft only because it was the wellspring of an excellent blaxploitation flick, turns out the book is worth a gander on its own merits. Tidyman also wrote like five sequels. We know nothing about those, but maybe we'll have a look.
Who’s the man? If you don’t know you better ask somebody.
After scoring a huge hit with the 1971 detective drama Shaft, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer doubled down by rushing out a bigger budgeted sequel the next year. It was called Shaft’s Big Score, and you see the Japanese promo above, made for its Tokyo premiere today in 1972. Some of the acting in Score isn’t great, which was also true of the first film, but as a whole it makes a nice companion piece to Shaft. John Shaft gets in the middle of the Italian and black mobs in New York City, and along the way there are brawls, bullets, and lots of badassedness. The movie also features blaxploitation heavyweights Moses Gunn, Wally Taylor, Drew Bundini Brown, and female foils Kathy Imrie, Rosalind Miles, and the amazing Kitty Jones.
A long while back when discussing the 1968 movie 100 Rifles, we talked about the honesty of cinema from that period. It's a quality that extends into blaxploitation as well. When we say honesty, we don’t mean correctness. Casual racism abounds in blaxploitation, and of course sexism and homophobia make appearances too. But at least the genre acknowledges racial discord as an everyday element of American life. Unfortunately, Hollywood has devoted more and more time over the last thirty years to making soulless action epics and laughless comedies, constantly reassuring ticket buyers that everything is hunky dory. Yes, Hollywood would occasionally take on racial issues in big, Oscar grubbing dramas, but nearly all of those movies, no matter how downbeat, had an implicit message that America was getting better. Well, guess what? It isn’t.
Nearly half of America’s prisoners are inside for drugs, and 40% of that subset is black, even though whites are more likely to sell drugs, and they consume the same amount as blacks—not only per capita, but by percentage. Multiple studies show the same result. Despite this, black drug offenders land inside the increasingly for-profit prison industry at 10.1 times the rate of whites. Uncomfortable facts, but facts they are. Blaxploitation movies acknowledge a wide range of social problems while weaving them into the fabric of popular cinema. Nobody walked away from Shaft’s Big Score thinking that America was becoming a post-racial Eden, yet nobody walked away denying that the movie was immense fun. Entertainment that reflects the real world. Is that really so hard to do?
Trouble in the distance.
This great promo of American actress Rosalind Miles was made for her role in the low budget Georgina Spelvin actioner Girls for Rent, aka I Spit on Your Corpse. Don’t ask. Anyway, Miles is probably more familiar to movie buffs for Shaft’s Big Score, and she also appreared in Friday Foster, The Black 6, and on several television shows. This image dates from 1974.
To dance, to sing, to laugh, or to just be.
Above, American actress Judy Pace, who appeared in such films as Cool Breeze and Cotton Comes to Harlem, and on television shows like Kung Fu, Mod Squad, and Shaft, seen here expressing herself circa 1968.
They say this cat Shaft is a bad mother—
Richard Roundtree in a promo still from one of our favorite movies, the blaxploitation flick Shaft, circa 1971. Roundtree turns 67 today.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1916—Rockwell's First Post Cover Appears
The Saturday Evening Post publishes Norman Rockwell's painting "Boy with Baby Carriage", marking the first time his work appears on the cover of that magazine. Rockwell would go to paint many covers for the Post, becoming indelibly linked with the publication. During his long career Rockwell would eventually paint more than four thousand pieces, the vast majority of which are not on public display due to private ownership and destruction by fire.
1962—Marilyn Monroe Sings to John F. Kennedy
A birthday salute to U.S. President John F. Kennedy takes place at Madison Square Garden, in New York City. The highlight is Marilyn Monroe's breathy rendition of "Happy Birthday," which does more to fuel speculation that the two were sexually involved than any actual evidence.
1926—Aimee Semple McPherson Disappears
In the U.S., Canadian born evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson disappears from Venice Beach, California in the middle of the afternoon. She is initially thought to have drowned, but on June 23, McPherson stumbles out of the desert in Agua Prieta, a Mexican town across the border from Douglas, Arizona, claiming to have been kidnapped, drugged, tortured and held for ransom in a shack by two people named Steve and Mexicali Rose. However, it soon becomes clear that McPherson's tale is fabricated, though to this day the reasons behind it remain unknown.
1964—Mods and Rockers Jailed After Riots
In Britain, scores of youths are jailed following a weekend of violent clashes between gangs of Mods and Rockers in Brighton and other south coast resorts. Mods listened to ska music and The Who, wore suits and rode Italian scooters, while Rockers listened to Elvis and Gene Vincent, and rode motorcycles. These differences triggered the violence.
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