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The End of Poverty for ‘Super Fly’ Star
Ron O’Neal used to stand on a painter’s scaffold 10 hours a day for $12 a day, when he was lucky enough to get a day’s
work, and tell himself
“they are going to pay for this.’’ By
“‘they’’ he meant the white world in general which had kept him, as a young black, in circumstances of endless poverty. Some of
that fiery resolution of years ago now flashes through his performance in ‘‘Super Fly,’’ a drama of the black ghetto which opens next atethessas Theatre.
But O’Neal has mellowed. By doing the work of a housepainter he was able to maintain himself while he studied acting, Singing and dancing at a remar
kable imter-racial theatrical group in Cleveland called Karamu. ‘‘Karamu’’ in Swahili means ‘‘place of enjoyment.’’
There he appeared in many of the stage classics, modern plays and in musical productions. He learned to. give authentically personal _ performances in ‘‘white’’ roles and discovered there were no essential differences in the ways human beings react to various situations.
He came to New’ York, taught acting to teenagers and young adults in Harlem for a couple of years, then went touring with road shows. O’Neal made his acting break-through with a stellar portrayal in ‘“‘No Place to Be Somebody,’’ produced at Joseph Papp’s. theatre in Greenwich Village. The play won a Pulitzer Prize in 1971, O’Neal carried off four of the biggest acting awards in town.
O’Neal’s’ friend from the Cleveland days, Phillip Fenty, began to talk out an idea he had for a film about the existence
Ron O’Neal stars as Priest in Warner Bros.’ ‘‘Super Fly,’’ which opens next____ at the ___ Theatre. Mat 1-A
of black people. The central character would be a charismatic, successful cocaine dealer who loathed the life he was leading despite its luxuries. The film was to be called ‘“Super Fly,’’ and O’Neal was to play the dealer.
Fenty found a producer, Sig Shore, the money was raised by Shore, the idea was turned into a screenplay by Fenty, and in January, 1972, ‘“‘Supegiomiy’’ began filming in actual locations around New York City. Warner Bros. acquired ‘‘Super Fly’’ for distribution.
Julius W. Harris (right) portrays a cocaine supplier who threatens his dealer, Carl Lee, in this scene from Warner Bros.’ ‘‘Super
Fly,’’ which opens next___at the
Theatre. Gordon Parks, Jr.
directed the Sig Shore Production from a screenplay by Phillip
Wheel of Fortune Stopped on Sheila
Many secretaries and most models would like to become movie stars, but very rarely do. Sheila Frazier, who was both a secretary and a model, and a black girl to boot, wanted the same, and made it. She has the starring female lead in a stark new drama of the black ghetto, ‘Super Fly,’’ now at the. Theatre, and she won the role without ever playing any other role either on stage or in films.
Raised. in. New... Jersey, severely under-impressed by her own gaunt appearance and handicapped by a stutter, Sheila decided an obscure niche in the business world was the best solution for her life. She took commercial courses in high school, found a secretarial job and should have been reasonably contented. She wasn’t. Inside there was a nagging desire to become an actress.
She saved her money, enrolled in a New York drama school, ran out of cash, went back to secretarial work to save some more, this time joined a workshop course at the Negro Ensemble Theatre which gives serious training to aspiring actors. After a while, she changed to the New Federal Theatre and another workshop course of study.
In the summer of 1971, she met Richard Roundtree, star of ‘‘Shaft.’’ He referred her to his own manager, who accepted Miss Frazier as a_ client. Roundtree heard of an all-black film about ghetto existence that would soon be made. He encouraged the girl to attend a casting call for ‘‘Super Fly,”’ and spoke about her to the director, Gordon Parks Jr. Miss Frazier read a couple of scenes for Parks and producer Sig Shore. Ron O’Neal, already designated for the male lead, read with her. Then she returned to secretarial work, and the modeling she had begun to do for an interim livelihood, and waited. And waited some more. At length, she was notified that she had the part of Georgia in “Super Fly,’’ a Warner Bros. release.
It is that of a sensitive and loving girl involved with a bigtime dealer in cocaine. He longs to escape the dope racket, but all she can do to help is provide solace when his despair grows too great. At the critical point where he can make his break, she becomes the essential element that enables him to do so.
Ron O’Neal (left) and Carl Lee star as cocaine dealers in Warner
Bros.’ ‘‘Super Fly,’’ opening next___at the
Parks, Jr. directed the Sig Shore Production from a screenplay by
‘Super Fly’ Fights Upstream All the Way Home
“‘Super Fly,’’ now at the
Theatre, fulfills the standard
Hollywood legend about the movie that is pulled through against impossible odds and becomes a big success. The film was made in circumstances that would have, and have, in fact, defeated many other productions, and upon completion was grabbed up by
Warner Bros. for immediate release.
The money for ‘‘Super Fly’’ came from 18 black people who had never invested in a film, but did so this time because they liked what the script had to say. Among the 18 were dentists, financiers, businessmen in the black community but also pimps, madams and drug dealers. Even so, there was not enough money and ‘‘Super Fly’’ had to suspend shooting a couple of times because there was no raw film stock to work with.
The producer, Sig Shore, had made hundreds of television programs but not a_ featurelength movie, ‘‘Super Fly’’ was his first. The director, Gordon Parks Jr., had never directed a film. The author, Phillip Fenty, had never written a screenplay. The female lead, Sheila Frazier, had never given a paid performance either in a play or a film. Most of the technical crew were trainees from a Harlem project which is developing skills among young blacks.
The film was shot at the height of winter in locations which were 50% outdoor. The
company had to contend not only with shortage of money, weather and inexperience on the part of numerous members,
The Mayfield Experience Reaches the Screen
The new drama about black ghetto life, ‘‘Super Fly,’’ opening next at the Theatre, is marked by a whole gamut of firsts. One of the most important of these is the screen debut of Curtis Mayfield. In the world of soul music, Mayfield is something of a giant.
Mayfiend was born in Chicago. By the time he was 14 he had formed a soul group of his own, then joined forces with a lad somewhat older than he, Jerry Butler. The two enlisted others of like mind and founded
a group called The Roosters, in which Butler was the lead singer. The Roosters was not a particularly attractive title and was changed to The Impressions. In 1958, The Impressions achieved their first hit, a recording of ‘‘For Your Precious Love,’’ which sold 150,000 copies in two weeks and remains a classic of its genre.
When the group fell apart, Butler went out as a single. When the film ‘‘Lillies of
the Field’’ was produced, Mayfield was invited to prepare a
score for it. One tune in his score, ‘‘Amen,’’ became an enormous hit. Despite that, he did not compose the music for anothermovie until ‘‘Super Fly.”’
For ‘“‘Super Fly,’’ a Sig Shore Production for Warner Bros., directed by Gordon Parks Jr., Mayfield has written a set of words and music that work as a counter balance to what appears on screen. The movie shows the life and deeds of a cocaine dealer; the music sets up a critical commentary upon the supposed glamour and excite
ment of a man who appears to be a success, particularly in a recurring number called ‘‘Pusherman.’’
Mayfield and his_ group appear in ‘‘Super Fly,’’ and he is seen and heard while accompanying himself on _ electric guitar. To the millions who have bought his albums it will be a stimulating experience, for Mayfield comes off as an authoritative, wry and amusing performer.
Phillip Fenty wrote the story and screenplay.
but the crowds that always collect when making a movie. The worst of these were mobs of kids who got in the way of the camera, tripped over the cables, interfered with acting and directing. When objection was made, they would reply that it was their block, and before long adults would step into the confusion to defend the kids.
Power for lights and camera was simply taken from the nearest light pole. Often the company had no permit from the city authorities to shoot, but shot anyway. Indoor locations were usually provided by friends of friends, which meant long
treks to various parts of the city. Movie companies that might be able to furnish money for completion insisted on
seeing what had already been filmed, but the producer refused to show his footage. The actors had to wait for their money.
‘Super Fly’ Opens Today
At first glance Warner Bros.’ ‘‘Super Fly,’’ opening today at the Theatre, might appear to be just another in the line of currently popular black adventure films.
In reality the film is much more than that. True it is a story about blacks told in black terms but there the similarity ends.
‘‘Super Fly’’ may well be the first ever film that truly expresses the black reality and philosophy. It was written by Phillip Fenty and directed by Gordon Parks, Jr., both black, and perhaps even more importantly, it was made with money supplied entirely by blacks.
Toplining the cast are Ron O’Neal and Canada Lee. Sig Shore produced the contemporary film.
COPYRIGHT © 1972 BY WARNER BROS. INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.