Bold, fearless, charismatic, funny, witty and sexy as all get out, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, has still got it because he never lost it! The actor, writer, director and producer who starred in such 70’s box office hits as Black Caesar, Hammer, and Three the Hard Way has removed the word retirement from his vocabulary. Now at age 80, the former Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs’ gridiron player, who still sports his trademark cigar, most recently appeared on the cable network BET’s drama, Being Mary Jane where he portrayed a sexy senior who rekindles an old romance.
The Renaissance man has certainly not slowed down one bit. As a matter of fact, this past January, Williamson held his 9th annual Fred “The Hammer” Williamson Celebrity Invitational Golf Tournament in Palm Springs, California. The event benefits the Wounded Warrior Project, a non-profit that seeks to assist those members of our armed forces who have been severely injured during conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and in other locations throughout the world. Not surprisingly, buddies Richard Roundtree and Jim Brown, who were also 70’s box office action-hero draws, competed in the tournament.
Williamson, who has three adult children and four grandkids has been married for some thirty years to his beautiful wife, Linda. (Sorry ladies!) The poster boy for virility opened up and shared a piece of himself with 50BOLD.
50BOLD: You were a gridiron player with the NFL and AFL, what made you pursue an acting career?
Fred: I was a player for ten years, eight with the NFL and then I went to Canada and played for the Montreal Alouettes. I enjoyed myself in Montreal. I then got bored with the game and came back to the states. I had earned a degree in architectural engineering from Northwestern University and was working as an architect during the off-season at a steel company. After I stopped playing football, sitting behind a desk from 9-5 with an hour for lunch just did not fit my personality.
I started looking around for something else to do. I noticed that actress Diahann Carroll was the star of a popular TV sitcom at the time, Julia, and there was a weekly guest-starring role for actors to play a boyfriend. So I decided that I’m going to Hollywood to become Diahann Carroll’s boyfriend. I went directly to the show‘s lot and talked my way into a screen test. The producers signed me to a 3-year contract to play Diahann Carroll’s boyfriend.
50BOLD: Wow! Now that’s BOLD. I like that!
Fred: This is just a brief synopsis of a bold story. I went to the 20th Century Fox lot to see the creator and executive producer of Julia, Hal Kanter.
“Can I come in, I want to see Mr. Hal Kanter.”
“Do you have a drive-on pass?” “No,” I responded.
I said, “Okay, thank you.” I drove around the block, went to a phone booth, called back the gate and said, “This is Mr. Hal Kanter’s office, we are expecting Mr. Williamson. Will you let him on please?”
I then drove back around, and the guard said, “Oh yeah, we just got a call for you.”
And this was just the beginning of boldness!
50BOLD: And you stayed on Julia for three years?
Fred: I remained with the show for three years. We were shooting in the 20th Century lot. One day I was in the commissary, this guy walks by and said, “You’re The Hammer, right?” I said yeah. The man mentioned, how he had been working on a film with a football scene and knew nothing about the sport. He asked if I would direct the football stuff and be in the movie as well? The movie was M*A*S*H, it was my first. I played Spearchucker.
50BOLD: You were a beast on the football field. How did you get the nickname The Hammer?
Fred: Well, I’m a Northwestern University graduate. I made all-American every year as a pass receiver. I got drafted by the San Francisco 49ers. I wound up in the 49ers’ camp under coach Red Hickey, who switched me from wide receiver to cornerback because of my size (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) and aggressive nature. I didn’t know anything about covering receivers, so I just started knocking ’em down at the line of scrimmage. Around the third day of camp, Red said, ‘Stop hammering my players,’ so hence the nickname.
50BOLD: Wow, that’s something else! And it stayed with you ever since?
Fred: Well, that’s marketing, baby. It’s about marketing. You give your name to everybody that knows you by. That’s marketing. You don’t give it up.
50BOLD: And I know you posed for Playgirl magazine back in 1973. How was that experience? A kitten kept your most important bits under wraps.
Fred: Well, I posed for Playgirl because Burt Reynolds had just done so with his little skinny butt, posing on a white bearskin rug. I was the first Black celebrity centerfold, the year was 1973. I told an editor, “You’ve got something bigger and better than that. You’ve got The Hammer!” So this is how I landed a spread in Playgirl.
Fred: Yeah, but Jim Brown let his stuff show. I never let my stuff show. I was sitting on the floor with a little white pussy in front of me (he pauses for the effect), cat, cat, that is!
50BOLD: (Laughing) You need to stop. Are you like this all the time? I love it!
Fred: I don’t know? This is me. I’m The Hammer. I’ve got life. I’ve got energy. Well, what am I supposed to do?
50BOLD: You definitely are the total package. At one point, you relocated to Rome, did Po’ Boy Productions get started there?
Fred: Well, understand. Here’s what’s happening. I know that I want to be as famous in the movies as I was in football. I want to keep my image going. The guy that takes care of bad guys and throws them in jail. We didn’t have any positive images that were masculine when I was coming up. I had Sidney Poitier, he’s a great actor, but he didn’t hit anyone. If I had been in a few of Sidney’s circumstances, I would have slapped a whole bunch of people; Sidney didn’t do this. I needed to show a different side of blackness because at the time, all this stuff that was happening on the streets—rioting, the hosing down of Black people, we had no outlet. Black people had no heroes that they could get behind on the screen.
I made the decision to get into the film business, so that’s what did. I kept turning down roles. They wanted me to be a comic. They wanted me to be funny. There were enough funny Black people. There’s nothing wrong with funny but you need the other side too. The only way I could make changes was to create my own films.
Then I find out that every film with a Black actor in it was being sold in Europe for $3000. And I thought, how were films being sold for this amount? Were they trying to tell me that Blacks had no box office value in Europe and that they didn’t like us there? Are you crazy?
So I went to Europe. I went to Rome. And was treated the way I was expected to be treated. I took the first film I made for $75,000 called Adios Amigos with Richard Pryor. I took it to Cannes in 1973. I went to the hotel there where the filmmakers and celebs all hung out. I gave the maître d’ $50 a day to save a table for me on the patio outside where I’d lay out my movie posters. I had beautiful girls wearing T-shirts sporting the name of my film Adios Amigos and this is how I started selling my films.
Europeans were trying to buy my films for $3000. I said forget about it. It will never happen. I left there with $275,000 on a film that I made for $75,000. The smallest sale that I made was $20,000. The biggest one was $75,000. The $3,000 days are over with. But you know what? The buyers in Europe are smarter than the producers here. They want to buy the films cheap so that they can make more profit.
It’s easy to sell the image to a white producer or a white director that Blacks don’t sell in Europe. This is ka-ka. This is poo-poo. This is crazy. They love us over there!
50BOLD: Where do you get all of this marketing know-how from?
Fred: I’m not afraid to gamble or to take a chance. The worst thing you can say to me is “No.” All you do is make me more intelligent when you say “NO” because now, I have to go and learn how to defeat that “NO!”
50BOLD: What kinds of films did you make for Po’ Boy, all action films?
Fred: Only action. I’ve got three rules in Hollywood. One, you can’t kill me in the movie. Two, I have to win all my fights in a movie. Three, I get the girl at the end of the movie, if I want her. But listen, I had to give them that one to give them an out. I knew I wasn’t going to get that one, and they were okay with it. You want to win the fights and you don’t want to die, okay, we can handle that. The other one I knew they were going to have a problem with. So you have got to give them an out. You can’t just demand all three things; you’ve got to give them some out so they can feel like they’ve won something. I make my own movie, then I can get any girl I want.
50BOLD: Do you have a favorite film that you’ve done?
Fred: All my films are good. I don’t have a favorite.
50BOLD: Now, during the Blaxploitation era….
Fred: Yeah, but I don’t know what that means. What the hell does that mean?
50BOLD: You don’t like that terminology?
Fred: Who was being exploited? Black audiences were now seeing Black heroes because there were a lot more than ever before. Black actors were making more money than ever. Who the hell was being exploited? It only lasted four years. ‘They’ created this propaganda to destroy those films because of the costs to make them, $2, 3, 4 million. There were profits of $25, $30 million at the box office from these films, and these gains were hurting the big boys. It was hurting their market because we were taking audiences away from their films. I mean at a movie theater on 86th Street in New York City, for example, there were lines around the block for one of my films. Across the street at another cinema, a film was playing that costs millions to make but no one was standing in line to see it. Our films were biting into the big boy’s market.
50BOLD: I really don’t like that terminology blaxploitation either? What do you call it?
Fred: Well, they created it to destroy it. And in just four years it worked.
50BOLD: Back up, you said they created the term blaxploitation to describe the Black films of the time to destroy them?
Fred: They created the terminology. They created the press. The press began calling the film genre, blaxploitation films. And then what happened? Being Negroes, we follow like sheep, jumped on the bandwagon and said, “Yeah, those are blaxploitation movies.”
50BOLD: During that era was there a strong comradery amongst Black actors?
Fred: C’mon. What kind of comradery do Black people have? If we had it we’d be farther along, more progressive than we are today. But there is so much competition amongst Black folks that it is hard for the movement to be solid!
50BOLD: Not even today?
Fred: Yeah, if you open up a barbecue stand. You get a whole bunch of people. But when we start talking about complex businesses, then who’s going to be the boss? I remember trying to start a company with a whole bunch of brothers. Who’s going to run the company? What does it matter? We’ve got five guys. That means five different pictures, ten different pictures that we can interchange to be in. We couldn’t get past who’s going to be president!
50BOLD: So that’s why you went out and did your own thing?
Fred: One of the reasons, yeah. But you know what? I still reach back. Look at Original Gangstas. I had everyone in the film–Richard Roundtree, Jim Brown, Pam Grier, Ron O’Neal. Everyone!
50BOLD: You produced Original Gangstas?
50BOLD: I guess you know that you’re definitely a sex symbol.
Fred: I can understand that.
50BOLD: (laughs) I love you.
Fred: Ain’t nothing hanging on me that shouldn’t be hanging. I’m in shape. It’s all good.
50BOLD: Saying all that, do you have an exercise regimen that you follow?
Fred: Yeah, I’m an exercise guy and do so to stay in shape. A few barbells here and there. I do sit-ups to keep the stomach flat. I work on keeping the definition in my arms too. I’m not interested in muscles. I just want definition. I just want to keep what I’ve got. Looking like Charles Atlas, that’s not what I want to do.
50BOLD: I recently saw you on Being Mary Jane, I hadn’t seen you in a while. I was like alright…yes! It was good to see you.
Fred: It’s all good. But you know the kind of stuff that they offer me does not inspire me to do the work. I did Mary Jane because of my friend Richard Roundtree. He’s a regular on the show. I came on board for him. I thought it would be fun to work with my old buddy again. It was good.
50BOLD: Women were probably throwing themselves at you back in the day. Are they still doing it?
Fred: I refuse to answer that question.
50BOLD: Back in the day, did you have to beat them off with a stick?
Fred: I beat them off because I wasn’t interested in giving it up. They were interested in giving it up. But I wasn’t interested in giving it up. That’s not what was on my mind. My mind was about moving forward and taking a solid stance on what I stood for and this is what I’m interested in. So whenever you see Fred Williamson in a movie, you know he’s going to be The Hammer. I ain’t doing no funny. I ain’t doing no singing. I’m going to be strong. I might hit someone but in Roundtree’s TV show, I just stole his wife.
50BOLD: That was a lot though.
Fred: (laughs) Yeah, that was a lot. It shocked people. I come in to take his wife and find out that the son he had with her is really mine. Only The Hammer can pull that off.
50BOLD: So Mr. Williamson, what is on your bucket list? Do you have anything else left to do?
Fred: Yeah, I have to keep doing what I’m doing. I have to find ways to get financing because it is hard to get financing. They don’t want me to make my movies because it takes money away from them. So financing is getting hard. What I’m going to do, tomorrow, as a matter of fact, is leave for Stockholm.
I’m going over to Europe to put some ideas and packages together. If I have to go to Europe to do it, then that’s where I have to go.
50BOLD: Do you still have that Brown Sugar App?
Fred: Yeah, that’s still happening.
50BOLD: The app sells for $3.99 a month, what is it exactly?
Fred: For $3.99 a month, you can see every Black film that was ever made including all of the films I’ve done. You can see all of the Black stars, this is what the Brown Sugar app is all about.
50BOLD: And is the app tied to Bounce TV?
Fred: Bounce TV created it all. Bounce TV is the one network that is doing it.
50BOLD: Share one thing about you that people don’t know?
Fred: Now, if I told you that they would all know, wouldn’t they?
50BOLD: Maybe it’s not too serious.
Fred: I’m serious. Even though I say a lot of things and I have the spirit that I have. It’s all serious because if you play it back, it’s all real. Ain’t no BS in it. It’s all real. It’s straight to the point. People may not like what I say, but it’s straight to the point.
50BOLD: You’ve got that right. You don’t bite your tongue.
50BOLD: Has it ever gotten you in trouble, though?
Fred: My realness gets me in trouble all the time but this trait distinguishes the idiots from the real people. If you tell me something you have to explain yourself. People don’t offer any explanations about the stupid things they say. If you want to talk to me, explain yourself. I’m going to call you on it.
50BOLD: I just love your spirit. I wasn’t expecting this.
Fred: Well, even though I’m a Northwestern graduate, I still haven’t lost my soul baby girl.