Today marks the 7th anniversary of the death of Tamara Dobson. The six foot tall model turned actress started in the iconic 1973 film Cleopatra Jones. Tamara portrayed the larger than life, martial artist/undercover agent who changed the landscape for black women in film.
Diana Sands was an amazing actress who challenged the status quo of her day and portrayed a range of characters, never allowing others to use her race as a hindrance in her career.
Born August 22, 1934 in New York, Diana honed her craft and graduated from the Manhattan High School of the Performing Arts. Diana was an accomplished stage actress. She got her big break when she originated the role of Beneatha Younger in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and reprised her role in the film version along which costars Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee and Claudia McNeil (who also appeared in both the the stage and film versions).
In a fury of controversy, Diana landed the role of Doris in the 1964 stage play The Owl and the Pussycat. The role was originally written for a white actress and Alan Alda was cast as Diana’s romantic lead. More significant than her casting is the fact that none of the lines in the play were changed to accommodate her race.
In the theater, Diana often played Shakespearean roles that were written foe white actresses. She once said “race is not the only problem I have. I have all the problems of a woman, of a person, of a citizen. I know certain things about life that have nothing to do with color. Things that I want to express. ” As an actress, she managed to carve out a career that allowed her to do just that. In addition to A Raisin in the Sun, the role that I most remember Diana for is her performance as Fanny in The Landlord. I discovered this film a couple of years ago in Netflix and was struck by Diana’s stellar performance.
Prior to her death, Diana was set to play the title role in the movie Claudine but she had to quit because of her health. She recommended her friend Diahann Carroll who went on to be nominated for an Oscar. Diana lost her battle with cancer on September 21, 1973. When a person dies young, it is natural to wonder what they would have become. Diana was a star that could have achieved even greater heights had she lived longer. She is remembered as a talented woman who never allowed anything to keep her from her dream of acting.
Did you know that today is Yvette Nicole Brown’s birthday? Okay, if you are on Twitter, you probably do know that. But did you know that before Yvette was making us laugh every week as Shirley on Community she was a singer? Back in 1992, Yvette was pursing a music career and appeared in the Biv 10 video “1-4-All-4-1″ with several other artist in Michael Biven’s East Coast Family.” You can check her out at the 2:20 mark of the video.
Yesterday while searching for a movie to watch on Netflix, I came across the 1970 film, The Landlord. The film stars Beau Bridges as Elgar, a trust fund kid who buys himself a tenement building in Park Slope, Brooklyn with plans of moving out all the tenants and remodeling the building. However he soon grows fond of the residents and finds himself romancing two women in the process. The supporting cast includes Joyce Enders as Elgar’s mother, the incomparable Diana Sands as Fanny and Lou Gossett Jr. as her husband Copee. In an ineffable performance, Pearl Bailey plays Marge, the colorful resident that befriends Elgar and acclimates him to the building (after pulling a gun on him in their first encounter). The cast is rounded out by Marki Bey.
The Landlord, is significant not only for being one of the earliest films about gentrification, but it also marked the film debut of Marki Bey who played Lanie, the biracial dancer who becomes involved with Elgar. Marki Bey gave an impressive debut performance. She went on to star in two other films before getting her biggest break in 1974.
Marki Bey’s most memorable role came in 1974’s Blaxploitation/Zombie flick Sugar Hill. She played the lead role as Diana “Sugar” Hill, a woman who avenges the death of her boyfriend at the hands of some gangsters by enlisting the help of a voodoo priestess who creates a zombie mob to to do her bidding. Okay, I know it sounds crazy, but it was the 1970s and the movie is actually entertaining.
Sugar Hill costars Robert Quarry, Don Pedro Colley, Richard Lawson and Zara Cully as Mama Maitresse.Check out the trailer:
After Sugar Hill, Marki Bey went on to costar in the movie Hangup (aka Super Dude) and a series of television spots, including a recurring role on the show Starsky and Hutch as Officer Minnie Kaplan. I found a clip from the series on Youtube:
Marki Bey never achieved the level of success of many of her contemporaries. She was once quoted as saying: “These days I’m too light to be cast as black and I’m too dark to be cast as white and I’ll be darned if I’m going out and buy one of those Afro wigs. When I auditioned for ‘Purlie’ they said I was too light. People will hire you today if you look like you just stepped off a slave ship, but my family’s just been here too long for that.” By the end of the 1970’s, Marki Bey had left the acting world. Her last role was a guest spot on Trapper John, MD in 1979. Marki Bey made a rare public appearance in 2008 at a NYC screening of The Landlord presented by John Singleton as part of the AFI Series.
Although her acting career spanned for less than a decade, Marki Bey’s performances are memorable and solidify her spot in cinematic history.
Check out this flashback clip from one of ‘Love and Basketball.’ The movie was written and directed by reel sista Gina Prince-Blythewood. The film features what many consider to be the breakout performance of Sanaa Lathan.
This is one of my favorite clips from the film…”the break-up”