Sunday, July 30, 2017
Judy Pace - A class act for the ages
Judy Lenteen Pace. June 15, 1942. Beautiful. Skilled. Underrated. Daughter of an airplane mechanic and a dressmaker. Sister to singer Jean Pace.
I first encountered this lady when she played villainess, Vicki Fletcher on the old TV show Peyton Place. Loved her part. She was a dark-skinned beauty who had not been cast as a helpless female or a maid or a magical person of color. Why does that matter you ask? Because "America" had never seen a dark-skinned,Black actress that had not been a "Mammy" before. They were only used to actress with her phenotype playing maids, servants and usually groveling. Judy didn't play that. She was sexy, svelte and smooth-talking. Oh, honey. "America" was shook. Viewers wrote letters and called the network. All sorts of calamity ensued. They protested. "How dare this woman NOT be a subservient character! This must stop!" Oh my. Such fragility. She stayed on the show until her character played out and then she went on to other shows
Anyhoo, I was only a kid but I recall dinners around the dining room table where my youngest uncle (The Revolutionary! LOL) would try to draw my hard-to-impress grandfather into discussion about how "groundbreaking" this was. My mom used to nod in agreement. My Grandma used to quietly keep serving the food and my grandfather used to grunt. He was not a TV watcher. Later, when Pace received an Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series for another TV show The Young Lawyers, Grandpa got impressed. He remarked, "Well, I guess she's good, she won something." Me? I just loved her because she was b-a-d in everything. Do you hear me? Michael Jackson B-A-D.
Anyway, another fantastic break came for her. She became famous for her guest shots on TV shows, TV movies (Brian's Song for one opposite Billy Dee Williams, Shelley Fabares and James Caan) and did a lot of films. Many were blaxpoitation. Whatevs. I ADORED them. Each and everyone. Her biggest break came when she did a show called Owners with two other young, hungry actresses - Farrah Fawcett and Jaclyn Smith. Another show on ABC was in development and since the trio had such good chemistry, they were first choice to star in it. But it was not to be. When it came down to "America,"' the sponsors and plain old prejudice, ABC choked which was weird because Pace had delivered for them with Peyton Place years before. I suppose visions of all the hate mail they'd get for YEARS if they picked Judy even if the show were a hit was dancing in their heads. Soooooo, Charlie's Angels proceeded without Pace and the part went to Kate Jackson. And you know the rest. It made household names of these women.
Side note: The same nonsense happened to Bruce Lee in the early 70s too. ABC Network executives saw his work as Cato in The Green Hornet and supposedly "absolutely adored" it. Lee was promised the lead in a new kind of TV Westen once the particulars were squared away. The execs pledged to call him. Well, the particulars got squared away and Lee got no call except the wake up call. He lost the lead to David Carradine. ABC shot and aired that new kind of Western, Kung Fu, without Lee. He sat at home and watched it premiere like the rest of us.
In any case, I loved Judy's tenure in Hollywood. I saw EVERYTHING she did. Twice married (first to fellow actor, the late Don Mitchell and then to another groundbreaker, the late baseball great Curt Flood), Ms.Pace is the mother of two daughters, survived the nuttiness of Hollywood and is busy today.