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Friday, July 16, 2010

Bon Voyage, Mon Vonetta...

One of my very first and most lasting cinematic crushes has sadly made her transition. Actress Vonetta McGee, who appeared in such films as "Melinda," “Blacula,” “Hammer”,“Shaft in Africa,” and the Clint Eastwood thriller "The Eiger Sanction" died last Friday, on July 9th, in Berkeley, Calif.

She was 65 years old.

She was blessed with a remarkable presence, and it's hard to say what it was about her that initiated my boyhood crush. I just liked her, and she drew me into her silent spell, much like a rose draws you in with its singular fragrance. Even in an industry so thick with a populace of pretty people, she possessed one of those stunning faces and shimmering talents that stood out, and like some haunting hypnotist, she made you remember her. She was not only compelling and very beautiful, in a quiet, non-showy way, but she had loads of subtext written inside those glorious eyes of hers.

In “Blacula” (1972), Ms. McGee portrayed the love interest of Mamuwalde (William Marshall), an African prince who, after an ill-fated trip to Transylvania centuries earlier, re-emerges in modern Los Angeles as a member of the thirsty undead.

Reviewing the film in The New York Times, Roger Greenspun called Ms. McGee “just possibly the most beautiful woman currently acting in movies.”


Personally, I liked that this critic didn't place her inside that marginal professional ghetto of some all-too-common yet limited racial context, like 'the most beautiful black woman', but instead, he rightly acknowledged her universal appeal.

In “Hammer” (1972), Ms. McGee appeared opposite Fred Williamson in the tale of a young black prizefighter. In “Shaft in Africa” (1973), the third installment in the private-eye series starring Richard Roundtree, she played an emir’s daughter.

Ms. McGee’s other films include “The Kremlin Letter” (1970); “Detroit 9000” (1973); “Thomasine & Bushrod” (1974); and “The Eiger Sanction” (1975), directed by and starring Clint Eastwood.

Lawrence Vonetta McGee, named for her father, was born in San Francisco on Jan. 14, 1945. While studying pre-law at San Francisco State College, she became involved in community theater. She left college before graduating to pursue an acting career.

Ms. McGee’s first film work was in Italy, where her credits include the 1968 films “Faustina,” in which she played the title role, and “Il Grande Silenzio” (“The Great Silence”). After seeing her Italian work, Sidney Poitier arranged for her to be cast in her first American film, “The Lost Man” (1969), in which he starred.

In later years she always maintained her beauty and quiet elegance. She would have recurring roles on several television shows, among them “Hell Town,” “Bustin’ Loose,” “L.A. Law” and “Cagney & Lacey,” on which she portrayed the wife of Detective Mark Petrie, played by Carl Lumbly. Ms. McGee and Mr. Lumbly were married in 1986.

Besides Mr. Lumbly, Ms. McGee is survived by their son, Brandon Lumbly; her mother, Alma McGee; three brothers, Donald, Richard and Ronald; and a sister, also named Alma McGee.

Though she was associated in public memory with the genre, Ms. McGee deplored the term “blaxploitation.” It wasn’t the “black” that troubled her — that was a source of pride. It was the “exploitation.”

“She was constantly a person who preferred roles where women got to make choices,” Ms. Nayo said on Friday. “Where women got to be strong.”

* * * *

Rest in Peace, Lovely Sister. I shall always remember you with a certain youthful smile inside my heart.

One Love.



Felicia Monique said...

I remember her ... thanks for sharing her with us.

Lovebabz said...

When we talk about great love stories hers with Carl Lumbly cannot be forgotten. They were lovely to look at. I had no idea she passed. Thanks for posting this. Truly.

Tia's Real Talk said...

Wow..... she was beautiful! I remember my first crush too! I used to also wish the Marvin Gaye was my daddy! I don't know why..please don't ask. lol The mind of a child! ;)
Thanks for sharing!

Everlearning said...

Thank you for sharing, I always admired Vonetta... such a graceful & beautiful lady. I always think people like her would be around forever.

D-Place said...

Thanks for posting this. Ironically I was thinking about her last week because I was trying to find pictures of LonetteMcKee. I remember always mixing their names up. I had a crush on both of these ladies back in the day.

CurvyGurl ♥ said...

Ms. McGee was definitely a class act. I enjoyed her acting but didn't know much about her career, thanks for posting the details!

Anonymous said...

She was gorrr jussssss!

Reggie said...

She was truly a beautiful woman.

Val said...

Nice Tribute, Lin. She was so beautiful.

Chet said...

Ms. McGee was truly one of the most beautiful sistahs in Hollywood. I've had the opportunity to see most of her work back in the day.She will be missed. Thank you for bringing her death to our attention, the media didn't mention it in some locales.

Teri and the cats of Furrydance said...

Vonetta...the youtube video made me smile a youthful smile free, lovely lady.