Carol Speed, the leading lady of cult blaxploitation films “The Mack” and “Abby,” who used her sex appeal for poignant drama in one and campy horror in the other, died Jan. Muskogee, Okla. She was 76 years old. .
His family announced his death in a statement posted online. He did not specify the cause.
A button-nosed Californian, Mrs. Speed became a B-movie headliner in the 1970s playing a demon and a prostitute. For these roles, her fresh-faced beauty provided dramatic contrast, which made it all the more striking for her to portray a character plagued by sinister longing or entangled in a melancholy situation.
The blaxploitation genre – a flurry of low-budget films in the 1970s featuring black actors and dealing with gritty urban themes – often featured female characters forced against their will into danger and misery. But it also granted them powers unusual for women in mainstream Hollywood films of the time. Like blaxploitation’s most famous actress, Pam Grier, Ms. Speed fit that mold.
In the horror film “Abby” (1974), she played the title character, a middle-class marriage counselor in Louisville, Ky., who dotes on her husband and sings in the church choir where he preaches. – until she was possessed by an ancient Nigerian devil known as Eshu. It was the kind of movie where the resident exorcist wears bell bottoms and a luxurious mustache, and Satan’s playground is under a disco ball.
Ms. Speed’s smile made her face wrinkle, a seemingly sweet gesture that she turned into a twisted instrument for expressions of lust and violent glee. During one streak, she flipped between embodying a distraught loving wife and a demon with super strength.
A few months after its Christmas Day release, The New York Times ranked “Abby” among the most financially successful B movies of its time. However, following a lawsuit from Warner Bros. who accused him of stealing the plot of “The Exorcist” (1973), the film was pulled from theaters. In the years to come, seeing “Abby” became a rare and sought-after opportunity for fans.
Mrs. Speed appeared in several other blaxploitation films, including “The Mack” (1973), a classic of the genre in which she played the girlfriend and head prostitute of the pimp protagonist (played by Max Julien, who died this month). In the 1970s, Ms. Speed also starred in other low-budget films and TV shows, including “Julia” and “Sanford and Son.”
“It seems like everywhere I turn I’m getting some offer or another,” she told Jet magazine in 1973.
Mrs. Speed made frequent appearances in the black press of this era as a quotable and photogenic celebrity. She was one of the “Bachelorettes ’72” featured in Ebony, and she was featured on the July 1976 cover of Jet, which said she “has often been characterized as a sex symbol”. A photo of her at a 1975 charity tennis tournament appeared in Jet alongside photos of Bill Cosby and Aretha Franklin at the same event. Her 1980 semi-autobiographical novel, “Inside Black Hollywood,” was “outrageous” and became “the talk of the town,” according to Jet.
Carol Ann Bennett Stewart was born on March 14, 1945 in Bakersfield, California to Cora Valrie Stewart and Freddie Lee Stewart. At San Jose City College, she directed a popular production of “The Bronx Is Next,” Sonia Sanchez’s play about black revolutionaries. She quickly received a scholarship to study at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.
Her career began at a casino in Reno, Nevada, where she worked as a backing vocalist for pop star Bobbie Gentry.
Ms. Speed’s real life had its share of blaxploitation style drama. While filming “The Mack”, her boyfriend was shot and killed in Berkeley, California. At that time, she was struggling to pay for her house in Hollywood Hills, trying to support her son, Mark Speed, and kicking another man out of her. lodge. He left, but he took a lot of his belongings with him, even his bedspread.
Next, Ms. Speed was cast in the film for which she would become best known. “Abby took me out of California on a new adventure,” she said in an interview posted on a website dedicated to “Abby” director William Girdler.
She is survived by one sister, Barbara Morrison, and one grandson.
While filming “Abby,” Ms. Speed said, multiple tornadoes ripped through Louisville and a mansion where the actors had attended a lavish party was destroyed. When Ms. Speed appeared on set in her demonic outfit, the generator began to malfunction.
Perhaps she lived her role too well. Her colleagues were shaken, Ms Speed said, adding: ‘The crew had almost started to believe I was possessed by the mighty sex-crazed Eshu.’