It goes without saying that Hollywood movie stars live in a world that is different from the one you and I inhabit. The struggle to get to the top of the film world is certainly rooted in hard work, burning desire, and unflinching determination. But once star status is attained, the daily grind is reduced to personal trainers, shopping, and power lunches at Le Dome. For most, this would be considered the good life. But Hollywood icon Pam Grier is not like most, and her idea of the good life is getting chains on her tractor to plow snow so she can get hay up to her horses. She starred in movies like Women in Chains, but now, Grier is the woman with chains, and for a Colorado girl, it doesnt get any better than that.
A veteran of almost fifty films, this legendary actress still commutes back home to Colorado when shes not on the set, and its that devotion to her Rocky Mountain roots that has kept her grounded.
The first thing I do when I get off the plane from L.A., or wherever Im working is to stop by and see my mom, said Grier. Then its off to my ranchette (in Franktown, Colorado) where I get on my boots, get out the Toro, and get out to the barn. Im a hands on person. Most stars wont do these kinds of things because of their nails or their outfits, but I dont let those restrictions keep me from my tractor or my horses.
Pam Grier is currently starring in the hit Showtime series, The L Word, but in sitting down and talking with her, the only L words that come to my mind are Lovely, Lyrical, and Luminescent. She is a beautiful, warm, and friendly woman who can make you forget that you are talking to one of the top action-role actresses of all time. Just so you know, Ive been smitten with Pam since I was 16 and saw her in Black Mama, White Mama, also released as Women in Chains.
Name one movie star you could envision hauling 85 bales of hay in the rain, other than Robert Redford. It keeps me strong mentally and physically- taking care of horses, Pam reveals.
Horses have been a part of her life since she was two. Living in Wyoming, where her mother is from, gave her an opportunity to ride anything I wanted. Pams eyes light up as she recalls her early childhood, and grinning, she went on. I just wanted to hug and ride horses, donkeys, pigs, goats, anything. Theres nothing better than riding and getting bucked off a goat.
Like many young girls, there were pictures of unicorns and Pegasus on her bedroom walls. My family had a draft horse, and one day I climbed up on the fence and got on him. It was my first time on a horse. He walked away with me on his back, and it was the most mesmerizing, hypnotic, sensation. I remember the breath, the snorting, the scent, and the feeling of the mane in my hands. It felt like I was on a huge ship setting sail.
While Pam was sailing away on the draft, people started looking for her-she had been gone hours. When they found me they didnt spank me, they gave me the horse, she said laughing. I sold pot holders so I could take care of him. Pam couldnt wait to grow up so she could learn to ride.
When I was older, we used to ride to the Cheyenne Frontier Days. It was heaven. There were no racial issues then because horse people were just horse people.
Fast forward several years later, out of high school, when Pam, on her way to enroll into UCLAs film school, kept getting pulled over by highway patrol officers because she looked like 60s political activist Angela Davis, who, at that time, was on the FBIs most wanted list for conspiring to free radical George Jackson from a courtroom in California.
Contrary to many published biographies of Pam, she didnt set out from Colorado to Los Angeles to be an actress. I wanted to be a camera operator, she explained. Cameras and lighting just fascinated me.
She left Colorado with her aunt, $33 in her pocket, and a bucket of chicken, because thats what you eat on the road.
Out-of-state tuition was so expensive at UCLA that Pam had to get five jobs to try to stay in L.A. for two years so she could get residency. While saving money and waiting for in-state status, she audited classes at UCLA and helped crew on student films. Pams many jobs consisted of receptionist at a mortuary; receptionist at talent agency APA, where Steve Martin, Isaac Hayes, and Goldie Hawn were clients; D.J. at a sports club where athletes like Jim Brown would frequent; receptionist for American International Pictures, the film company that produced Peter Fondas and Jack Nicholsons early pictures; and receptionist and intern for New World Films, the company of legendary film director and producer, Roger Corman.
After Pams shift of answering phones for New World, she would then start her intern job at the company, cleaning up the editing room and the editing machines at night. Corman hired USC film grads to cut his films at night, so Pam would clean up after Michael Mann, Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme, and Steven Spielberg.
Pam didnt act like an intimidated intern around those fledgling directors. After theyd finish cutting a film, theyd leave, and I would come in and clean up. Then theyd come back in to work some more, and Id say, you all clean up! I had an attitude, but they just trashed the place.
It was that attitude that caught the eye of Roger Corman. Roger had a role in a film for a strong in your face woman, and I was asked if I had ever considered acting? Pam didnt know anything about acting but came over from one of her other jobs for an audition. She showed up at New World, and the casting agent said to her, Havent we seen you somewhere before? And Pam said, Yeah, I clean up this place at night.
They liked her attitude, and how natural she was, and offered her $500 a week to shoot for six weeks in the Philippines. I was making a $150 a week and that was doing five jobs! she laughs. That film was the Russ Meyer cult classic, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, which, interestingly enough was written by renowned film critic, Roger Ebert.
For a woman that didnt want to be an actress, Pam has had an incredible career, and in 1997, Quentin Tarrantino put her in the starring role of Jackie Brown, a movie he wrote and directed in tribute to her and her film career.
"I never did get California residency, she said laughingly.
Being a certified film buff, I asked Pam if she had a good story about working on the set. She related a story about working on the Italian film, The Arena.
Pam explained, In this movie, I was supposed to ride Donatello, the lead horse, up to a mark for the camera shot. I had to ride him with no bit. So I rode him up to the mark and someone from the crew popped Donatello on the butt with a towel and he just took off with the rest of the horses galloping after us.
Now, right next to where we were filming, the legendary director, Federico Fellini was shooting his acclaimed film, Amacord. I came galloping onto his set, bareback and barefoot, wearing a leopard skin and a big afro. Fellini stopped the shooting and yelled, My dream come true!
When Pam decided that acting was what she was going to do, she was determined to do it from Colorado where her family still lives. She has four horses in Colorado, and Legato, her Holsteiner, that is in training in Langely, British Columbia, just outside of Vancouver, where she starts shooting the fourth season of The L Word in June.
Her Colorado horses are Chancey, a rescued saddlebred mare; Mattisse, a retired Dutch Warmblood grand prix horse, who Pam saved when he was injured; Maxwell, a retired Thoroughbred with Secretariat in his blood line, and Buddy, a QH/TB off the track, who is so calm even her mom rides him.
Pams passion for horses is only matched by her passion for two wonderful programs here in Colorado. The Urban Farm is close to Pams heart, and does wonderful work with inner city kids by getting them to interact with and ride horses in a rural setting, giving them a chance to learn responsibility, caring for animals, and learning about agriculture and working on a farm.
The other program that Pam gives her time to is People and Animals Living Synergistically (PAALS). PAALS is located at the Dreampower Ranch near Castle Rock and provides shelter, care, and medical support for both animals and people in need, whether they are abused, disabled, unwanted, or homeless.
Pam Grier is an incredible woman who has achieved iconic status in movies and television, yet still comes off as real and down to earth.
be around and empowered by horses is so therapeutic, she explains.
I need horses, I need Colorado - to go fishing and tie flies with
my grandfather. This gives me my grounding.
Pam Grier has lived her life with an attitude that reveals a woman who knows who she is, and where shes come from. Her successful career of over 35 years has yet to slow down, and she continues to live the good life in front of the camera, and in Colorado. Its the kind of life that comes to one who gets it!
Pam will be headlining Grand Prix Nights, June 24th, a benefit for PAALS at the Castle Rock Fairgrounds, in conjunction with the Castle Rock Horse Shows, June 17 & 24th. For more information go to www.paals1.org
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