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Greased Lightning

Greased Lightning(1977)

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teaser Greased Lightning (1977)

After making his feature film debut in 1967, it took Richard Pryor a decade to be given a star vehicle of his own--mostly due to the comedian's profanity laden shtick. Pryor had scored big as Gene Wilder's costar in Paramount's Silver Streak (1976), prompting Universal to feature him prominently in ads for Car Wash (1976) despite the fact that his appearance was limited to eight minutes. Seeing his potential as a headliner, producer Steve Krantz persuaded Car Wash director Michael Schultz to adapt Lina Wertmller's political satire The Seduction of Mimi (1972) for Pryor, relocating the action from the vineyards of Sicily to the citrus groves of California under the title Which Way Is Up? (1977). During preproduction of that film, Pryor agreed to star for Melvyn Van Peebles in Greased Lightning (1977), a Warner Bros. biopic of Wendell Scott, a World War II veteran and moonshine runner who overcame racism as a stock car racer on the Dixie Circuit to become NASCAR's first African-American competitor. Artistic differences with his producers led to Van Peebles' departure from the production, leaving Pryor to ask Schultz to fill the void. The cast and crew of Greased Lightning (whose number also included Blaxploitation icon Pam Grier and Cleavon Little, who had been cast as Black Bart in Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles when Pryor proved too controversial) encountered more than their share of racial prejudice on location in rural Georgia, with locals sabotaging scenes by making noise whenever they heard Schultz call "Action!" Schultz' workaround was to begin a take by calling "Cut!" and finish with "Action!" so that distractions would begin only after he had the scene in the can.

By Richard Harland Smith

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