Thomasine and Bushrod
Cast & Crew
Following the criminal adventures of Thomasine & Bushrod--a black Bonnie & Clyde type duo, who set out to correct the unbalanced distribution of cash in their urban surroundings, by spreading their acquired wealth among Indians, Mexicans, poor whites and "other colored people."
Jackson D Kane
Gene Anderson Jr.
Robert J. Anderson
Frank C Decot
Thomasine & Bushrod
In later years, Superfly's white producer, Sig Shore, claimed that the film was largely his work and that Parks, Jr. was given directing credit and Phillip Fenty sole writing credit because it was good for box office that the feature maintain a largely African-American profile. (Shore averred that Gordon Parks, Jr.'s principal role was as a conduit to his father, who contributed cash necessary for equipment rentals.) If true, the gambit paid off, with Superfly emerging as one of the highest-grossing films of 1972, a cash cow for distributor Warner Brothers, and a significant calling card for Gordon Parks, Jr. If he had been a nominal director on the set of Superfly, Parks got busy with his next two films, both released in 1974. Three the Hard Way pitted the Blaxploitation supergroup of Jim Brown, Fred Williamson and Jim Kelly against an army of white supremacists while Thomasine & Bushrod concerned a black outlaw couple enjoying love and larceny in the American southwest in the early years of the 20th Century.
Thomasine & Bushrod was written by Max Julien, a black Hollywood actor specializing in loose cannon roles in such films as Jules Dassin's Up Tight! (1968) and Richard Rush's Getting Straight (1970). Julien had just scored with moviegoers and critics as the star of Michael Campus' The Mack (1973), which charted the rise and fall of an Oakland, California pimp, and was a hit for independent distributors Cinerama Releasing. Julien called upon Harvey Bernhard, producer of The Mack, to put his weight behind the fundraising for Thomasine & Bushrod and to cast Julien's real life girlfriend Vonetta McGee as his leading lady. (Julien had written the 1973 film Cleopatra Jones for McGee but was powerless to stop Warner Brothers from installing fashion model Tamara Dobson in her place.) With Gordon Parks, Jr. signed to direct and a budget of $960,000, the production got under way in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on the J. W. Eaves Movie Ranch and at the historic Puye Cliffs.
Traveling light, Parks and his stars brought only a few Hollywood players to the New Mexico locations. White actor George Murdock had appeared with Julien in The Mack but had begun his long career in films and television with a bit in the Hubert Cornfield race drama Pressure Point (1962), starring Sidney Poitier. Black actor Glynn Turman had a resume richer in roles on the stage and TV when he signed on to play Thomasine & Bushrod's unreliable partner in crime but acclaim awaited him as the star of Michael Schultz's Cooley High (1975) and in supporting roles in Ingmar Bergman's The Serpent's Egg (1977) and Joe Dante's Gremlins (1984). Juanita Moore had appeared opposite Julien previously in Uptight! and The Mack but her claim to fame for white audiences at this time was as Lana Turner's black maid in Douglas Sirk's Imitation of Life (1959). Cast in smaller roles were Chicago actor Jason Bernard (Steve Martin's blind buddy in Carl Reiner's All of Me, 1984), and New Mexico native Geno Silva, who achieved cult infamy as the silent assessino who takes out Al Pacino's coked up drug kingpin in Brian DePalma's Scarface (1983).
Released in April 1974, Thomasine & Bushrod was a moderate money-maker for Columbia Pictures. Though the studio had okayed the film's agit-prop publicity campaign (which identified its protagonists as "known to have many friends among Mexicans, Indians, Poor Whites, and Other Colored People"), the film was withdrawn before it could be declared a success. In interviews of the day, leading lady McGee blamed Columbia for cheating the feature of a proper publicity campaign while alleging that it was Julien who had directed the film, not Parks. Julien and McGee promoted Thomasine & Bushrod as contestants on the CBS afternoon game show Tattletales. The Julien-McGee union ended in 1977, by which time Julien's career had dead-ended; he would not appear in another feature for twenty years. McGee enjoyed the more diverse resume, with roles in Clint Eastwood's The Eiger Sanction (1975), Alex Cox's Repo Man (1984) and Charles Burnett's To Sleep With Anger (1990) before her death in 2010.
However he was heralded in his lifetime as a guiding force of New Black Hollywood, Parks remained ambivalent about being branded "a black director." In interviews, the filmmaker waffled between embracing the association as a badge of honor and rejecting it as limiting. Nonetheless, after shooting the interracial love story Aaron Loves Angela (1975) in New York, Parks quit America for Africa, where he established the production company Panther Films and devoted himself to supporting the Kenyan film industry. On April 3, 1979, Parks was scouting film locations on the Masai Mara Game Reserve near the border of Tanzania when the plane in which he was a passenger crashed shortly after takeoff and burst into flames; also killed were Canadian pilot Ted Gurgis, Kenyan photographer Peter Gilfillian and bush guide Myles Burton. Parks' struggle to maintain an identity distinct from both his father and the easy categorization of his skin color continued even after his death. For twenty four hours after the announcement of his passing, one New York TV station reported that it had been Gordon Parks, Sr. who perished in the tragic crash at Kenya's Wilson Airport.
Producer: Harvey Bernhard, Max Julien Director: Gordon Parks, Jr. Writer: Max Julien Cinematographer: Lucien Ballard Music: Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson Editor: Frank C. Decot Cast: Vonetta McGee (Thomasine), Max Julien (Bushrod), Glynn Turman (Jomo J. Anderson), George Murdock (Marshall Bogardie), Juanita Moore (Pecolia), Joel Fluellen (Nathaniel), Jackson D. Kane (Adolph Smith), Bud Conlan (Mr. Tyler), Jason Bernard (Seldon), Geno Silva (Taffy), Harry Luck (Sheriff), Ben Zeller (Scruggs), Kip Allen (Jenkins). C-95m.
by Richard Harland Smith
Blaxploitation Films by Mikel J. Koven (Oldcastle Books, 2010)
A Hungry Heart: A Memoir by Gordon Parks (Washington Square Press, 2007)
Interview with Sig Shore by Steve Ryfle, Shock Cinema no. 28, 2005
Black Directors in Hollywood by Melvin Donalson (University of Texas Press, 2003)
Women of Blaxploitation: How the Black Action Film Heroine Changed American Popular Culture by Yvonne D. Sims (McFarland & Company, 2006)
Interview with Gordon Parks, Jr. by Mike Baron, Boston Phoenix, July 2, 1974
* Additional research: Chris Poggiali, Steve Ryfle
Thomasine & Bushrod
Released in United States 1974
Released in United States 1995
Released in United States 1974
Released in United States 1995 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) as part of program "Blaxploitation, Baby!" June 23 - August 10, 1995.)