Vonetta McGee is better known for her roles in many 1970s blaxploitation films. However, she appeared to have an exciting love life with co-star Max Julien. Inside the life of the American actress.
American actress Vonetta McGee was born in 1945 when roles for African American women were scarce and often insulting. A native of San Francisco, she attended San Francisco State College, where she studied pre-law.
At college, McGee began acting as part of the Black Theatre group called Aldridge Players West. A few years later, the actress left college before graduation to fully pursue a career in the movie industry outside the United States.
Promotional shot of actress Vonetta McGee for the movie 'Shaft in Africa' in 1973. | Photo: Getty Images
MCGEE'S EARLY CAREER
McGee's journey to greatness was filled with various difficulties, especially as a black woman, but in 1968, she finally got her big break. She landed her first roles in the Luigi Magni-directed comedy films "Faustina" and "The Great Silence."
Although many critics pointed out that the movies did not interest many people, McGee succeeded in catching the attention of the film director, Sidney Poitier. Poitier requested that the actress return to the US and officially got her into Hollywood.
On McGee's return, Poitier secured her roles in two American movies— "The Lost Man" and "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner," where she was first introduced to the American audience. The star also landed roles in movies like "The Kremlin Letter" and "The Big Bust Out."
At the time, the Blaxploitation era was slowly but steadily emerging in an industry that had been profoundly racist until then. Civil rights movements inspired the genre and sought to make black people appear as heroes onscreen.
In summary, Blaxploitation hired black people to do their movies for black people. Not long after her prominent roles in the late 1960s, McGee went on to bag leading roles in several blaxploitation films like "Shaft In Africa," "Blacula," "Detroit 9000," "Hammer," amongst others.
Even though the actress gave outstanding performances in the films mentioned above, she never liked the label "blaxploitation." McGee compared it to racism, noting that she preferred to label the movies as "black-film genre."
Vonetta McGee appearing in the ABC TV movie 'Superdome' in 1978. | Photo: Getty Images
MCGEE AND JULIEN'S ROMANCE STORY
Despite her thoughts on the name of the label, McGee continued giving outstanding performances in blaxploitation films. She left many stunned after her appearance in "Thomasine & Bushrod." McGee acted in the movie alongside fellow Hollywood star Max Julien.
Julien, who wrote and co-produced the film, acted as Bushrod, while McGee started as Thomasine. The pair were regarded as the African American version of Bonnie and Clyde.
The actor said McGee had more talent than she was allowed to show.
Thomasine and Bushrod were thieves between 1911 and 1915 who fancied themselves as Robinhood. Julien and McGee acted as onscreen spouses; however, the lovebirds were also romantically involved in real life.
Although Julien and McGee became known as the "non-married black couple" by many, they lived together in a time where a couple was considered married after a certain period.
Vonetta McGee as Thomasine in the movie "Thomasine & Bushrod" , circa 1974. | Photo: Getty Images
THE MARVIN LAW
These two, McGee and Julien, were head over heels in love with each other and went as far as acquiring properties together. However, as with many other non-married couples, their long relationship was put to the test after a new law known as the "Marvin" law was enacted.
The law stated that if a couple decided to break up their snug housekeeping arrangement, but one of the partners felt short-changed, they could sue to acquire a share of any property accrued during the partnership.
Vonetta McGee in a scene from the film 'Hammer', circa 1972. | Photo: Getty Images
The new law sparked a series of thoughts and comments from several celebrities, including Julien and McGee. They believed that the law meant that the government could infringe upon their freedom, which was a disadvantage.
However, he revealed if anything happened to one of them, the other partner would get the properties and other holdings. Julien also said he would want McGee to have everything and be comfortable if they ever split up.
WAS IT ALL A LIE?
Sadly, after dating for seven years, the lovebirds ended their romance with a friendly trial separation. Sources revealed that McGee went to her and Julien's apartment in California and moved her things out.
Vonetta McGee wearing glasses in a scene from the film 'Brothers', circa 1977. | Photo: Getty Images
Many hoped that Julien would stay true to his words and give the actress all the comfort she may need amid their separation. After moving out, McGee moved into a two-bedroom apartment, where she lived with her sister, Alma.
The "Hammer" actress also spoke candidly about her relationship with Julien. McGee compared the pain of their split to amputating an arm, but she noted that the breakup was a necessity.
According to the mother of one, she and the actor wanted to date other people. McGee said that she always learned from other people and was often interested in how people lived until she met them.
Portrait photo of Vonetta McGee, circa 1974. | Photo: Getty Images
LIFE AFTER JULIEN
The Hollywood star's life went on excellently after her separation, with the actress getting more roles. In 1984, she acted as the wife of detective Mark Petrie in "Cagney & Lacey."
Carl Lumbly played detective Mark Petrie, and not long after their onscreen love affair, the duo fell in love in real life. In 1986, they moved a step further in their relationship by walking down the aisle.
Two years after they tied the knot, McGee and Lumbly welcomed their first child and son, Brandon. After giving birth, the actress continued her career, though less actively.
Actress Vonetta McGee attends the NBC Fall TV Affiliates Party in Los Angeles on May 12, 1985. | Photo: Getty Images
Unfortunately, Vonetta McGee finally passed away on July 9, 2010, after suffering a cardiac arrest; she was 65. McGee was survived by her husband, son, mother, sister, and three brothers.
A lot of movie stars paid tribute to the actress, including fellow "Hammer" actor Williamson. The actor said McGee had more talent than she was allowed to show because everything was perceived as a black project. At the end of it all, McGee was fiercely loved.
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