Abby's not just my favorite Girdler movie; it's my all-time favorite B-movie. And Carol Speed's performance as a devoted housewife who plunges into a seamy underworld of demons, decadence, and disco balls is what earned this film a special place in my heart. Therefore, it's a personal honor to present the following interview. I'd like to extend a heartfelt thank-you to Carol for sharing her thoughts on Abby with William Girdler.com.
(Also check out Carol's new Official Website, now part of the William Girdler.com web family.)
WG.com: When did you meet William Girdler?
Carol Speed: I believe I first met William Girdler on the set of Abby. I thought he was a cool country white boy. Even though I had never seen any of his films, I trusted him completely as a director.
During the 70s there were not many roles for black actresses. As far as I was concerned, William Girdler was giving me a golden opportunity.
Compared to being on tour in Lexington (Big Bird Cage and Savage) with a white theatre owner who didn't realize he was a bigot, William Girdler was like a knight in shining armor.
How did you land the role of Abby? What was going on in your life when you accepted the part?
While filming The Mack, I started dating Frank Ward. About a week or two after we left Oakland, Frank Ward along with a woman were gunned down in Berkley, California.
Well, to say the least, it was traumatic for me. I was also living in a house on Queen Road (Hollywood Hills) that I couldn't afford by myself. I had a child (Mark Speed) to support. I was in the process of putting a so-called friend (male) out of the house. To add insult to injury, while filming Sanford and Son with Redd Foxx, my so-called friend broke into my house and stole everything - even the bedspread!
Abby was a low-budget production. They originally had another woman to play the role, but she was very demanding. She wanted a personal masseuse on the set. They couldn't afford it.
So when David Baumgorten (Agency of the Performing Artist) telephoned and asked me if I needed a masseuse while filming - I happily said 'no.' He said, "Good. Pick up the script Abby from AIP. You'll leave for Louisville in two or three days."
The script reminded me of The Three Faces of Eve which starred Paul Newman's wife. I thought Abby was a wonderful vehicle to show off my acting. I didn't give the Yoruba religion that much thought. I started memorizing Abby's lines. I was also very comfortable with Eshu. Voodoo doesn't bother me. It's part of being African.
(CLICK HERE to watch William Marshall mock the powers of Eshu. Mpeg movie: 671 KB.)
Abby gave me the opportunity to continue to hold my own. I made Time Magazine and was interviewed on the Los Angeles evening news. After all, I was surrounded by superstars and players - Monte Kay, Flip Wilson, Redd Foxx, George Cailin, Manhattan Transfer, Diahann Carroll etc. I needed my own thunder.
Most important of all, Abby came along at a time when I needed to put the ugliness of Frank Ward's murder behind me. Abby took me out of California into a new adventure in Louisville.
You already had a remarkable amount of acting experience under your belt by the age of 23. How did you tackle Hollywood at such a young age? What made you interested in acting?
When I was about twelve, Santa Clara County was a rapidly growing area in California. It originally was an agricultural valley that had cherry, apricot, peach, and plum groves. It also had grapes with wineries, as well as dairy farms. However, from the influx of people and the invention of the computer as well as electronics, it grew into Silicon Valley.
One good thing about the growth was that cultural events were added. There were field trips to San Francisco where we saw Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur -- Marlon Brando in Mutany on the Bounty.
Between high school and college, I worked for the airlines. Right after I returned from Italy, I enrolled at San Jose City College. While there, I became the first black homecoming queen in Santa Clara County. I enrolled in San Jose State University one semester later. However, I still kept taking classes at San Jose City College. This was due to the fact that San Jose University was recruiting black students from Los Angeles to integrate the campus. Yet their basic courses were watered down, because of the difference in the education levels. My mentor at San Jose City insisted on me taking regular courses ... sidestepping the bonehead courses at San Jose State University.
I started teaching a drama class at San Jose City College. At that time a lot of members of the Black Student Union felt left out of the arts. So I produced and directed Sonia Sanchez's The Bronx is Next using the students as cast. It was so successful that the crowd was overflowing. We had board members from the San Jose Light Opera attending as well as a State Senator.
During the time I attended San Jose State, I co-hosted a talk radio show called "Face The Truth." We covered the unrest on the college campuses across the United States. We especially dug deep into the racial issues that were going on in the San Francisco Bay Area. Then right after John Carlos and Tommy Smith made their black power salute for justice for blacks in America, we interviewed them. The next semester "Face The Truth" didn't receive funding.
I left San Jose State University for The American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. I was the first black student to ever receive a scholarship. It was wonderful. My days were spent at the conservatory as well as enjoying the beauty of San Francisco.
Even though American Conservatory Theatre was tops, they weren't using very many black actors in their stage productions. So I followed some Hair cast members to Hollywood.
So I actually walked into films without stage training. Max Julian (The Mack) and Juanita Moore had New York stage training. They actually felt that they were better actors. Somehow, I never seem to forget that fact.