Carol Speed, the actress and singer who made a name for herself with performances in the blaxploitation-era movies “The Mack”, “Black Samson” and “Abby,” died Jan. 14 in Muskogee, Okla., her family announced. She was 76.
Speed portrayed Lulu, the prostitute girlfriend of Max Julien’s pimp character, in “The Mack” (1973), the girlfriend of a lion-owning club owner (Rockne Tarkington) in “Black Samson” (1974) and a mute woman in the cult martial arts drama “Dynamite Brothers” (1974), starring Timothy Brown. And in the title role, Speed starred as a minister’s wife who becomes possessed by an evil West African spirit in “Abby” (1974). A horror film in the vein of “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Exorcist”, Warner Bros. sued to have it pulled from theaters on the grounds of copyright violations.
“The script reminded me of [1957’s] “The Three Faces of Eve,” which starred Paul Newman’s wife, [Joanne Woodward],” Speed said in an undated interview. “I thought ‘Abby’ was a wonderful vehicle to show off my acting.”
Born on March 14, 1945, in Bakersfield, CA Carol Ann Bennett Stewart was the first Black homecoming queen in Santa Clara County, then attended San Jose State University and, on a scholarship, the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco.
After serving as a back-up singer for Bobbie Gentry at Harrah’s in Reno, Nev., she appeared on an episode of NBC’s “Julia” opposite Diahann Carroll and had a recurring role on the NBC daytime soap opera “Days of Our Lives” in 1970.
In 1972, she played a hooker in “The New Centurions” and an inmate behind bars in “The Big Bird Cage,” She dumped Lamont (Demond Wilson) at the altar in the “Sanford and Son” episode “Here Comes the Bride, There Goes the Bride.”
Speed then appeared in “Bummer” (1973), in telefilms including “The Girls of Huntington House,” “Love Hate Love,” “Getting Away From It All” and “The Psychiatrist” and in the 1973 pilot for the NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie “Tenafly.”
After taking a hiatus from acting following a turn in “Disco Godfather” (1979), Speed was hired for a small part in Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown” (1997) but backed out at the last minute, her family said. Her final acting credit came in “Village Vengeance” (2006).
A singer-songwriter, Speed performed her own compositions “I Can Make It” for “The Girls of Huntington House” and “My Soul Is a Witness” for “Abby.” She also wrote “Inside Black Hollywood,” published in 1980, and “The Georgette Harvey Story,” published in 2002, and contributed to another book, 2004’s “Gods in Polyester, or a Survivors’ Account of 70s Cinema Obscura.”
Survivors include her grandson, Marc, and sister Barbara.