Man of Steel in Cinema: Jim Brown (1936-2023) | Tributes

Away from the ballfield and the cameras, Brown was arrested in 1965 for assault and battery involving an 18-year-old named Brenda Ayres. Although he was dropped from the charges, Ayres later sued Brown for paternity of her child. At the time, Brown was married to Sue Jones, with whom he had three children, including twins. In 1968, Brown allegedly threw model Eva Bohn-Chin off the second floor balcony of his apartment. The charges were dismissed due to Bohn-Chin’s lack of cooperation with the prosecutor, but the reputation remained. In 1973, Brown, 37, proposed to an 18-year-old college student. They ended their engagement the following year. In various incidents in the 1970s and 1980s, Brown was accused of assaults against men and women, and, in 1985, rape (later dismissed). Despite his clearing of most of these alleged offenses on paper or by technicality, it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish between Brown’s screen and public persona. In general, he insisted on his innocence.

In the November 11, 1968 edition of New York magazine, Gloria Steinem wrote Jim Brown, whom he called in his title, “The Black John Wayne,” was “…John Wayne, or maybe John Wayne with a hint of Malcolm X thrown in.” By 1967, Brown hosted a small cadre of Black athletes at The Cleveland Summit, a meeting in the summer of 1967 where men gathered to hear Muhammad Ali on his refusal to enlist and serve in the US military during the Vietnam war. In 1968, Brown got his first lead role, in “The Split,” a caper movie about the robbery of the Los Angeles Coliseum. Diahann Carroll co-star as Brown’s ex. Brown co-starred in 1968’s “Ice Station Zebra,” an Arctic-set thriller starring. Ernest Borgnine and Rock Hudson. Brown portrays “Captain Leslie Anders,” a no-nonsense authority figure who, like “Rio Conchos” and “The Dirty Dozen,” is murdered.

In 1969, he starred in “Riot” (a prison movie), and with Welch in the sexy “100 Rifles” (another Western). The directors wisely didn’t try to present Brown as the dignified archetype Poitier once was. Welch’s character’s “interracial” love affair was controversial for the time, in part because of its violent undertones (the film’s poster art played with Brown and Welch’s bodies).

After a pair of lackluster film releases in the 1970s, Brown helped break into Blaxploitation in 1972’s “Slaughter,” and “Black Gunn,” both in leading roles. At the time, movie fans were treated to 1971’s “Shaft,” which featured a gun-wielding, hard-fisted, hard-nosed Black private detective. Increasing that fare helped Brown find his wheelhouse; the tongue-in-cheek undertone of these stick-it-to-the-man vehicles allows free rein in limited budget productions where his limited range of expression and nuance is not a factor. When studios moved away from the Black action marketplace and filmgoers transcended the genre’s stereotypes and predictability, Brown’s film fortunes faded. In the 1980s, he devoted his efforts to squashing gang beef through his Southern California-based Amer-I-Can foundation. Young “club” members, many of whom grew up witnessing Brown’s unforgiving roles, respect the actor and former athlete for respecting them, and taking the time to understand their lives.

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