Born in Gary, Indiana on March 5th 1938, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson has had a career that is more than important to cinema, especially when it comes to cult and midnight movies. Williamson got his start as a successful pro-football player and is a three time defensive pro-bowler who played for the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl I.
He got the nickname, “The Hammer” while during practice, one of his coaches asked him to stop hammering on the other players. Always the ego, Williamson took that term and made it a nickname, using it in a boisterous way when talking smack on and off the field, often saying he will "Put the hammer on" his opponents. He even developed a karate-chop styled offensive move fittingly called, "The Hammer" which he used on other players.
After retiring from the NFL, and with his fall back college degree, Williamson did some architectural work, but being a guy nicknamed “The Hammer,” he decided that it just wasn’t for him. He went into acting and did some television work with small roles in things like the original Star Trek series and played the romantic lead opposite Dianann Carroll on the TV show “Julia.” His first staring film role was in 1970’s M*A*S*H, which jump started his illustrious career in film.
At an intimidating 6’3 and with black belts in Tae-Kwon-Do, Shotokan Karate, Kenpo, and charisma, Williamson had (and still has) what it takes to be an amazing action film screen presence. With his film work now spanning forty years and counting, Fred Williamson has made a major impact on some of cinema’s most entertaining of genres. His work in Blaxploitation movies makes him probably the most recognizable male star of the genre outside of Richard Roundtree, and Jim Brown.
To add to his midnight cinema cred, Williamson appeared in numerous Italian film productions and between those, and his Blaxploitation movies, he has worked with many cult fan favorites. His work with the great Larry Cohen, resulted in one of my favorites of the genre, 1973’s Black Caesar (along with that films follow up, 1973’s Hell Up in Harlem). Some of the Italian directors of note are Antonio Margheriti with Take a Hard Ride, which also sported an impressive cast that consisted of Jim Brown, Jim Kelly, and Lee Van Cleef! Yowza! Williamson did a handful of Post Apocalyptic movies with Enzo G. Castellari, but the most prominent film the pair worked on is certainly 1978’s The Inglorious Bastards. The Hammer even worked with Lucio Fulci on the less than stellar, The New Gladiators (1984).
All of this is just the tip of the iceberg in a film career that runs deep, a career that he has taken and made all his own, his way. Williamson formed his own production company in 1974 called Po’ Boy Productions, and with what he learned from working with people like Cohen and making films in Italy, he has created nearly forty movies on very meager budgets over the years. Writer, director, producer, actor, stuntman, NFL player, and sex symbol, what can’t this man do?
What may have set “The Hammer” apart from the rest of the pack, is his ability to self promote and the way he carries himself in such an incredibly cocky and flamboyant fashion. These are the qualities that make him so awesome and he is not afraid to tell you about himself…he is completely upfront and even with such an ego, he carries himself with a genuine kindness. This is a man that has posed in playgirl, was a spokesman for King Cobra (a malt liquor that I used to drink in my high school days...shit got me cocked!), and was even nominated for an Emmy for the television series, Police Story. Hell, he even stole the show with his bit part as a flashback suffering ‘Nam vet in 1996’s From Dusk Till Dawn, which maybe where most horror fans were first introduced to him.
Being in the “biz” for as long as he has, Williamson has seen a lot and retained a great amount of memories. Besides being super entertaining, his interviews are always insightful, filled with stories from behind the scenes of the movies he worked on as well as the directors and other actors he worked with. With his trademark cigar, Williamson is one of a kind, and as cocky as he is, he wears it on his sleeve and is really just an honest guy that loves to talk about movies…and himself, of course. He is a true cinema badass and a legend in his spare time.
“'There's only two things that I demand of my scripts, and they're the same things my audiences demand. First, I have to get the girl. And second, I have to win all the fights. We don't need suspense. With those two ingredients, the picture is assured of being a hit.” - Fred “The Hammer” Williamson -