Frederick Robert Williamson began his adult life as a professional American football player in the American Football League during the 1960s, but it would be in film and on television that he will etch his name.
Williamson played college football for Northwestern in the 1950s, and then earned his ‘The Hammer’ name at the Pittsburgh Steelers for his defensive aggression, which prompted the 49ers coach to ask him to quit “hammering” his players.
After being a Steelers player for a year in the National Football League in 1960, Williamson moved to the AFL’s Oakland Raiders, and the Kansas City Chiefs. He retired after a stint with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League during the 1968 season.
Williamson, born in Gary, Indiana to Frank and Lydia Williamson ran track and played football at Froebel High School earning a football scholarship to Northwestern University.
Away from football which he played for 12 years, he ventured into film where he made a name as an action hero of the ‘Blaxploitation’ films of the 1970s.
Williamson is loved for roles in the 1973 crime drama film Black Caesar starring as Tommy Gibbs as well as its sequel Hell Up in Harlem. His other films include Hammer (1972), That Man Bolt (1973) and Three the Hard Way (1974).
Fred “The Hammer” Williamson aside acting also became a director, writer and producer. When Williamson moved to Los Angeles, California to become an actor, it was the time hunger among black audiences to see “themselves” on the silver screen playing varied roles away from being maids and houseboys was highest.
Thanks to his football background, Williamson exuded an authentic aura of toughness, skill, and heroism which the fans loved dearly. In 1974, Williamson formed his own film company, Po’ Boy Productions, and became an independent filmmaker. “Some of the two dozen films he directed include Mean Johnny Barrows (1975), One Down, Two to Go (1982), and On the Edge (2002).”
In over four decades, Williamson is credited with 124 acting roles and 41 directing/producing roles.
And when asked why he ventured into film, he submitted: “I got into producing and directing for the simple reason they want to kill the black guy in the first five minutes of the film — and have Arnold Schwarzenegger avenge his death. That’s not what I got into the business for. Kill Schwarzenegger and let me avenge his death. That’s what I’m about.”
He added: “I’ve got three rules in Hollywood: (1) You can’t kill me in the movie, (2) I want to win all my fights in a movie, and (3) I get the girl at the end of the movie if I want her. I throw in the third one knowing full well that they’re not going to give me that one, so I give them an out by saying, ‘You’ve got to do two out of the three.’”
On the general representation of black actors in Hollywood, Williamson reckons it’s an issue of power, adding blacks can protest and picket for more black representation but powerful while people at the helm don’t budge because they are making money from the current format.
He opined real power comes from owning production companies and financial outlets to make the films projecting blacks with more hired black creatives.
“A company hires other people to give them chances to do something different, give them chances to show their talent or to create an image that is good for the world market,” he added.
Curiously, Williamson doesn’t like the blaxploitation name given the films featuring all black cast and directors, noting “I don’t like the terminology ‘black exploitation,’ because I don’t know what it means. I don’t know who was being exploited.”