Monday, July 9

THE PETEY GREENE STORY ON FILM

[Lurma Rackley wrote "Laugh If You Like" about Petey Greene, about whom a movie is about to be released]

LURMA RACKLEY, WASHINGTON POST - Washingtonians of a certain era knew Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene in his various life phases: as a raggedy kid who could "play the dozens" better than anyone in 1930s black Georgetown; as an often inebriated yet phenomenally funny young comedian at "picnics" in Wilmer's Park; as a rapping, rhyming emcee at Lorton Reformatory, where he served time for robbery; and finally as a legendary broadcaster who charted new territory in straight talk and community activism until his death in 1984 at age 53.

This week, moviegoers nationwide will be introduced to Petey's story in "Talk to Me," starring Don Cheadle. I got to know Petey while we worked on his memoir, "Laugh if You Like, Ain't a Damn Thing Funny," which I published in 2004. To those of us who knew Petey, the movie will challenge our memories (was it really Petey who calmed the city during the 1968 riots?), will misrepresent facts (did he really bomb on "Johnny Carson"?) and will ignore Petey's ultimate triumphs and his return to the church. . .

But people will be talking about him, and for a man who enjoyed stirring controversy as a means to an end, that was always the bottom line. Petey would be delighted by the edgy panel discussions and debates the movie has ignited. He would also approve of the more than 200,000 hits that "How to Eat a Watermelon," his routine from the early 1980s, has received on YouTube, spiking arguments about the N-word among the Dave Chappelle generation. . .

In late 1981, Petey asked me to help him tell his life story. . . I spent most of my time cracking up with laughter. He told me that he honed his rapping, rhyming and "joning" skills as a preschool kid dead set on taking the focus off his disadvantages. His father was in jail more often than he was at home, and his mother had her own brushes with the law. His beloved pipe-smoking grandmother Maggie Floyd, known as A'nt Pig, instilled in him a fortitude and an optimism that carried him through the worst of times in his personal life. From the age of 3, Petey heard A'nt Pig say: "Boy, I know your mouth is gone get you killed or get you rich one day. 'Cause you the talkingest damn boy I ever seen.". . .

Not surprisingly for a biopic, [the movie] leaves out much of Petey's story. Toward the end of his life, Petey began to step into his A'nt Pig's full vision for him. He stunned his friends in 1979 when he finally gave up binge drinking. In 1981, he was baptized by the United House of Prayer's Bishop Walter "Sweet Daddy" McCullough. . . The movie also overlooks the towering role that A'nt Pig played in Petey's life. Yet she was the person he most wanted to honor through his life story.

That story ended too soon. In mid-1983, as I was starting to transcribe my mountain of interview tapes, Petey was losing his battle with liver cancer. An estimated 20,000 people lined up for his wake on a cold night in January 1984, and 2,000 mourners packed the church for his funeral the next day, with hundreds more outside. . .

KATHRYN SINZINGER, COMMON DENOMINATOR - At his death, "Petey Greene's Washington" was broadcast locally on Channel 20 and nationwide to 5.5 million homes in 53 cities by Black Entertainment Television. . . Greene began his shows with a monologue and a trademark lead-in: "Well, let's cool it now. Slide on in, adjust the color of your television, hole up and get ready to groove with Petey Greene's Washington."

PETEY GREENE ON HOW TO EAT A WATERMELON

LAUGH IF YOU LIKE

8 Comments:

At 2:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for this! A Saturday night in the late '70's wouldn't be complete without Petey Greene's Washington on Channel 20.

I’ll tell it to the hot. I’ll tell it to the cold. I’ll tell it to the young. I’ll tell it to the old. I don’t want no laughin’, I don’t want no cryin’, and most of all, no signifyin’.

 
At 11:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just saw the movie in Philly with 4 of my friends. We truly enjoyed the movie about Petey Greene. As I always tell my students, there is always SOMEONE out there who did the same thing that another "well-known' person has done. Did he really bomb on Johnny Carson---is Kathy Hughes a descendant of the Hughes character in the film? Regardless, I am so sorry I was not aware of him back in the 60s and 70s. Thank you to whomever made the decision to have his story told and put to film. Don Cheadle is an excellent actor!!!!

 
At 4:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kathy Hughes was married to Dewey Hughes.

 
At 9:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Petey was my boss for three years and the film brougth back many of funny years at United Planning Orgizztion (UPO). Seeing flim made me remember a lot of thing about Petey and the crew. Dewey thinks for the memories. Ada J.

 
At 5:30 PM, Blogger Marvin G said...

Petey was a "General" [soldier] for justice!!! We met at WOL a few times and at UPO.

He told it to the young, he told it to the old. He told it to the hot. He told it to the cold. He didn't want no laughin' (it WASN'T FUNNY); he didn't want no cryin', and MOST OF ALL, he didn't want no signifyin' (LIFE is a participatory game).

 
At 2:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So did he really bomb on Carson or not? not that it matters I would just like to know what is real in a movie i saw...

 
At 1:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Petey Greene was the man true to keeping it real to everyone and I mean everyone

 
At 11:54 AM, Anonymous yolanowens@aol.com said...

Just finished watching "Talk to Me", Petey Greene's story...it was AWESOME. I can't believe I'd never heard of him until now. He represents the inner-person in a lot of us who have something to say, unedited. With Mr. Greene there were NO fear-barriers and he remain true to the person he was.

 

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