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An Open Letter to the
Prior Richard Pryor
by Jack Fritscher

AUTHOR'S HISTORICAL CONTEXT INTRODUCTION

The feature was written in 1978

An Open Letter to the
Prior Richard Pryor
by Jack Fritscher

Dear Richard,

Hometown boys ought to be able to talk. You and I are both from Peoria. Therefore, I respond to your presumptuous permission to your comment, “You Hollywood faggots can kiss my happy, rich, black ass.” You did not bowl us over at the Hollywood Bowl.

            To begin with, our hometown is a vaudeville joke. “If it plays in Peoria,” show-biz says, “it will play anywhere.” Obviously, you played in Peoria. “Once,” you announced, “I sucked a cock. It was beautiful, but I never told anybody about it.”

            Gone are the days, I guess, when your heart was young and gay and playing in Peoria. Where are you playing these days? Sure, Lily Tomlin invited you to perform in The Shower of Stars to raise money and consciousness against the anti-gay California Proposition 6, the Briggs Initiative. But you won’t be playing to gay audiences anymore. This is the wrong time emotionally and politically to stand on stage and repeatedly call gay men “faggots.” Oh, sure, you said, you were just kidding. When the booing began, you said, “This is an evening about human rights. And I am a human being....I just wanted to test your motherfucking soul.” No wonder the TV networks have now backed off you. You even turned me off and I was always behind you as a hometown boy who made good.

            We both succeeded in escaping Peoria about the same year, and we both can take our potshots at the Caterpillar factory town that produced you, me, and the radio stars, Fibber McGee and Molly, and Amos and Andy, the two white guys about whom we all have mixed feelings because they played black characters on radio and TV. While you were living down in your grandmother’s whorehouse on Aiken Alley, I was a 13-year-old paper boy delivering the Peoria Journal Star to Andy’s sister. She was as white as Andy and Amos. Their minstrel black-face is indefensible in the same way as your holier-than-gay “Super Nigger” act, coming out in your black-on-Black face about what a hard time white Peoria gave to you.

            Peoria gives everybody a hard time, Richard. That’s why anybody with any sense or talent or deviation from the middle-class Midwest norm hops a Greyhound bus for St. Louis or an Ozark jet to Chicago as soon as they graduate Central, Manual, or Bishop Spaulding highs schools. If a man stays in Peoria, he can go to work for Caterpillar Tractor Company, marry a little Caterpillar wife, have 2.3 Caterpillar children, and in a little Caterpillar house listen to WMBD radio and watch WMBD-TV and read the Journal Star –all owned by the same Republican man.

BIGOTS IN BED TOGETHER: RICHARD PRYOR AND ANITA BRYANT

            Richard, your bigoted roots have a Bryant in the woodpile. Let’s not forget that your grandmother back in Peoria is a Bryant. Any juicy jokes you can squeeze out of that orange, Richard? Does the Bryant gene own you the way, maybe, the Bryants once “legally” owned your forebears?

            You wanted to test our “motherfucking” gay “souls? Talk about the pre-judging of prejudice. On stage you snarled at the gay audience, “When the niggers was burning down Watts, you motherfuckers was doin’ what you wanted to do on Hollywood Boulevard. You didn’t give a shit about the riot.” You walked offstage shouting, “You Hollywood faggots can kiss my happy, rich, black ass.” Hold on. You chose the pronouns. I’ll tell you where “we” were during the time “you” tore up Watts, Detroit, and Chicago. Gay people, just because we are gay, tend to have wide open arms and hearts for welcoming every other minority. Long before the “have-nots” rioted, I, with other gay educators, was teaching Black children how to read and write. And before that, Richard, I spent several entire summers, long before “white chic” made civil rights fashionable, with other young, 20-something white guys going door-to-door at 63rd and Cottage Grove, the biggest ghetto in Chicago, doing social work with TWO (The Woodlawn Organization), being tutored by labor organizer Saul Alinsky, and being carried bodily along with Martin Luther King out of Mayor Daley’s office by the Chicago cops. You can go ahead and dismiss me as a bleeding-heart liberal. Peorians did. But that’s the sort of thing being gay taught me: to aid any minority.That’s one of the fucking places “we faggots” were when you claim “we” did nothing about Watts. Being gay, you know, can increase one’s social awareness.

            Working in the Chicago ghetto humanized me out of being the humanoid Peoria so uniformly manufactures on its scary Caterpillar production line. Are you still a bit of Peoria humanoid? Get over re-acting to the honky exploitation of the red-light district of Aiken Alley. The Journal Star lumped us together then anyway, always reporting crime there with the three things the paper always listed as going together, “drugs, prostitution, and homosexuality.”

            I hate Peoria and the Journal Star, but I’ve got nothing against you, despite your bitchin’ bad breach of professionalism for walking on stage at the Hollywood Bowl insensitively prepared for your predominantly gay audience. We “faggots” are not hearing you anymore, Richard. We’re appalled by you and your mouth at this time when Anita Bryant and John Briggs are trying to criminalize our lives. I really hope “we” and “you” can still work it out, like with an apology.

            Maybe your recent heart attack, which you had recently when you were visiting back in Peoria, is like Nixon’s phlebitis: some psychosomatic expression of a problem you have in your human heart. What’s even more ironic, between us hometown boys, is that you lay in the Methodist Hospital Intensive Care Unit where my twelve-year-old lesbian niece, the week before, after her scoliosis surgery. Hey, brother. You and I can both recall when Blacks could not get into Methodist Hospital and had to use the worn-out facilities of Peoria’s old Proctor Hospital.

            So what if you lived on the South Side of Peoria and went to nine-cent movies near the Warner Homes Project. So what if I lived on the East Bluff and went to thirty-five-cent movies at the Varsity Theater on the Bradley University Campus. So what? All of us come from something dreadful, and unless we’re utter assholes, we learn, if nothing else, empathy, from our roots

            Have you learned it yet, Richard? Have I yet? You’re on screen, man. A real Superstar. I’m still paying admission at the box office. So what’s the exact “kissing” differential between my middle-class white ass and your rich black ass? You and I are both subcultures, man. We better stick together or those Bryants will own you and your kind again, and, what’s more, take me and my kind along. So don’t offer your rich black ass too quickly for a kiss from “faggots” who are no more than “niggers” to the bigots who hate us both.

            You didn’t get a rich ass, man, because you happen to be Black. You got rich because you happen to be funny.

©2003 Jack Fritscher

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Copyright 2007 by Jack Fritscher, Ph.D. & Mark Hemry - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED