I have been a Bill Cosby fan from childhood and can date my affection to his first appearance on network TV. On the Tonight Show in 1963, he performed, not the Noah skit which helped make him famous, but a routine about Revolutionary War soldiers painstakingly reloading their muskets while the enemy was shooting at them. I thought he was funny and was startled, frankly, to see a black comic. And I remembered his name, partly because “Bill Cosby” sounded strange when you were accustomed to hearing “Bing Crosby.” Ever afterward, I tried to catch him whenever he was on TV, frequently performing “Noah” and all its permutations, and bought and memorized all of his record albums.
So, when the series “I Spy” began in 1965, I watched devotedly. I used to discuss the show every Wednesday with the guy who sat in front of me in my Latin class (white, like me and all my classmates). On one episode, Bill Cosby’s character fell in love. This was a notable departure, because we weren’t even used to seeing African Americans much on TV, let alone in romantic relationships. I remember my “I Spy” buddy saying, “My dad didn’t like that episode. He doesn’t like seeing them kiss.” Lots of white audience members were squeamish about seeing African Americans get physical, even in network TV’s tame context.
Which brings us to one of the Cinematheque offerings this weekend. Nothing But a Man was breaking new ground in when it came out 1964. Abbey Lincoln and Ivan Dixon play a black couple trying to overcome their difference in class (she’s educated; he’s not), as well as the racism of the time. Few movies, even now, explore normal, challenging relationships between African-Americans. Made by white filmmakers, it was the first dramatic film intended for integrated audiences that used a black cast.
An unusual opportunity, on Friday, 2/8, at 9:40 pm, or Saturday, 2/9, at 7:20 pm. When else can you see this film on the big screen? Never.