THE BOOTLEG FILES: “Get Christie Love!”
BOOTLEG FILES 121: “Get Christie Love!” (1974 made-for-TV blaxploitation starring Teresa Graves).
LAST SEEN: Available for online viewing at the CinemaPop site.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: Briefly on the now-defunct Xenon label.
REASON FOR DISAPPEARANCE: Not remembered today.
CHANCES OF SEEING A DVD RELEASE: Not likely.
BOOTLEG OPPORTUNITIES: Crappy dupes abound.
Hollywood lore is rich with stories of stars who went through desperate measures to ensure they remained at the top of their craft. But here’s a completely different story: it is about a performer who literally walked away from celebrity just as she was receiving the first taste of stardom. The performer in question was Teresa Graves, who is also recalled for making a small but significant breakthrough in television casting.
Teresa Graves was born in Houston in 1949. Her original career goal was in singing and her first break came as a member of something called The Doodletown Pipers. She then concentrated on acting and at the age of 30 gained her first taste of national exposure as a member of the ensemble on ”Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” during the 1969-70 season. While her co-stars Goldie Hawn, Lily Tomlin and Ruth Buzzi possessed goofy comic charms, the statuesque Graves gave the show a much-needed shot of glamour. Graves did not continue with the show after that season but she was very busy making guest appearances on variety shows hosted by Ed Sullivan and Bob Hope, as a regular in a minor TV series called “The Funny Side,” and in supporting roles in B-Movies such as ”That Man Bolt,” ”Black Eye,” and ”Old Dracula.”
Graves was hovering on the periphery of major stardom, but her moment to shine finally arrived thanks to producer David L. Wolper. Impressed by the box office returns of blaxploitation flicks starring butt-kicking babes like Pam Grier and Tamara Dobson, Wolper figured he could transfer the blaxploitation formula to television. Grier and Dobson were at the peaks of their screen power, so doing a TV series would’ve been a step down for them. Instead, Wolper sought to elevate Graves to a leading role. While a familiar presence, Graves was not yet a household name and Wolper saw the opportunity to create his own blaxploitation star.
The vehicle in question was a made-for-TV movie called “Get Christie Love!” and Wolper produced the film in the hopes it would get picked up as a regular series. For its time, “Get Christie Love!” was daring and revolutionary because it presented an African-American woman as an action hero. As a LAPD officer with a talent for undercover work, the character of Christie Love represented a major breakthrough for how black women were portrayed on television.
“Get Christie Love!” finds the eponymous heroine on an undercover sting posing as a Sunset Blvd. hooker. All dolled up in trash-chic, Graves is the ultimate erection-generator as the faux-w***e. But she’s no one’s idea of a pushed-around prostitute. When a would-be john yells out “N****r!” at her, she turns around, waves her fingers teasingly at him, and sings back: “N****r lover!” When making an arrest on a sociopath with a switchblade, Christie Love goes into a wild karate kick (complete with a Miss Piggy-worthy scream of “Eee-yah!”) before slapping the cuffs on extra tight.
After that charming escapade, “Get Christie Love!” focuses on Christie’s work in cracking a case that baffles the LAPD: who has the ledger (with all of the shipping information) of a dangerous drug dealer who is smuggling narcotic goodies across the Pacific? Christie’s involvement in the case generates a love-hate relationship from her superior, Detective Riordan (Harry Guardino), who belittles her abilities at one moment but later tries to get invited into her apartment for “a nightcap” (the white-black sexual tension was also very unusual for TV in the early 1970s – interracial relationships were only seen as comedy fodder in Norman Lear’s satiric sitcoms). With some not-very-subtle detective work, Christie cracks the case, locates the smuggled drugs, and saves Los Angeles’ junkies from themselves.
If the sleuthing in “Get Christie Love!” is elementary, the fun comes in its attempts to be urban cool. Christie’s bell-bottomed pants suits and VW beetle convertible are 1974 chic, and the soundtrack is full of colloquialisms one might associate with inner city conversation. Some of the best lines are: “You dig?” and “You’re so stupid, you’ve got to be a pig!” and “You’re a detective – so detect!” and “You jivin’ me?” and “I’d cool it with the grass!” and “Hang loose, mama!” and “Come back here, woman!” and Christie’s catch-phrase “You’re under arrest, sugar!” All that’s missing is Barbara Billingsley reminding people that she can speak jive!
The film also gives the drug smuggler a weird obsession with Japanese samurai films, but in “Get Christie Love!” that genre is presented by clips of white men in yellowface make-up having sword fights while wearing fur hats and fur coats (huh?).
Incredibly, “Get Christie Love!” was popular with audiences when ABC broadcast it on January 22, 1974. The network gave a green light to turn the concept into a series. Harry Guardino did not pursue the series, but Graves wound up with another leading man that ultimately changed the program and her life.
During this period, Graves began to become heavily involved in the Jehovah’s Witness movement. Her faith became something of an impediment in script sessions, as she kept insisting that the sex and violence of the episodes be toned down. For a cop show, that was a bit of a strange request. Producer Wolper tried to accommodate her as much as possible, and Graves’ work in the series was among her career best (she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award as Best Actress for the show). But, alas, the well-promoted series never quite found a weekly audience and “Get Christie Love!” only lasted for a single season before being cancelled due to poor ratings in 1975.
Graves quit show business after the cancellation of the series. In one of her final interviews, she told TV Guide: “”Jehovah is first, my job is second.” Little is known of her life beyond the entertainment world (one report had her doing missionary work in Africa). Graves literally vanished from sight. The “Get Christie Love!” TV movie vanished as well. It turned up briefly on VHS video from the now-defunct Xenon label in the 1980s and has since been located on crappy DVD bootlegs; an online movie site has the full film available for real-time viewing.
On October 11, 2002, Teresa Graves made headlines for one last and tragic time when news came that she died following a fire at her Los Angeles apartment. Her neighbors only knew her as a quiet, reserved woman who cared for her elderly mother – no one was aware that she was once a major TV star.
“Get Christie Love!” and Teresa Graves occupy a footnote in entertainment history. Yet because of that film and its star, women of color were finally able to breakthrough a barrier and enjoy the opportunity to receive roles beyond the typical stereotypical limitations. For that achievement, we hope Teresa Graves is at peace with her Lord and we thank her for sharing her love as Christie Love.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material is not widely appreciated by the entertainment industry, and on occasion law enforcement personnel help boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and sell bootleg videos, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. The purchase and ownership of bootleg videos, however, is perfectly legal and we think that’s just peachy! This column was brought to you by Phil Hall, a contributing editor at Film Threat and the man who knows where to get the good stuff…on video, that is.
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