Vonetta McGee, a film and television actress originally known for blaxploitation pictures like “Blacula,” “Hammer” and “Shaft in Africa,” died on July 9 in Berkeley, Calif.
She was 65 and a Berkeley resident.
The cause was cardiac arrest, said Kelley Nayo, a family spokeswoman.
In “Blacula” (1972), Ms. McGee portrayed the love interest of Mamuwalde (William Marshall), an African prince who, after an ill-fated trip to Transylvania centuries earlier, re-emerges in modern Los Angeles as a member of the thirsty undead.
Reviewing the film in The New York Times, Roger Greenspun called Ms. McGee “just possibly the most beautiful woman currently acting in movies.”
In “Hammer” (1972), Ms. McGee appeared opposite Fred Williamson in the tale of a young black prizefighter. In “Shaft in Africa” (1973), the third installment in the private-eye series starring Richard Roundtree, she played an emir’s daughter.
Ms. McGee’s other films include “The Kremlin Letter” (1970); “Detroit 9000” (1973); “Thomasine & Bushrod” (1974); and “The Eiger Sanction” (1975), directed by and starring Clint Eastwood.
Lawrence Vonetta McGee, named for her father, was born in San Francisco on Jan. 14, 1945. While studying pre-law at San Francisco State College, she became involved in community theater. She left college before graduating to pursue an acting career.
Ms. McGee’s first film work was in Italy, where her credits include the 1968 films “Faustina,” in which she played the title role, and “Il Grande Silenzio” (“The Great Silence”). After seeing her Italian work, Sidney Poitier arranged for her to be cast in her first American film, “The Lost Man” (1969), in which he starred.
In later years Ms. McGee had recurring roles on several television shows, among them “Hell Town,” “Bustin’ Loose,” “L.A. Law” and “Cagney & Lacey,” on which she portrayed the wife of Detective Mark Petrie, played by Carl Lumbly. Ms. McGee and Mr. Lumbly were married in 1986.
Besides Mr. Lumbly, Ms. McGee is survived by their son, Brandon Lumbly; her mother, Alma McGee; three brothers, Donald, Richard and Ronald; and a sister, also named Alma McGee.
Though she was associated in public memory with the genre, Ms. McGee deplored the term “blaxploitation.” It wasn’t the “black” that troubled her — that was a source of pride. It was the “exploitation.”
“She was constantly a person who preferred roles where women got to make choices,” Ms. Nayo said on Friday. “Where women got to be strong.”
May she rest in peace
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