A podcast about history

That's not stuck in the past


Although most “blaxploitation” flicks from the 1970s were action thrillers, “The Mack” feels more like a documentary. The film was shot on location in pool halls, barber shops and speakeasies throughout Oakland and features real people, not professional actors, as extras. But the driving force of the film’s authenticity came from the Ward Brothers, a family of pimps who dominated the Bay Area’s underground sex trade during this era. The movie’s protagonist, Goldie, was modeled on Frank Ward, the crew’s charismatic leader, and the rest of the brothers lent their clothes, cars, and expertise to the production, which was filmed on a shoestring budget. 

Immortalized by dozens of rap hits that sampled the film’s streetwise dialogue and funky soundtrack, “The Mack” went on to become a cult classic that’s still relevant five decades after its release. However, Frank Ward never got to enjoy the film he inspired – along with Blanche Bernard, he was murdered in October 1972, sparking a persistent rumor that the Black Panthers were involved in his assassination. Now, on the 50th anniversary of this unsolved crime, Oakland native Chloe Sylvers has published “The Fabulous Ward Brothers,” the first book to explore the real origins of this family’s brief empire, investigate the double homicide that shattered them, and separate facts from sensationalized myths. Listen now to hear how she tracked down the story of “the original macks.” Available via Apple, SoundCloud, Spotify, or wherever you get podcasts.

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Although there was never any evidence linking the Black Panthers to Frank Ward’s murder, this theory gained momentum due to a conflict between the Panthers and the producers of “The Mack.” Chloe Sylvers’ investigation debunks this myth and points to a very different set of suspects. Listen to the podcast to hear about how she dug into this 50-year-old cold case.
Ted Ward, Zollie Dubois, Reggie Jackson, Jay Payton, Drew Ward, Frank Ward, and Mudcat Grant. Shortly after an electronic scoreboard was installed at Oakland Coliseum, Jackson arranged for it to display a message that read “WELCOME TO THE WARD BROTHERS!”
“The story about the Ward brothers isn’t just about pimps and whores. It’s about the lives of five brothers from an American family of sharecroppers who were born in the deep south. They literally went from the cotton fields to macks.” -Author and Oakland native Chloe Sylvers, from “The Fabulous Ward Brothers.
The director and stars of “The Mack” immersed themselves into the world of the Ward brothers to make their portrayal of Oakland’s underground sex economy as realistic as possible. In addition to the Wards, several of their close friends, like entertainer Jay Payton and musician “Terrible” Tom Bowden, also appeared throughout the film, most notably during the iconic “Player’s Ball” scene, which was filmed at Don Barksdale’s Showcase Lounge.

East Bay Yesterday can’t survive without your support. Please donate to keep this show alive: www.patreon.com/eastbayyesterday

“They were real macks”

How the Ward Brothers inspired a cult classic
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