When I started watching television in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I don’t ever remember the host from Romper Room looking into their stupid magic mirror and seeing our eager little black asses. They never saw Abdullah, Muhammad or Khadijah. Maybe my memory is fading and they did have some of us nonwhite kids with funny non-anglo sounding names on from time to time. Still, I don’t recall ever seeing anyone who looked like me on that show.
On the other hand, Black and brown kids had Bill Cosby. He filled the diversity gap while appealing to a wider — and whiter — audience. He taught us to read with his musical magic marker on Picture Pages. Plus, who could forget he was America’s Favorite Dad. And, gee, Dr. Huxtable just happened to be like Bill Cosby on a show that also bears his namesake.
“My God, you didn’t get bigger than Bill,” says Jennifer Lee Pryor, noting in a new BBC2 documentary how even her own comedic superstar-husband Richard Prior “idolized” Cosby, who is on trial for sexual assault.
The prosecution rested their case Friday against Cosby as his defense suggested that the 79-year-old comedian might testify.
The documentary — Bill Cosby: Fall of an American Icon — doesn’t present Cosby as the cool Father-in-Chief from the 1980s who helped me, Fat Albert and the rest of the gang.
“In Hollywood, we all knew he was a serial cheater,” Pryor says.
The lovable dad was once a sex symbol and frequent guest at The Playboy Mansion, according to the BBC2 documentary.
“I mean a serial cheater,” Pryor emphasizes.
“They would come in groups of threes and fours,” says The Cosby Show recurring guest star Joseph C. Phillips, who refers to the “parade” of beautiful women Cosby would feature on set.
But before Cosby became our National Dad in the 1980s, he was the Never-Before-Seen Black Papi on T.V. back in the “swinging” 1960s. In fact, as the documentary points out, he was a regular at nightclubs along the Sunset Strip and The Playboy Mansion.
Also adding to his widespread appeal: Cosby wasn’t a 1960s radical like Stokely Carmicheal and Malcolm X. African-American audiences had their own sex symbols who were well-dressed, well-spoken and funny, of course. But Cosby endeared himself to White America with his apolitical comedy and wit.
Maybe Cosby knew this and used to as a way to pursue his victims in the still-segregated 1960s?
“He had a look that he liked… lighter skin, longer hair,” says Phillips.
Lili Bernard says she was the object of this fetish with her lighter skin as well. Bernard is a Cuban-born black actress actor who desperately wanted his mentorship and was thrilled when he said he was grooming her for a walk-on role on The Cosby Show. She also accuses Cosby of drugging and raping her as she sought his mentoring and a walk-on role in the early 1990s. The fair-skinned Bernard, who rocks a glorious afro these days, claims Cosby did not like her kinky locks and wanted her to straighten them.
“He bought this blow dryer for me,” she says, later offering vivid allegations of drugging, brutal rape and after treatment.
At this point in the film, if you’re a 1980s kid, you’re about ready to throw up all the fucking Jell-o Pudding Pops you ate back in the day as you listen to graphic accounts of violent rape allegedly carried out by someone you thought you knew and trusted.
And if you are a black or brown kid from back in the day, be ready to fight somebody because of Dr. Huxtable’s apparent obsession with whiteness. Fuck you and all your ugly-ass sweaters, Cos.
Watching this piece took me back to when I met him around 15 years ago as a reporter on assignment for a local radio station Baltimore. I tried to ask whatever question I needed to ask but he immediately took control of the interview.
Cosby: “What’s your name?”
Cosby: “Waris what?”
Cosby, deadpan: “Hi, Waris Banks. I’m Bill Cosby. I’m a comedian.”
And that’s Cosby par excellence. Brilliant. Fun. Regaling. Warm. Inviting. Mesmerizing.
Or is he all that warm?
Because, now, after seeing this film, I wonder: Is this how he charmed his alleged victims? Is this how he possibly got away with it? By controlling the conversation and not letting you get a word in edgewise? By being so fun?
I’m not accusing him of rape. Neither is the BBC. That would be libelous.
The women in the film accuse Bill Cosby of rape. I also happen to believe them.
You can get more details and read another review from the U.K. about the documentary and video clips here.
Bill Cosby: Fall of American Icon (2017), Dir: Ricardo Pollack, BBC2, No Rating, Adult Language, Graphic Description of Rape