The classic Blaxploitation flick, The Mack, was loosely based on the life of the original Black Godfather of Oakland, California, Frank Ward, slain in the weeks after principal photography on the movie wrapped in 1973. The Mack’s lead character, John “Goldie” Mickens, portrayed by Max Julien, rises to become the biggest pimp in the Bay Area. Ward ran drugs, prostitution and policy in Oakland and San Francisco in the 1960s and early 1970s and put up a large chunk of the movie’s budget himself, as well as appeared in it besides his little brother and right-hand man Teddy and consulted for it practically scene-for-scene until his untimely demise towards the end of production.

The Mack was the most financially successful film of the Blaxploitation era and possibly its’ most influential pop-culture wise. Dedicated to Ward and produced for $120,000, the movie went on to gross more than $3,000,000. Besides Julien, The Mack starred comedy legend Richard Pryor as Goldie’s best friend “Slim,” Blaxploitation queen Carol Speed as Goldie’s No. 1 girl, “LuLu,” Tony-award winning Dick Anthony Williams as Goldie’s rival “Pretty Tony,” Roger E. Mosley of Magnum P.I. television fame in the 1980s as his Black militant brother and Oscar-nominee Juanita Moore as his mother.

Born in Alabama, Frank and Teddy Ward migrated west to Northern California from New Orleans in the late 1950s. People would sometimes call Frank Ward “Goldie” due to his light skin color and his signature mode of transportation, a custom-built gold-plated Cadillac he allowed Julien to drive on screen. He also began dating Speed during filming.

Max Julien with the Ward brothers (far right. Teddy & Frank, respectively)

The Ward organization occasionally butted heads with the Black Panthers, the famous Black militant group formed in Oakland in 1966 by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. According to police informants, Frank Ward was “protecting” The Mack movie set from extortion efforts on the behalf of the Black Panthers as cameras rolled in the inner city of Oakland and it was a reputed dispute with Black Panthers leadership that led to his slaying.

On February 10, 1973, Frank Ward, 33, was killed sitting behind the wheel of his silver-colored Rolls Royce with another girlfriend of his named Blanche Brown idling on a street corner in an affluent Berkeley, California neighborhood. Ward and Brown were each done-in with shots to the head at point-blank range. In the immediate aftermath of Ward’s murder, the cast and crew of The Mack departed the Bay Area for reshoots and editing in Los Angeles.

The movie hit theatres in April 1973 and quickly achieved cult status. Teddy Ward relocated back to the Big Easy in the wake of his brother’s murder. The film’s director, Michael Campus, a California native, died two years ago in the spring of 2015.

Huey Newton was slain in the summer of 1989 in the Lower Bottoms section of Oakland’s Westside. Seale remains alive and well at 80 years old and is active on the lecture circuit.

Frank Ward (L) & his brother Teddy

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