Directed by Michael Schultz from a screenplay by Eric Monte, “Cooley High” (1975) starred Glynn Turman (Preach), Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs (Cochise), Garrett Morris (Mr. Mason), Cynthia Davis (Brenda), Corin Rogers (Pooter), Maurice Leon Havis (Willie),
Joseph Carter Wilson (Tyrone), Sherman Smith (Stone) and Norman Gibson (Robert).
Set in 1964 the now classic “Cooley High” tells the story of a group of Chicago high school friends Richard “Cochise” Morris (Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs), a local basketball hero, and Leroy “Preach” Jackson (Glynn Turman), who dreams of a career in writing. In their happiest days, they hang out with their friends, party, chase girls and dance to the immortal sounds of Motown. Each wanting more than what’s expected and dreaming big in their own way with a goal of getting out of the projects.
Then life suddenly changes for two of the guys when they meet a pair of career criminals and get falsely arrested in connection with stealing a Cadillac. We follow their lives through the end of high school and the dramatic end to their school year.
In an article entitled ‘Cooley High’ – More Than Just A Black ‘Graffiti’ that appeared in the New York Times (August 10, 1975) journalist Jack Slater wrote “So “Cooley High” altogether ignores the social and political significance of 1964 to explore instead the softer, warmer areas where young people really live. Concentrating on the exuberance, the aspirations, awkwardness, silliness, despair—and the culture—of urban black youths about to graduate … “
“Cooley High” was often compared by the media to the film “American Graffiti” but Slater didn’t agree offering this in the same article: “Because it takes a backward glance, the movie is now being called “a black ‘American Graffiti,’” but it has, in my view, far more vitality and more variety than “Graffiti,” which profiled bored, despairing youth in small‐town America of the early sixties. No one in “Cooley High” is bored.”
This was 1975 in the heat of the explosion of Blaxploitation films, a term coined in the early 1970s to refer to African-American action films that were directed at African-American audiences. Featuring African-American actors in lead roles but rarely written, directed or produced by people of color. Many had strong anti-establishment plots and characters who were frequently condemned for stereotypical characterization and glorification of violence. But, to highlight the point, most of these films were not created by an African-American voice.
But “Cooley High” markedly different. It was directed by Michael Schultz, an African-American and written by an African-American screenwriter, Eric Monte.
On July 8 (7:30 pm) at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will be hosting a special screening of the classic film “Cooley High” hosted by Robert Townsend with special guests including Michael Schultz, Larry Karaszewski, Jackie Taylor and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs.
Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs started his career in New York City with the Negro Ensemble Company. Along with the classic “Cooley High,” his credits include Claudine (1974) and his breakthrough role as ‘Boom Boom Washington’ role on Welcome Back, Kotter (1975), to name a few.
Here is an edited conversation with Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs who played Richard “Cochise” Morris in the classic film “Cooley High.”
Los Angeles Sentinel: I’m absolutely jazzed that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is hosting a special screening for “Cooley High” with Robert Townsend as the moderator. Thoughts?
Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs: Robert [Townsend] and I are very good friends. He’s more like family, really so having him as the moderator for the July 8th screening at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater (8949 Wilshire Blvd) is going to be fun. I understand there will be a brand new print of the film [“Cooley High”] and that’s exciting. I’ve not seen the film on the big screen in a very long time.
LAS: 1975 and correct me, if I am wrong, but the reviews for “Cooley High” were very good, across the board.
LHJ: You’re right. They [reviews] were fantastic. Everyone seemed to love it. It’s really something to be a part of something that is so well received. Many adults to this day tell me how the movie impacted them. You know Sinbad [the comedian] is a “Cooley High” junkie. Denzel [Washington] and Wesley [Snipes] they all told me how much the movie meant to them, as well
LAS: Take us back to 1975, please.
LHJ: I was just 22 years old when I went to Los Angeles. I was shooting the Welcome Back, Kotter series and the film had not come out, yet. When I went home, to New York, I had no idea of the response. I went to Times Square—old Times Square the way it used to look—and seeing the posters and everything all blown up so large, man, it was really something. It
LAS: Old Times Square, 1975 and “Cooley High” I can see it. I can see it. What’s next for you?
LHJ: Next, I am in the new television series A House Divided which will stream on the Urban
Movie Channel. The story is set in a new multi-generational family and I’m the father. It premieres later this summer.
To learn more about the July 8th screening of “Cooley High” go to the link for the details: https://www.oscars.org/events/cooley-high-1975