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Making Marley a legend

Gercine Carter

Making Marley a legend

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In 1972, Jamaican-born Hollywood actress and film producer Esther Anderson put her own budding career on pause to focus on launching the international career of Jamaican reggae icon Bob Marley and The Wailers.
In Barbados recently for the screening of the documentary she made highlighting those early years, Anderson shared with EASY her story of the love, devotion and commitment that went into introducing Bob Marley to the world. It is a story of a woman who may have loved and lost but who was still animated about the experience of introducing the reggae legend to the world.
The two first met in New York in 1972. She recalled: “I had just finished A Warm December with Sidney Poitier and then I shot my own short film and I was editing that when I got a call from my agent in New York that I had to come to New York . . . . While we were there at this sort of rock ’n’ roll party, who walks in but Dickie Dobson and this guy.
“I just thought he looked a lot like Jimmy Hendrix, but I could see he definitely had some presence there, and when I was introduced to him Bob Marley knew all about me.”
Anderson was asked by her business partner British record producer and businessman Chris Blackwell to “take care” of Marley “because he does not know anything about the music business”.
“I always had to be the go-between for [Blackwell] and the artists. It is my destiny in life . . . . I did it with Jimmy Cliff . . . with all the other artists that we owned.”
That chance meeting in New York between Marley and Anderson was to result in a dramatic shift in direction for the beautiful 27-year-old actress.
“They had a world tour planned for me, a big contract. I was being nominated for the Image Award from the NAACP – and yet I gave it all up to stay in Jamaica and do the work . . . I made a commitment, and I thought the only way was to stick with it till [Marley’s] music got through the economic door,” Anderson said.
She and Blackwell had been partners in the Jamaican record label Island Records, which was responsible for many Marley hits. Blackwell later sold Island Records, and Anderson, remarking on the soured relationship, said: “He never talks about me.”
“As far as [Blackwell] is concerned, I am the little girl he gave some things to, but forty years of my life and beauty and youth went into Chris Blackwell and building Island Records – all for free. I have never ever charged a penny for all the work I did with Bob Marley.”
Her satisfaction, however, is in what she did for Marley and what he achieved as a result.
“All the songs I wrote with him I gave to Bob for the group. I Shot The Sheriff, Get Up Stand Up, the first songs I wrote with him, I gave to him because he asked for them.”
Bob Marley: The Making Of A Legend, the 90-minute documentary produced in collaboration with Gian Godoy, is based on footage Anderson shot in the early 1970s after meeting Marley and deciding to devote her efforts to getting the music of the unknown Jamaican from Trenchtown out to the world.
That prized early footage of Bob Marley And The Wailers that Anderson shot with a Sony portable camera had been lost for 37 years.
In her unmistakable, strong Jamaican accent, the feisty actress and film producer said: “We went on tour with The Wailers and left the film at Hope Road in Jamaica and all the footage disappeared.
“Thirty-seven years later Channel 4 in England came to interview me and they had my film and I said, ‘Where did you get it from?’ And they said, ‘Oh, it was completely destroyed and we found it in a garage in Canada’. Channel 4 baked it and brought the image back and gave me back a copy of what was restored.”
She added: “I have been able to actually tell how those photographs came to be the ones that launched Bob Marley’s career and image and from a woman’s point of view, this is not a film about the biography of Bob Marley. It is about two fellow artists working together to help put their country on the map. 
“We have shown that we had come up from under the slave master and given hope to the world . . . . Unfortunately, it took Bob’s life because they did not take care of him. I was gone . . . . I left and he got on, but I knew that he had gotten through, so he did not need me any more. I went there to help him. I fell in love with him, but . . . .”
Asked whether she received royalties from Marley’s work, Anderson said she received none.
“Have you ever been in love?” she responded, a wry smile stealing across her face.
“We are women with that special hormone that you are a sucker for nurturing. That is our job on the earth. That’s how God made us.”