Pam Grier says she’s done with celebrating birthdays. “I’m not having any more. It’s over!” Pam, who turned 75 on May 26, tells Closer with a laugh. “Look at me. Do I look like I have birthdays?”

Fortunately, she has a lot of things to celebrate. The actress, who became Hollywood’s most famous Black female action star in the 1970s, currently appears in Them: The Scare. “Horror is one of the most challenging genres to nail,” says Pam, who notes that witnessing “a lot of real-life horror” growing up helped prepare her for the role of a protective mother in the anthology series.

Pam spent much of her childhood on military bases abroad due to her father’s career in the Air Force. It’s where she learned the martial arts skills that would make her a star in 1974’s Foxy Brown. “My family knew that I had been attacked,” explains Pam, who survived a violent assault by three older boys at age 6. “I needed to learn to protect myself. So there was a sergeant on the base that taught me two different forms of martial arts.”

Around the same time, Pam also observed the independence of the women on base who handled typically male-oriented jobs while their husbands were away. “As soon as the men went to work, women were fixing, cleaning, building, painting and figuring out how to cut the lawn,” she says. “Equality was seeping through.”

By 1967, Pam was living in L.A. and answering phones at American International Pictures while she saved for college. “My family wanted me to go to school to be a nurse or a doctor,” explains Pam, who caught the eye of producer Roger Corman. “I was the antithesis of a starlet. I didn’t have the blond wig and eyelashes. I had on a flannel blouse, a skirt and Timberland boots. I was rustic. That was refreshing to him.”

Pam Grier Opens Up About Acting Career at 75
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But even as Pam began appearing in women-in-prison films like 1971’s The Big Doll House, she never expected to become a full-time actress. “Every time I did a movie, I thought I’d go back to either medical school or film school,” she says. “I felt I couldn’t heal the world by being an actor.”

Pam Grier Built Her Legacy

Pam didn’t become a doctor, of course, but she set an example of how tough and heroic a woman can be in films like Foxy Brown. “I was a natural adventurer and stunt person,” she says in her 2010 memoir Foxy: My Life in Three Acts. “If you needed a woman of color to handle a gun, do a wheelie on a chopper or fall off a cliff into a rice paddy, I was the one to call.”

The star’s next goal is to bring her life story to the big screen. “I know who I want to play [former boyfriends] Richard Pryor, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Freddie Prinze,” says Pam, who delights in still being considered a trailblazer. “To this day, I am surprised when I go to events and people want their daughters and sons to meet me and see how far we’ve come along.”