“You walk to the edge of a cliff and you just know you’re gonna fly” – Judy Pace
Judy Lenteen Pace is an African American actress who was the first villainess on television in 1964. Pace starred as the tough Vickie Fletcher, a high-powered lawyer on the hit show “Peyton Place.” “Peyton Place” is the only prime-time scripted series ever to run episodes continuously for years without reruns or hiatuses. The “Peyton Place” series was also the first time a black family was represented in a dramatic series on television.
Pace starred in the series opposite actor Glynn Turman. The two had also been the first black teenagers on television. The white audience was intimidated by Pace’s character at first, who was a black woman in a fur coat, so they simply changed her character’s coat to a different material.
Pace was born in 1942 in Los Angeles, CA. She was raised in her parent’s retail store, Kitty’s Boutique, which was said to be the largest black-owned ladies apparel shop west of the Mississippi.
In the 1960’s, actors in the entertainment industry had to be signed with a major motion picture studio to be considered for work. Pace was the first black woman to receive a contract to a major motion picture studio; she was signed to Screen Gems/Columbia pictures, then was later the first black to get a contract with 20th Century Fox. She recalls being the only black person on the studio lot besides Joseph, the gentleman hired to shine shoes.
During that time period, African American actors weren’t typically seen in productions if they were darker skinned. Pace (also known as Judy Pace Mitchell) was the first black actress of a dark skin color to reach a high level of prestige in entertainment.
Pace had minor roles in landmark television productions prior to “Peyton Place” such as “Bewitched” (1966), “Batman” (1966), “I Spy” (1966), “I Dream of Jeannie” (1967), “The Flying Nun” (1967), “The Mod Squad” (1968) and several other early programs.
In 1972, Pace starred as Linda, the wife of Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) in the Emmy award-winning classic “Brian’s Song”. The film is the first to be cited in the U.S. Congressional Record.
Pace starred alongside television beauties Farrah Fawcett and Jaclyn Smith in a show entitled “Owners”. For the first time in TV history, a black woman was shown as the roommate of two white women. The network executives were in talks of a new series that featured three women as crime-fighting beauty icons. They saw Fawcett and Smith as perfect choices, but believed that the black woman, who already had proven chemistry on screen, could not be a part of the cast. So they did not choose Judy Pace as the third Charlie’s Angel.
Among other firsts in Pace’s long resume of entertainment history, she was the first black woman to star in Broadway’s traveling production of “Guys and Dolls”, which was featured in Las Vegas. Pace had the leading role of Adelaide, opposite Clifton Davis.
As she gained notoriety in the television industry, executives of Fashion Fair cosmetics took notice of Judy Pace. Pace became the first model to appear in Fashion Fair advertisements. The ads soon also featured “Queen of Soul”, Aretha Franklin.
In her personal life, Pace married actor Don Mitchell (“Ironsides”) in 1972. The two divorced in 1986 but had a daughter, Julia Pace Mitchell. That same year, Pace married Curt Flood, the former baseball player who broke barriers in the sport’s agency and trade policies. Flood passed away in 1997.
Judy Pace is a pioneer for her own daughter, Julia Pace Mitchell, who currently stars as Sofia on the “Young and the Restless”. Ironically, Sofia’s persona is similar to Pace’s character of Vickie Fletcher on “Peyton Place”. Judy Pace is a two-time NAACP Image Award winner and five-time nominee. It was the first time the NAACP organization had awarded the work of those in television. Pace is also the founder of the Image Award-winning Kwanza Foundation, the only philanthropic nonprofit black organization honoring the women of film in front and behind the camera.
For more information on the Kwanza Foundation, go to www.kwanzafoundation.org.