ESTHER ANDERSON


Esther Anderson  is a NAACP Image Award actress, award winning filmmaker, photographer and lyricist. Cofounder of Island Records in the early sixties, Esther helped to create the Jamaican music and film industry over 40 years. A creative force behind the music career of pioneers of Jamaican music like Millie Small and Jimmy Cliff, Esther is credited with launching the international career of Bob Marley and The Wailers, creating the union between Reggae and Rasta with the iconic images of Bob’s first albums both as a photographer and artistic director, and collaborating with him in the creation of music anthems like “Get up Stand up, Stand up for your Rights,” “I Shot the Sheriff” and “War.” As an actress she has worked with Sir John Mills, Sidney Poitier, Stephen Boyd and Sammy Davis Jr. She has released two feature documentaries, part of a trilogy of films on artists of African descent who have made a major contribution to popular culture: “The Story of The Count of Monte Cristo,” a dramatised documentary on the life of Alexandre Dumas and her father General Dumas, and the musical documentary “Bob Marley: The Making of a Legend,” based on the lost footage she shot while working with Bob Marley and the Wailers in 56 Hope Road in 1973. She lives between London, Paris and New York. 

Esther Anderson was born in the parish of St Mary on the north coast of Jamaica. Her father Randolph Anderson was an architect and planter. Her mother Ivy Mae Mahon belonged to a well established Indian community in St Mary. She studied at Highgate High School and at the Quaker Finishing School, where she joined the St John's Ambulance Brigade. At the age of 14 she moved to Kingston to live with her paternal grandmother at the family home in Half Way Tree.

 

Her athletic figure brought her to the attention of the Sports Association of Jamaica and she was invited to lead Jamaica at the West Indian Federation Games.

 

Organisers of a 1960 Miss Jamaica beauty contest invited her to participate as "Miss Four Aces". At this time she met Hugh Foot Captain General and Governor in Chief of Jamaica, his aide-de-camp Chris Blackwell, the then Prime Minister Norman Manley and Jamaica's first Prime Minister Alexander Bustamante. The jury awarded her the first prize, but changed it to third prize while Anderson was still on stage after realizing she was underage. Anderson's father was angry she had entered the contest. This and the excessive public attention following the contest led Anderson to use the prize proceeds to travel to England.

 

In July 1961 Esther Anderson arrived in London where she began modeling for the artist Aubrix Rix, an illustrator for ''Woman's Own'' magazine whom she had met in Kingston with Dr Ken McNeill. She studied drama at the Actors Workshop in London. She combined her studies with a modeling career, doing photo shoots and commercials for Africa and the Asia. She was tested and won the contract for a series of commercials as the dancing girl advertising Kent's Doncella Cigars. She was offered a role in a documentary film by Jo Menell, who was a producer journalist for the television programme ''Panorama (TV series).” The film was directed by Riccardo Aragno. They filmed part of the scenes at the Crazy Elephant club where she worked as a DJ at nights. As a dancer, she had trained with Trinidadian Boscoe Holder, brother of Geoffrey Holder, while going to drama school. Esther and her sister Thelma (later Tiffany Anderson) auditioned for the producer Elkan Allan and director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, and they teamed up as dancers and choreographers for "Ready Steady Go!", the number-one pop show on British television at the time. They appeared as the Anderson Sisters, with The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Walker Brothers, Sonny and Cher, Cathy McGowan and Donovan. Esther was offered a part in a film Marty Ransohoff was making in Europe called ''The Sandpiper''.

 


Esther Anderson played roles in movies such as Henry Levin’s ''Genghis Khan'' for Columbia Pictures, Robert Freeman’s ''The Touchables'' for Twentieth Century Fox, Ted Kotcheff’s ''Two Gentlemen Sharing'', Jerry Lewis’s ''One More Time'' for United Artists, and Sidney Poitier’s ''A Warm December'' for First Artists. In this latter film, her role of an African princess won her a NAACP Image Award for Best Actress in 1973.
Esther Anderson in "The Touchables"
Directed by Robert Freeman, Twentieth Century Fox, 1968
Esther Anderson and Sammy Davis Jr. on the set of "One More Time"
Directed by Jerry Lewis, United Artists, 1970
Esther Anderson and Sidney Poitier in "A Warm December" 
Directed by Sidney Poitier, First Artists, 1973.

Later, she helped to launch the film industry in Jamaica, acting as co-producer of the film ''The Harder They Come'', telling the other producers and the director Perry Henzell to give the lead role to a new Jamaican talent, Jimmy Cliff, instead of to Johnny Nash. She coached Jimmy Cliff for the part, partly autobiographical, and he gave a formidable performance. Esther also organised the finance for the soundtrack, bringing in Chris Blackwell to put up the US$5,000 needed to complete the film, plus a music distribution deal.

 

Anderson had helped to develop the Jamaican music label Island Records from the early 1960s, selling Jamaican records with Chris Blackwell on a Mini Cooper, writing lyrics, taking stock, and promoting and managing all the Jamaican artists that went through Island Records, including Millie Small, Jimmy Cliff, and Bob Marley and the Wailers. Her iconic photographs of Bob Marley and their lyrical collaboration launched his international career in 1973 with the groundbreaking albums ''Catch a Fire'', ''Burnin''', and ''Natty Dread''.

 

After the Jamaican Music was successfully introduced to the world, Esther Anderson received the Trendsetter Award at a ceremony organised by ''Billboard” magazine on behalf of Denny Cordell of Mango Records and Chris Blackwell of Island Records in New York in 1976.

 

In 1981, the Mayor of Memphis, Tennessee, made her an Honorary Citizen for her contribution to films and music.

As a filmmaker, Esther Anderson's debut film ''Short Ends'' was an official selection at the 1976 Edinburgh Film Festival. Based on an idea developed in the island of Patmos, Greece, Esther explores the search for the elixir of life in contemporary society. Equipped with her own portable 35mm Arriflex camera, Esther experiments working in collaboration with Academy Award winner cinematographer Peter Biziou; and creating the original music soundtrack with Jim Capaldi, legendary drummer from the English rock band Traffic. 

Researching the lives of people of colour at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC, Esther Anderson developed the idea of making films on artists who have made an outstanding contribution to world culture. Based on this idea, in collaboration with Gian Godoy, she started a trilogy in 2001 with the film ''The Three Dumas," a dramatised documentary about the French writer Alexandre Dumas and his African ancestors. The grandson of a French planter and an enslaved African, Dumas overcame all the obstacles of prejudice to become a role model of contemporary literature. Anderson herself portrays General Toussaint L'Ouverture, leader of the Haitian Revolution. The French actor Joakim Latzko plays the role of the writer, and opera singer Juan Carlos Echeverry plays the role of the father of the writer General Dumas. Maria Schneider plays the role of Alexandre Dumas' mother. The dramatizations were shot in authentic locations in France, England and Haiti. The avant-premiere of ''The Three Dumas'' took place in 2005 in France at Villers-Cotterets, birthplace of Dumas, to coincide with the inauguration of the new statue of Dumas, which had been melted down by the Nazi regime in 1942. The film was made in collaboration with the Museum Alexandre Dumas as part of the historic Pantheonization of Alexandre Dumas ordered by the President of France Jacques Chirac. The UK premiere of The Three Dumas took place in 2007 at the Museum of London Docklands, coinciding with the inauguration of the new Sugar and Slavery Gallery during the bicentenary commemorations of the 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, followed by a premiere at the British Film Institute and the Victoria & Albert Museum. The film toured national museums, film institutes and universities in the UK, Canada, USA, and Latin America. An Official Selection at the 2008 Portobello Film Festival (UK), the film reveals a story hidden for 200 years: General Dumas, born a slave in Haiti, when he was a teenager he travelled to Normandy to join his father, the Marquis de la Pailleterie. As a young officer, he became a hero of the French Revolution and a famous general. Betrayed by Napoleon after the Egyptian campaign, his son Alexandre Dumas will carry his legacy for nearly 40 years to avenge his father with the most extraordinary revenge novel ever written: The Count of Monte-Cristo. The film premiere in Florida at the Little Haiti Cultural Center and at special screening of DocMiami International Film Festival in 2012.


Joakim Latzko as Alexandre Dumas in "The Three Dumas"
A dramatised documentary by Esther Anderson and Gian Godoy
Esther Anderson
Photograph by Joan Townsend
The Wailers, Chelsea, London, 1973
Photograph by Esther Anderson
"My commitment to Bob Marley and The Wailers was absolute. I helped to get their voices out. I helped them to gain confidence, promoted their image and message, became their personal manager, traveled with them directing them before they went on radio and television. To me, it was vital that we used the media to cross the artists over. And they had to be as strong as the Beatles or the Stones. We need strong voices, and great musicians from Jamaica to go out into the world and succeed. Brand did not enter in our vocabulary. That is not why we did the work. It was to develop our culture. To give our people a voice. We are not into the “one story,” one person telling the story. We are all storytellers, each and every one of us. Jamaica is our only brand."
Esther Anderson, 2014
Bob Marley and Esther Anderson in Port of Spain, Haiti, 1973
Photograph by Esther Anderson
Bob Marley "Catch a Fire," 56 Hope Road, Kingston, Jamaica, 1973
Photograph by Esther Anderson
Bob Marley, Hellshire Beach, Jamaica, 1973
Photograph by Esther Anderson
Bob Dylan at the Blackbushe aerodrome in Surrey, England, 1978
Photograph by Esther Anderson