The PHONOMENAL LIFE of TONI VAZ
She was an ACTOR, MODEL & ACTIVIST. Be astounded & outraged as we APPLAUD HER on her life’s’ journey.
FROM STUNT WOMAN TO ACTIVISM
Toni Vaz’s parents were from Barbados, who immigrated to New York City before Toni was born. Growing up with a strict Caribbean Mother raising four children, who placed emphasis on school, church, and home. Without the insight of watching television, Toni knew there was more in the world to explore.
In the late 1940’s, Toni was a young black model with a great career in New York where her melanin skin got her print magazine gigs typecast to portray characters, such as, the killer, prostitute or fighter in derogatory stories.
She left New York to move to California in 1951 and happened by chance to be chosen without a formal audition, nor training, as a ‘movie extra’ to appear in several popular films. Her face was prominent in these roles even though the early 1950’s there were very few black people cast in such roles in predominantly white actors for big screen movies.
Toni would quickly learn the deceit of the movie industry from back in those days, as Directors would play ‘tricks’ on her as an extra in film making.
How do you imagine raw emotion was captured to show great acting to elevate movie stature?
Ms Vaz recalls how, through several resembling experiences where Directors played ‘tricks’ that could have changed her life forever or end. In the popular movie, “Tarzan” the set was designed as a jungle, where Toni and another African American girl were told to run, but what was not shared, was that there was a real lion chasing behind them – which evoke an authentic sense of fear on the faces of the girls, but they were literally running for their lives.
She was featured as a stunt double in many films thereafter; “The Singing Nun” and more, yet another film; “Porgy and Bess”, Toni shares a section of the movie with a big fight scene between Sidney Poitier and Sammy Davis Jr., where the on lookers surrounded The Director placed Toni and another girl in position for the action to start and told the girls when the commotion starts, to lean out the window to see watch the fight. What he did not tell them was that the banister had been intentionally cut so when the ‘extras’ leaned forward, the frame would break to send the girls flying out the window to a huge fall onto a mattress below, successfully captured on film. Yet another example, in the well-known movie, “The Poseidon Adventure”, with a scene with a huge blast of fire, Toni did not get hurt, but the other black extra on set left with injuries to need eleven stitches and lifetime memory of how they were treated back in those early years in Hollywood.
In those days, there were no professional stunt people, so with little training, Toni would be hired for even more daring stunt roles for ‘on the job training’ in some of the most dangerous ways. One of the last stunts for Toni was in the movie, “Mission Impossible” where the instructions cast her to be the last to run to jump into a helicopter and the Director, yelled “ACTION”. Just as Toni got one foot onto the aircraft it took off into the air when the male actor hit his queue to grab her and pull her in, however in this case there was no mattress sitting below in the case he missed. Thank God he did not.
The Fight and The Struggle
From there, Toni Vaz was established in the movie industry, as the tides turned when the Stuntmen Association was created for Black people to be lifted from $40. wages in comparison to $350. for the White stunt workers, even the title beyond an ‘extra’ to be now known and paid as a stunt woman.
Toni submitted her career story to the Screen Actors Guild book, but after they figured out that she was Black, they returned her $600.00 back without acceptance. She clearly saw that Black people were not entitled to the same roles as White people while being relegated to limited roles as hookers or dope dealers, however Toni had never seen any of those images from her personal childhood, and she wanted to understand the inequalities of Blacks in the movie industry and asked why they could not be portrayed as smart or respected in roles, as she had known.
So, looking back over her life, Toni could not sit still, and she had to do something to shine the light on ways for Black people to demonstrate to the world how they should be treated. The time was over to wait on White Hollywood to celebrate Black actors and paved the way for Black people to honor each other, which helped to change the narrative for other mindsets to follow the view of the worthiness Black people brought to the table.
The Heart of Her
Toni then moved to become an activist and joined the newly established branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which is the oldest, largest, and strongest Civil Rights Organization in the United States. She helped to establish the new Beverly Hills branch and was placed in charge of two committees with little to no help.
Recognizing the current times, with derogatory images of Black person from the likes of “Amos and Andy” and similar shows, Toni Vaz made it her mission to change that depiction and that is where the IMAGE AWARDS derived in the business to celebrate Black Actors and to spark better roles to be offered. The first “NAACP Image Awards” happened in 1967 which was a huge success. For 54 years, Toni was challenged for proper recognition of her rightful place in history, but finally in 2021, she was finally honored as the NAACP officially acknowledge, Ms Toni Vaz as THE CREATOR of the NAACP IMAGE AWARDS.
Toni Vaz married twice over her incredible life’s journey and is recognized as a well-respected leader with memorabilia photos with Ed Sullivan, Lou Gossett and so many more.
In 1968, Ms Vaz accounts being on the cover of a very important children’s book entitled “LISTEN!” by Bowmar Early Childhood Series, Written by Marion W. Crume. It was the first storybook for Black children to show the integration between Black and White children, which had never been seen before, so this was a pivotable time with greater purpose.
Black History month 2021 celebrates Harlem native Toni Vaz as Hollywood’s first black Stunt Woman. The life of Toni Vaz will forever span beyond her young 98 years of life, as this was the first year in history that she was recognized by the NAACP organization. She received the ‘FOUNDERS AWARD’, for her creation of the NAACP Image Awards Show.
A Fascinating Life
Toni was well known in association with Hollywood Black greats to sit in on film for women such as American Actress Juanita Moore, Dorothy Dandridge, Dianne Carroll, Ruby Dee, Eartha Kitt which led to a fascinating life.
It was the first storybook for Black children to show the integration between Black and White children, which had never been seen before, so this was a pivotable time with greater purpose.
Throughout her career whenever there was a hiatus, Toni loved to travel in much safer times. She has visited over 50 countries, traveling alone where the locals were friendly, but curious about her skin color, being the first Black person to be seen. She would allow them to touch her skin in enchantment.
Today, she resides in California with a with a peaceful reflection of her past contributions to blaze new trails and open groundbreaking doors for Black people to peak at the point of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ era. Toni witnessed the young and the old of all skin tones of races to come together to one voice for one principle, standing together on one accord. She is a pioneer to be celebrated as the changemaker that shows us that we can stand together.
But you cannot keep this vibrant soul to sit still, as she is always up for the call to share her story because it is a part of the history. Her legacy has been cemented in all that she has contributed to a race of people in America.
Without regrets to her adventurous and abundant life, flowers are well deserved in merriment of the full life of jewel, Ms Toni Vaz.
To acknowledge the contributions of people of color in the industry and to encourage social justice, the NAACP Image Awards finally recognize and honor individuals properly https://naacpimageawards.net/blog/the-woman-who-re-imagined-blackhollywood-ms-toni-vaz/
Interested to know more about Toni Vaz? You can visit this link to read her exclusive interview and stories