Born in Gary, Indiana, on March 5, 1937 (some sources cite 1938 as his date of birth), Fred ‘Hammer’ Williamson grew up in Gary and graduated from Froebel High School in 1955. He enrolled at Northwestern University, where he played college football while studying architecture. He was drafted by San Francisco 49ers in 1959, where he picked up the nickname ‘Hammer.’ He later played football for the Pittsburgh Steelers (1960-1961), Oakland Raiders (1961-64), and Kansas City Chiefs (1964-1968), for whom he played in Superbowl I. Williamson’s arm was broken during an exhibition game in August 1967, and he sat out the majority of the 1967-1968 season. Afterward, Williamson signed with the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes for the 1968 season, but quickly gave up his career as a football player.
Williamson briefly worked as an architect before deciding to give acting a try. His first appearance as an actor was on a December 1968 episode of Ironside. During the following year, he was cast on the ABC sit-com Julia as Diahann Carroll’s love interest. And from there, Williamson’s film career took off; his first film appearances came in the blockbuster comedy MASH (1970; with Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould) and in the comedy/drama Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon (1970; with Liza Minnelli, Ken Howard, and Robert Moore).
Williamson’s first film role was in Robert Altman’s all-star Korean war comedy MASH. Williamson portrayed Dr. Oliver Jones in a role that did not translate to the TV series of the same name. Williamson’s second film role came in the oddball Liza Minnelli vehicle Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon, directed by Otto Preminger and released by Paramount.Williamson starred in some of the best 1970s blaxploitation films and was one of the few actors who kept his career going after the genre waned in the late 1970s. He continued his acting career in the 1980s on television and in films, acting in a number of Italian productions including Warrior of the Lost World (1983; with Robert Ginty and Donald Pleasence) and Deadly Impact (1984; with Bo Svenson). In the late 1980s, he also starred in the successful Black Cobra series of films in Italy.
In addition to his career as an actor, Fred Williamson has also served as director, producer, and writer for a number of films. His first film as a producer was Boss (1975; William Smith), and he began his directing career with Mean Johnny Barrows (1976; with Roddy McDowall and Stuart Whitman), a film which Williamson produced and starred in. Since 1975, Williamson has directed about twenty films. His production company which he runs with his wife, Linda, Po’ Boy Productions, continues to turn out films. And he continues to act in films today and, as of January 2013, has six films in production.