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Eddie Murphy and the Black Pack

DURING a “Beverly Hills Cop II” press conference last year, Eddie Murphy, 26, announced the existence of the “black pack,” a clique of successful black comedians made up of Murphy, Robert Townsend, Arsenio Hall, Paul Mooney and Keenen Ivory Wayans. But the burden that comes with power has fallen heavily on Murphy--he is expected by many to have done more than he has to bring blacks into power positions.

The members of the group give one another support in a variety of ways. Last year, Hall replaced Joan Rivers as host of “The Late Show” on the Fox Broadcasting network (he jokes that he was hired “after the producers called 1-800-CAUCASIAN and no one answered”). On Hall’s closing show in November, Mooney was scheduled to appear; Eddie Murphy came on as a surprise guest. Townsend and Wayans sat in the audience, applauding their friends’ televised antics. By the time Fox decided to pick up Hall’s contract because of his high ratings, he had already signed with Paramount to co-star in Murphy’s next film, to be directed by John Landis (“Trading Places”).

Mooney says he has begun a script with Murphy, about a slave (Murphy) with supernatural powers who refuses to use them because power corrupts. And after seeing a rough cut of “Hollywood Shuffle,” Murphy asked Townsend to direct his concert film, “Eddie Murphy Raw”; Wayans and Murphy wrote the film’s introduction.

But many blacks in the industry fear that Murphy will lose his autonomy, as others have before him, if he doesn’t consolidate his power base. For now, though, he’s holding a winning hand--he has a multi-picture deal with Paramount Pictures, and his TV production company, Eddie Murphy TV Enterprises Ltd., produced the special “Uptown Comedy Express” (which stars another Murphy discovery, comic Chris Rock) for HBO and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award last year. Vice presidencies of the company, which Murphy started in association with Paramount 1 1/2 years ago, went to Mark Corry, who had worked as Murphy’s personal assistant, and Clint Smith, who had gone from hanging out on the set of “48 HRS.” to working for Dick Ebersol, the executive producer of “Saturday Night Live.” Both Corry and Smith have been friends of Murphy since they were in the eighth grade.

Then in November, the company, which had remained without a president, hired Mark McClafferty, a white television executive who had been an executive vice president and producer for Glen Larson Productions. Within two weeks of his arrival at Murphy’s television company, they sold a highly stylized, variety-comedy series to NBC, “Outrageous.” Yet McClafferty’s hiring upset many blacks in the industry.

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“Murphy has the power to change this industry, but to do so he must develop institutions and utilize qualified and professional black talent,” argues one black producer. “It’s great that he’s opened doors for his friends, but he hasn’t really put them in the power positions. He’s got to do more than just hire (white) people who can get their calls taken by the powers that be.”

“Eddie’s finally aware that the pressure’s on him, and he’s taking an increasing role in what’s going on around him,” says another black producer. “Arsenio and Robert have become Eddie’s close friends and confidants, and he trusts them and his own instincts. Before he was shielded and controlled by his white management, but now Eddie’s beginning to deal directly with the creative black community.”

“Eddie doesn’t want to be viewed as the black messiah,” says Corry. “He’ll do as much as he can to open doors for minorities as we succeed, but he thinks the best way to do that is to do good, ‘colorless’ television.”


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