When a casting call for extras for the new James Brown biopic, “Get On Up,” went out last year, Linda Garrett made sure she was there that Sunday morning in November in Jackson, Mississippi.
“Get On Up” used thousands of extras in scenes featuring recreations of performances by the music star known as the Hardest-Working Man in Show Business, the Godfather of Soul and Soul Brother No. 1.
Directed by Tate Taylor (“The Help”) and starring Chadwick Boseman (“42”), “Get On Up” opened nationwide Aug. 1. It earned $13.6 million in its debut weekend, opening in third place at the box office.
Garrett, of Baton Rouge and a retired caterer, hoped to be cast in “Get On Up” as an extra in a concert scene. Although she wasn’t picked, she has her own, very personal memories of one of the 20th century’s most famous and influential performers and recording artists.
In 1968, Garrett recalled, she attended Brown’s early and late show at Independence Hall in Baton Rouge.
“We used to go in the bathroom and hide after the first show,” she said. “We were kids. We didn’t have any more money to pay to get in again. We would come out of the bathroom when the people started coming in for the second show.”
Garrett, a teenager at the time, sat in the front row during that second show. When Brown sang and danced his way through “Night Train,” he turned her way and pointed with a series of sharp jabs.
“I didn’t know he was pointing at me,” she said. “And then after the show a man came out there to get me.”
A member of Brown’s entourage took Garrett backstage. Brown wanted to meet her.
Garrett definitely wanted to meet Brown. She’d been a fan since she’d seen his show-stealing performance in the concert film “The T.A.M.I. Show” at the Temple Theatre on North Boulevard.
About an hour after the Independence Hall show Garrett met Brown in The White House Inn, the hotel next to Independence Hall. The star had been having his hair done.
“He wouldn’t step out of his dressing room until that hair was in immaculate condition,” Garrett recalled.
Garrett was awestruck when she met Brown, then 35.
“I didn’t know what to say,” she said. “It was like, ‘This is unreal. I can’t believe this is happening to me.’ ”
A relationship, which Garrett said lasted into the late 1980s, began that night. One of Brown’s employees told her to keep her affair with the singing star, who was then separated from his first wife, under wraps.
“But I couldn’t keep my mouth shut,” Garrett said. “I told some friends. I had to tell somebody.” Word about her relationship with Brown quickly spread around the McKinley High School campus, but many people didn’t believe it.
“I fell in love with him,” Garrett said. “Everything about him. The way he moved, the way he walked, the way he talked. It was just there for me.”
Garrett said she saw Brown often, in Baton Rouge and other cities, including New Orleans, Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles and New York.
“As often as he would call,” she said. “But I knew he was a man of the world. I knew that he had other girlfriends. These stars, they’re in city to city to city. All over the place. But he was very nice. He was very generous. I had no complaint. He was a gentleman with me.”
In 1981, following Brown’s divorce from his second wife, Deidre “Deedee” Jenkins, he invited Garrett to his home in Augusta, Georgia. She keeps photos from the visit in a thick album of pictures of herself with Brown. She has notes she says are from him, too, one of them with his hotel room phone number on it.
Friends of Garrett, 61, corroborate her relationship with Brown, who died Christmas Day 2006, at 73. One friend recalls attending Brown’s concerts with Garrett and then seeing her and the singer leave together.
Her relationship with Brown ended in the late ’80s, Garrett said, after the singer asked her to share drugs with him in San Antonio.
“He had this cigar box,” she said of that ill-fated rendezvous. “He was putting drops from a little brown bottle in the box. He stirred it all up and rolled it up. He said, ‘Try this.’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘If you love me, you’ll try it.’ I said, ‘James, I don’t love you like that.’ I was young back then, but I wasn’t dumb. That morning I got up and left. I was very disappointed.”
Incidents related to Brown’s use of PCP that took place in 1988, including a high-speed police chase that resulted in his arrest, are depicted in “Get On Up.” The singer spent 15 months in prison.
After San Antonio, Garrett said, “I didn’t really see him like I’d been seeing him. But we stayed close for a while. He would call late, late, late at night to talk.”
Garrett attended a preview screening of “Get On Up” a few weeks ago. She faults the film on multiple counts. Important characters in Brown’s life are missing, Garrett said. Roles are also miscast and details involving the singer’s private jet, jewelry and stage costumes are incorrect, she said.
In a Hollywood Reporter story published Aug. 2, Jack Bart, the son of Brown’s manager, Ben Bart, also alleged many inaccuracies in the film, specifically involving his late father. Universal Pictures declined comment.
Garrett gives “Get On Up” a bad review. She’s especially critical of Boseman’s portrayal of Brown.
“I was not pleased with it at all,” she said. “They didn’t get him like he was. I know that’s hard to do, but this actor didn’t do it for me at all. The way he talks in the movie, James Brown didn’t talk like that. Chadwick (Boseman) sounds like somebody on alcohol or just off of a drunk. And Chadwick just didn’t have the look. In the movie, he has an evilness about him.”
The Brown she knew, Garrett said, “he was a very kind, soft spoken man. Cool, charismatic. He could charm the birds out of the trees. The sweetest thing you ever want to be around.”
Editor’s note: This story was edited on Aug. 8, 2014, to remove the photo that included Marcella J. Barrow. Barrow was not the unnamed friend mentioned in the story who corroborated Garrett’s relationship with James Brown.