As you have no doubt heard, Rudy Ray "Dolemite" Moore passed away this week. I had a chance a couple of years ago to hang out with Rudy over the course of a weekend when he came to Boston for an in-person appearance at my theatre. I was excited not only because I am a huge fan of his films, but because thanks to the Norton Records anthology "Hully Gully Fever", I had become a fan of his music as well. Before his comedy career, Rudy really wanted to be a successful R&B crooner. Sometimes known as Prince Dumar, he was recording and independently releasing a slew of rather good but never chart topping ditties in the 50's and 60s.
Listen To: Rudy Ray Moore, "Hully Gully Papa"
His R&B career was artistically rewarding, but didn't pay the bills. As Rudy himself told me, one day he was sitting in front of the barber shop and was listening to some of the men tell hilariously dirty stories in exchange for tips. Never one to pass up a cash cow, Rudy recorded some of these stories in a bragging, rhythmic, rhyming style of his own and a new career was born. One of the first proudly x-rated comedians, Rudy produced a string of self-distributed albums featuring luscious nude black ladies posing with Rudy on the cover and lascivious titles like: Let's Come Together, Eat Out More Often, This Pussy Belongs To Me, Cockpit, The Sensuous Black Man, I Can't Believe I Ate the Whole Thing, Close Encounter of the Sex Kind, and This Ain't No White Christmas. Most of these gloriously rude comedy albums have been rereleased on CD, and Amazon has a slew of them for download.
One of Rudy's best albums is Dolemite For President, which is finally getting the CD reissue just after Election Day (hmmm....). Especially notable is the title skit, wherein Dolemite lays out his plan for a better America. Just last week while flipping through Brooklyn public access, I heard a DJ mistakenly play this bit of Rudy's mantra over the top of the community bulletin board notice for Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Yes, it did make me spit milk out my nose.
Warning: If you are at work, don't even think about hitting play! "Dolemite For President"
But the Rudy Ray Moore that most of us first came to know is the action hero. Starting with 1974's Dolemite, he starred in a string of self-financed action films and re-created himself again as the martial arts savior of the community. Dolemite can not only beat you down, but open up some verbal kick-ass at the same time. "Man, move over and let me pass. Or you'll be pullin' these Hush Puppies out yo muthafuckin' ass!!"
I first watched Dolemite years ago and thought it was one of those hilarious so-bad-it-has-to-be-good films. But a few years experience and a bit more research has changed my mind. Sure, the film is a bit on the inept side, but it was made almost completely by amateurs on a shoe-string budget and, well, it's supposed to be a comedy. So if you just flow with Dolemite's own loose vibe, it is really a delight. Not only that, but it was one of the few blaxploitation films of the era to really be born, financed, and made for the community. Melvin Van Peebles' Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song was the groundbreaker, but Dolemite is like watching Jr. High school kids playing Sweetback in the back-yard - adding all the toilet humor and silly chop-socky action that was missing from the more serious film. The film was a huge success and a string of self-produced follow ups were made (and one "legit" film, as Rudy signed on to co-star in AiP's Monkey Hustle with Yaphet Kotto).
My favorite of all of Rudy's films is The Human Tornado. The success of Dolemite helped them to make a bigger and badder sequel, with more elaborate sets, more action, sped-up kung-fu fights, and even some real actors (look for young Ernie Hudson). Oh yeah, and Rudy sings an awesome theme song.
Listen To: Rudy Ray Moore, "The Human Tornado theme"
Plot wise, The Human Tornado is nothing short of astounding. Dolemite busts rhymes and does stand up, gives his beautiful home to the community, gets caught in bed with a racist sheriff's wife, escapes naked down a hill, blows up a cop car with a shotgun, kidnaps an excited homosexual and drives to L.A., helps his old friend Queen Bee, literally fucks the house down seducing a mafia leader's bodacious wife with a psychedelic painting, rescues gorgeous babes from a house of torture, and saves the day by kung-fuing his way through a mob party - including a deadly show-down with a loincloth-wearing nunchuck expert. That's a lot of movie!!! Even the action packed trailer doesn't quite have it all.
I'd been wanting to get Rudy to come and do a screening of The Human Tornado for a long time, and finally lured him to Boston while he was on a mini-tour to promote his new Dolemite DVD box set in 2006. His booker told me that Rudy was, of course, older than he used to be - but still a spry 69. This was a lie, as Dolemite was 81 when he passed away this week. We pretty much knew he was older when we picked Rudy up at the train station. While still dressed in gold-lame finery, the real Rudy Ray Moore is more like a sweet old man than the pimpin' mack daddy he plays in public. He walked slowly with his cane, read all the street signs out loud, and had to concentrate carefully when he would eat. Don't get me wrong, seeing "old" Dolemite wasn't sad at all - rather it was like having the best grandfather ever, one who loved to rattle off insane stories from his youth, make action movies, and tell incredibly dirty jokes. After telling me about the film project he was in the midst of ("My new movie has three sex acts - on it, in it, and up it"), Rudy spent most of our trip to his hotel cracking me up by busting out groaners: "What do Monica 'Blew'inski & the Bermuda Triangle have in common? ... They both swallow semen!"
Rudy arrived with his assistant and friend Napoleon, who had been with him for 25 years or so and appears in most of his films in bit parts or as a stunt double. Napoleon acted as handler, manager, organizer, and merch guy for the Dolemite empire. His relationship with Rudy was funny and sweet. They would bicker and make fun of each other like an old married couple. While not as rudely quotable as Rudy, Napoleon would occasionally break out with a truly hilarious remark: "The problem with Christmas is that you can't go to a strip club 'cause the family wants you at home. The rest of the year it's restraining order this, restraining order that, but then they want you home on Christmas."
My friend George and I took them out for soul food at Bob the Chef's, one of Boston's last remaining institutions for jazz and good southern cooking (and now, it too is gone). The restaurant was playing some great 50s R&B and the walls were lined with photos of soul and jazz legends. Rudy enjoyed the atmosphere immensely, nodding and singing along with the music and flirting with the waitress. The only faux pas of the evening was when I turned to George and asked, "What exactly are chitterlings, do you think?" (I'd heard of them, of course, but never before bothered to ask what they were). This lead Rudy into a hearty spasm of laughter and the exclamation that "If a white boy like you has never had to eat pork innards, there ain't no reason to start now!" I felt pretty stupid about making a flub like that in front of Dolemite of all people, but then again I didn't really care - because I was still sitting in a restaurant and eating soul food with Dolemite! That's the closest I'm going to get to Monkey Hustle, my friends. (note: my big dream in life is to one day find a restaurant like the in-home one featured in Monkey Hustle)
As we were leaving the restaurant, Rudy spotted a young black man walking up the street. Like a switch went on, he turned from an old man leaning on his cane into the bad bad Dolemite. He approached the kid and loudly asked, "Are you a soul brotha? Are you a gen-u-ine soul brotha?" The kid was puzzled, but interested. "Well, my brotha, I am the one and only Dolemite, just in town for a few days." And here Napoleon artfully pulled out a flyer and put it in the kid's hand. "Now, tell me about yourself." They launched into a quick conversation, and even though I'm not sure the kid new exactly who he was talking to, he was duly impressed. As we escorted Rudy into George's junky little Honda, the kid was staring at us as if we were limo drivers who were escorting a prince to the castle. That's right, you just ran into Dolemite on the streets of Boston. Tell the world!
The next day I drove Rudy and Napoleon around to show them some Boston sights. Inspired by Napoleon's skills the night before, I decided to make our sightseeing tour work for us a bit, and taped a large promotional poster on the side of the car. Now Rudy was riding around with a bit of the fanfare he deserved (well, he deserved a topless Caddy with streamers and such, but this would have to do), and as we slowed in downtown traffic a bike messenger began to zip past us. He noticed the sign on the car, then glanced up and caught the eye of the actual Dolemite, who flashed that million dollar grin. The bike messenger spazzed out and nearly crashed, and we saw him later that night at the show. Mission accomplished.
I didn't get much of a chance to show Rudy the Boston sights that day, because he was on a mission. The night before he had scoured the Boston phone book to find the best dollar store in town. "You have to find the one where everything really is a DOLLAR," he exclaimed loudly into my ear. "Everything else is just bull-shit". Why he would want to travel across country just to visit a Boston dollar store was beyond me, but I was happy to oblige. We spent an hour roaming the aisles of Family Dollar, with Rudy chatting up the customers, proclaiming soul brothers, and cooing over babies, while Napoleon grabbed some of the strangest items: twelve back scratchers, a bunch of canes, rubber toy snakes, and some horrible plastic jewelry. Afterwards, I left them back at the hotel to relax before the show.
One of the most impressive things I learned from Rudy Ray ("Just call me Dolemite, dammit") Moore was frugality. He came to Boston by flying into the cheaper Providence airport then taking the commuter train into town. He refused to order drinks at the restaurant, and instead asked for a glass of water and a plate of lemon slices, which he then mixed with a couple of sugar packets to make free homemade lemonaide. But best of all, was his merch table that night before his appearance. He not only had his new Dolemite DVDs, autographed photos, and CDs for sale - but there on the table was all the stuff from the dollar store! He had glued gems and rubber snakes to the back scratchers and canes and selling them as autographed Dolemite pimp gear for $15-$20. Genius! My Dolemite back scratcher still hangs in a place of prominence in my home.
The show was fantastic. Rudy told rude jokes, fondled my female friends who volunteered last minute to walk him to the front of the stage (he called them "fat pussy" and "skinny pussy"), and was more than happy to talk and interact with all of his fans. And seeing that film with a huge laughing crowd was really a treat. It was perhaps one of the best nights I ever had at the Coolidge, and possibly in my whole little life.
Rudy Ray Moore, you will be greatly missed. But thankfully Dolemite will live on forever!
As a final treat in this post, here's the video for "Still Live With My Moms" from WFMU fave and Brooklyn native Thurstin Howl III. A lively piece of animation, it also features a charming cameo by Rudy Ray Moore.