Comedian/actor/singer Rudy Ray Moore and his alter ego “Dolemite” are well-known in the Black community—particularly among older generations—but less so in White circles. So who is this Rudy Ray Moore/Dolemite, and why is Netflix producing a new film about his life and efforts in making his self-titled cult film Dolemite?
Moore was a struggling R&B singer in the late ’50s and early ’60s, who eventually discovered his true calling performing raunchy standup and recording equally raunchy party albums. He eventually adopted the persona of a character named Dolemite in the early 1970s and recorded the seminal albums Eat Out More Often, This Pussy Belongs To Me, and The Dirty Dozens. Although Moore was influenced by the more mainstream Redd Foxx, there was nothing mainstream about his foul-mouth brand of bawdier-than-thou comedy. Much of his material, which dealt with lewd subject matter such as pimps and hustlers, consisted of him doing a sort of spoken word over jazz instrumentation. This predated hip-hop music by several years and would hugely influence many artists. It’s for this reason he’s been called “the Godfather of Rap.” Moore would later collaborate with a number of hip-hop artists, including Big Daddy Kane, Snoop Dogg, and 2 Live Crew.
Moore also sought to be a screen star, but Hollywood wasn’t interested. So Moore scraped together earnings from his albums to make the 1975 blaxploitation classic Dolemite. The film, directed by D’Urville Martin, became a startling success, earning $12 million on a mere $100,000 budget. This success propelled Moore’s acting career, allowing him to make more features, including Human Tornado, Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil’s Son-in-Law, Disco Godfather, and Monkey Hustle, among others.
Moore passed away in 2008, but his legacy lives on. In fact, it appears that it’s only just beginning… Fellow comedian/actor/singer Eddie Murphy long had a dream of making and starring in a Rudy Ray Moore biopic, and now, at long last, that dream has come to fruition. The new film from Netflix, Dolemite Is My Name, was written by Golden Globe-winning scribes Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt) and directed by Hustle & Flow helmer Craig Brewer. In addition to Murphy, the film features a spectacular cast which includes Wesley Snipes, Keegan-Michael Key, Chris Rock, Craig Robinson, Mike Epps, and rap artists Snoop Dogg and T.I.
In anticipation of Dolemite Is My Name, which is being released in limited theaters on Friday, October 4th (and then to streaming on October 25th), Diabolique sat down with Alexander and Karaszewski to discuss the project.
Were you guys fans of Rudy Ray Moore’s work before you became involved with this project?
KARASZEWSKI: Totally. We were huge fans of Rudy Ray Moore. When we were in college we became obsessed with the trailers for the Rudy Ray Moore movies. There was a videotape called The Best of Sex and Violence that I think Charles Band released. It was a compilation of ’70s exploitation trailers it was narrated by John Carradine. In the middle of that insane package were the trailers for the three big Rudy Ray Moore films—Dolemite, The Human Tornado, and Disco Godfather—back-to-back-to-back. And we felt those three trailers were the best three trailers of all time. [Laughs.] They were just mind blowing! And through those three trailers we became obsessed with the movies. So much so that, and this was back before the days of the Internet, I had a birthday and Scott wanted to surprise me. You couldn’t just go on Amazon.com and buy videotapes back then because that didn’t exist. So Scott actually found the name of the company that was making the videos—Xenon Video—and he drove out to their warehouse. He just walked in and said, “I wanna buy these videotapes.” [Laughs again.] And this wasn’t a retail shop in any way whatsoever. It was a warehouse. But they sold him the three videotapes, and that’s what I got for my birthday.
But I grew up in Indiana and basically grew up with those grindhouse films, so I saw tons and tons of blaxploitation films back in the day. But not those. Rudy had never made it to our town. Rudy’s film was a big success, but it wasn’t Shaft or Superfly. It wasn’t American International Pictures, so it was still flying somewhat under the radar.
But we were really obsessed with Rudy.
How did you guys become involved with this project?
KARASZEWSKI: One day about sixteen years ago we got a call saying, “Eddie Murphy wants to meet you.” And we were like, “How cool is that? We would love to meet Eddie Murphy!” So we went to his office.
ALEXANDER: We went out to see Eddie and he tells us he’s a big fan of Ed Wood. Then he started doing impressions of Tor Johnson and Bela Lugosi from Ed Wood. Quoting dialogue from our movie. Eddie says, “Do you guys know Rudy Ray Moore?” And we said, “Hell yes, we know Rudy Ray Moore!” [Laughs.] And we both started laughing because he didn’t need to say anything more. We both knew immediately that Eddie wanted to do an Ed Wood-style movie about Rudy Ray Moore. And we were 100-percent in. We purposefully, in our career, have never really written for specific actors before because you can spend many years developing a project with an actor and then someone like Terrence Malick comes along and wants them to go make a movie and then your movie just falls apart completely. We had an agent for over twenty years, and that was his biggest rule of thumb. He said, “Never ever write for an actor.” At CAA back in the ’90s, actors would set up twenty or thirty projects and no one would ever get around to reading them. So if you worked on those projects, that year became sort of a black hole. So until Eddie and Dolemite, we’d always said no way, we’d never do that. But the combination of Eddie and Rudy Ray Moore—oh, my God! That just sort of fell into our thing of wanting to write movies that we want to see. There’s no way we could have written a movie we wanted to see more than Eddie Murphy as Rudy Ray Moore.
So we got very excited about it, and an amazing thing happened… Eddie made some calls and got us in a room with the real Rudy Ray Moore the following week. So we spent the day with Rudy and he told us stories and he was really excited about all of us doing this film. He loved the idea of Eddie playing him. He said something like, “I can play a better Rudy Ray Moore than Eddie can, but if you can’t get me, Eddie’s the next best thing.” We got to hang out with Rudy and he told us his life story. But then the terrible thing happened that happens with a lot movies—we couldn’t sell the project. Nobody seemed particularly intrigued by it, so it sort of fell apart and went away. Then a couple years ago, Scott and I had another big success after The People vs. OJ Simpson and we thought maybe at this point in our career we could push through with a little passion project. And through the producers, John Fox and John Davis, we sent a message to Eddie asking if he was still remotely interested in the Rudy Ray Moore project. Eddie said absolutely, 100 percent. And then, within a couple of weeks we were meeting with Eddie and Netflix, and the whole movie came together really, really quickly. And that’s when we dug in and wrote it.
The film was directed by Craig Brewer, who’s a fantastic director. At what point did he come onboard?
ALEXANDER: We had to write the script first, and we’re not fast. [Laughs.] It took us a long time and we had to finish up other jobs we were on. Our whole mandate was, we were just trying to please Eddie. Because we knew if Eddie loved the script, Netflix would make the movie. And vice-versa; if Eddie doesn’t love the script, then Netflix won’t make the movie. So we wrote the script and took it to Eddie, Eddie loved it, and directors started waving their hands.
KARSZEWSKI: Craig just blew us away. Craig was amazing. And his film Hustle & Flow has a great connection to this movie. Dolemite Is My Name is the perfect combination of the three main creators of the project. It sort of has that realism, that gritty honesty of Hustle & Flow with kind of that X-rated comedy of the early Eddie Murphy with that sort of smart but snarky show business insider thing that Scott and I do. It really feels like a blending of all those talents together.
ALEXANDER: You really feel the musical talent there. Craig did an amazing job. The movie is musical in a way that we had never done before. It’s really delightful.
By the time you wrote this, Rudy has passed away. What kind of source material did you guys use to write the script? Did you conduct interviews? What was that process?
ALEXANDER: We had the world’s most dedicated Dolemite expert—a guy named Mark Jason Murray. We had extensive interviews with everybody, and we had spent time with Rudy, so we had that. Then I had an evening at the American Cinemateque after Rudy died where I interviewed Jerry Jones, who is the screenwriter character in the movie, whom Keegan-Michael Key plays. So I got Jerry Jones’ perspective, and Ben Taylor was there, whom Craig Robinson plays. So we had his perspective, and our researcher interviewed all these people many times, so we had reams and reams of interviews.
The reviews for My Name Is Dolemite are fantastic. The Variety review said it was a “motherfucking blast.” That was kind of a different statement for a Variety review.
ALEXANDER: [Laughs.] I’d never seen “motherfucking” as a headline before!
KARASZEWSKI: They did it like a comic book, where they threw in a few asterisks to make it more palatable! [Laughs.] It was like a Beetle Bailey comic strip.
Now that you’ve seen the film completed and put together, what are your thoughts on it?
KARASZEWSKI: It’s a total joy. I think it’s the most flat-out enjoyable film we’ve ever made. I just enjoy watching it. I’m always proud of our work, but most of the time, after I’ve seen them a couple of times… I mean, I always enjoy watching an audience react to it, but I don’t need to keep watching it. But this one, I just love to sit down and be entertained by it.
ALEXANDER: The cast is so entertaining. It’s just a rollicking good time.
It’s exciting to see Eddie going back to working “blue,” as they say. There’s an entire generation that only knows him as a talking donkey in animated films. It’s nice to hear Eddie say a few “fucks” and “motherfuckers.”
KARASZEWSKI: What was fun was that this sort of let Eddie show off all his talents, and then he’s doing hard “R” comedy. It’s been twenty years since he was cursing in a movie. And it was a joy to see Eddie cutting loose. But there’s also the musical stuff in here, and then there’s the very gentle, soulful scenes where he’s very quiet and more introverted. So I felt like we saw him do a mix of stuff in a way that he’s never gotten to in a movie before.
ALEXANDER: I think for decades, a lot of people thought Eddie might be the most talented person on the planet Earth. He’s a guy who has it all, but he’s never really had a part where he could showcase it all at once.
You guys have written biopics on a wide variety of people, from Larry Flynt to Ed Wood to Andy Kaufman. Do you see a recurring theme within your work regarding the people you’ve selected to write about? What ties them together?
KARASZEWSKI: All the movies are about crazy, dedicated people. They’ve got a vision, and they’re just gonna keep pushing and pushing until they get their way. They’re crazy, but they have a passion.
ALEXANDER: They have a passion and usually they’re doing something outside the system. It’s just out of sheer force of personality that they get things accomplished.
Obviously there are some closer parallels between Rudy Ray Moore and Ed Wood.
KARASZEWSKI: We recognized early on that if we weren’t careful, this movie could just turn into Ed Wood Part 2, which we didn’t want to do. So we really kind of focused on segregation and a group of Black performers who don’t get an opportunity to prove themselves because Hollywood was White. There’s no open door for them, so they decide to make it themselves. In that way, I think we were able to tell a story that’s never been told before.
ALEXANDER: Particularly the first hour of the movie. The first hour really deals a lot with the Black entertainment business in the early 1970s. Things like the X-rated album business, the chitlin circuit… So there’s a lot there we’ve never remotely covered before.
There’s a similarity to Ed Wood in that both he and Rudy Ray Moore were known to specific audiences before you made your films, but they certainly weren’t household names. You could have asked ten people and eight of them might not have known who they were.
ALEXANDER: We’ve experienced that for the last three years. People would ask, “What are you working on?” We would tell them and they would either say “What? That’s the greatest thing of all time!” and be super amped or they would, most times, say, “Who?” Now Larry and I are seeing the whole life cycle that we’ve seen on every other one of these things where once the film comes out there are all these articles like, “Oh yeah, sure, we know who he is! Of course we do.”
Is it your hope that this will do for Rudy Ray Moore’s legacy what your film did for Ed Wood?
KARASZEWSKI: Of course!
ALEXANDER: I think it already has, in a sense. I think there’s gonna be a great rediscovery of Dolemite and Human Tornado, as there should be.
KARASZEWSKI: The movie is tremendously funny. In Toronto we met the guys who owned the video rights to the movies. They said it was like carrying a big heavy rock for twenty years. And they just couldn’t believe their good fortune that this movie is being made.
ALEXANDER: It’s like a big commercial for people to go back and watch those films. I’m actually excited that the day before the movie opens in theaters, we’re doing a special screening at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. After our screening, they’re doing a free screening of the original Dolemite. I think we’re doing a Q&A after our film, but if we get a chance I wouldn’t mind seeing at least part of Dolemite again.
KARASZEWSKI: Oh, you know we’ll stay! [Laughs.]
ALEXANDER: [Laughs.] You’re right.