Eddie Murphy Celebrates Cleveland Entertainer Rudy Ray Moore In 'Dolemite'
Comic actor Eddie’s Murphy’s new film tells the story of a Cleveland entertainer who made a name for himself as an unlikely star of the big screen. Rudy Ray Moore was a hit with some African American audiences when he transformed into the movie character “Dolemite.”
Moore endured a lot of rejection in his performing career. Murphy captures his frustration – and tenacity – in “Dolemite Is My Name.” The film documents Moore’s struggles and successes, culminating in his 1975 movie, “Dolemite,” which featured a fearless, streetwise hustler who didn’t take "no" for an answer and fought against oppression with his fists.
In a June 2000 interview with former WCPN producer Dan Bindert, the Arkansas native said he came to Northeast Ohio as a teenager.
“I had an aunt who lived there, and I was just a young boy, 17-years-old,” Moore said. “I made Cleveland my home.”
His life as an entertainer started as a singer and a dancer, but he really didn’t connect with audiences until he started telling jokes. Moore left Cleveland and eventually recorded a series of comedy records starting in the late 1950s. These live recordings exuded swagger, audacity, and were laced with raunchy language. Along the way, Moore developed a persona of a pimp, based on stories he’d heard on the street.
“Street humor; people telling the tale of Dolemite,” said Moore. “He was a tough little dude with a heavy pedigree. And I picked it up.”
In 1970, he brought that character to his records. Five years later, he took it further. It was an era for Blaxploitation films catering to African American audiences. Moore scraped together enough money to make a supremely low-budget film. Cleveland filmmaker Robert Banks was nine years old at the time. As a kid, he loved the kung fu action, but he also recognized something else.
“Growing up having an older father that, while he wasn’t a street hustler, he pretty much knew the streets,” Banks said. “A lot of his immediate friends were like Dolomite.”
Robert Banks takes a break from editing to recall the legacy of Rudy Ray Moore [David C. Barnett / ideastream]
And Banks thinks a lot of the character’s appeal came from the fact that he didn’t look like a movie star.
“You've got this sort of heavy-set, middle-aged dude with this scruffy voice, wearing these goofy clothes, saying all this crazy stuff,” Banks said. “He's everyman. And he's also the everyman that the white establishment is scared of, at least in these films.”
Robert Banks sees Rudy Ray Moore's delivery as a precursor to rap.
Rudy Ray Moore built a show business career based on sticking it to the man, fighting the system. In 1975, he made a triumphant return home to Cleveland, to one of his old boyhood haunts, to premiere “Dolemite.”
“And it played in the Hippodrome theater, a theater that I’d sit up and watched many pictures in,” Moore said. “I’m watching one of my own films in the theater that I loved so much.”
The Hippodrome Theater on Euclid Avenue was bulldozed into a parking lot in 1980. Rudy Ray Moore passed away in Akron in 2008 at the age of 81. This weekend, his memory will once again be up on the screen, in the city where he got his start.