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Laughs, Sports, and Richard
One of the best Christmas gifts I ever got was a CD box set of his greatest albums. From “Was It Something I Said?” to “Here & Now”, the collection is living proof of his greatness.
In looking back at his incredible comedic career, even I was surprised how much an influence the world of sports had on his comedy material and most importantly, his movie career.
Whether he was imitating Leon Spinks (remember “I ain’t got nuthin’ to lose!!”), talking about a sparring session with Muhammed Ali, his “rehab” days with Jim Brown, or playing a washed-up minor leaguer in “Brewster’s Millions”, Rich always seemed to be in a “sports” mode.
Just take a look at this slight sampling of Pryor’s movies:
BINGO LONG TRAVELING ALL-STARS & MOTOR KINGS (1976)Based on the days of the Negro League, Rich plays Charlie Snow, a light hitting outfielder who hopes to be the first player to break baseball’s color barrier. His aliases include Charlie Nevada, a “Cuban” ballplayer and Chief Takahoma, an “Indian” ballplayer. Also, fellow actor Sam Shaw played “Esquire” Joe Callaway, a Jackie Robinson based character in the movie. Many years later, Shaw would play a stuttering boxer opposite Pryor in Harlem Nights.
GREASED LIGHTNING (1977)Playing opposite Pam Grier (That lucky dog!!), Rich stars in the life story of Wendell Scott, the first black stock car racing champion in America. Ironically, most of the film was shot on location in Danville, Virginia, and Georgia. A Virginia native, Scott got his start on the dirt tracks in the South. While the movie wasn’t a box office success, it gave sports fans and moviegoers a chance to look back at one of the great black pioneers of sport.
STIR CRAZY (1980)One of three “buddy” movies made by Rich and Gene Wilder (“Silver Streak” and “Another You” were the others). The pair are framed for a bank robbery and end up in a western prison. The fellas are having difficulty adjusting to the new life until the warden finds that Skip (Wilder) has a natural tallent for riding broncos with the inter-prison rodeo coming up. The climatic scenes (including Rich as a rodeo clown) are shot at one of the biggest rodeos in the Southwest.
BREWSTER’S MILLIONS (1985)In a remake of the 1945 original movie, Rich plays Monty Brewster, a minor league baseball player who has to waste $30 million in 30 days in order to inherit the money. However he’s not allowed to tell anyone about the deal. One of the many things he does is put together an exhibition game with his minor league team against the New York Yankees. It also includes a run for office (remember “None Of The Above”). In this movie, his romantic interest is the lovely Lonette McGee (“Sistah” from Sparkle)