On the latest edition of Grilling JR, Jim Ross talked about the Dusty Rhodes polka-dot ‘Common Man’ gimmick during his stint in WWE from 1989 to 1991, and whether the gimmick was a rib by Vince McMahon designed to humiliate Dusty.
Dusty had, of course, been a top star and booker in Jim Crockett Promotions (and eventually WCW) and according to reports from Dave Melter, the gimmick was a way for McMahon to humiliate a top star for his competition. The gimmick was thought by some to make jokes out of a lot of the traits of Dusty’s old ‘American Dream’ gimmick — Dusty used to talk about how he had fans of every color including black, white, green and yellow, so McMahon dressed him in black and yellow polka dots; Dusty used to talk about being with young, hot women, so McMahon paired him with Sapphire, a 54-year old woman. A couple of years earlier, WWE named Mike Jones, Ted DeBiase’s chauffeur at the time, Virgil, which was Dusty’s real name and many believe this was a shot at Dusty. WWE debuted the ‘Akeem the African Dream’ gimmick in 1988 which featured a white man, One Man Gang, talking in a stereotypical “jive” black accent and dancing in a style similar to how Dusty danced, something that, again, many thought was designed to make fun of Dusty. The list goes and on. For what it’s worth, Bruce Prichard has denied that the gimmick itself was a rib.
On if Vince McMahon meant for the gimmick to be a rib: “I think it was. Look, Bruce was there, I wasn’t. I know Bruce [Prichard] loved Dusty as much as I did, and a lot of the rest of us that were fans of his work. Big fans of his work. I think there’s a little evilness, a little mischievous bent on the Dusty characterization. Why? Again, who knows.”
“I think it was a rib. I have a hard time being able to defend that it wasn’t. And I think Dusty was the key player with the competition and without calling out the competition, without doing any Billionare Ted skits as we saw later on, I think that it was a subtle way to throw a little shade on Dusty because he was a top babyface, the booker, and the owner’s right hand man.”
On why Vince McMahon would want to take a known star like Dusty and give him a gimmick like that: “You gotta wonder what the motivation for that was. ‘Well, it was Vince [McMahon].’ OK, we got that folks, we got that. Of course it was Vince. You think it was Howard? Howard Finkel? No, Howard didn’t have anything to do with it. I’m being facetious. But my question, why would Vince want to humiliate Dusty, or was it all about Vince proving that he could change even the biggest of stars into something that was more readily accessible in Vince’s imagination, and he could do it with anybody, anytime. Because why would you change 25 years of heavy duty marketing for a name if you’re buying a product. And that’s what Dusty was, a product. He had great name identity as Dusty Rhodes ‘The American Dream.’ He was everything you wanted this ‘Common Man’ character to be, but just change the name because you can. Bad reason. Bad logic.”
On why Dusty agreed to do the gimmick: “Here’s the thing man, people say ‘Why did he do it?’ Let me tell you why he did it. He did it to feed his family. He did it to provide his family a roof, groceries, education, transportation, all that good stuff. What Dads do. And like a lot of guys, that are old territory born and developed guys, a lot of these cats got paid every night back in the early days, in cash, and a lot of them saved nothing. I’m not saying Dusty didn’t save a lot of money, I’m not saying that whatsoever, because I don’t know. But my thoughts are, if I had to bet, he was not unlike any of the other boys in that era, they spent what they made, and sometimes a little bit more. So he simply did that gig because it was the best opportunity he had to make north of six figures and take care of his family. And that was the reason.”
On bringing up the gimmick to Dusty years later: “I brought it up to him [Dusty] years later, maybe after six or eight beers, or after a Texas win at the Cotton Bowl or something, just to bullsh*t with him about those polka dots. And he’d look at you like, ‘Alright, I know, go ahead, go ahead.’ So, he knew what was happening.”
If using any of the above quotes, please credit Grilling JR with an h/t to 411mania.com for the transcription.