Looking back on Rudy Challenger’s work, it always seemed like he was in the background as the beginning, but became a key player by the end of it.
He wasn’t a leading man during the blaxploitation era, but Challenger made a nice career out of supporting roles and minor parts. He eventually focused his efforts on doing television work. When he dropped out of acting in 1993, he left behind a resume that gives a snapshot of popular network television shows of the day.
Eventually he would be known for playing the politician, businessman, or other suit-wearing character in a position of authority, but he made his biggest splash in the world of blaxploitation in one of his early roles, the preacher-turned safe cracker, Roy Harris in Cool Breeze.
Challenger is among the criminals in Cool Breeze, who might very well be the first gang of criminals to wear Nixon masks while committing the crime. Can’t verify it, but I highly suspect it to be so given this was released in March 1972, three months before the Watergate break-in even happened
This role outshined most of his other roles in blaxploitation classics like Hit Man, Sheba, Baby, Detroit 9000, and The Slams with Jim Brown.
Why We Love and Respect Him: We love when a strong 6th man, or 12th man depending on which stupid sports analogy you prefer, has no problem stepping off the bench and playing those small roles that make the difference between winning or losing but don’t necessarily show up on the stat line.
He will always be one of the best actors to play a politician, or authority figure, we’ve ever seen aside from Morgan Freeman. Challenger’s portrayal of Michigan’s first black gubernatorial candidate Aubrey Dale Clayton in Detroit 9000 is strong evidence of that.
Rudy Challenger did that quite a few 1970s films, and we’re much better off for it.
Best Known For: Looking all official and shit, and getting shot in the head (See Harlem Nights and Hit Man.)
Blaxploitation Role Call:
Cool Breeze (1972) as Roy Harris: Roy Harris might look like you’re average reverend, but he’s not. He has the gift of safec racking at his disposal, and because of this, gets lured back into the criminal life for one more big score driven by somewhat noble motives.
Detroit 9000 (1973) as Aubrey Hale Clayton: Clayton is Michigan’s first black gubernatorial candidate, and he’s running during a time when the state’s inner cities are volatile ground. There’s also a cool jewel heist in the plot.
Hit Man (1972) as Julius Swift: Julius Swift is an old friend of Tyrone Tackett, but Tackett soon learns his friend isn’t as he seems. Swift is deeply involved in an underground porn-making racket, and is one of the men filmed raping Tackett’s niece. Tackett don’t go for that shit.
Sheba, Baby (1975) as Andy Shane: Sheba Shane is back in town and she’s looking for the loan sharks who keep leaning on her dear ol’ dad, and being a general nuisance around Louisville. Andy Shane just got in too deep.
Rudy Challenger TCMDB (I’m starting to like these better than the IMDB pages)