Photos courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Booger: More than meets the finger for Curtis Armstrong


Although Curtis Armstrong has been a working actor in and outside of Hollywood since the mid seventies, his most recognizable roles occurred during a six year period, beginning with "Risky Business" and ending with his stint as Bruce Willis’s sidekick on the television show "Moonlighting."

During this time, Armstrong created some of the most beloved and remembered nerdy characters to come out of the 1980’s. These are roles that people still carry with them today and it is because of his high jinks and comic skill that these movies remain memorable. We remember because Armstrong snorted snow off a top hat on the top of a mountain in "Better off Dead," we remember his utterance of, "What the Fuck" and how those words propelled Tom Cruise to uncharted sexual waters in Risky Business.

Finally, we all remember Dudley "Booger" Dawson - the extremely disgusting antihero from the "Revenge of the Nerds" movies.

When I asked Armstrong about the legacy of the first Revenge of the Nerds movie, he claimed that there really wasn’t one to speak. He felt that even though Nerds was at times crass and sexual, at the end of the day there was an important message that the teen gross-out movies of today just don’t have. While I agree with Armstrong, I do feel there is a legacy for those movies, and he is standing at the center of it.

Armstrong started his acting career in Detroit, Michigan where he attended an academy for performing arts out of Oakland University. It was there that Armstrong met the people with whom he would start a theatre company in 1975. He remained with the company for about a year and half before moving on to New York and the slightly less bright lights of Off-Broadway.

He acted around New York but did not land his first movie role until 1983’s "Risky Business." After filming wrapped on this project Armstrong experienced some lean times and it was this leanness that eventually lead him to accept the role of Booger in "Revenge of the Nerds."

Armstrong read for the role of Gilbert and he assumes that most of the other eventual Nerds did as well. Even though he was reading for Gilbert, he knew that he was in the running for Booger. At this time the other Nerds, aside from Gilbert (Anthony Edwards) and Louis (Robert Carradine), were very thinly drawn, and this is why Armstrong was leery about taking the part.

He said that if we thought that Booger was shallow in the movie, he was even worse in the early drafts of the script. But Armstrong figured that this kind of movie was played out and that no one would see it, so he took the job. And Booger Dudley Dawson was born.

Some of Armstrong’s fondest memories from that shooting occurred in the creation of his character. Several times during filming, director Jeff Kanew instructed Armstrong and the others to come up with bits just to bring more life to the characters they were playing.

Armstrong fell in with fellow actor Brian Tochi (Toshiro Takashi) almost by accident during the gym scene where they were herded to their cots like nerd cattle. This accidental pairing proved fortuitous because several funny episodes came as a result - one scene still sticks in my head involving a joint and a very green Asian foreign exchange student.

When asked what else he remembers about his cast mates, he recalls the kindness and generosity of Robert Carradine. Armstrong mentioned that Carradine took the other actors under his wing.

He was extremely supportive of other cast members and he knew that he had a certain responsibility toward the other actors he was working with. When asked how he got along with the rest of the cast, Armstrong explains that for three months they all lived in a hotel together and it was one big party. When I asked him to elaborate he explained that he "won’t tell stories outside of school," but some hotel furniture did somehow manage to find its way out of a window.

When other cast members were asked about Armstrong they called him a Rhodes Scholar or a genius. When this information was relayed back to him, Armstrong just laughed. He said "I am not a Rhodes Scholar, I never even graduated college."

What he did like to do on the set was read, and he read a lot apparently. Armstrong remarked that he was not aware of all the co-eds moving about the cast’s hotel until he read an article about "Revenge of the Nerds" in FHM three months ago. His reading aside, Armstrong assured me that he did his share of partying. Even though at the time he filmed the movie Armstrong did not have a lot to compare the experience to, he looks back on that time with fondness.

"Revenge of the Nerds" may not have changed the way that teenage sex romps were made, and its influence may not have lasted beyond the decade in which it was created. Curtis Armstrong is probably correct in his belief that people don’t go to movies to see humor or characters anymore, that "they just go to be grossed out," as he claims.

But this movie does have a legacy and that legacy is the incredible character created by actor Curtis Armstrong. We may not remember that "Revenge of Nerds" featured a young John Goodman or know who Robert Carradine is, unless we watched Lizzie McGuire, but people do remember a certain scruffy haired, five o’clock shadowed, beer swilling, loud belching, Omega Moo loving, hombre who learned to kill flies by hocking loogies at them in the sequel name Dudley Dawson, aka Booger. And I think the reason that he is remembered for his role in "Revenge of Nerds" over his other nerdy characters is that there is a little Booger in all of us trying to get out.