There’s no denying that Boomerang is a cult classic in the paradigm of Black films. Directed by Reginald Hudlin, whose brother Warrington Hudlin served as producer, it had a budget of $41 million but would go on to earn more than $131 million. In December 2011, cast members of the star-studded box office smash spoke with EBONY about the film’s upcoming 20th anniversary the following year, especially about good times on the set and moments that were almost missed. Comedian-actor John Witherspoon shined light on how his unforgettable scene at the dinner table would have been axed from the flick had it not been for the insistence of one man: Eddie Murphy.
EBONY: To what would you attribute the movie’s long-standing appeal?
John Witherspoon: I think it was a wonderful movie. It just shows Black people in a positive light. People had jobs, and everybody was looking sharp and beautiful. A lot of Black people like to have movies that show characters like I ended up playing.
EBONY: What do you think about your role?
JW: Well, that role was not even in the movie. You know, Eddie Murphy said it’d be real funny to [have] Spoon—that’s what they called me—play David Alan Grier’s character’s father in the movie. David was like a banker type. And so I come to the party as a country bumpkin, then he feels embarrassed. Paramount didn’t want that scene in because it was not in the script.
JW: We ad-libbed the whole scene. That’s why it was so funny.
EBONY: Why didn’t Paramount want it in the movie?
JW: They were almost done with the movie, and they said they were over budget. “We don’t need to put in Spoon. Who is this Spoon? That Spoon played David Alan Grier’s father doesn’t sound funny.” Eddie told them, “Spoon will make it funny. Don’t worry about it.” Reginald Hudlin called me and said, “Eddie wants you to be David Alan Grier’s father.” So me and BeBe Drake-Massey, who was my wife in another Reginald movie, House Party, were called to do this. Paramount got upset that Eddie had taken over this scene. They did not want to do it. Paramount had some of the hierarchy from the studio there to . . . see what the hell Eddie was talking about. So when I got off the plane, I asked, “What’s up? Where the script?” They told me, “There ain’t no script. You’re going to make it funny.” I said, “I am?” They sent me to wardrobe to pick what I wanted. I went through a whole bunch of stuff, and I saw the mushroom shirt, the mushroom belt and a mushroom inside the jacket. I said, “Boy, this is me right here!” This is me. I got the jacket, and I got the outfit. I asked again, “Are you sure there’s no lines at all?” Eddie said, “Spoon, make it real funny because people from Paramount are here. Executives from Paramount want to see if I know what I’m talking about.”
I went into the dressing room and started writing stuff down. I said, “Eddie, when I come through the door of the home, this is what I’m going to say.” Actually, you know, at first, it was Martin [Lawrence] who was the one that talked to me and [said], “How you doing, Mr. Jackson?” Eddie saw the line, and he told Martin to keep walking. Eddie told me, “Just when I come in the room, we’ll go from there.” When I was a kid, we used to say you got to coordinate. I’m from Detroit, and you had to coordinate. You didn’t have but three shirts and two pairs of pants. You had to coordinate to make it look like you got a lot of clothes.
EBONY: That’s how it was for you?
JW: Yeah. I’m from a family with 11 kids. You got to coordinate. I was trying to impress. I knew I had this funny outfit on, you know what I’m saying? Look what I got on. I showed them on the set the shirt and all that. Eddie cracked up. I said, “You can’t stop there. You got to keep going. Look at this belt. You got to keep it going.” He didn’t know where I was going. I opened that jacket up and had mushrooms all in the jacket.
EBONY: Eddie was trying not to break character, right?
JW: Yeah, and when we first shot the first scene, the people from Paramount were so elated. They said, “Mr. Witherspoon, welcome aboard. It was hilarious. Thanks for coming. How was your trip from California?” We shot in New York. Halle Berry was crying; she was laughing so hard that you saw tears.
JW: Oh my God, yeah! When I said, “That’s why you got Junior over there, doing the bang, bang, bang bang.” And I did it. I said, “Get me some chitlins or some hot sauce.” All of it was ad-libbed.
EBONY: Whose idea was it to bring in the trough of chitlins?
JW: That was Eddie’s idea. We went and got some chitlins. But it was David that had my character going to the bathroom and being in there a long time to hit it. We were in there maybe seven seconds in the bathroom. Remember that scene?
EBONY: Of course!
JW: When I got into the bathroom, I said, “I’m going to really make everybody laugh. I’m going to take this jacket off and turn it inside out.” I had all the mushrooms on the outside of the jacket. And I came out and said, “What’s for dessert?” All that was ad-libbed. The cameraman kept shaking the camera because it was so funny and he was laughing so hard. I looked at myself in the mirror with them clothes I had on. Believe it or not, they cut some of the stuff out of the movie. I was dancing. I had some mushroom socks on. That was probably when my wife and I were dancing. David’s character was telling his mom, “Will you guys stop it? You’re embarrassing me.” That’s like my kids do today.
EBONY: How many kids do you have?
JW: I have a 15-year-old son, and I also have a 23-year-old son.
EBONY: They get embarrassed because you play all those comedic roles?
JW: No, they get embarrassed with me out in the street because of what I might say. I tell them, “Give me a hug and a kiss.” They run away from me. My son’s about 6’2”, the 15-year-old. He’s definitely embarrassed of me. Their friends love it when I do that.
EBONY: You and BeBe were in a few movies together.
JW: Yeah, we were in House Party and also in Friday. She’s the lady that’s after me in Friday. She was saying, “Tell your daddy I said hi.” She and I were great together.
EBONY: Boomerang was 20 years ago.
JW: I can’t hardly believe that.
EBONY: When you think about it and see how far everybody’s come, and all of the success everyone has achieved, did you know you were being a part of history at that time?
JW: No. I was just trying to pay my rent. I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal. Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang! I can’t go nowhere. People tell me that every day. I hear that every day.
EBONY: Have you seen any of the folks you were in that movie with?
JW: I see David every now and then. I’ve worked with Eddie since then. I see him. We worked on Vampire in Brooklyn. I’m in this movie A Thousand Words that is coming out. I play a blind man. I see Eddie around at parties sometimes. I hardly ever go to parties, but sometimes I do.
EBONY: Anything else you’d like to add about Boomerang?
JW: It was a wonderful cast, and it’s amazing how our little scene was one of the funniest ones in there. That’s the scene that they didn’t want in there. I think it was Reginald telling me, “You better be funny, Spoon.” I didn’t tell nobody. I came in the room with a coat on also and a hat. I looked like my dad. My daddy dressed like that for real.
EBONY: How did you come up with that outfit from wardrobe?
JW: I went into the wardrobe department and said, “Give me walking suits. Show me where the walking suits are,” and they showed me this aisle of walking suits. “Pick out what you want,” they told me. I saw them mushrooms and I said, “Oh, God. You led me over here.” God led me to the mushrooms. Nobody can ever forget about them mushrooms, even when the movie isn’t showing.
EBONY: And they still talk about coordinating and bang, bang, bang.
JW: And I created that stuff in my dressing room.
EBONY: What about licking your fingers and carrying on? Where did that come from?
JW: That came from me doing it when I’m at home eating. I missed one thing: You know how you put the hot sauce on the chicken, then you lick the top of the bottle and put the top on it? I forgot to do that, but I knew to lick them fingers. Folks looked at me like, “What’s this Negro going to say next?” Halle was crying. Eddie said, “What the hell are you doing?”
EBONY: Well, thank you so much, and this is for our March issue.
JW: Good. Put my picture in there. I can’t wait to see the story.
Margena A. Christian, Ed.D., is a distinguished lecturer at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The former EBONY senior editor and JET features editor is the author of Empire: The House That John H. Johnson Built (The Life & Legacy of Pioneering Publishing Magnate). Christian wrote “An EBONY Retrospective: 20 Years Later Boomerang” for the March 2012 issue of the magazine.