People call him the Dude. He’s the kind of guy whose unkempt and relaxed appearance suggests a man in whom casualness runs deep.
And his name isn’t Jeff Lebowski; it’s Jeff Dowd.
He’s the inspiration behind Jeff Bridges’ character in Joel and Ethan Coen’s cult comedy classic The Big Lebowski, where an unemployed bowling fanatic named Jeff Lebowski finds himself playing detective in a kidnapping caper while seeking retribution for his beloved – yet unfortunately pee-stained – rug.
On Tuesday Universal is releasing The Big Lebowski: Collector’s Edition on DVD, which will be as necessary for Lebowski fans as was the Dude’s rug for Lebowski himself. After all, it really tied the living room together.
The DVD includes interviews with the directors and cast members, on-set photos taken by Jeff Bridges and a rather bizarre critique of the infamous toe scene by Mortimer Young.
“Basically (The Big Lebowski’s) about what Joel and Ethan, who knew me quite well, thought I might have been like back in the ’70s,” Dowd said. “They liked the idea of a laid-back ’60s character with a certain morale but also a certain kind of hanging back and being laid back.”
Today, Dowd doesn’t fit that description.
He is an established writer and film producer who has worked on a number of films including Hoosiers and The Black Stallion. He also helped market Metalllica: Some Kind of Monster in 2003.But when Dowd’s children first saw The Big Lebowski in 1998, Dowd said they were amazed at how accurately Jeff Bridges portrayed their dad’s character.
“My kids said things to me like, ‘Daddy, where’d they get your clothes?'” Dowd said. “Just kind of the style they captured is very much the way I am.”
According to Dowd, there was a period of time during the activism of the ’60s and early ’70s in which he wasn’t averse to partying frequently.
This, he said, is what the Cohen brothers loosely based their Dude on.
“We were hanging out pretty heavily,” Dowd said. “And during that time we were drinking White Russians, amongst other things like Tequila Sunrises, Dirty Mothers and Vodka Collins – whatever the drink of the moment was – and doing other things that would later come to be known as slacker-like activities.”
However, bowling wasn’t always on the agenda.
“I’m actually not a big bowler, and you’ll notice the Dude in the movie never bowls,” he said. “But the reason Joel and Ethan put that in there, I can tell you, is when we opened Blood Simple in L.A. I threw an opening-night party after the premier at a bowling alley, and like a thousand people came. It was a really fun party. We had bands and stuff, and I did bowl that night. I think that’s what inspired Joel and Ethan to do the bowling thing.”
In 2003 Dowd bowled again, this time at a party called Lebowski Fest.”When I heard about it I was very leery about the whole thing,” Dowd said. “Because, you know, for anybody who’s seen the William Shatner Saturday Night Live classic where he goes to the Trekkie convention – you know, get a life. I figured it was going to be like that with a bunch of real weirdoes.”
But once he got to the party, he didn’t think it was all that weird.
“(Lebowski Fest) is pretty cool, particularly the bowling night where people dress up in various outfits,” Dowd said. “There are a lot of great characters, like the people who dress as the Jesus who really act it out. Also the Dude, Donny and Maude, but they also dress up as lines from the movie, too. So there’s a guy who’s got Army fatigues on and mud on his face, and you’d say, ‘What is he doing?’ ‘Oh he’s the guy that died face down in the muck in ‘Nam.'”
According to Lebowskifest.com, Lebowski Fest is a bowling event celebrating all things relating to the titular film and can be likened to a Star Trek convention in a very loose sense. Participants can expect bowling, White Russians, celebrity appearances and costume contests.
“The people who go are very cool,” Dowd said. “They’re interesting and smart enough and have a good enough sense of humor and irony to get the humor of that movie. They’re also very friendly and very much liking to hang and party and stuff like that. Maybe more so then the Trekkies in a sense, because people tend to watch The Big Lebowski together in groups a lot.”
Since Lebowski Fest’s humble beginnings in 2002, the number of participants has swelled from 500 to 4,000 for the festivals third annual celebration in June 2004, according to Lebowskifest.com.
The festival started out in Louisville, K.y., but has since traveled to Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New York.
Another festival is scheduled for Friday and Saturday in New York.
In addition to making guest appearances at Lebowski Fest and writing and producing movies, Dowd has nearly completed writing his book, The Dude Abides.
According to Dowd, the book contains stories that he’s shared with friends over the years.
“The bottom line is that they’re about people who took their destiny into their own hands,” Dowd said. “And a lot of them are friends who said, ‘Wait a second, we can stop this war,’ or, ‘Wait a second, we can do this about the environment,’ or said, ‘Wait a minute, we can start a band.'”
Dowd, once an active leader of the Seattle Seven, knows about taking charge of destiny.
In 1970 the group drew headlines as they protested the trial of the Chicago Seven, a group of political radicals accused of conspiring to incite a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Dowd and six others faced charges of conspiring to incite a riot, but their case was thrown out in 1972. However, Dowd and several others spent time in prison for contempt of court.
“I’m hoping what the book does is that it reminds the people of my generation and what we were able to do,” Dowd said. “And for a new generation, kind of empowers them that they can do things, too.”