Friday, May 13, 2022

Bruce Lee's Television Career

Today Bruce Lee is best known as a movie star, who had appeared in such films as The Big Boss (1971), Fist of Fury (1972), and Enter the Dragon (1973). While Bruce Lee had begun his career as a child star in Hong Kong films, he began his career in the United States in television. Indeed, Kato on the 1966 TV series The Green Hornet remains one of his best known roles.

Bruce Lee was born in San Francisco on November 27 1940 while his father, famous Cantonese opera star Lee Hoi-chen, was there for an international opera tour. Bruce Lee was only four months old when his family returned to Hong Kong. Born to a family who worked in entertainment, Bruce Lee made his film debut when he was only a baby. He appeared in Golden Gate Girl (1941). From the late Forties to the late Fifties, Bruce Lee was a highly successful child star in Hong Kong. He had appeared in twenty films by the time he was 18.

Bruce Lee was first exposed to the martial arts St. Francis Xavier's College in Hong Kong, where Brother Edward, coach of the boxing team, acted as a mentor to him. It was after young Bruce was involved in various street brawls that his family decided that he required training in the martial arts. By 1958 he was skilled enough in the martial arts to win the Hong Kong schools boxing tournament. It was in 1959 that his family decided to send Bruce Lee to the United States. It was in Seattle that he would open his first martial arts school. He also began competing in various martial arts tournaments.

It was at a martial arts exhibition in Long Beach in 1964 that he was discovered by television producer William Dozier. Mr. Dozier was developing a show to be called Number One Son. Described as "a Chinese James Bond," the show would follow the adventures of Charlie Chan's eldest son, Lee Chan, hence the title. Bruce Lee even made a screen test for the show, which is available on YouTube. Unfortunately, ABC ultimately passed on the show.

William Dozier would go onto produce the smash hit TV show Batman. When it came time for him to cast his next television series, The Green Hornet, he had Bruce Lee in mind. The Green Hornet was based on the radio show of the same name that ran from 1936 to 1952. It centred on the vigilante of that name, whose alter ego was the publisher of the Daily Sentinel newspaper, Britt Reid. The Green Hornet was assisted in his fight against crime by his valet Kato.

The television series The Green Hornet differed from the radio show in some respects, but it still retained the idea of crusading newspaper publisher Britt Reid fighting crime as The Green Hornet and Kato assisting him in his fight against crime. Van Williams, who had appeared on the TV shows Bourbon Street Beat and Surfside 6, played Britt Reid/The Green Hornet. Bruce Lee played Kato. Bruce Lee would have an impact on both on the character of Kato and the television show. First, Bruce Lee insisted that Kato would not be a stereotype. He would not speak in broken English and he would not run around in a pigtail. Second, while it was originally planned for The Green Hornet to feature fisticuffs of the sort featured in any other American television show (including Batman), Bruce Lee insisted on the using the Chinese martial arts with which he was most familiar. As it turned out, Bruce Lee moved so swiftly in the show's fight sequences that the camera did not capture his movements. He then actually had to slow down for the show.

Regardless, Kato became the first character on an American show to regularly use Asian martial arts. Bruce Lee's appearance in the series ultimately led to increased interest in Asian martial arts across the Unites States. Van Williams and Bruce Lee as The Green Hornet and Kato would appear on producer William Dozier's other show, Batman, three times. The first time was a Batclimb cameo in "The Spell of Tut." For those unfamiliar with the TV series Batman, a Batclimb cameo occurred when Batman and Robin were climbing a building and some celebrity or popular character opened a window. The second and third times The Green Hornet and Kato appeared on Batman were in the episodes "A Piece of the Action" and "Batman's Satisfaction." It was the episode "Batman's Satisfaction" that featured a fight between Kato and Robin. The script actually called for Robin to win, perhaps because Batman was the more popular of the two shows and, after all, this was an episode of Batman. Bruce Lee absolutely refused to have Kato win the fight, and even walked off the set to make his point. The scene was ultimately rewritten so that the fight ended in a draw, particularly given no one believed Kato would lose in a fight with Robin.

Sadly, The Green Hornet was scheduled on Friday night against the popular Western/James Bond spoof The Wild Wild West on CBS and Tarzan on NBC. Its ratings were then disappointing. Even The Green Hornet and Kato's appearances on Batman did not help the show in the Nielsens. It was ultimately cancelled at the end of the 1966-1967 season.

This was hardly the end of Bruce Lee's career in American television. He guest starred on Ironside in the episode "Tagged for Murder" on October 26 1967 on NBC. In the episode Bruce Lee played a karate instructor, Leon Soo, in San Francisco's Chinatown. It was well over a year later that Bruce Lee guest starred on the Blondie episode "Pick on Someone Your Own Size" on January 9 1969 on CBS. Both Dagwood (Will Hutchins) and Alexander (Peter Robbins) are the victim of bullies, so Dagwood decides to enroll in martial arts classes. Bruce Lee played a karate instructor in the episode.

The Here Come the Brides episode "Marriage, Chinese Style" is unusual among Bruce Lee's television appearances in that it did not centre on his skill in martial arts. This episode centred on a Chinese woman named Toy Quin (Linda Dangcil) who has arrived in town for an arranged marriage. Her fiancé was played by Bruce Lee, Lin Sung. As it turns out, Lin Sung does not want to marry a woman he has never met. While martial arts was not the central focus of Bruce Lee's character in the episode, he does get to engage in some martial arts fight scenes. The episode aired on April 19 1969 on ABC.

Bruce Lee's final appearance in scripted American television would be a recurring role on the show Longsteet. Longstreet starred James Franciscus as insurance instructor Mike Longsteet, who had been blinded when a bomb exploded. Bruce Lee played Li Tsung, an antiques dealer and expert in martial arts who trains Longstreet in martial arts. Longstreet featured Jeet Kune Do, the martial arts philosophy developed by Bruce Lee, well before Enter the Dragon. Unfortunately, Longstreet was not a hit in the ratings and was cancelled at the end of the 1971-1972 season.

In 1971 Bruce Lee appeared in the Hong Kong martial arts movie The Big Boss, which propelled him to stardom across Asia. His 1972 movie, Fist of Fury, made Bruce Lee a star in the United States. Longstreet would then be his last appearance on American television. It was on July 20 1973 that Bruce Lee died at the age of 32. While Bruce Lee would become best known for his movies, his appearances on television arguably paved the way for his film superstardom. Indeed, it was in part the success of The Green Hornet in Hong Kong that would lead to his contract to appear in two films produced by Golden Harvest. It seems possible, then, that without Kato, there would never have been The Big Boss.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

"Heat Wave" by Martha and the Vandellas

This is our fourth straight day of temperatures reaching above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. We have broken temperature records most of this week. To give you an idea of how hot this is for early to mid May in Missouri, our average high temperature this year is about 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Of course, long time readers of this blog know I have been miserable. I hate heat when combined with humidity, and for that reason I hate summer. I can somewhat handle 90+ degree temperatures in July, even though I don't like them, because I have had time to adapt to them. This May we went straight from below normal temperatures (the 50s and 60s) to temperatures that are far above normal.

Because of the heat, I am not in the mood to write a long blog post. I will then leave you with a song, namely "Heat Wave" by Martha and the Vandellas. The song was released on July 9 1963 and ultimately peaked at no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. The songs takes a somewhat more positive view of heat waves than I have right now, describing a person's love for a fellow in terms of rising temperatures.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The Late Great George Pérez

George Pérez, a comic book artist known for his work on The Avengers at Marvel in the Seventies, and The New Teen Titans, Crisis on Infinite Earths, and Wonder Woman at DC in the Eighties, died on May 6 2022 at the age of 67. The cause was complications from pancreatic cancer, with which he had been diagnosed in December 2021.

George Pérez was born on June 9 1954 in the South Bronx in New York City. His parents were Puerto Rican in descent. His father, Guzman Pérez, worked in meatpacking. His mother, Luz Maria Izquierdo, was a homemaker. George Pérez grew up reading superhero comic books and taught himself to draw.

George Pérez began work in the comic book industry as an assistant to artist Rich Buckler in 1973. He made his professional debut in Astonishing Tales no. 25 (August 1975) with a two page satire of Rich Buckler's character Deathlok. In 1975 he went to work on the Marvel magazine Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, where he co-created The White Tiger with Bill Mantlo. The White Tiger was the first Puerto Rican superhero. That same year he began drawing The Avengers with issue no. 141 (November 1975). He would remain with The Avengers until 1980. From 1977 to 1981 he also worked on Marvel Two-In-One. George Pérez also worked on such Marvel titles as Bizarre Adventures, Captain America, Creatures on the Loose, The Defenders, Fantastic Four, Inhumans, Iron Man, Logan's Run, Man Called Nova, Marvel Team-Up, and X-Men.

It was in 1980, while he was still working on The Avengers, that he began working with DC Comics. He drew the New Teen Titans preview story in DC Comics Presents no. 26  (October 1980) before going to work on the title The New Teen Titans. He would remain with the various Teen Titans titles until nearly the end of the decade. He was the penciller on DC Comics' historic crossover event, Crisis on Infinite Earths, which rebooted the DC Universe and included very nearly every DC character. Following Crisis on Infinite Earths George Pérez worked as both plotter and inker on the reboot of Wonder Woman. He returned to The New Teen Titans in 1988. In the Eighties, at DC, George Pérez also contributed to such titles as Action Comics, Adventures of Superman, All Star Squadron, Batman, Justice League of America, Secret Origins, Superman, the Swordquest miniseries, and World's Finest. In the Eighties he also did some work for Pacific Comics.

In the 1990s George Pérez returned to Marvel to work on the mini-series Infinity Gauntlet. He also worked on the mini-series Sachs and Violens, The Silver Surfer, Ultraforce/Avengers, and the Thunderbolts Annual 1997. Late in the decade he returned to The Avengers. In the Nineties he also worked on Topps Comics' adaptation of the movie Jurassic Park and on Crimson Plague at Event Comics and later Image Comics. He also returned to the Teen Titans at DC Comics and worked on Deathstroke the Terminator.

In the Naughts he worked on the DC/Marvel crossover mini-series JLA/Avengers. At DC Comics he worked on such titles as The Brave and the Bold, DC Universe, Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds, Infinite Crisis, Justice League of America, Justice Society of America, The Titans, and Wonder Woman. At Image Comics he worked on Witchblade no. 92 (December 2005). In the Teens he worked on the first issue of the mini-series Flashpoint: Secret Seven. He inked issues 1-4 of Green Arrow Vol. 5. He worked on Justice Society of America vol. 3 no. 50 (June 2011), Supergirl vol. 6 no. 8 (June 2012), Superman vol. 3 no. 1-6 (2011-2012), T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents no. 4 (April 2012), and World's Finest no. 1-7 (2012-2013)>

George Pérez was perhaps the premier artist of his generation. He was known for his realistic, highly detailed style, and had a particular gift for drawing large groups of characters. He would certainly have a lasting influence. Along with writer Marv Wolfman, he revitalized the Teen Titans, introducing several new characters (Cyborg, Raven, and Starfire) and making changes to others (Dick Grayson, the original Robin, became Nightwing, Beast Boy from Doom Patrol became Changeling, and so on). He co-created the first Puerto Rican superhero, White Tiger. He worked on Crisis on Infinite Earths, which changed DC Comics forever. He also revitalized Wonder Woman, and his influence can be seen on the two recent movies. He would have a lasting impact on artists to come.

George Pérez was also known for his kindness and his thoughtfulness of others. He was one of the founders of the Hero Initiative, a charity that helps comic book writes and artists in need. Perhaps more so than any other comic book creator George Pérez was known for his kindness to his fans. He was well known on the convention circuit for the time he devoted to his fans and his thoughtfulness towards them. When he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, after notifying his various relatives, he made sure to let his fans know.  If George Pérez was so loved in comic book fandom, it was not simply because he was a  great comic book artist. He was also a great man.