Bruce Lee’s first job in Hollywood was a Dean Martin film titled The Wrecking Crew, but he wasn’t hired as an actor. Here’s what he did.
by Bruce Lee The first work in Hollywood was a Dean Martin film, but his involvement did not include acting. The martial arts legend has spent a lot of time working in movies and on TV, but didn’t star in an American film until he played the title character in Enter the dragon. His roles in Hollywood films were rather limited.
For much of the 1960s, Lee struggled to get noticed by studio executives, directors, and producers. Playing Kato in ABC The green hornet show in 1967 raised his profile considerably, but the role did not immediately launch him into stardom. When The green hornet was canceled, Lee made unsuccessful efforts to create his own film and television projects, while also appearing in various television shows, including Ironside, blonde, Here are the bridesand Longstreet. Brief guest appearances and recurring roles were unfortunately all he could get from the television industry during this time. It wasn’t until he moved to Hong Kong to make kung fu movies that his acting career really took off.
Before becoming a major star, Lee used his skills to help in the 1968 production The demolition crew, a spy comedy starring Dean Martin. Thanks in large part to a recommendation from screenwriter Stirling Silliphant (one of Bruce Lee’s many famous students), Lee landed a job as “karate advisor” for The demolition team. Basically, Lee’s position as a karate advisor made him responsible for managing fight choreography and training actors. Since its action-packed story involved secret agents and spies engaged in hand-to-hand combat, making its characters look like well-trained fighters was a priority for the film.
Lee’s work on The demolition crew allowed him to work closely with several movie stars, including Elke Sommer, Sharon Tate, Nancy Kwan and, of course, Dean Martin himself. Lee had sparring sessions with each of the actors and taught them a number of kung fu moves to use in their fight scenes. According to Bruce Lee: A Life by Matthew Polly, Lee had a positive experience working with Sommer, Kwan and Tate, but struggled to teach kung fu to Martin, whom Lee humorously called “clumsy” and “lazy”. Lee’s difficulties with Martin led him to arrange for a friend to serve as the actor’s stuntman.
The film did not lead to any starring roles for Lee, but it should be noted that Lee’s connection to The demolition crew was the very beginning of another martial artist’s film career. Years before Lee’s decision to cast karate champion Chuck Norris in The Way of the DragonLee got Norris a small role and a speaking line in The demolition crew. As for Bruce Leehis work on The demolition crew was followed by similar jobs on A walk in the spring rain and Marlowethe latter film actually giving him a real role in the story and some fight scenes of his own.
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