Old article: “An Interview with Bruce Lee’s Mother”April 4 2017 at 11:56 AM
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Response to 1975 Throwback: The Life and Death of Bruce Lee
Below is an EXCERPT from an old article found in 70’s HK BL Club Magazine, “Bruce Lee – The Fighting Spirit,” titled, “An Interview with Bruce Lee’s Mother” (published 4 years after Bruce’s death). For those who have not seen it before, it’s worth a read. For those who have read it, just kindly ignore it.
Bruce liked to act in self-planned drama in his boyhood
For me, it was not so much an interview than a dropping-in on a relative I had not seen for a long time. Old Mrs. Lee treated me as a friend of her son. With a smiling face, she sat before me, behaving naturally and intimately.
“Before getting fame, Bruce always said that he would become an outstanding film star one day. When he was a boy, he liked to act in self-planned drama. Once his father was out, he would invite his pals home to act. They acted funnily. At that time, several film producers appreciated him very much, saying that he was talented in acting. At the age of six, he began to take roles in nearly thirty films, enjoying popularity and becoming famous,” said old Mrs. Lee in a friendly way.
As western films were not popular in Hong Kong at that time, Bruce never worshiped any film star in Hollywood through his childhood and teens. No one who was close to Bruce had a feeling that Bruce had a fancy for a certain western star even until he became an adult.
In 1959, in deference to his mother’s advice, Bruce left Hong Kong and old Mrs. Lee for the U.S. and they did not see each other for four years.
However, old Mrs. Lee said, “He always wrote me and sent me money he earned as pocket money.” Bruce showed his piousness. Madam Lee told me that Bruce had never mentioned in the letters anything that would worry her. He returned to Hong Kong in 1963. He told her, “The U.S. really makes me sick.” Certainly, old Mrs. Lee understood what Bruce had been suffering in those years.
Bruce liked to eat beef with oyster sauce
“When did you immigrate to the U.S.?” I asked Mrs. Lee.
“When Bruce returned to Hong Kong in April 1970, he told me of the right of citizenship in the U.S. I had visited the U.S. several times before then. I intended to apply for citizenship but could not make up my mind because several children of mine were still studying in Hong Kong…..
However, Bruce insisted that I should immigrate to the U.S. so that I could get the citizenship earlier. He considered that if I were tired of American life, I could come back to Hong Kong again. So, we all immigrated to the U.S. in July 1970, and lived with Bruce,” replied Mrs. Lee.
“He surely had long for the dishes prepared by you, didn’t he?” I asked.
“Yes, yes,” she answered with a smile, “since he went to the U.S. in 1959, he had mentioned this repeatedly in his letters: ‘Mom, I’ve not eaten this food or that food for a long time…’ He liked to eat beef with oyster sauce. Brandon, his son, also likes to eat this particular food. Whenever he meets me, he says, ‘Grandmother, please prepare beef with oyster sauce for me.’ He looks exactly like his father. Besides, little Brandon is now practicing Karate very hard. At the age of five, he could break a one-inch thick wooden plank. Ah! Right! His photo is still here. Let me find it for you to have a look.”
Then she went inside her bedroom. A moment later, she took out a photo-album. Turning it page by page and telling me her grandson’s story, she smiled excitedly.
Bruce returned and joined the HK film industry with full confidence
In 1970, the whole family immigrated to the U.S. Since then, Bruce began to step into the path leading to being a brilliant super-star that would be responded to eagerly by the world.
“When Bruce returned to Hong Kong to act in ‘The Big Boss,’ he told me, ‘Mom, I must become a super star in the world after this trip.’ He was decisive and full of confidence then. As I had brought him up myself, I knew he was hardworking and persevering. If he said he could do something, he could do it successfully and perfectly. Therefore, it was no surprise that his film set a box office record in Hong Kong. But at that time, I still could not imagine that ‘The Big Boss’ could be so popular and successful,” said Mrs. Lee with excitement.
When I asked Mrs. Lee which of the films that Bruce acted in she liked most, she answered immediately, “It’s ‘Return of the Dragon.’ On second thought, she corrected, “Oh! It should be called ‘The Way of the Dragon.’ This is the right name. In the U.S. names of films are often confused. For example, they changed ‘Fist of Fury’ for ‘Big Boss’ and ‘Fists of Fury’ for ‘Chinese Connection.’”
Bruce realized he would not live long
“Following his increasing fame, Bruce became thinner and thinner. He returned to Los Angeles after finishing ‘The Way of the Dragon.’ It appeared to me that he had lost much weight. I then advised him, “Do take a good rest and relax yourself a little.’ He was the director, the script-writer and the chief actor of the film. He wrought day and night. I really worried about his health. Later, he started the filming of ‘Enter the Dragon.’ When I next saw him in May 1973, I couldn’t believed the person before me was my son. He had changed greatly…… He told me that he could not live long because doctors in Hong Kong had told him after checking his body that there was serious disease in his head. Then he said, ‘Mom, don’t worry. I’ll be alright. Even if I die, you needn’t worry about your living. There will be no financial problem.’ I reproached him at once and told him not to say such unlucky words any more,” said Mrs. Lee.
In fact, what Bruce Lee needed was a warm and quiet family life. Chuck Norris once heard him say that he wanted to retire at the age of 35 and here his mother also said so.
“Following the rise of his influential position in the film world, people frequently heard him mention his retirement. What worried him mist was that he had to play the same role in one film after another. He knew that the audiences would become bored. His father also told him this before his death,” said Mrs. Lee.
At this moment, old Mrs. Lee remembered Bruce’s birth in the U.S.: “In 1939, I accompanied Bruce’s father to the U.S. His father was then a member of the Chinese Opera Troupe which took a roving performance throughout the States. I was pregnant then. The next year, I gave birth to Bruce in Chinatown in San Francisco while his father was performing in New York City. One and a half month later, his father came to San Francisco. He made up newly born Bruce and took him up on the stage. It can be said that Bruce was connected with the stage at the very beginning of his life.”
Bruce took the role of a female infant shortly after his birth
Talking about Bruce’s childhood, Mrs. Lee became excited. “A film called ‘Golden Gate Girl’ was shot in the U.S. then. It was the film in which Bruce acted as a female infant. That was his first film.”
What did Bruce feel when he acted as a girl? Nobody could know. However, you could not find in his childhood even a touch of an expert in Kung Fu. On the contrary, he was repeatedly mistaken for a female infant.
Three and half months after his birth, his parents brought him back to war-torn Hong Kong. That period was gloomy. Racial discrimination was serious in the U.S. Many Chinese lived together in Chinatown and kept weapons for self-defense because hostility and bloody conflicts occurred frequently among immigrants from different countries. Even after the Lee’s return to Hong Kong, the terrible atmosphere still existed in the Chinatowns in the States.
Mrs. Lee recollected, “During the pre and post-war periods, there was no safe place in the world. Under such circumstances, everyone worried about his security. Thus, Bruce began to practice Kung Fu. Moreover, if he wanted to be a leader, he had to train himself to be a strong man.”
She continued, “I don’t know whether Bruce was a genius or not but he was undoubtedly very hardworking. When he lived in the States, he practiced Kung Fu day and night. Sometimes, he would extend his hands before me suddenly, asking me to try his muscles. I tried them, they were strong like iron bars and bore no signs of softness.”
Bruce’s temper frightened his mother
Old Mrs. Lee told me a story, “I remember that Bruce came here from Hong Kong at the end of 1970. After his arrival, he brought me and one of his friends out to have a meal. His friend parked his car near a restaurant before we went to dinner. But when we returned to the parking place, we found the tires of the car were pierced through. A man with a cruel face stood near the car, staring at us contemptuously. Needless to say, it was he who had pierced the tires. At this moment, Bruce deliberately moved near him and shouted, ‘Which bastard has done the damned thing?!’ At once, that man felt this was a challenge to him. He became angry and rebuked Bruce. ‘To whom are you speaking?’ he said. Bruce’s face changed as if a bomb was going to explode.
I subconsciously withheld him by warning, “Don’t fight with him! Don’t fight with him! Otherwise we’ll get into trouble.’ At that critical moment, I shouted loudly. Just think, if the man had been hit by my furious son, the result would have been serious – he might have killed or injured seriously. In the meantime, many people surrounded us and watched. Someone referred to my son, ‘This young man seems to be Bruce Lee.’ When the man heard that, he shivered slightly and after a while he extended his hand for apology. This was the end of that unpleasant experience. Frankly speaking, I was so terrified that my heart nearly jumped out of my mouth.”
Bruce’s film was to defeat the whites
“In the TV series, ‘Longstreet,’ he was brilliant in his performance which got good comments from everywhere. All viewers concentrated their attention on him, which made the chief actor James Franciscus unhappy, for fear that such tendency would affect his position badly. Bruce was thus minimized to have any opportunity of acting. James Franciscus also said to Bruce, ‘You are an Oriental person. If you have real ability, return to your homeland and show it to your people.’ What James meant was that in the westerner’s eyes Bruce’s Kung Fu was just a novelty rather than anything really good. Therefore, when the TV series ‘Longstreet’ ended, Bruce decided to return to Hong Kong and join the local film industry,” said Mrs. Lee.
She continued, “As we know, Bruce’s first film ‘The Big Boss’ was responded to marvelously in South east Asia. When Warner Brothers Company knew this, they sent a distant call to Bruce immediately, asking him to fly to the U.S. to discuss the content of a TV series. But their tones were still too proud to be accepted. Bruce replied, ‘If you want to talk, come and see me quickly.’ Afterward, a staff of Warner’s really came to Hong Kong. In those days, Bruce turned the international film industry upside down.”
She said, “Once Bruce took me to see the preview of ‘The Way of the Dragon’. He told me at the end, ‘Mom, I’m an Oriental person, therefore, I have to defeat all the whites in the film.’ I believe he had never mentioned this to Norris.”
The film “Silent Flute,” of which the script was written by Stirling Silliphant and the leading role was to play by James Coburn, could not continue its filming after meeting successive failures and difficulties. James Coburn felt distressed and decided to give up the film. Later, knowing tat Bruce had become a Chinese superstar, the two came to Hong Kong, hoping to resume the shooting of their film by adding some exciting Kung Fu action in it. But Bruce put aside their proposal. It was heard that Bruce insisted on killing James Coburn in the film, showing himself to be a real superstar in the world. But Coburn was a popular star in Hollywood, how could he be killed? However, Bruce insisted he had to so. Te negotiation was consequently broken down owing to the conflict of opinion between the East and the West.
Bruce played truant in childhood and was searched by the school and police
As time passed, old Mrs. Lee became more and more interested in divulging the past events which were coming into her memory one by one. “It happened at the time when Bruce was ten,” said Mrs. Lee, “We were living in Hong Kong then. His father was sick. As a result, I had to deal with all the troubles he caused.
“Every month, I paid his school fees but I soon received a call from the school authority asking about my son. They asked, ‘Why hasn’t he come to school recently?’ So I told Bruce that it did not matter much if he did not like to study at school, but he had to tell me wherever he went to play so that I could contact him if necessary. I told him that it would be very embarrassing for me when the school authority or the police came to find him and I, as his mother, did not know where he was. After that, Bruce still played truant but he told me where I could find him.”
Mrs. Lee continued, “Bruce never changed his character. He repeated the same mistakes from time to time. I was disappointed with him again and again. Once I asked him how he could earn his living if he stuck to his way and why he did not think of his future instead of keeping on troubling his family. His answer was, ‘I’ll become a famous film star in future.’ I criticized him and told him that the life of a famous film star was not so comfortable as he had imagined and that their lives were abnormal. I asked Bruce, ‘You do not live like even a common person, how can you expect to become a famous film star?’”
Bruce promised to return in July 1973 but….
“After the production of ‘Enter the Dragon’ I asked Bruce why he did not return to Hong Kong as before to prepare for his following films?” said Mrs. Lee. He answered, “That’s enough for Hong Kong. My next aim will be Italy.’ He said he would cooperate with Sophia Loren’s husband, an outstanding Italian film producer. But I’ve forgot his name.” She said that another Italian film producer Mr Caro Bondey invited Bruce to act in his film. The content of that film was a mixture of an eastern Kung Fu expert and western civilization. She said that Bruce had studied carefully the script.
Mrs. Lee said at the end of the interview, “It was really difficult to teach him when he was a child and a teenager….. However, Bruce really became an international superstar at last. At the end of May 1973, he gave me a distant call, saying that the production of ‘Enter the Dragon’ had come to an end and he would come to San Francisco to see me around July. His voice was as clear and deep as before…... He did come in July, but he was lying in a coffin ……”Mrs. Lee choked in tears.
Article typewritten by LJF :)
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