Return to Index  

Fred Weintraub Talked About Kung Fu

April 16 2017 at 11:43 PM
JKD54  (Login JKD54)

Response to To S.Wira: The Interconnections Between KUNG FU & THE WARRIOR

From Fred Weintraub's book, Bruce Lee, Woodstock, and Me (Brooktree Canyon Press, 2011)....

As a New York-based production executive at Warner Bros. Pictures, it was my job to develop new projects to appeal to the youth market. From the mountain of potential projects sent to me weekly, I unearthed a treatment for a feature film by a couple of writers named Ed Spielman and Howard Friedlander called The Way of the Tiger, The Sign of the Dragon. It was an intriguing East-meets-Western tale of a young Shaolin monk from China roaming the American West of the 1800s, righting wrongs with pacifist, Eastern philosophy. And if that failed, kicking serious cowboy butt with nothing but his hands and feet. I liked the idea and gave the boys something like $3800 to write a screenplay. At about that time, Warner Bros. made the decision to change their base of operations and moved me from New York to Hollywood.

I told Rudi (Fehr) about the script Spielman and Friedlander were working on and had him spool up some of the Chinese "chop-socky" films that were becoming popular in Asia, but which had so far gone little seen in America; except, perhaps by Ed Spielman and Howard Friedlander.

By the time Spielman and Friedlander presented me with their finished draft, I was sold. Now I just had to sell the Warner Bros. honchos on the idea of a kung fu western.

That, like kung fu itself, was easier said than done. Even Ted Ashley, my best friend and head of the studio, passed on the film. The general consensus was that the the public would not be willing to accept a Chinese hero. But I was convinced of the viability of the genre and believed in the script itself, so I wasn't about to give up.

Bruce and I were becoming good friends. Although it was not lost on me that for an ambitious guy like him, having a buddy who was also an executive at Warner Bros. wasn't such a bad thing. As I got to know him better and had the occasion to catch up on his TV work, it became clear to me that Bruce was the perfect fit for the Spielman/Friedlander script, which was now being called Kung Fu, and we talked about it a lot. Unfortunately, I was having no luck selling it as a feature, so I tried a different tack and approached Tom Kuhn, Warner Bros. Head of Television Programming (and my future production partner).

"Tom," I said, when I first phoned him to pitch the idea, "I'd like to talk to you about a show I'm developing called Kung Fu".

Tom was dubious. "You're pitching a series about a Chinese restaurant?"

Fortunately, Tom is a smart guy and once I gave him the details, he understood immediately why I was so enthusiastic about the project--but he also knew it would scare off most TV network executives. "There's only one guy in this town who will get this material," he said, "and that's Barry Diller." Diller, the hugely successful Head of Development at ABC, was considered to be the father of the made-for-TV-movie. As Tom predicted, Diller fell for the script and immediately ordered a pilot. Kung Fu was on its way, but there was still the issue of casting.

I was as enthusiastic as ever to put Bruce into the role of Kwai Chang Caine, but was still meeting with resistance from the powers that be. So I sent Bruce to Tom Kuhn's office to introduce himself. It was a meet and greet Tom is not likely to ever forget. Most actors show up to auditions with a resume and an 8x10 glossy headshot. Bruce showed up with one extra item: his nunchucks. For the uninitiated, nunchucks are two wooden sticks, not unlike police billy clubs that are attached end to end by a short length of chain or rope. In the cramped confines of Tom's office, Bruce, a master of the weapon, gave Tom an in-your-face demonstration, flailing the lethal sticks with mind-boggling speed, grace and dexterity. Bruce didn't need to punch Tom in the gut to take his breath away.

"What the fuck was that?" Tom asked me after the interview. "That was Bruce Lee," I said, "What do you think about him for Kung Fu?"


It seems more clear now that Kung Fu was never called The Warrior. Nobody at Warner Bros. ever called it The Warrior. Not Fred Weintraub, not Paul Heller, not Tom Kuhn, and not Ted Ashley, and certainly not Ed Spielman or Howard Friedlander, who wrote the script. The only person who called it The Warrior was Bruce Lee, as he used this title when talking about it to the Hong Kong Press and friends to whom he wrote. When Bruce called it The Warrior, Warner Bros. understood what he meant, but they themselves never used that title.

Another thing that becomes clear: Fred Weintraub was discussing the idea of Kung Fu with Bruce Lee from an early stage, when Fred was still trying to convince the higher ups at Warner Bros. to make the script by Spielman/Friedlander into a feature film, or at least as a made-for-TV movie. Maybe that's why Bruce thought he was "creating" a new TV series, because he was in on it from almost the beginning with Fred. Bruce was simply exaggerating his own importance and input into the project. Happens all the time with people who have big egos. Just like he told Pierre Berton that he didn't think 'The Warrior' would go ahead (i.e. without him) even though by December 1971, Kung Fu was already in pre-production and going ahead without him.

 Respond to this message   

  • Re: Fred Weintraub Talked About Kung Fu - JACKY on Apr 17, 2017, 3:11 AM
    Find more forums on Asian CelebritiesCreate your own forum at Network54
     Copyright © 1999-2017 Network54. All rights reserved.   Terms of Use   Privacy Statement