For the first time in an interview to an Indian media house, Robert Wall talks about little know facts about Bruce Lee, how the Chuck Norris jokes originated and stories from the Enter The Dragon days.
Robert Alan ‘Bob’ Wall (August 22, 1939) became part of Hollywood legend when he portrayed the role of the evil O’ Hara, who fights Bruce Lee in the most popular martial arts movie ever made, Enter The Dragon (1973). The other two films in which he appeared alongside Bruce Lee were Way of the Dragon (1972), which also starred his business partner Chuck Norris, and Game of Death (1978). Wall also starred with Chuck Norris in movies such as Code of Silence (1985), Firewalker (1986) and Hero and the Terror (1988).
Wall holds a 9th degree black belt under Chuck Norris and won the 1970 US Professional Karate Championship. He is also the co-founder and CEO of World Black Belt Inc, a martial arts organisation. He’s been married to his wife Lillian for 48 years and has two daughters - Shana and Kara.
For the first time in an interview to an Indian media house, Wall talks about little know facts about Bruce Lee, the reason behind his son Brandon Lee’s death and stories from the Enter The Dragon days.
When was the first time you met Bruce Lee?
I first met him in 1963. I’d gone to a restaurant in Chinatown with some of my karate friends where a martial arts demonstration was taking place. A guy was talking about how deadly kung fu was and that karate was nothing in front of it. He called some people from the audience and said he would show that karate does not work. He made three guys hit his arm, and then said he would show us how kung fu was deadlier than karate, by hitting them. None of the guys there were ready to participate.
Then I said, “You didn’t hit my arm.”
He was taken aback, and I walked onto the stage and stuck my hand out, and I have the longest arms which you’ll ever see! He hit me on my hand three times, after which I told him, “That doesn’t hurt. Where’s my broken arm?”
I then slapped him on the head and challenged him to a fight, but he just ran away. After which I realised I was the only one on the stage, and still had my drink in the other hand!
My friends then told me that there were too many Chinese guys in that place and we should leave otherwise there might be trouble. So we started walking away when I noticed someone walking up to me, and he said, “Hey that was funny, I’m Bruce Lee!”
How did you get to act in 3 films with Bruce Lee?
Well, Chuck Norris and I were 50-50 partners in a chain of martial arts schools and he was speaking on the phone to Bruce. After getting off the telephone he told he was going to Rome to do a film (Way of the Dragon- 1972) with Bruce Lee. So I told him that we’re partners and you can’t do the film without me! So we were on the plane and Chuck told me that Bruce wants to film us as we land and come out from the plane, because it was a small budget movie. After that, I ended up acting in two more Bruce Lee films - Enter The Dragon (1973) and Game of Death (1978).
You were also partners with Chuck Norris. Do you know how all those Chuck Norris jokes started?
Chuck Norris, my former partner in a chain of martial arts schools, is a great, kind, smart, generous and talented man. But in the beginning there were no positive jokes on him.
It all started years ago with very negative comments about him from a lot of people, but then a fan wrote a positive comment about Chuck, saying ‘I am so fast when I turn off the lights I’m in bed before the lights go out’, which was something that Muhammad Ali used to say about himself. Then several people got on the bandwagon and started making these comments and the rest is history!
Tell us about filming Enter The Dragon and shooting that legendary action scene between you and Bruce.
Well different looks were tried on me since I had to look really menacing. So they tried on various beard styles on me till they settled on the final one. But still they felt I wasn’t looking menacing enough. That menacing look was important because I had to look like the bad guy, and then they had the idea of putting a scar on my face, which I get from Bruce’s sister in the movie.
For the fight scene with Bruce, what people don’t know is that I actually had to fall on real glass. I didn’t know where the glass pieces were falling behind me, and so I ended up falling on it, when we shot the scene 5-6 times. In fact if you see my uniform, which I’m going to auction soon, it’s cut all over in different places. Also, we weren’t fake hitting out there, Bruce was actually hitting me during the action scenes.
The only negative part about the movie was the director Robert Clouse. He didn’t respect us because we were martial artists and not ‘actors’. In fact, during one of the fight scenes with me Bruce got cut, and Robert spread a rumour that I was going to kill him and that we weren’t good friends. So I asked around and so did Bruce and everyone was saying that it was Robert from whom they heard this story. Both of us then drove down to where Robert was staying and knocked at his door. As he opened it, I just slapped him on the head and he fell down.
How did you hear about Bruce’s death?
I got a call from Bruce’s wife, Linda, who told me that Bruce had died. First I thought that he died in a car accident, because Bruce was always getting into accidents and was a really bad driver. But it turned out that he actually died because of an aneurism, which had formed because of his taking equagesic (a pain killer) after he had hurt his back.
Bruce died when he was 32, his son Brandon died in a freak accident when he was 28, doesn’t that seem strange to you? In fact there are so many theories around Bruce’s death, such as the fact that the Hong Kong mafia was involved.
All that mafia stuff surrounding Bruce’s death is bulls***. As for his son, Brandon Lee was a wonderful, talented young man and his untimely death was caused by the Crow (1994) movie set people not following the rules - that is, no real guns or ammunition on set. Guns have webbing in the barrel to prevent any projectiles from leaving them, and one should never point a gun at the actor, it is the camera angle which can make it look like the gun is pointed at the person.
The stunt coordinator on The Crow should have opened the pistol (which was pointed and shot at Brandon) and demonstrated to the two actors involved with a pencil dropped through the barrel that no objects were in it. The scene where Brandon was killed was an interior scene and would/should have used an eight or quarter load not a full load blank, for safety reasons.
If a real gun was used (it was) the gun should have been cleaned before using it (it wasn’t)- supposedly real bullets were used previously by removing the lead and replaced in the shells then fired to use up the pins. One of the tips lodged in the barrel which became the lethal projectile!
What was Bruce Lee like?
Bruce Lee was not only a great martial artist, he was a great man, very bright, well read, kind, funny, thoughtful, a magician (he loved showing magic tricks to people), loved kids, was professional, energetic, hard working and determined. He loved his terrific wife Linda and his kids Brandon and Shannon. I loved Bruce Lee, was honored to know him and appear in three of his films and got to train with him for years, and we taught each other a lot.