TV Guide cover story, October 23-29, 1971 TV Guide, Oct. 23-29, 1971
BRINGING 'MR. NOVAK' UP TO DATE (cover story)
By Leslie Raddatz
The name James Grover Franciscus absolutely rings with solidity;
integrity, conservatism and dignity. And well it should, for its
bearer-star of the new ABC series Longstreet is an actor possessed
of all these sterling qualities, both on and off the screen But
Jim Franciscus has a childhood nickname, "Goey" (his brother could
not pronounce Grover). Rarely used any more, it fits the obverse
side of Jim's personality. He is truly a goer, with a "devilish"
streak that surfaces when he gets home of an evening or weekend,
or sometimes "after a few grapes."
To the viewing public, he is best known as the upstanding Mr.
Novak of a few seasons back. To his peers, he is "a professional
right down the line," "a fine young actor," "an instinctive
actor," "dedicated," "basically intellectual in an area that is
not intellectual." On the personal side, his credentials are
impeccable: top-drawer social and cultural background, educated at
Eastern prep schools and Yale, an unsullied domestic life with his
one and only wife and their two daughters, middle-of-the-road
politically, his infrequent public appearances limited almost
exclusively to celebrity tennis tournaments, which he usually
But then there is the other Franciscus. Those close to him say
... He's normal as blueberry pie, but crazy as a June bug when he
gets home; When he's away from acting he's a very funny guy"; "He
can be two absolutely different people"; "He's a complete wild man
when he gets rolling"; "He's a different guy at parties, after a
few martinis"; "He can be loud and raucous."
It is difficult to imagine Franciscus/Novak chasing his wife down
the hall of a hotel in Rome throwing spaghetti at her, but "Goey"
Franciscus did exactly that-all in fun, of course, but to the
consternation of onlooking maids. "I don't know how it started,"
says the ebullient Kitty Franciscus, "but we were having this
great spaghetti fight in the room. Finally I ran out into the
hall, and Jimmy came after me, still throwing spaghetti. We really
had a mess to clean up afterward." Franciscus's longtime friend
Wendell Niles Jr. has known him since his "swinging bachelor days"
in New York, when he was dating Jane Fonda. Niles says, "I could
tell you stories about him you couldn't print. They're as wild as
the things you hear about John Barrymore and Errol Flynn."
Few except family and close friends see this frivolous side of
Franciscus. With the press, he is reserved to a fault, and he has
been the recipient of the Hollywood Women's Press Club "Sour Apple
Award" for uncooperative stars. ("He should always take me along
on interviews," says his wife. "I'd change his image.") But
Franciscus the workmanlike actor is on view to everyone on a set
with him. Longstreet is an example.
After two seasons of Mr. Novak, anxious to get away from the
"shirt and tie" image, Franciscus decided to Concentrate on
feature motion pictures. I le made six in the past three years,
but except for "Marooned" and "Beneath the Planet of the Apes,"
the experience was not rewarding. (His most recent effort, "Cat-
o'-Nine-Tails," made in Italy, scene of the spaghetti battle, was
called "unfit for human consumption" by critic Judith Crist.)
Franciscus says, "I don't like the type of pictures being made
now, and I don't like traveling. I've been living like a gypsy,
making movies in Italy, Norway and Spain. I missed my family."
Since he did not have the choice of roles that, for instance,
Steve McQueen has ("I'm obviously not in that class"), he decided
to give television another try.
Longstreet was presented to him, and he liked it. "There was a
challenge in playing a hero who's blind," he says. "Has it ever
been done before?" Longstreet also meant a reunion with Stirling
Silliphant, the talented writer/producer with whom he worked
during the first season of Naked City, his first starring role on
Although Franciscus was anxious to get back into television and
wanted to do Longstreet, there was the matter of making a deal.
And here Franciscus the businessman comes into focus. Dick
Clayton, the actor's agent, says, "He wanted to do the show from
the very start, but they had to take him on his own terms. There s
no back-and-forth with him. Once he says something, he doesn't
budge." Franciscus ended up owning a piece of Longstreet
With the contracts signed, the actor set about learning how to
play a blind man. His father-in-law, the veteran director William
Wellman, said he could do it only with dark glasses, but
Franciscus did not agree. Eventually in the show he would
sometimes wear glasses, sometimes use a radar-equipped cane.
sometimes depend upon his dog. But first he went to the Foundation
for the Junior Blind in Los Angeles and to the Guide Dog
Foundation in San Raphael, Cal. He attended classes and followed
blind persons about the streets as they learned to handle their
dogs. (The dog he uses in Longstreet is not a guide dog. however,
but an ~ actor dog playing a guide dog He even has a stand-in!)
`.I had to learn more than just unfocusing my eyes," Jim says.
"You have to have everything come in your ears. If that doesn't
come across, you're lost."
Cecil Smith of the Los Angeles Times has dismissed Longstreet,
with its blind insurance investigator, and Ironside, with its
wheel-chair-bound detective, as "the gimmick-cop school of
television." But Franciscus seeks another dimension in his role.
"I want to play Longstreet as a guy coping, not selfpitying," he
says. "I want to convince the audience that the blind are not
Since Mr. Novak, Franciscus has not been content to concern
himself entirely with acting. In partnership with Fred Brogger, he
formed Omnibus Productions, which produced the TV specials
"Heidi," "David Copperfield" and "Jane Eyre." In all three
ventures, Jim's role was that of producer, rather than actor. In
fact, according to a colleague, ''Where most actors would try to
find vehicles they could appear in, he did just the opposite. He
would say, 'I'd never hire me for this part.' He limited himself
strictly to the preliminary work, then let Brogger and Delbert
Mann take over." After only a few months on Longstreet, Stirling
Silliphant said, "He's more than an actor-he's a creative partner.
My relationship with him is as an executive, not an actor."
But acting has been the first love of James Franciscus since, at
12, he appeared in a musical version of "Treasure Island at the
Fenderson School in West Newton, Mass. "Right then, I knew I
wanted to be an actor,' he says. He had moved East from Missouri
(he was born in Clayton, Mo., Jan. 31, 1934) a year before, when
his widowed mother remarried, The family was in the St Louis
When Jim's mother married New York stockbroker Francis LaFarge, of
the literary LaFarges, "Jim's Midwestern background was projected
into the Eastern cultural scene," according to an old friend.
At Taf1 School in Watertown, Conn he starred in "Billy Budd" and
"The Devil and Daniel Webster." His dram teacher there, Peter
Candler, says ''The Devil was his favorite role. He would love to
be the Devil. but he only gets pretty-boy parts." By the time Jinn
got to Yale, Candler was manager of the famed Cape Playhouse at
Newton, Mass., where Franciscus spent his summers doing everything
there was to do around the theater-building sets and painting
scenery, as well as acting with such unknowns as Jane Fonda and
Joanne Woodward. He also had a tiny studio where he wrote plays,
and at Yale had a "little cubbyhole" which he used for the same
purpose. ("He has a mania for seclusion," says Candler.) Some of
his plays won prizes. One was written in Elizabethan verse,
another concerned a teacher. "He can still recite them,'' says
Jinn majored in English for his B.A. at Yale "I wanted to be
educated a well as be an actor," he says. Although he received
some recognition for hi writing, eventually he did not like the
loneliness of the craft. "The old saying is that a writer sits
alone on top of mountain and looks down at the people in the
valley," he says. "I want to be down in the valley."
In his junior year at Yale he starred in a musical version of "The
Great Gatsby." Dick Cavett, who was in the same production,
remembers him as "on the reserved side-mortified and terrified
because he had to sing." But Cavett adds, "The rest of us knew that
the movie scouts in the audience would be looking at Franciscus,
with that blond hair and all those teeth." They were, too, and Jim
got his first movie role in a thriller called "Four Boys and a
In 1960, Franciscus married Kitty Wellman. A friend says, "Kitty
may be the best thing that ever happened to him." She has the
ability to break through her husband's customary reserve, which,
according to Silliphant, is not shyness but "a shield for a
penetrating mind-he has total security." The Franciscus daughters,
Jamie Allen and Kellie Allen, were both born on Dec. 4, one in
1961, the other in 1963 ("It must have been the same vacation,"
says Jim). The family lives on an acre in North Hollywood, in a
ranchy, 30-year-old house with green shingles and shutters,
surrounded by fruit trees.
The duality of Franciscus's personality shows up in his off-camera
pursuits. He enjoys such solitary pastimes as reading (philosophy,
psychology, biography) and listening to recordings of everything
from rock to Bach. But he has also gone in for such flamboyant
hobbies as flying a jet plane and parachute-jumping He took up the
latter because. he says. " I was always scared of heights." He
plays tennis before packed stands in tournaments with Efrem
Zimbalist Jr., Clint Eastwood and Charlton Heston. But last year
he paid an unpublicized visit to the Lawrenceville School in New
Jersey, where his old friend and mentor, Peter Candler, now heads
the drama and cinema department. There Franciscus taught CandlerÕs
classes for three days.
When Candler and Franciscus write to each other, they begin their
letters "Dear Snark" Lewis Carroll created the mythical snark - "a
peculiar creature, that won't be caught in a conventional way."
Perhaps the designation, insofar as James Franciscus is concerned,
is not inappropriate. END
TV Guide article on Marlyn Mason, April 29-May 5, 1972
TV Guide, April 29-May 5, 1972
Well you have to laugh a lot
A not-so-serious young actress tells how to survive while playing
a blind detective's assistant
By Digby Diehl
The secret of survival on a show like Longstreet is just not to
take it seriously," says Marlyn ("as in Brando") Mason ("as in
James"), who co-stars as Nikki Bell, secretary/assistant to the
blind insurance investigator. "I mean, all day long you're
watching a guy with perfect 20-20 vision pretending to be blind
while a bunch of apparently sane adults are going 'bang-bang' at
each other with toy guns, and I'm walking around these take
buildings pretending that I'm somebody else. And we're getting
paid for it! How can anybody take this business seriously?"
Marlyn, who was the original chirper, the cheer-'em-up kid on the
Longstreet set, before the show was canceled, isn't a cynic or a
slouch when it comes to her work, but she firmly believes that
show business was meant to be tun-for the actors as well as the
audience. "When I was in 'How Now, Dow Jones' on Broadway, I was
hating the show, New York, myself, and the world until director
George Abboff came along," she recalls. "I was amazed at his
vitality at the age of 81 and followed him around trying to learn
the secret. He said it was simple: don't take yourself too
seriously. So now, when I'm getting all excited or depressed about
some acting problem, I just stop and tell myself life is too short
to get worried to death over a television show. Maybe it I was a
doctor saving lives and so forth, I would take the whole thing
more seriously. But when you realize that it's all make-believe,
it seems ludicrous and out-of-proportion to do anything but enjoy
A visit to Paramount studios when Longstreet was shooting gave
ample evidence that she is a practicer as well as a preacher. For
a show that was about a series of murders, robberies and other
tragedies all investigated by a man with a dog and a cane . . .
well, given those circumstances, the sound stage was a comparative
barrel of laughs.
James Franciscus would be staring at Marlyn with one of his
practiced out-of focus, I-Can't-Really-See-You looks, with the
camera looking at him over her shoulder. Just as he finished a
line rehearsal, she would cross her eyes and completely break up
Franciscus, who had to focus, to believe what he was seeing. She
would toss a slightly ribald remark to the crew and everyone,
including the director, would be laughing, She was a ball of
energy and good humor, grabbing coffee for people, finding me a
chair, and talking her head off, comically, all the while.
"I'm not saying I'm Miss Goody Twoshoes," she says, not that the
thought would have crossed my mind, "but I'm pretty honest about
the kind of person I am and I'm sensitive to people liking each
other, having good feelings, whether it be two people or a large
group. I always get along well with the guys on the crew of a show
because I feel this way; I guess I'm typed as a sort of 'crew
girl.' I used to swear with them a lot, but I'm trying to cut that
out. I grew up hearing some pretty rough talk, since my father was
a welder. Somewhere along the line, when I was little, someone
must have laughed at my swearing and I started doing it for comic
effect. But I don't feel that need to draw attention to myself so
much any more. I just want to enjoy my work."
For a woman who doesn't take it too seriously, Marlyn was plenty
intense about her role as Nikki Bell. Even when she was just
talking about her part, she gestured and pondered with all the
angst of a Method actress (which she is not) preparing to play
Ophelia. It was hard to retrain from reminding her not to be too
"There's a part of me that didn't quite come across in Longstreet.
I know it was supposed to be a heavy dramatic show, but I think
there could have been a little more spunk put into it as tar as my
character went. It seems dull that Nikki didn't have much personal
"I'm always trying to make the correct choice for a line of
dialogue, getting all emotionally involved. But, in tact, it's
usually better when I just give my first reaction to it, just read
the line the way it looks, without getting underneath it. I've
never been one of. those people who has all her lines rewritten to
suit her. I guess that's the stubborn actress in me. I say to
myself: 'Hey, that's the way the author wrote it, now you find a
way to say it'."
Of course, Marlyn might have made a few changes in those script
formats, given the chance. "One of the things I got sick of was
that line every week to Jim Franciscus: 'Are you sure you want to
go alone?' Or: 'Don't you want Duke to go with you?' Or: 'I don't
think you should do it by yourself.' How long had I been working
for this blind man who doesn't like being treated as though he's
blind? A year? I knew damn well he could take care of himself. He
goes ripping into the action every week, doesn't he? Well, it
seemed a little silly. I just got tired of sounding like his
Longstreet was a long-sought home for Marlyn, however, in a career
that wandered through nearly 80 guest appearances on all of the
major television shows. "I never could handle the emotional part
of working closely for six days with the cast and crew of a show
that I was doing a guest shot in and then . . . nothing. You never
see those people again and all the good times and relationships
that have developed are lost. The most important thing about
Longstreet for me was having a stable relationship with a group
To continue our discussion of MM's life with Longstreet, I visited
her apartment, high above the Sunset Strip with a spectacular view
of Los Angeles trom its cozy environment. On the
coffee table is a book of crossword puzzles and a copy of "Uncle
Wiggily." "I don't know if W.C. Fields ever read 'Uncle Wiggily',"
says Marlyn, pouring a glass of honey wine, "but I can I sort of
hear him reading it aloud when" I ever I look at it. You know, I'd
really I like to be well-read, but I could go out tomorrow and buy
600 books and not read one of them. Or read them and forget them.
I can't remember what I did yesterday. The crossword puzzles are
just a great way to kill time, like doing needle point, which I
"I'm sure some actors have really exciting lives off the screen,
like Steve McQueen with his cars. But I just sort of get up and do
whatever I feel like doing. Which is absolutely nothing. I wonder
a lot about things like: is there a life after death? I think if
there's such a thing as reincarnation, please God, let me come
back as Barbra Streisand. If I could have that voice, I'd put up
with the nose and all the rest. Other days, I think it's silly to
worry about death a~ growing old. I'm 31 years old right now, and
my friends advise me to pretend I'm younger. But I love being 31!
I wouldn't want to be any other age!"
Which is a good thing, because immutably, undeniably, Marlyn was
born on Aug. 7, 1940 in California's San Fernando Valley. "I
remember when World War II was over. We lived across the street
from a mission and I remember the bells chiming on that day." An
obviously strong-willed lady, she decided that she wanted a life
on the stage after her first triumph at 5, singing "Santa Claus Is
Comin' to Town" for her church. By the time she was 9, her
nontheatrical family had her enrolled in the usual singing,
dancing and piano lessons. She was also performing with some local
groups and on a few TV talent shows. In high school she was
featured by the children's wing of the Players' Ring Theatre in
such stalwart chestnuts as "Cinderella," "The Arabian Nights" and
"I was 18 in 1958, just out of high school, and the Beatnik
movement was happening, so I got a job as a waitress in one of the
first Beat coffeehouses in Los Angeles. But I didn't feel a part
of the Beat Generation. Being born in the '40s and growing up in
the '50s, I'm right in the middle of generations. I don't feel
that I belong to anything: I'm sort of a mixture of the Victorians
and the hippies."
After an unsuccessful marriage, Marlyn joined the Billy Barnes Los
Angeles Revue in 1962 for eight months, winning a lot of notice
with her "Pink Pussycat" routine. "And then I did television,
television, television, with the exception of 'How Now' Dow Jones'
on Broadway, which convinced me that I really didn't want to do. a
long-run musical comedy as I had thought I wanted to do all my
life." Her name on a Broadway marquee impressed Hollywood enough
to put her into an Elvis Presley picture in 1968, "The Trouble
with Girls." "I just adored Elvis," she coos. "He's a gentleman
with good manners and works hard, but he's fun. I was amazed that
with his kind of success he was still so friendly. We became very
good friends and on the set would get into some heavy talk about
philosophy or whatever."
There was more action and less philosophy on the set of her second
motion picture, "Making It." in which she played a basketball
coach's frustrated wife who was, shall we say, playing out the
title role with the coach's star center there on the screen in
living flesh tones. "The nude scenes in that film really didn't
bother me at the time I did them," says Marlyn cavalierly. "But I
don't think I'd do nude scenes again. Not because I'd be
embarrassed, but because I feel that it's really not necessary. It
has nothing to do with being naughty: but I've seen so many films
where I thought it was just as exciting or more exciting it you
didn't show everything. of course, that comes from a lifetime of
watching old movies on television-that romantic aura of the oldies
comes through. At heart, I guess I'm really old-fashioned."
A couple of years ago, that romantic aura swelled with violins and
witty charms, when Peter Ustinov, who starred in the Hall of Fame
special "A Storm in Summer," in which she appeared, took a special
interest in Marlyn. "Peter is absolutely marvelous. He's one of
the most intelligent and funny men I've ever known-and both at one
time. He spends most of his time in Europe and we had a great
correspondence, one of those 19th-century letterwriting orgies.
I've got volumes of brilliant letters he wrote me.
"At one time, early in my life, I went to a psychiatrist to find
out why I picked the kind of men I kept picking," says Marlyn.
analyzing her love life. "Every single one was frustrated in his
work and not fulfilled as a person. Their lives were their work
and I was a masochist for getting involved with such unhappy
people. They really just take it out on their women. It took a lot
of nerve for me to go to a psychiatrist. but it has certainly
helped my life."
Now that Marlyn's career is blossoming, she has hit a winning
streak in her love life. It's the only thing she is really
mysterious about. Who it is she won't say. But-"I've found a man
who makes me feel just wonderful. I knew at a very young age that,
as much as I wanted to perform, it was just a substitute for
someone to share my life with. Well, now I've got both' my work
and my man, and I'm going to live happily ever after." That is, if
she doesn't take it too "seriously."
TVue article, Sept. 26 - Oct. 2, 1971
TVue, Week of Sept. 25 - Oct. 2, 1971
James Franciscus Conquers TV's Most Challenging Role
By Anthony La Camera
WHATEVER THE FUTURE of ABC's new "Longstreet" series, some Sort of
special award should be made ready for title star James
Franciscus. In playing the weekly hero role of a blind insurance
investigator, he may well be handling the toughest acting
assignment -- physically and emotionally -- in all television.
"Playing an unsighted person does make it more difficult for an
actor," said the blond Franciscus in a bit of understatement.
"While moving with a dog or a cane, you still must remember your
speaking lines. While keeping your eyes out of focus, you must
register expression or emotion in other ways. An actor's greatest
asset is his eyes."
To Jim's credit, he has indeed managed to project the visual
handicap of his character without neglecting histrionic
requirements. It was something that did not come easily and
The slight, medium-height Franciscus went through a two-month
training period before essaying his role on film. He trained with
guide dogs, learned how to use a cane, visited various schools for
the blind in California, did research on the philosophical
attitudes, as well as physical problems, of the unsighted.
Even now, he rehearses with his eyes closed, relying on his mind's
eye to guide him as he walks around the Hollywood set. His steps
are measured as he reflects the caution of a sightless person
moving around an unfamiliar room. The first information imparted
to a blind man starting on a rehabilitation course is always to
walk with his head up, and this he has mastered, too.
As hard as he applies himself, Franciscus insists that his work
week close before Friday night. Since he works from 10 to 12 hours
a day, he makes sure that he is in his North Hollywood home for
"I have two kids at home, and I have a family life which I want to
maintain," said Jim, who has been married for 11 years to the
former Kitty Wellman daughter of famed movie director William
Wellman. They have two daughters, Jamie Allen, 9, and Kellie
"I do my homework by reading scripts and preparing for the next
week's work. I see no reason others shouldn't."
With all the physical demands made by his "Longstreet" role,
paradoxically enough, Jim prefers acting to his part-time status
as a film producer. He is a partner with producer Fred Brogger in
Omnibus Productions, which produced the "Heidi," "David
Copperfield" and "Jane Eyre" specials and now is preparing a new
theatrical film version of "Kidnaped," starring James Caine.
"I like acting much better, I must tell you," he said. 'The
producing end of this business is so full of deals, money talk,
finagling. It sometimes makes me- uncomfortable."
"Longstreet," of course, is Jim's third series. The Missouri-born
Yale graduate co-starred first in the half-hour edition of "Naked
City" and then played the title role for two seasons in "Mr.
Novak," a meaningful teacher series which probably w as ahead of
its time In the last three years he also has made a half-dozen
'I'm very proud of 'Mr. Novak.' It did a lot for me and for the
image of the school teacher. Until then, television's idea of a
teacher was 'Our Miss Brooks' or 'Mr. Peepers,'" he said.
Just the same, I would never do another series under the
conditions of 'Mr. Novak,' because it seemed 1 never stopped
working. The only way I agreed to do "Longstreet," a most
difficult role, was under my own terms. I wouldn't accept it any
other way because I was eating, I had a few bucks in the bank and
the producers came to me."
About money Franciscus has a personal rule of thumb. Thus far, it
seems to have worked.
"I've had my ups and downs as an actor, but I've never really been
in financial trouble," he explained. "I try to live on 20 percent
of what I make and, after taxes, put the rest away for rainy days.
"I figure that, in this business, you need a year and a half where
you can be not working and still survive. I look on that as a
year-and-a-half grace, because there will be times when business
will be bad or you don't want to accept certain roles.
"Since I'm not a big night-club goer and don't have extraordinary
expenses, it has been working out fine."
James Franciscus and Stirling Silliphant wrote tributes to Bruce Lee
published in the Bruce Lee Memorial book published in 1974.
"Bruce was a martial artist first and actor second - no question about that." James Franciscus
I didn't know Bruce much more than working with him that month and a half on Longstreet, but I considered him to be a friend, and we got along very well. He helped me a lot on the set. We had a show where the martial arts were used in one whole act against a fellow, and Bruce brought me through all of that and taught me enough basics so it looked like I knew what I was doing. I really didn't, but...
Bruce was an excellent teacher-a super teacher. He was very tolerant, but he was also demanding because he wanted it done to perfection; that's the way he did it himself. I think Kung Fu came much out of what was seen just on the one show on Longstreet, and it's become a very big thing. The martial arts were a big thing before they were in films here. And their popularity is certainly evidenced in his films that are appearing now.
I think Bruce was a martial artist first and an actor second-no question about that. I have never seen anyone who could control his own destiny in a physical sense as much as Bruce was able to. But he also had a great sense of humor, and it struck me that ... I guess he was like the great football players. Thank God they are gentle people! He had the capacity to kill you with one blow, but he was just the opposite kind of a fellow. Here was a man who was a walking machete and yet, as an individual, was as gentle a man, as tolerant and unassuming, as I have ever known.
"Bruce was more than just a single success story. He represented a whole race finally being accepted in films."
"He may be the only person I ever met in my whole life, and may ever meet, who was truly a master of what he did." Stirling Silliphant
I met Bruce about five or six years ago. I had heard stories about his tremendous speed and ability, and I had seen him on The Green Hornet, in which he played "Kato". For some time, I had been wanting to get involved in martial arts. But I was searching for a freer style than I felt, at that time, karate could afford me. I wanted something more adaptable to street fighting. And I just couldn't find anyone who seemed to understand what I was looking for in terms of personal exercise and getting my body and head together.
One of my major interests for the last 15 years has been a study of oriental philosophies, particularly of Zen. I felt that the martial arts were an extension of these disciplines. So I went looking for Bruce. It took me about six months to find someone who could introduce me to him, but at last he came to my offices at Columbia Pictures. I told him I wanted to study with him.
Bruce said, "I think you're too old. I don't believe there's a chance your reflexes are good enough to do what I'd want you to do." So I did a few things, and he seemed pleased and surprised. He said okay, he'd take me on as a student.
Joe Hyams, the writer, and I took lessons together two or three times a week from Bruce for a year. I got so interested I preferred to study alone with Bruce, which I did for another year, three times a week, advancing to what he called his second stage. When I got to that stage, he had me running three miles every morning and working out, and I was in absolutely beautiful condition.
During this time, in any of the films I was writing, I always tried either to incorporate Bruce as an actor or as a behind-the-scenes stuntman whenever I could. For example, I wrote a film at MGM called Marlowe with James Garner about four or five years ago. I put two sequences into it - the two best scenes in the film - where Bruce comes into Garner's office and tears it up and another when he meets Garner up on the roof of the Occidental building and goes kicking and screaming off into space. That probably was Bruce's first American feature film appearance.
Bruce was such a dear friend, and I had such tremendous respect for his absolutely God-given talent, that whenever I could put him into anything I would just make up things to get him into the film. The next project I did was a film for Columbia called A Walk in the Spring Rain; a love story. I wrote a fight scene into it which took place in the Tennessee mountains. Since the story was located in the South, I couldn't write any Orientals into the fight because they simply don't have Asians down there in Gatlinburg. But I did bring Bruce down to Tennessee to choreograph and stage the fight.
There were a couple of stuntmen - big, tough Caucasian cats - assigned to the movie who were very skeptical about Bruce. They saw this 135-pound Chinese who, when he didn't want to look tough, could maintain a very low profile. Bruce and I were hanging around together, and they kind of resented the fact that an outside guy - not a member of the stuntmen's union - was in charge of them. I made it very clear to them, since I was not only the writer but the producer, that Bruce was the boss on their fight sequence and they'd damn well follow his orders. But they kept putting him on and he was getting very uptight, so I said, "Listen, why don't you just give them a little sample of what a side kick can do?"
Bruce had brought down the air shield because he and I were working out all the time. He had me practicing my spin kicks and jumping kicks on the shield. So he said to them, "One of you guys hold this shield. I'm going to give it a little kick. But I suggest you brace yourself first. I kick pretty hard." And they said, "Oh, sure, sure." And I said, "Hey, Bruce, to make it interesting, let's do it out by the swimming pool." So Bruce told the first guy to brace himself. With no movement at all - no run, no nothing, just standing there in front of him - Bruce kicked this guy, lifted him off his feet, up into the air, and out into the pool! Well, that guy came up a Christian! From that moment on, he would have killed for Bruce.
Now the other guy hadn't gotten religion yet. He figured the other stuntman was pure chicken, So he really got down low, like a football lineman - all six-feet-two, 190 pounds of muscle - and braced himself. Bruce knocked him right off his feet, and into the water. And I don't mean with any preparation; just like that, just like you're standing talking and suddenly, like a backhand takeoff.... So, from that moment on, these guys loved Bruce.
Then I was doing a television show called Longstreet. I had sold the series with a 90-minute pilot film. Now the time had come to do the first, on-the-air one-hour episode. Together, Bruce and I worked out our opening story. I called it "The Way of the Intercepting Fist", which was, of course, the literal translation of "jeet kune do", Bruce's personal martial art. It was a very straightline story in which James Franciscus, the blind detective, is assaulted by some toughs in the beginning and told to keep off the dock. He is saved from being hurt by a Chinese antique dealer - Bruce - who just happens to be walking by and clobbers these guys with kicks and punches. The detective wants to get back at his assailants and asks Bruce what he did and how he did it. But Bruce doesn't want to teach him because the blind man's motivation for learning is wrong. So the story had to do with teaching Franciscus how to learn the way of the intercepting fist.
We had more fan mail on that episode than on any of the other shows we did in the series. Bruce, in turn, got a tremendous volume of letters and reactions from both critics and viewers. As a matter of fact, it was that episode which gave him, I like to believe, his first good film to show himself off to the world with pride and dignity as an oriental martial artist. And even though I wrote it, I think it probably was the best martial art film that has ever been on the air. What I did was simply to take many of the things Bruce had taught me and put them into the script. In any event, as a result of that episode, the network (ABC) and Paramount wanted Bruce in more episodes. Ultimately we used him in three other Longstreets during that year before he went to Hong Kong and rose to superstar status. It was after this first TV episode he was approached by Ted Ashley of Warner Bros. and by Screen Gems (as well as by Paramount) to sign for a series they hoped to develop for him.
Longstreet was the last thing Bruce did in America in terms of films until he went to Hong Kong and did the other films, and then I lost close track of him, although I did see him last year in Hong Kong while I was there doing research on another film. He met me at the airport and took me to dinner. It was such an incredible thing to watch the difference in his lifestyle - between the U.S. and Hong Kong - because here in the States he was always fighting the battle any minority person has to fight. I happen to be engaged to an actress from Vietnam, and I can tell you it's almost impossible for an Asian actress or actor to get much of a part in American films. This was the thing that Bruce battled and that my fiancee battles constantly with little success. Bruce did beat it. When he was here, he never compromised his dignity. As he said, he would never take a part as a pigtailed coolie. He would never play a "heathen Chinese". He was always Bruce Lee.
It was incredible that Bruce always knew he would someday be the most important star in the world. I had serious doubts he would ever achieve what he ultimately achieved. In terms of his being one of the great martial artists of all time, I didn't have any doubts. And I knew he had tremendous magnetism on the screen. When I saw his first two Chinese-made films in Hong Kong, I was absolutely delighted to see that same force and energy, which he projected here in our TV series, come out even more there. But to predict that he would have the success that he did around the world . . . it was like a dream that couldn't come true. It was like saying that the oriental minority is no longer a minority but has been accepted. Bruce was more than just a single success story. He represented a whole race finally being accepted in films.
There is so much emotion on my part in terms of what Bruce meant to me. It wasn't just the fact that he taught me martial arts. It was the fact that he was the first person who ever taught me to see one of the underlying reasons why I studied martial arts in the beginning - that my relationship with men had never been the way a lot of other men's relationships seem to be naturally. I am a writer. I am essentially a very private person. I never hung out with the boys. Unlike a lot of guys who go out bowling on Thursday nights with the guys, I never had any men friends. All of my friends were women. You begin to wonder. You say to yourself, "Hey, I wonder if maybe something's the matter with me. Why am I not like the other guys?"
I never cared too much for football. Baseball puts me to steep. I always went in for individual sports. I was on the fencing team at USC for three years. But that's man-to-man. And that's why I loved martial arts. It was me against the other guy. I never liked team stuff, and Bruce made all that come clear - about what all that means.
Bruce was the first man I ever put my arm around. We are taught in this country that if you touch a guy maybe you're a fag, so we are always kind of reluctant to have physical contact with men - except in sports.
When I tell you that I loved this man, it was because he made me realize that you should look at all human beings not in a sexual sense but in a human sense. They aren't just men and women; they are people. Bruce cleared up in my head, for all time, the confusion about that. Now I can take a guy's hand if I feel like it and hold it, and if someone calls me a fag, I laugh at them. I don't even get hostile because it's no challenge; it's no threat.
Bruce taught me so many things without teaching me. He was a very remarkable human being. He may be the only person I ever met in my whole life, and may ever meet, who was truly a master of what he did. It's kind of impossible to meet guys like that. Well, I guess I do know others. I have tremendous respect, affection, and love for Tak Kubota, who, in shotokan karate, is an absolute perfect master. Jhoon Rhee, whom I know and am very fond of, is a master of tae kwon do. These are also great, great men in terms of their total dedication, their simplicity.
Bruce was very pure. He was only one thing. He was a master. He was, in a sense, almost inhuman in his ability. He never stopped his dedication or his training. James Coburn and I went to India with him on The Silent Flute. We were on a research and reconnaissance trip. All the time we were there, Bruce would be kicking, or stretching, or punching, or moving. He was like a cat. But when he was still, he was still. He was always aware of his body and of his art, and that's all he lived for. He was the most dedicated man I've ever known in my life.
MAD magazine no. 153, Sept. 1972
Longstreet was the subject of one of MAD magazine's (in)famous spoofs back in 1972.