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APRIL 2010

I don’t care if your name is Sugarfoot, get your boot outta my coffee!

Why did the bounty hunter trackdown Cheyenne? ‘Cause Bodie-owned-dough!

Did you see Wyatt Earp last night? Didn’t know he was sick!

Heh, heh—a little ‘50s TV humor there. Very little…But don’t get me wrong, I love Marshal Earp. Loved watching him dodge bullets, accompanied by an off-screen all-male chorus of hummers. Golly, the barrel of his Buntline Special was so long he had to stand on a ladder to get it out of his holster. Hugh O’Brian was mighty handy with his trusty shootin’ iron. As legend hath it, Hugh once challenged Audie Murphy to a quick-draw contest. “Why, sure,” said Audie, “With one condition: we use live ammo.” One night in a Cape Cod saloon, Hugh confided to me the eternal saga of actors: Who’s Will Hutchins? Get me Will Hutchins. Get me another Will Hutchins. Get me a young Will Hutchins. Who’s Will Hutchins?

Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Brown were famously fast—yessiree, and the dance hall gals were even faster. I was fast—Oh, I cheated a tad. Before a shoot-out I’d pull the hammer back a notch to get one-up on the boys—Yep, used to go around half-cocked. One time I was too fast. Shot myself in the leg. That smarted. So did the tetanus shot.

Bruce Lee.The fastest I ever saw? Easy. He wasn’t a westerner; he was an easterner. Bruce Lee by gum. We worked together in ‘68 on a “Blondie” TV show. (I’m the world’s only living Dagwood.) He played my martial arts teacher. I wanted to give the neighborhood bully, Bruce ‘Frank Nitti’ Gordon, his comeuppance. Master Lee taught me to summon my forces, to bring fear to my opponent, by assuming a terrifying fighting stance and then shouting, “Yosh!”

After my lesson and full of vinegar, I paid Mr. Gordon a little visit. With a hearty smile he ushered me into his front room. Immediately, I assumed the dreaded position and screamed, “Yosh!” Unblinking, Gordon assumed a similar position and yelled back—“Yosh!” I looked into the camera and whimpered, “Oh, Oh…”

At the time of the shoot I didn’t know diddly squat about Bruce Lee, except he portrayed Kato on “The Green Hornet” TV series. Now, Kato was here, up close and personal, and much, much more. Bruce and I went to work one cold November in the early a-yawn after a cuppa mocha java. First shot of the day—the setting was his gym, where he demonstrated the rudiments of his method and the power of cosmic energy. The director let us wing it with no rehearsal—“Action!” Lee, I reckon, was a genius of sorts. He transmitted to me some of his life force. Never before  and never since have I felt so at one with the universe—I was light as a feather and strong as an ox—Instant Zen! We went with the flow across a wide mat like a danger-ous Rogers and Astaire. (Remember, Ginger did everything Fred did, only backwards and in high heels.) “Cut, Print!” One take. My all-time favorite movie moment.

What a joy was Lee between set-ups.  Before a gathering crowd, he’d show us some of his unique art. He’d whip his arms and legs through the musty sound stage air with impressive vitality. Whoosh! He sounded like Jack Nicklaus on the first tee. I tried it. All you could hear was “Ouch!” He challenged me to a fast-draw duel, Bruce Lee style. He placed a penny on my open hand, waist high. His right hand was arms length above his head. My mission was to close my hand before he could pluck the penny from my palm. Piece of cake. Yosh! His hand swept down like a hawk. With my gunslinger’s instinct I made a fast fist. All was quiet—Sheesh! I felt the penny still nestled in my sweaty palm. I also felt sorry for Bruce. People were watching. Because of my swift skill he was about to lose face. Heh, heh. Sheepishly, I opened my fingers. There, lying on my life line was a dime! The man had some kind of hand-eye co-ordination. The man was operating in a dimension unfamiliar to me.

Sadly, that was our last show. The New York suits pulled the plug. We were discarded like squeezed lemons—Jim ‘Mr. Dithers’ Backus was philosophical. “Now we don’t have to buy the crew Christmas presents.” I miss Blondie, the kids, Daisy, the mailman, and Mr. Dithers bellowing, “Bumstead, You idiot!” At least, we went out with our best shot, thanks to the magic of Bruce Lee. Of all the actors I ever met, he was the most well-balanced in body, mind and soul. He went on to international fame and an untimely, mysterious death; but his spirit lingers on. Good night, Bruce Lee, wherever you are—Yosh!