Bob Wall on Bruce Lee

Bob Wall

PK: We understand you’re writing a book titled “Who’s Who in the Martial Arts and Directory of Black Belts.”

WALL: Yes, I am. It is taking a lot of hard work and research to separate the real contributors from the phony ones.

PK : Why did you decide to write such a hook?

WALL: Well I taught clinics all over the U.S. and Canada and people were constantly asking to recommend schools and instructors. There really wasn’t any source to get addresses nor to help you decide who was a good, reliable teacher. Also I decided it was time someone recorded the accomplishments of the great martial artists.

PK : We think that book is a fantastic idea and we sure will be very well received by the martial a arts community. Bob, you had a long-term relationship with Bruce Lee. Can you tell us some unusual or uncovered aspects of his personality?

Bob Wall and Bruce Lee
Bob Wall with Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris in Hong Kong, 1972.

WALL: Yes, how many hundreds would you like? I can still remember  when we stood together in his room in the Beverly Hills Hotel , two friends saying, “so long.” Little did I know  on that day, June 7th, 1973, that I’d never see my friend, Bruce Lee, live again. He was on his way to the airport with his wife. A million dollar movie offer was in his briefcase, along with an airline ticket to Hong Kong. “I am tired, Bob. I think I’ll take a rest after this movie,” he told me. “I wish you would,” I answered. “You’ve earned it.” I knew his was tired. His well-chisseled frame that once held 145 pounds was now at 126 pounds. As we shook hands and parted , he said, “Thanks again for everything, Bob. I’ll call you from Hong Kong.” With this he was gone. I can still remember that half smile of his and that charisma  that shone around him like a huge glowing light.

Since then many thousand words havc gone into print about  Bruce. They have lauded him a great martial artist. And that he was. Many have praised him as a film star. And he was that, too. Again, we had done two films together and an untimely death fell him on July 20, 1973. But in my opinion, far to few words have been written of my friend warm, sensitive, sometimes funny human being.  These are the thoughts that most stand out in my memory of Bruce Lee.  I wish more people could have known him for the kind and great person that he was away from the glow and glitter of stardom. There was one thing well known a bout Bruce among his, close friends. That was the fact that the great Bruce Lee was a terrible driver. When Chuck Norris and I were in Hong Kong in 1972 filming Way of the the Dargon, Bruce told us he would pick us up just outside of the Hyatt Hotel where we were staying. Bruce arrived in his red Mercedes 350SL and gave us an unforgettable ride to the studio. He was so involved in what his plans were that he was continuously almost hitting someone, something, or almost getting hit from other trucks and cars.Chuck and I a re pretty fast drivers so the speed didn’t bother us h driving did but Bruce’s lack of attention did. I remember thinking, “‘This can’t be. This great athlete is a lousy driver!” As it turned out, Bruce’s car got smashed the next day (without us in it, fortunately) and was in the shop for a week or so.

Who is Who in Martial Arts
Bob Wall authored the book “Who is Who in the Martial Arts”. An advert as shown in Professional Karate magazine in 1975.

Another time a few years earlier he had brought the then Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabbar) over to take us to sec some samurai movies and having seen examples of Bruce’s driving before, I said, “Let’s take my car.” But Bruce wanted to drive, so I followed them and was I glad. He had some more near misses.

I can remember another incident that happened in 1974, about a year after he died. I was on a movie set along with Pat Johnson when a little 70-year-old stuntman, named Harvey Perry,  approached us. Harvey had been doing movie stunt work for more than 40 years. Anyway, he knew we were martial artists so he asked us if we knew Bruce. We answered that we did so he said, sticking his chest out and straightening his shoulders, “Ya know, I used to be Bruce Lee’s double for stunts.” Pat and I looked at each other and doubtful looks crossed our faces. “You don’t believe me?” he said. “Look: Harvey,” I replied, “What could you possibly do that Bruce couldn’t do himself?” “Well” he answered: “In all those chase scenes in The Green Hornet show I drove the car instead of him. He couldn’t drive really well, ya know.” So here was this “little old man whose proudest moment in his career came as a stunt double for Bruce Lee’s driving parts. Harvey must have thought we were crazy when Pat and I started laughing out loud, little realizing we knew he wasn’t a great driver!

One of the funny incidents that took place back in the early day of our friendship involving driving and cars happened when I was sitting in the office of my karate studio and Bruce came in visibly shaken. I had never seen him unnerved about anything before, so I blurted out, “What’s wrong, Bruce?” All he would answer was, “He’s crazy! That McQueen is crazy!” Finally I got him to explain to me what had happened. At that time Bruce was not the superstar he was later to become. But he was a mild success as Kato in the now defunct Green Hornet TV series. One of his dreams was to own a Porsche. But before he bought one, he went to a friend, superstar Steve McQueen, who was also world renowned as a race car driver to ask his opinion of the Porsche. Steve owned one at the time so he took Bruce for a ride to demonstrate the handling qualities of the car. I talked to Steve about the incident later and he got a chuckle out of it, too. He took Bruce for a ride on Mulholland Drive which is a two-lane, winding, hilly road. Steve really put the Porsche through its paces. As he drove, without looking at Bruce, he’d say things like, ”Here’s how fast you can pass a car,” and go zipping past. “Feel how well it accelerates,” and he’d stomp it to the floor. “See how fast it can corner,” and he’d go sliding through the turns. All this time he never heard a word from Bruce. Finally he ended the ride with a power spin where he made the car spin completely around. Then he turned to Bruce, smiling, to say, “Well, how do you like the car?” But when he looked over, Bruce wasn’t there. Jn surprise, he looked down on the floor and there was Bruce, white as a sheet, saying, “You’re crazy, man. You’re crazy.” Bruce did buy a Porscche later in spite of his day. You rarely got the last laugh on Bruce because he had a quick wit, but one day I had occasion to. Joe Lewis and I used to have quite a problem with bags splitting from our constant battering, so I had a canvas company make a special covering for one of our bags. It worked great, so Joe wanted a much heavier bag for himself and I packed one so that it was about twice as heavy and somewhat larger than normal. Well, Bruce was always interested in equipment and when he saw the unusual size and covering, he said, “Hey, that’s a pretty good bag,” and I asked if he would like me to make him one. Bruce said,.”Yes, but I’d like a man-sized bag!” He didn’t say anything specific about “man-sized” so I decided I’d make the biggest bag he’d ever seen.A few weeks later, and a lot of work going to several mattress companies for filler, I called Bruce and said, “Your bag’s ready.” He said great and he’d be over to get It. Well, he came rolling up in his little Porsche so I told the students to get in the back out of sight, and picked up the phone as though someone was talking to me. Bruce came in and I said, “The bag’s hanging in the gym,” – it had to weigh 300 pounds – “just throw it in the car.” He went a round the screen and just about fell over because that giant red bag was immensely imposing.

Enter The Dragon
Bruce Lee and Bob Wall on the set of Enter The Dragon movie.

He said “No way that monster will fit in my car. Man, that bag is man-sized .” Well, we had to have some students take it to his house in a truck and Bruce had to have a special ceiling built in his house to suspend it! We had a lot of laughs about that bag afterwards and Bruce used it and loved it. He never said it was too big and for him I’m sure it wasn’t.
Bruce was always kind to children his own and any others that I ever saw him around. When his son Brandon and daughter Shannon would come on the set Bruce would always stop a while and play with them. Several times while we were filming, spectators would come up and ask for an autograph or to take a picture and Bruce would always oblige.
Bruce could be very sensitive and considerate at times, also. When we were shooting our fight scene for Way of the Dragon, we were in the new territories in Hong Kong and the fight was on the dirt which was dry and the wind was blowing. Well, Bruce and I both wore contacts and the sand was really getting under our lenses. So we had to take them off and Bruce and I would put this eye lotion in our eyes called ” Darlin.” It was great, kind of mentholated, and he said, “You should get some of this lotion before you leave, ’cause you can’t get it in the States.”
We finished shooting all of my scenes that day and Bruce, who was star, writer, director stunt coordinator and producer, said, “Look, Bob I’m tied up, as you know, because I’ve got to be on the set every day, so I won’t be able to take you to the airport, but I’ll have the driver pick you up and I’ll say good-bye and thanks now!” The driver picked me up the next morning and away we went, but when we arrived at the airport, there was a smiling Bruce with photographers to record the scene and he said, “I decided to run in real fast and see you off. You did a great job and, by the way here are three bottles of ‘Darlin’ eye lotion.” That was the great Bruce Lee who felt life as he felt his martial art as much as he possibly could. I’m truly thankful he was here as long as he was.

Professional Karate magazine
This piece was published inside the November issue of Professional Karate magazine 1975 with a cover story on the Bill Wallace Joe Corley PKA world title fight.