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Welcome to the four hundred and sixty-second in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous four hundred and sixty-one. This week, did Bruce Lee refuse to lose to Burt Ward when Kato fought Robin in an episode of the Batman TV series? Did Dave Cockrum have a racy protest about Ms. Marvel’s costume? And did a Donald Duck cartoon get nominated for an Academy Award…for Best Documentary?!
WARNING: As noted by me saying “racy,” there is a NSFW image in this piece.
NOTE: The column is on three pages, a page for each legend. There’s a little “next” button on the top of the page and the bottom of the page to take you to the next page (and you can navigate between each page by just clicking on the little 1, 2 and 3 on the top and the bottom, as well).
COMIC LEGEND: Bruce Lee refused to film a scene where Kato lost a fight to Robin.
STATUS: I’m Going With False
Bruce Lee was a legendary martial artist and action star who sadly did not become a major sensation in the United States until after his tragic death at the age of 32 in 1973.
Lee’s first big acting break, though, came in 1966 when he was cast as Kato in the Green Hornet TV series (with Van Williams as the Green Hornet) that was designed to cash in on the success of the ultra-popular Batman TV series of the same year.
The difference between the two series, though, was that Green Hornet was handled a good deal more seriously than the campy Batman series (of course, as some commentators
might will note, that might have been due to the source material for each show – Batman comics of the 1960s tended to be a good deal more campy than a typical Green Hornet radio drama).
In any event, the ratings on the series were not particularly great and towards the end of the first season of the Green Hornet, Williams and Lee made a guest appearance on two episodes of Batman during the second season of the Batman TV series, “A Piece of the Action” and “Batman’s Satisfaction” (they also made a quick cameo in another episode).
In it, the Dynamic Duo tangles with the Green Hornet and Kato…
Check it out (it starts at about the four and a half minute mark in the video)…
The legend is that Kato was originally written as losing to Robin in the initial fight but Bruce Lee threatened to not film the episode at all unless it was changed. They then changed it to a draw.
I have a couple of problems with the story right off of the bat (pun not intended)…
First, it just doesn’t make any sense that the writers of the Batman TV series (the episode was specifically written by Charles Hoffman) would have a guest star LOSE a fight to Robin. The whole point of promoting another TV series is to promote that other series, not show them losing to your characters. The intent is to prop them up, not knock them down.
Secondly, while Bruce Lee was not really a fan of the Green Hornet TV series (he kept trying to pitch his own scripts since he felt what they were doing was not particularly good), he was extremely respectful about his criticisms. I’ve seen some of his letters to William Dozier, the creator of the show, and he’s very courteous to Dozier. Lee was thrilled to be acting professionally and making such a good income. It was just not in his character to pull a move like threatening to walk off because he didn’t like a script. This isn’t to say that Lee didn’t have a temper, as he did. But he was a professional.
Lee and Burt Ward, who played Robin, were acquaintances before the show (they lived in the same condominium complex). Lee, in fact, had even given Ward at least one Kung Fu lesson in 1966. Ward, though, had sort of put it out there that he was a black belt in karate and it likely was true that Lee was a bit irked that Ward was misrepresenting his level of martial arts skill (In a 1968 interview with Black Belt magazine, Ward acknowledged that he began taking actual karate lessons in part because he was shamed by the fact that he pretended to be really good at karate because that’s what the producers of Batman wanted from him).
So what certainly seems to be agreed upon is that right before the filming of the close-ups in the fight scene (that’s another problem with the whole “Bruce Lee refuses to lose to Burt Ward” idea – the actual fight scenes, as you can see from the video above, didn’t feature Ward but his stunt double), Lee began acting really seriously as if he was really going to attack Ward. Ward began to freak out a bit, telling him to cut it out.
Lee later recalled (and since Lee died in 1973, his recollections are a lot more contemporary than other tellings of this story):
“I started to crowd Burt and he started to flap his elbows, jumping around me. I was really scaring him until I heard someone in the back whisper ‘the black panther and the yellow chicken.’ At that instant, I burst out laughing. I couldn’t keep a straight face anymore.”
Lee also commented on the fact that the fight was a draw. He laughed about it, noting:
“Lucky for Robin that it was not for real; otherwise, he would have been one dead bird.”
Adam West recalled the story the same way in his auto-biography. The only person I’ve seen to actually posit the “Bruce Lee was going to walk off” story was Van Williams, in a 1993 interview, twenty-seven years after the fact. Williams also told the “Bruce Lee tried to scare Burt Ward” story, as well. I think Williams is just mistaken.
I’ve never seen anything conclusive showing that the script was changed and in fact, pretty much every other account of the episode just says that it was always a draw. Lee didn’t mention it back in the day. West didn’t mention it in his auto-biography. Bruce Lee biographers don’t mention it. Plus, as I noted, it doesn’t make sense for them to have the guest-stars lose.
So I’m willing to go with a false here.
Thanks to M. Uyehara for the Bruce Lee quotes!
Check out my latest Movie Legends Revealed at Spinoff Online: Did Pretty in Pink originally end with Andie and Duckie together?
On the next page, did Dave Cockrum have a racy protest over his complaints about Ms. Marvel’s costume? Again, note the term “racy” and remember what I said before about a NSFW image. In fact, you can just click on 3 and skip the Cockrum legend all together!
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