Why Bruce Lee Avoided Western Roles (but Wanted His Own Western Show)

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Despite plans to make his own western series, Bruce Lee avoided roles in westerns. Unlike the current popularity of superhero films, the western reached its peak in the 1950s and 1960s. But although Lee was active during part of this period, he only appeared in a Western show once in his entire career.

At that time, westerns were everywhere on television. The biggest ones were, of course, CBS’s Gunsmoke and NBC’s Bonanza, which were so successful that they lasted 20 and 14 seasons, respectively. Other popular shows that were on the air were “Wild, Wild West”, “Have Gun – Will Travel”, “Lawman” and “Rawhide” with Clint Eastwood. At that time, Lee was often looking for work in the television industry, but only one of his roles was devoted to the most popular genre of television. Two years after the cancellation of The Green Hornet, actor Kato appeared as a guest star in a 1969 episode of Here Come the Brides, a western comedy about young New England women sent to a town in America’s Wild West to save it. Maintenance of male employees. In the only episode, Lee played a Chinese immigrant trying to escape a marriage of convenience.

Related: What would Bruce Lee’s Role Be Like in a Steve McQueen Movie

Lee wanted to make his own contribution to the western genre with the help of a kung fu series set in the Wild West of America, which was supposed to be called “Warrior”, but it never got the green light. That’s partly why “Here come the Brides” became the main part of his work in westerns. According to Bruce Lee: The Life of Matthew Polley, the actor deliberately avoided roles in Western shows because he had problems with how they treated Chinese characters. Bruce Lee’s biographer wrote in his book that Lee found the pigtailed hairstyles (also known as queues) that Chinese male actors had to wear “humiliating.” This standardized approach, which was supposed to be historically accurate, was not at all welcomed by Lee, who probably would have handled Chinese characters in a completely different way in his western about kung fu.

Polly said that Lee’s problem with pigtails is primarily related to why they were worn. When the Manchus controlled China, men were ordered to wear hairstyles in this style. Adopting this hairstyle was considered a form of submission to their Manchu conquerors. It’s never been a fashionable choice. Because of this story, Lee refused to wear them, and he was denied a number of undisclosed Western roles. This explains his appearance as a guest in “Here Come the Brides”, where Lee was able to maintain his usual appearance.

Lee’s plans for the future show that, although he largely avoided working in westerns, he saw great potential in such a setting and in what he could bring to the story. If the show had worked out and Lee had gained some level of creative control, it’s possible that Bruce Lee would have presented a Western story that wouldn’t have continued this long-standing problem.