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Interview with Dave Friedman

In Celebration of Bruce's 71st Birthday whose inspiration forever lives on!

Dave Friedman

Nick Clarke: Welcome Mr. Friedman to our forum interview. Many members have posted their questions for you to kindly answer. We'd all like to thank you very much for your time and for kindly agreeing to do this Question & Answer Session.

Dave Friedman: Good Day Nick; Thank you for inviting me to join in your Bruce Lee forum. Here are the answers to your questions.

1. Your excellent book, "My Life In The Movies" covers your career as a stills photographer movie by movie in words and photos, including, of course, a chapter on "Enter the Dragon". Beautiful, high quality photos in color and black & white - you realize how many of the iconic Bruce Lee images that you were responsible for capturing. Considering all the many photos that you shot on the set of "Enter the Dragon", are there still shots that haven't been released or seen? Have you any estimate of the total number of photos that you shot on the set and what remain unseen?

Dave Friedman: Most of my existing photos that still remain in the Warner Bros archive have been seen at one time or another. I have no idea how many images I shot on that film because I don't go by the number but what I see that makes for great images. Many of my images were stolen some years ago and do somehow, show up on EBay from time to time. If I had a dollar for every image of mine that is on EBay, I'd be a rich man.

2. Which of your shots would you consider the most unique and memorable of Bruce?

Dave Friedman: There are several images that mean a lot to me and I will send those along. He was a great guy and we had good times.

3. How did you first meet Bruce and what was he like as a person? Was he at all like his character in "Enter the Dragon"? Did he change much at all from when you first met him compared to what he was like in 1973? There are reports that he changed a lot but from the Ahna Capri footages that i saw on the set he seemed to be in very happy spirits.

Dave Friedman: I first met Bruce on the set of Green Hornet in 1966 and we hit it off straight away. During my numerous trips to Hong Kong afterwards, we met up for dinner and he asked me to work on his films but the timing was never right until Enter the Dragon came to be. He did change a bit because his obligations became considerably larger. He never lost his sense of humor and we all had a lot of fun on Enter the Dragon.

4. I understand that you worked on at least one Steve McQueen movie - were you aware that Steve had been a friend and a student of Bruce Lee? Did you and Steve ever talk about Bruce? What was Mr Steve McQueen like as a person?

Dave Friedman: I knew Steve very well and he knew that I had worked with Bruce. We had no real discussion about Bruce or their friendship.

Dave on set

5. In your excellent book about your Hollywood career, one of the final chapters features beautiful photos of ballet dancers in action. Bruce (himself a competitive dancer as a teenager) was at least interested in ballet enough to own a book on Rudolph Nureyev in his personal library, and I recall James Coburn quoting Bruce as having said he would've loved to have trained Nureyev in the martial arts (Nureyev had all the tools). I can't say I know much about the art and discipline of ballet, but the one ballet performance I've seen impressed me (liked that Black Swan movie with Natalie Portman, too). As someone with a greater appreciation for a ballet dancer's skills, I wonder how Mr Friedman would compare Bruce as an athlete, artist, & performer to top ballet dancers?

Dave Friedman: There is a great deal of similarity between ballet and martial arts. The dedication, discipline, skill, body control and strength are the same. Don't relate that movie Black Swan to ballet. It was a real piece of shit and was a joke among real dancers. Bruce was the absolute real deal. I've never known anyone with such incredible control of his body. He told me that he could kill me ten different ways before I hit the ground and I believed him. I've never seen that many martial artists in action other than those in Enter the Dragon but Bruce was as good as any and better than most.

6. Producer Fred Weintraub has been quoted as remembering a kind of competitiveness among the martial artists (Bruce, Bob Wall, & Jim Kelly) on the set of "Enter the Dragon". Have you any recollections of this sort of thing going on? If so, did any one of the martial artists clearly stand out as being at a higher level than the others?

Dave Friedman: Like dancers, martial artists have a competitive nature and they all want to show off their skills. From what I saw, I would want Bruce and Bob Wall with me if I were in a barroom fight. I know I'd have been on the winning side.

7. What do you remember about the broken bottle incident?

Dave Friedman: Bruce was cut accidentally by Bob Wall during their fight by a real glass bottle. For some stupid reason, a real bottle was used rather than a candy glass bottle which was always used in the US. No one in Hong Kong knew about the candy glass. It was an accident and it was a matter of missed timing. Bruce's hand was cut and he had a few stitches and returned to work.

8. I read in Mr Friedman's excellent book that almost all the "Enter the Dragon" photos were stolen from Warner Bros vault way back? Does this mean there are some fantastic shots missing or did the thieves use it, sell it - are these at all recoverable?

Dave Friedman: At one time, a number of images from several films disappeared from the Warner Bros Still Archives. Some have been recovered but most of the Enter the Dragon negs have never been recovered and some have appeared overseas. Some that are overseas are not worth recovering due to the expense of it.

Bruce Lee Deleted Scene

9. Can you kindly shed any light on the rumor about the interview Bruce was supposed to have given to the British TV company the "BBC"? Is there any truth about this interview being filmed on the set of "Enter the Dragon"?

Dave Friedman: No knowledge of a BBC program, I think that is one of the many myths.

10. Apart from "Enter the Dragon", what else did you work on with Bruce?

Dave Friedman: I worked with Bruce on the Green Hornet and we had many dinners together in Hong Kong before Enter the Dragon.

11. Do you take a photo of Andrew Vajna who visited Bruce on the set of "Enter the Dragon"? If so, could you kindly share that photograph with us all please?

Dave Friedman: No photos of Andy Vajna on that film. To my knowledge he was never there and had nothing to do with Enter the Dragon. I did work with Andy and knew him well from the Rambo films 11 years later.

12. What is your favourite or/and fondest memory of Bruce?

Dave Friedman: All of my memories of Bruce and my times with him are great.

13. There were stories of Bruce being challenged on the set. Can you recall any of these incidents for us please? Did you take any photos or were any of these challenge fights filmed at the time?

Dave Friedman: Yes he was challenged when we, the American Crew, were on our way to lunch at the beautiful old Repulse Bay Hotel one day. I saw it and I did take pictures and those pictures exist. I do not know what was said since it was all in Chinese. All I know is that it pissed Bruce off enough to kick the guy's teeth out. He told me afterward that he should have killed him and we continued on to lunch.

14. Cameraman Henry Wong recalled that he filmed many hours of behind-the-scenes footages on the set which has sadly gone missing or has been misplaced? Do you know if any of these footages still exist or did you see any of these footages in 1973?

Dave Friedman: I've never seen Henry Wong's footage and have no idea what happened to it. There is some behind the scene footage seen on the Bluray release of Enter the Dragon as an extra and if you look close you will even see me.

15. Do you know if the fight scene in the cavern was originally longer, did some of it get cut before the film got released?

Dave Friedman: I do not recall but some scenes, or angles, were cut because in film making, all of the footage is never used.

16. What do you know about the ending of "Enter the Dragon". I've seen photos of Bruce with slash cuts to his leg when he returned to the battle field where John Saxon was. The movie ends before this scene. There must be footage of this? Can you kindly shed any light on this?

Dave Friedman: No recollection of this.

17. Are there any deleted scenes that you remember not ending up in the final movie version?

Dave Friedman: Its been almost 40 years since that filming and I do not remember although some scenes do wind up on the cutting room floor.

18. What is your most prized Bruce Lee possession? Did he give you any gifts?

Dave Friedman: I have the only known remaining original shooting script for that film and a ton of great memories.

19. Have you ever thought of publishing a new, higher quality (compared to Robert Clouse's) book on the making of "Enter The Dragon" featuring previously unpublished photos? With possible new cast and crew interviews?

Dave Friedman: No interest in doing a book unless it is well funded to do it properly.

20. Did Bruce appear unhealthy during the making of "Enter the Dragon"? You had known Bruce for many years prior, did you notice anything about Bruce's appearance in 1973 that could indicate any health problems before his untimely demise? Also, how did Bruce seem to be coping with the stress of making his first big movie intended for American/International audiences?

Dave Friedman: I always felt that Bruce would die young because he was wound so tight. It was hard for him to relax and that causes problems. He never showed any health problems when I was around and always seemed to be fine to me. My opinion is that the rubber band finally broke.

Angela Mao Ying

21. Did Bruce discuss his future plans with you?

Dave Friedman: We did discuss Bruce's future plans and he wanted me to work with him.

22. Finally before our last question, I'd like to say thank you Mr Friedman for your excellent work on "Enter the Dragon". I'd guess that most of the Bruce Lee posters, calenders, and a large majority of photos in books, magazines, online, etc. are actually your own work. Without it - I think how much all us Bruce Lee fans would've missed out on. Have you ever thought about gaining access to the Warner Bros archives looking for lost Bruce Lee photos or footages?

Dave Friedman: I have complete access to the Warner Bros archives and have been through all of my remaining images numerous times. I have no idea about Henry Wong's film. Let my clarify one thing. There were only five American crew-members involved in the day to day filming. Producer Fred Weintraub, Director Robert Clouse, Cameraman Gil Hubbs, Still Photographer Dave Friedman, and Andre Morgan who worked for Golden Harvest. No others were on set on a daily basis.

Thanks for this chance to be involved in your forum. Thanks, Dave Friedman

My thanks to Dave Friedman for doing this great Q&A in celebration of Bruce's 71st birthday and to the forum members who asked excellent questions - Nick Clarke 27 November 2011