5 forgotten television appearances by the legendary Bruce Lee

His iconic "be like water" speech came from an obscure Seventies detective show. Lee also crossed paths with Raymond Burr and… Dagwood Bumstead?!

Bruce Lee credited corn for his American screen career. Not the vegetable, but rather a cornball style of humor.

"I was at a karate tournament in Long Beach, Calif. in 1964," he told The Atlanta Constitution in a 1969 profile. "This was being filmed. Most of the other guys went through a routine, stylized performance, but I looked different. I cracked jokes." The "shenanigans" were brought to the attention of producer William Dozier, creator of Batman, who cast Lee as Kato in his superhero series The Green Hornet.

Of course, Lee would go on to be the martial arts icon of the 20th century, thanks to the action masterpiece Enter the Dragon, which was released one month following his tragic death in 1973. 

Between Hornet and Dragon, Lee honed his acting chops (and showed off some Jeet Kune Do chops) in a handful of guest roles on television, some in unlikely places. Most will remember his spot on Batman, battling Robin as Kato in an awesome crossover. These bits are far more obscure. One of them is seemingly lost. Let's take a look.

1. Ironside

Bruce meets Burr! Months after The Green Hornet ended, Lee appeared on the Raymond Burr mystery series about a wheelchair-bound crime-solver. The role was hardly a stretch; it was a stereotype. He played a karate instructor in Chinatown. He does get a good throw in for action's sake. Eve (Barbara Anderson) learns a thing or two from Lee — she eventually disarms the episode's killer with a nimble chop to the wrist.

Image: NBCUniversal Television Distribution

2. Blondie

That is obviously not Bruce Lee pictured with the towering sandwich. No, that is Will Hutchins, erstwhile cowboy star of Sugarfoot, bringing Dagwood Bumstead to life in the 1968 sitcom adaptation of the Blondie newspaper comic strip. The sitcom was a flop, despite having the beloved Jim Backus as Mr. Dithers. The final episode to air, "Pick on a Bully Your Own Size," saw Dagwood taking karate lessons to teach the neighbor punk a lesson. Naturally, Bruce Lee was his teacher. In a 2018 Facebook post, former child star Pamelyn Ferdin, who played Cookie, recalled working with Lee. "I get asked about this episode a lot. I can confirm that I remember Mr. Lee, enjoyed working with him, found him very, very charming," she wrote, before admitting, "I also have no idea what happened to that episode or any of the others. As best I can tell from reliable sources, it seems unlikely they exist anymore." Bummer, Bumstead!

Image: The Everett Collection

3. Here Come the Brides

Here Come the Brides holds a distinguished and overlooked place in history. The lighthearted Western featured Bruce Lee's only English-speaking dramatic acting role without martial arts. The series cast him as an actor, not a fighter. In "Marriage, Chinese Style," a bride is promised to Lee's character, Lin. There's one problem — Jeremy (Bobby Sherman) rescues her from being sold into prostitution. He plays a sympathetic character — and even, in a rare moment, comes up on the short end of a physical confrontation.

Image: The Everett Collection

4. Longstreet

Outside of The Green Hornet, Longstreet offered Lee his only other recurring American television role. A mystery series about a blinded insurance investigator (James Franciscus), Longstreet cast Lee as his martial arts instructor, Li Tsung. The role allowed Lee to serve up some of his most famous lines of personal wisdom. "Empty your mind. Be formless," Li tells Longstreet in training. "Shapeless, like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend." Yes, that oft-quoted "be like water" pearl originally aired in a 1971 crime show! Lee appeared in four episodes of the short-lived series.

Image: The Everett Collection

5. Marlowe

Okay, Marlowe was originally released in theaters in 1969, but the detective flick eventually aired as part of the CBS Thursday Night Movie series in 1972. (October 12, to be exact.) That's likely how most folks saw it — it was a bit of a flop at the box office. Plus, the film, an adaptation of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe character, had many big-time television names attached. Stirling Silliphant, creator of Route 66, wrote the script. James Garner, between starring gigs on Maverick and The Rockford Files, played Marlowe. Carroll O'Connor (All in the Family) and Jackie Coogan (The Addams Family) filled out the cast. Lee played a kung fu expert sent to threaten Marlowe.

Image: The Everett Collection

 
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Tresix 28 days ago
Lee appeared on “Batman” before the famous crossover episodes. In one episode, Batman and Robin are climbing a wall when the window opens and out peers The Green Hornet and Kato. They explain that they’re fellow crimefighters in town on a case. When they go back in the window and close it, Robin says to Batman “Boy, Batman. They sure do dress funny!” This always puzzled me: Knowing Batman’s memory, why didn’t he remember Hornet and Kato as heroes from their previous appearance?
Runeshaper 1 month ago
Pretty cool roles for Mr. Lee. Never knew about any of these, but it was nice to see him in a variety of shows (-:
AgingDisgracefully 1 month ago
So he DIDN'T ask Kookie-Kookie to lend him his comb?
Rick 1 month ago
Well, at least the opening credits to the 1968 "Blondie" sitcom still exist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xsbGee5ICXw
WGH 1 month ago
I'd like to see a similar list with Chuck Noris.

And I'm sure Brandon Lee, the son of Bruce Lee, appeared in some television before doing The Crow.
kidhickey 1 month ago
Bruce Lee , the most cheated Performer by HollyWood and Warner Brothers , the Show Kung Fu , was originally was supposed be set up for Bruce lee to be the Star Of , not David Carradine , which he played that part pretty good David Carradine that is , But Bruce Lee would have been much better at the part ,or i think so , Warner brother's Bruce Lee Movie Enter Dragon , i sort of feel like it was their apology to Bruce Lee , and they should have been sorry, for the way they shafted Bruce Lee, outed of the show Kung Fu .
Pone kidhickey 1 month ago
That is the dumbest answer I have yet to see. An "apology" by a powerhouse studio to an unknown in the United States Asian bit part actor??
Zip kidhickey 1 month ago
I love Bruce Lee, but I don't know if he would have been right as Kwai Chang Caine. I think he might have been a little too intense to play a Shaolin monk. David Carradine, for all of his sometimes ridiculously slow, choreographed kung fu moves, did have a fine "spiritual" aspect to his characterization of Kwai Chang. Honestly, I don't know if Bruce Lee would have been able to hold back on the action part. But then again, he died too soon to really get a real scope of his acting range.
Gregory kidhickey 28 days ago
Completely disagree, just as I disagree whenever I see this same missive come up on other forums. Bruce Lee's kung fu was good for new school shows like Green Hornet and Batman, and his movies were good, but the show Kung Fu was not principally about a guy doing martial arts, but rather built complex personal interactions and social dilemma, which usually culminated in a few minutes of martial art. David Carradine captured the mood and personality excellently. His kung fu choreography was suitable for the time, though I agree it hasn't aged well. If Bruce Lee had played the part, it would have been all about fast kicks and punches, and the art of the rest of the show would have been sacrificed. Also, I never thought Bruce Lee's acting was that good to begin with. As for the complaint that the part was "supposed to go to Bruce Lee," no, it wasn't. I wish people would stop beating that dead dead horse.
AEDC49 1 month ago
Actually there were several attempts right in early 1950s to bring it to TV and the one pilot in ’54 by Hal Roach had Pamela Britton Play Blondie who also was the landlord in ‘My Favorite Martin” and Hal LeRoy play Bumstead! Also had Joseph Kearns who later played Mr. Wilson in “Dennis the Menace”; Just after that filmed in ’55-’56 were the 26 episodes that had the real Bumstead played by Arthur Lake himself along with Pamela Britton! This series finally aired in syndication starting January-’57. Then it was also in later 1967 that they did the at least 16 episodes of the new in Color Blondie that had a lot of stars that had done and were doing and then went on to still do great things in TV & Movies aside form Bruce Lee! The 2 kids just happened to be the voices for some of the Peanuts characters that being for Charlie Brown himself was Peter Robbins & of course Pamelyn Ferdin also! There also was the Saturday morning episode of “Popeye Meets the Man Who Hated Laughter” ’72 The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie that had all the King Features Characters in it etc! they made 28 Blondie Movies aired from 1938 to last one aired in 1950 when aforementioned TV pilots were being made etc! The comic strip itself started in 1930 by Chic Young who did the “Dumb Dora” comic strip before! The comic Strip is still going currently too! Just a fan of all Blondie! and there are secondary films of all 16 episodes of the color series that are lying around rotting in a number of stations that had copies for airing like they did for Networks then just like other series were saved by the copies sent out just like all the lost “Dr. Who” episodes that they found copies all around the world that were just the same lying on a shelf rotting etc! If they really cared they could simply put the official word out they want the 16 episodes to look for them and they could restore them and have out on a DVD etc! The series was actually fun as its not easy to bring a fictitious Comic strip to real life etc. and have it make sense just Like Batman, The Green Hornet with Bruce Lee! The Addams Family, Hazel the aforementioned Dennis the Menace etc!
WGH AEDC49 1 month ago
Thank you. I've always enjoyed the comic strip myself. It's amazing how kids today don't know what a Dagwood sandwich is! LOL.

Many TV shows have basically ripped off the Mr. dithers character including taxi with Louis Depalma , Mary Tyler Moore where Lou Grant is nasty and short, and many others. (I guess short is funny)
justjeff WGH 1 month ago
The grumpy and overbearing boss is nothing new. It's a key confict element in many workplace comedies. You can even find those elements in Chaplin films...
justjeff AEDC49 1 month ago
Hands down you sure have done you Blondie research... kudos!
LoveMETV22 justjeff 1 month ago
There have been a few good workplace comedies over the years:
Murphy Brown/Taxi/WKRP in Cincinnati/ The Mary Tyler Moore Show.(just opinion). I'm sure there are those who probably don't like them. Are there any you like?
justjeff LoveMETV22 1 month ago
On occasion, those you have mentioned. Even TAGS is (at times) a workplace comedy...
Michael WGH 1 month ago
We have a local chain called "Dagwood's", they sell only submarine sandwiches.
HerbF 1 month ago
The "Blondie" appearance is the only one that no longer exists - the master elements were destroyed - it is the only North American Television appearance of Bruce Lee, and perhaps his only acting appearance in general that no longer exists - ALL his Hong-Kong films he made as a kid and a teen-ager do exist. (His last one, a color film from 1959 is kind of elusive but does exist!)

King Features, CBS, Universal have all been checked - The Blondie episode is just "gone"!

Also, due to being ill, Bruce's voice on his "Hear Comes The Brides" appearance is dubbed by another actor!
TheDavBow3 HerbF 1 month ago
Man, that's a real shame
HerbF 1 month ago
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AEDC49 HerbF 1 month ago
You might want to check out the great info I put at the 5 forgotten appearances by the Legendary Bruce Lee entry as they removed my comments from your section. Thanks! I always seem to get these 2 and 3 days after they come out so people don’t even get to read my informative correct details of what they miss as they get removed before people can get them etc! but in this case I’m trying this comment to see if you’ll be able to read it if they don’t remove even this one!?
AEDC49 TheDavBow3 1 month ago
You might want to check out the great info I put at the 5 forgotten appearances by the Legendary Bruce Lee entry as they removed my comments from your section. Thanks! I always seem to get these 2 and 3 days after they come out so people don’t even get to read my informative correct details of what they miss as they get removed before people can get them etc! but in this case I’m trying this comment to see if you’ll be able to read it if they don’t remove even this one!?
justjeff 1 month ago
Has anyone else beside me noticed that Will Hutchins looks more like Moe Howard than Dagwood Bumstead? At first glance, you might think that was a publicity still from a Three Stooges short...
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TheDavBow3 justjeff 1 month ago
He sure does. I barely remember the Will Hutchins Blondie show.
justjeff 1 month ago
This comment has been removed.
LoveMETV22 justjeff 1 month ago
Looking at #4. It looks like the young Ken Howard from "The White Shadow".
Maybe just similar looking.
AEDC49 justjeff 1 month ago
You might want to check out the great info I put at the 5 forgotten appearances by the Legendary Bruce Lee entry as they removed my comments from your section. Thanks! I always seem to get these 2 and 3 days after they come out so people don’t even get to read my informative correct details of what they miss as they get removed before people can get them etc! but in this case I’m trying this comment to see if you’ll be able to read it if they don’t remove even this one!?
MrsPhilHarris 1 month ago
I would like ME to air Here Come The Brides. I just watched a promo for Blondie. Fairly lame.
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MrsPhilHarris Michael 1 month ago
I heard he became a paramedic, and you are right, I only remember the PF episode.
At the very last moment CBS decided to move "All In The Family" into that timeslot. It killed both "Getting Together" and "The Partners", which was Don Adams first series after "Get Smart". Neither one lasted into January.
Michael MichaelSkaggs 1 month ago
I don't remember "Partners" or even reading about it.

I do remember "Screen Test" from about 1973. Don Afams the host, audience members perform famous movie scenes.

And here in Canada, he did "Check it Out!" In the eighties. A sitcom set in a grocery store .
NanC Michael 1 month ago
I remember one episode of "Getting Together" and it was Bobby's little sister having a crush on Clark Gable. She'd been skipping school and going to see 'GWTW' at the theater. The other notable thing about the show was Bobby's co-star was named Wes Stern. He played Lionel Poindexter. Both of those names tickled my pre-teen sense of humor.
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