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December 2017

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St Camillo de Lelis

David Carradine 1936-2009

David Carradine, histrio Americanus qui Kwai Chang Caine in serie Kung Fu, Guilelmumque in Guilelmum Trucida personavit, transitus est in Thailandia.

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I instantly suspected something like what is coming out in the press now. Oh well. Here's what twistedchickdw has to say; I think we knew part of this much more interesting fact.

*****

In every one of the articles about David Carradine's death in Thailand that I've read, it's noted that he rose to fame by playing Kwai Chang Caine in the TV show Kung Fu, after which he went on to market a martial arts exercise tape or two. There's a bit of information missing that I think needs to be at least noted.

In those days, as now, television shows were often made around a particular actor's abilities. One article I read noted that at the time Carradine took on Kung Fu he knew no martial arts and then had to learn them while working on the show.

There's a very good reason for that.

The show wasn't created for him. It was created for, and marketed to, Bruce Lee. Lee had been agitating for a show about Chinese martial arts for years, ever since he'd played Kato in The Green Hornet, but Hollywood producers and financiers were hesitant to catch on until they realized what a huge cross-section of the population watched Lee's martial arts movies, all over the world. And then they created the concept of Kung Fu and asked him, while he was making Enter the Dragon, if he was interested and he said yes. And then he died, while making the movie, and the show, financed and ready to go, was sitting there absent a leading man.

Enter David Carradine.

It's to Carradine's credit as an actor that he could take a role that was in every way designed for another man and make it his own. I'm sure that the production had to hire a choreographer and fight director to work with Carradine on the action scenes, since Bruce had choreographed his own fight scenes for more than a decade.

I have seen David Carradine in other work -- I liked him a lot as Cole Younger in The Long Riders. But I watched him only once in Kung Fu (the first year, when he really didn't know what he was doing), and after that not again, because no matter how good he was -- he wasn't Bruce Lee, and I was visualizing Bruce's clean kicks and moves instead. The show was very close to cancellation after the first year, until Carradine's martial arts skills improved.

It must have been an intimidating thing to have to step into Bruce Lee's shoes and attempt to do something entirely new. I have a lot of respect for David Carradine's willingness to do this, even if I didn't watch much of it.