Hollywood, Take It or Leave It
Submitted by: Harrison Luke
It is a known fact that Bruce Lee opened the door for all martial art film stars past and present. Some martial artists such as Jackie Chan, Chuck Norris, and Jet Li went on to superstardom. But the bright lights of Hollywood did not shine on all who stepped up to the plate. There were some martial art champions who got into the business whose star burned out fast in the unforgiving film industry know as Hollywood. One such accomplished champion, Joe Lewis, is an example of a star whose light was dimmed before was fully illuminated.Joe Lewis, America’s first homegrown good-looking World Karate Champion was the first martial artist approached by Hollywood to work in the industry. What the majority of the martial art community doesn’t know is Joe Lewis is responsible for Chuck Norris getting his start in Hollywood. Joe turned down the role to fight Bruce Lee in Return of the Dragon because he thought that being killed in a movie would damage his film career. That was the single worst decision Joe made for that film launched Chuck Norris into stardom.
Not to worry, Joe landed a lead role in the 1979 martial art film Jaguar Lives. It was this film that Joe was labeled a “high maintenance actor” who was not easy to work with. It wasn’t that he was difficult to work with it was that he held fast to the tradition and values he learned as a martial artist.Promotional Poster for "Jaguar Lives!"
Joe’s values got in the way when it came to dealing with Hollywood producers. He was used to being treated with a great deal of respect in the martial arts world and he didn’t have much respect from some of these “Hollywood low lives”, They always treated actors as if they where expendable. Always considering himself as an athlete first it was important that Joe always had the proper nutrition to be able to take on the grueling filming schedule of the movie. In 1979 health and fitness wasn’t emphasized as it is today, but Joe was on top of it and educating Hollywood producers that he needed a special diet damaged his career.
In 1981 Joe Lewis got a shot on another film. This time he wasn’t the lead but part of a martial arts cast in Force Five. After this film he pretty much went off the radar. According to Joe, in the world of “brown noses” and “yes men” you can only have a career by going along and sacrificing your standards and principles. Joe stuck to his guns, held out for what he wanted when he was working while maintaining his integrity and a certain standard for himself at the cost of Hollywood stardom.