Bruce LeeEXCERPT from "Fred Weintraub, the Man Behind Two Martial Arts Movie Booms" by Kenneth Low for Inside King-Fu magazine.
Fred Weintraub is something of an unsung hero to the martial arts world. True, he is not a practitioner (he says he's not a physical man), nor is he a martial arts enthusiast. His face will never adorn any dojo, nor will his name be recorded in a Kung-Fu Hall of Fame. Yet he is a central figure in both the original and the more recent martial arts boom; a man who for a decade has had the foresight and persistence to bring kung-fu films into the mass public spotlight.
Fred Weintraub is a motion picture producer, a businessman, a cunning wheeler-dealer, and a keenly perceptive man. In 1970, as Vice President in charge of Creative Services for Warner Bros., he developed the original concept for what would be a focal point in the martial arts boom of the '70s, the television series Kung Fu. Also in 1970, Weintraub befriended the man who would be the epicenter of the explosion, Bruce Lee.
In the 1970s, Fred introduced a young Asian-American actor and martial arts sensation, Bruce Lee, to world-wide audiences in the first ever joint U.S./Hong Kong production, Enter The Dragon, produced by Fred Weintraub and Paul Heller.
"I was a huge fan of old chinese action movies," Fred says. "Bruce and I would watch them together. He couldn't believe that an American knew those movies the way I did. I think that's one of the reasons why we became good friends."
The genesis of Enter The Dragon began with producer Fred Weintraub who thought Hollywood could make a good martial arts film. He convinced Warner Bros. to back the project and then hooked up with Bruce Lee's own production company, Concord. The director was Robert Clouse, a two-time Oscar nominee for "best live action short subject" (The Cadilliac, 1962, The Legend of Jimmy Blue Eyes, 1964).
Weintraub knew the movie would be a hit, but it was difficult to convince investors, who were concerned that American audiences wouldn't be able to understand Lee's heavy accent.
The movie reviewers were lukewarm at best, but the audiences roared. Enter The Dragon became one of the year's highest grossing films and sparked the first major surge of interest in Asian martial arts. Bruce Lee became an international icon.
By Hollywood standards the film was a B-movie, yet every aspect of it from the acting to the direction was way above average for an action thriller. And, of course, the fight scenes are mesmerizing and unlike anything previously seen in American films. Enter The Dragon was a huge hit but sadly Lee didn't live to see this, dying just a few weeks before the premiere.
Even the critics came around. In 1986, the Los Angeles times called the film the "Gone With The Wind" of the action films. Today, Enter the Dragon is still on the marquee at thousands of movie theaters around the world.
In 2004, Enter the Dragon was selected to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.