Caryn White Stedman

Whilst modelling and living in Taiwan and Hong Kong, Caryn White Stedman was cast as Linda Lee, the wife of Bruce Lee in the biopic, He’s a Legend, He’s a Hero (1976). Although she has no other film acting credits to her name, she continued to contribute to the world at large as a professor of East Asian studies and world history. 

In this exclusive interview with the Clones of Bruce Lee website, Caryn recalls her time working on the film

Can we start be telling the visitors a little bit about yourself?

I grew up as a “Navy Junior,” the daughter of a naval aviator and a Navy nurse. We moved around a lot. Because my parents were Korean War veterans, there was a strong understanding and love for Asia in our household. My parents had Japanese friends. My Dad loved Japan, had great memories of the time he had spent there and took the family to authentically Japanese restaurants in San Francisco.  We had two large, hand-carved Chinese chests that my grandfather had shipped back from China when HE was in the Navy in the 1920s. He was living in Panama with my grandmother when my mom was born and where she spent her childhood.   She did not come to live in the U.S. permanently until she was 12, so there has always been an appreciation for the international in our household.

I did not aspire to modelling or acting, but fell into them while pursuing my real passion – Asian history and languages. The modelling for clothing catalogues happened because a fellow student in one of my Asian language classes was engaged to a photographer who had the contract for the catalogue shoot. She asked if I would be interested in modelling clothing for the catalogues. As a poor student, this was intriguing and paid well for modelling very modest clothing. After graduation, I was off to Taiwan to continue my studies and was advised to take my modest “portfolio” with me as it was likely that I could earn extra cash modelling in Taiwan.  I was able to get a few gigs modelling for export products – everything from “pong” (the first video game), to calculators and moto-scooters.

You appeared in the movie, “He’s a Legend He’s a Hero” (titled in the US as The Dragon Lives) starring Bruce Li in the life story of Bruce Lee. Can you tell me how you became involved?

I was advised to take my modelling “portfolio” with me to Taiwan, where I got a few gigs modelling for export goods.  As a result of my sporadic modelling gigs, I was told about auditions for the role of Linda Lee in the movie being shot in Taiwan. I took my portfolio and auditioned.  I had done some amateur stage-acting in high school, but that was the extent of it.  I was quite surprised to receive a call-back and to be offered the role. I had no illusions that this would be any kind of blockbuster, but it was a way to supplement my income from teaching English while I studied Chinese.

In the film you appear as Bruce Lee’s wife, Linda. Can you recall your scenes from the film?

I remember many scenes – the scenes of us meeting in college in San Jose, scenes of my character playing secretary to Bruce Lee, scenes of Linda begging his master to get him out of his workout room where he had been over-training, scenes of a joyous reunion, including a little boy playing Brandon, after he had been away filming, and scenes of retribution when my character discovered his infidelity with Betty. The actor who played Bruce’s master and I became fast friends.

Were you aware of Bruce Lee and his life before shooting the movie?

As a Chinese studies major, of course I knew of Bruce Lee. When the possibility of playing the role came up, I read everything I could about him and his life. Of course, there was no internet then, so it wasn’t as easy to get information as it now is.

Can you recall any stories from when you were involved in the film?

There was one scene when Bruce was to do a flip into the pool at “our” house.  Except the actor, Bruce Li, doesn’t swim, so a body double was used. That would have been fine and it worked in the film because the movements were so fast, but the tattoo the body double had was clearly visible in the stills, when Bruce Li did NOT have one. 

The funniest part was the voice overs. My own voice was not used. I spoke in a mixture of Chinese and English, but there was no sound recorded during filming … all sound effects and voices were voiced over. Whoever’s voice they used for English and Mandarin (the only two versions I have seen) are hysterically high-pitched.  When my brother saw the film in Houston, he said he nearly fell out of his seat the first time I opened my mouth and this funny, squeaky voice came out.

The direction for some of the acting was a bit comical – large stage-like gestures instead of subtlety. I had no illusions that this would be a great film

Where there any problems or conflicts during production?

The biggest difficulty (for me) was my own illness and surgery for major kidney issues during filming. It worked out in the end, as when I got out of the hospital, I had lost quite a bit of weight and that was when we filmed the “college years” scenes, so I looked a little different. 

What did you think of leading star Bruce Li?

He is incredibly handsome, but I think he was a bit shy. I know he was not at all interested in socialising with the “westerners” on the set.

Did you get along with the rest of the cast and crew?

There were a number of people I got along with.  My then-husband was an extra in the “college years” scenes –  largely because he had long hair which he wore in a pony tail (unusual in Taiwan) and this gave the “college scenes” an air of authenticity even though they were filmed in Taiwan.  One of the make-up men and I became friends.  A Chinese-American actress/director, who had played a minor role in “South Pacific” was brought in to help “manage and direct” us “Westerners.”   I came to appreciate her immensely.  Mark Ruth was actually my downstairs neighbour. He was an Australian martial arts student who had a role in some of the fight scenes.

What have you been doing since this time?

I have really dedicated my life to promoting international and intercultural understanding through education at the college and secondary levels. After I returned from Taiwan, I embarked upon graduate studies at the University of Arizona, earning my MA and completing the coursework for my Ph.D. before my husband’s work took us to Saudi Arabia with our newborn daughter. We lived there for four years – my son was born in Saudi Arabia. Upon return to the U.S., I got the job of East Asian Outreach Coordinator at Yale University which morphed into the directorship of the Program in International Educational Resources (P.I.E.R) where I worked for almost 18 years. (My students wrote a funny piece in the Yale College satire newspaper called Rumpus about me and my stint as “Linda Lee.”)   I left to be on the ground floor in the creation of a desegregation global and international studies magnet school in the Hartford, CT area.  I was the curriculum and instructional specialist and taught world history, European history Asian studies, African studies, Middle East studies, Chinese language, a course in global civil society and emerging democracy. I introduced the first AP classes at that school and then implemented the International Baccalaureate Programmes (Middle Years Programme and Diploma Programme). I left that school to assume the principal-ship of another global and international studies desegregation magnet school where I implemented the Middle Years Programme and reauthorized the Diploma Programme.

Now I am retired and rekindling my other passion – art and weaving (which I learned in Saudi Arabia). I paint, sculpt, weave, spin and felt.

TEXT: © Lee Holmes/The Clones of Bruce Lee 2019.
PHOTOS: © Caryn White Stedman.

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