HomeAmerican EntertainmentBruce Lee Wanted to Teach Paul Newman Martial Arts: Here’s Why

Bruce Lee Wanted to Teach Paul Newman Martial Arts: Here’s Why

by Clayton Edwards
(Photo credit: Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images)

 Bruce Lee died almost fifty years ago. However, he is still one of the most iconic martial artists to walk the earth. When he was young, Lee had an acting career in Hong Kong. Additionally, he started studying martial arts at a young age. As a result, he came to America with a skillset that made his stardom all but inevitable. After his performance at a California-based tournament put him on the Hollywood radar, he was on the fast track to stardom.

However, Bruce Lee didn’t make enough money through his acting to support his family. As a result, he began teaching his own style of kung fu, Jeet Kune Do. After a while, Lee started taking on some of the biggest names in Hollywood as students. He trained the likes of Lee Marvin, James Garner, James Corburn, Roman Polanski, and Steve McQueen. After a conversation with McQueen, Lee decided that he wanted to train Paul Newman.

Why Bruce Lee Wanted to Train Paul Newman

Bruce Lee’s desire to train Paul Newman goes back to a movie called The Silent Flute, according to ScreenRant. Lee planned to star in the movie and was looking for a co-star. So, he pitched the idea to Steve McQueen during a training session. McQueen didn’t want the role. More importantly, he didn’t want to take the role just to do his teacher a favor.

It is important to note that, at this time, McQueen saw Paul Newman as his biggest Hollywood rival. Bruce Lee knew this. After McQueen brushed off the idea of doing a film with Lee, the martial arts icon decided he wanted to get back at his student. He planned to train Paul Newman and cast him in The Silent Flute. More importantly, Lee wanted to show McQueen that he was replaceable. Furthermore, Lee wanted to surpass McQueen’s Hollywood status. Starring in a film alongside McQueen’s rival would be a big step in doing that. In short, Bruce’s motivations were more than a little petty.

A Missed Opportunity

According to the book Bruce Lee: A Life, Lee reached out to Jay Sebring to connect him with Newman. However, Lee never ended up training the Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid star. It is unclear if Newman turned down the opportunity or if Sebring never broached the subject with him.

As a result, Lee never got to pitch The Silent Flute to Newman. In the end, another of his students, James Coburn, agreed to take the role. Unfortunately, plans for the film fell apart.

The Silent Flute came out in 1978, five years after Bruce Lee died. It starred David Carradine, Jeff Cooper, and Christopher Lee. However, in most markets, the film was released under the title Circle of Iron.