Seattle Now & Then: Early Bruce Lee, 1963-1964

(click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN1: In late 1963 or early 1964, close to his 23rd birthday, Bruce Lee stands with gung-fu student and future wife Linda Emery as they look north outside Lee’s studio at 4750 University Way N.E. The storefront later housed a ballet studio, a metaphysics school and a plasma center. Today, it’s an art boutique. (Courtesy Bruce Lee Foundation)
NOW1: Doug Palmer and his wife, Noriko Goto Palmer, long active in the local Japanese and Japanese American communities, replicate the pose of Bruce Lee and Linda Emery in the same spot. Note the Bruce Lee posters in the windows. Doug will speak about his memoir, “Bruce Lee: Sifu, Friend and Big Brother” (2020, Chinn Music Press), at an online event at 2 p.m. Dec. 5, sponsored by the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience. (Jean Sherrard)
THEN2: The apartment building at 4750 University Way N.E., completed in June 1958, is shown Jan. 9, 1959. (Puget Sound Regional Archives, courtesy Barbara Manning)
NOW2: The apartment building at 4750 University Way N.E. today. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on Nov. 12, 2020
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Nov. 15, 2020)

The Seattle roots of Bruce Lee flow on his 80th anniversary
By Clay Eals

He was a global martial-arts hero, showcasing strength for Asian males while living in Seattle. And undergoing a 2020 revival is the late Bruce Lee.

Nationally, he’s the focus of a book by daughter Shannon and a documentary film, the titles of each invoking Lee’s fluid metaphor for mortality: “Be Water.” In Seattle, where Lee lived from 1959 to 1964 (he is buried at Lake View Cemetery), a Lee exhibit continues at Wing Luke Museum, and a local former student of Lee just released a memoir of their friendship. All of this precedes the 80th anniversary of the superstar’s Nov. 27 birth.

Doug Palmer’s new memoir on Bruce Lee. (Chinn Music Press)

The memoirist, retired Mount Baker attorney Doug Palmer, was a Garfield High School senior when he began to bond with Lee. Four years older, Lee was building a local reputation with gung-fu shows in person and on public-TV’s KCTS Channel 9.

Lee’s time in Seattle, Palmer says, was pivotal. While working at and living in a walk-in closet above Ruby Chow’s restaurant at Broadway and Jefferson, Lee atypically welcomed students of all races to his gung-fu classes in the eatery’s basement, area parks and a garage.

In October 1963, as a University of Washington drama/philosophy student, Lee expanded to a live-in studio for 10 months on the ground floor of the three-story University Way Apartments at 4750 University Way N.E.

In our “Then” photo, Lee stands at 4750 with gung-fu student Linda Emery, whom he married in August 1964 in Seattle. Two years later, he played Kato in the “Batman” and “Green Hornet” TV series, soon cascading to Hollywood fame, followed by an untimely, mysterious death in 1973 at age 32.

Palmer’s memoir brims with anecdotes about Lee, who was born in San Francisco and raised in Hong Kong. Lee’s father was Chinese and his mother Eurasian. Palmer says Lee proudly identified as Chinese, while his parents urged him to embrace diversity.

This helped him in December 1963, when Lee was dating Emery, who is white. Palmer, who is white, was dating a Chinese woman at the same time. Both women’s parents objected to interracial dating, so Lee and Palmer picked up each other’s dates at the parents’ homes, then switched partners.

Lee, Palmer writes, could be a challenge: “He liked the limelight and had a tendency to suck all the oxygen out of the room.” This, he says, was “a small price to pay” to experience Lee’s magnetism and a cross-cultural vision. As Palmer notes, “We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.”

WEB EXTRAS

To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!

Big thanks to Barbara Manning, househistories@icloud.com, for suggesting this column topic, for compiling an impressive dossier on the 4750 University Way N.E. site and for her stellar research skills, curiosity and generosity. Check out her 38-page report:

This is the cover of a thorough report on the history of 4750 University Way N.E. by Seattle house-history researcher Barbara Manning, househistories@icloud.com. Click the cover to access the 38-page report. (Courtesy Barbara Manning)

Below are 7 supplemental photos and, in chronological order, 11 historical clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and other online newspaper sources that were helpful in the preparation of this column.

Fall 1963, Bruce Lee (center right) leads class in studio at 4750 University Way N.E. Doug Palmer is third from left. (Courtesy Doug Palmer)
Fall 1963, Bruce Lee (back to camera, right) leads class in studio at 4750 University Way N.E. Doug Palmer is at far left.  (David Tadman, courtesy Doug Palmer)
Fall 1963, Doug Palmer (front right) takes part in Bruce Lee class in studio at 4750 University Way N.E. (David Tadman, courtesy Doug Palmer)
Fall 1963, class under way at Bruce Lee studio at 4750 University Way N.E. Doug Palmer is at far right. (David Tadman, courtesy Doug Palmer)
Membership card for Bruce Lee’s Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute in Seattle. (Courtesy Jeff Chinn)
1937-1938, predecessor home at 4750 University Way N.E. (Puget Sound Regional Archives, courtesy Barbara Manning)
2020, Bruce Lee portrait by Desmond Hansen, aka Graves Hansen, on city signal box at northwest corner of 35th Avenue Southwest and Southwest Morgan Street in West Seattle. (Clay Eals)
May 28, 1961 Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 42.
May 29, 1961, Seattle Times, page 8.
May 29, 1961, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 8.
March 4, 1962, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 55.
May 18, 1962, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 29.
March 6, 1963, Seattle Times, page 18.
March 15, 1964, Seattle Times, page 135.
July 20, 1966, Seattle Times, page 14.
Dec. 29, 1966, Seattle Times, page 58.
Dec. 31, 1966, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 10.
July 3, 1967, Seattle Times, page 11.

 

3 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Early Bruce Lee, 1963-1964”

  1. Thank you for a fascinating article on Bruce Lee. He is an icon in Seattle. My son of 33 will thoroughly enjoy this post.
    I am looking forward to your event this Friday with the Fall City Historical Society. Paula

  2. Regarding the article by Clay Eals “Remembering Bruce Lee …” the caption for the THEN photo says it is a view looking north, which would mean the subjects are on the west side of the street, and the address is given as 4750 University Way N.E. But in Seattle, addressess on the west side of the street are odd numbers and even numbers are on the east side of the street. So this is a discrepancy — so what gives? My opinion is that either the photo is reversed or the view is looking south.

    1. Robert, thanks for your comment. I’m grateful for the question because we want to make sure to be accurate. The answer is that the caption correctly says that Lee and his wife are looking north. So indeed, as you say, the photographer is looking south. –Clay

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