I'm told that Karate champion Chuck Norris used to turn up at San Diego Con back in the seventies but as my first San Diego trip was in the late eighties, I missed that. My first exposure to Chuck was when he appeared as the extremely hairy, badly dubbed villain who fights hero Bruce Lee in the Roman Colosseum in WAY OF THE DRAGON (retitled RETURN OF THE DRAGON for its posthuomous US release so as to confuse gullible filmgoers into thinking it was a sequel to the popular ENTER THE DRAGON. Confusing Bruce Lee fans would become a way of life for many unscrupulous filmmakers and distributors for years!). Chuck looked good in this film and, after already appearing in a few minor roles and throwaway pictures, was encouraged to seek a starring vehicle. According to IMDB, he took elocution lessons from LOST IN SPACE's Jonathan (Dr. Smith) Harris!
GOOD GUYS WEAR BLACK, in 1978, was that vehicle, a well-cast, mid-budget action picture with a good director in Ted Post (MAGNUM FORCE). Chuck played John T. Booker, a Nam vet whose old unit was slowing being eradicated by...the mob, the government, aliens?? He had to find out to save himself!
I met Chuck Norris when he came through town to publicize GOOD GUYS WEAR BLACK by hosting a free karate demonstration at the same department of the same department store where Lana Turner's appearance would change my life a gew years later (see previous story. Keep up!). Unlike Lana, Chuck was accessible and chatted with all of us (I was 19). I remember noting that he had the wimpiest handshake of any adult male I had ever shaken hands with but someone quickly pointed out that he probably has to "pull" his handshakes for fear of accidentally crushing people's fingers!! After all, his hands could legitimately be called weapons of mass destruction!
IMDB also points out that Chuck wanted to be John Wayne when he grew up. If you look at both his life, political interests (Republican) and career, you could make a case that he succeeded. After a promising start and a couple of interesting follow-ups, Chuck's career settled into a steady string of war movies and modern, increasingly formulaic westerns, culminating in the B-western wonder that is WALKER, TEXAS RANGER, for which Chuck will be forever reknowned and his detractors be damned. He knew what he wanted, he built toward it, created a character that reflected not just himself but an idealized version. I'm not at all sure that we needed a new John Wayne but that's beside the point. Chuck Norris wanted to do it and like most things in his life...he succeeded! Love him or hate him, he should be an example to us all that you CAN achieve your dreams!