[My Weekender]: Jon Benn
May 24, 2013
Jon Benn is... ah, you know who he is.
I usually wake up around 7am every day and get ready for any events that may be planned for Saturday and Sunday. It seems that there's always an art opening or some event that I have been invited to and I do try to attend if possible.
Recently I went to the Film Fest at River South sponsored by Jameson whiskey. I met many old friends, drank a bit of their fine brew and enjoyed the selection of films. This event lasted for three days and was packed each day with film and whiskey lovers. Prior to that, I went to Bubba’s annual Barbecue Cook-off at Cool Docks, which was also packed with chili fans. Then to Steve and Matt’s new wine shop Staxxs for an unlimited wine tasting, which also attracted so many people that we were spilling out onto the street.
Now that the weather is warm, I sometimes go to Brownstone’s Sunday afternoon outdoor party with cool DJs and free hot dogs. It is always full and a great place to meet friends. Every other Saturday there is a street fair at Jiashan Market. They have many booths selling lots of goodies and it is a fun event.
Last week I went to the grand opening of my good buddy Leo’s new Latin restaurant Manigua. It’s on the ground floor of the City Hotel. He designed it beautifully and the food is great! Especially the several types of ceviche, which I love, having lived in Mexico for three years. His salsa nights are filled with lovely ladies in their short skirts dancing away and they are really good!
I have lived in Shanghai for 12 years and have been called “the original party animal”. Every year I have a 39th-again birthday party. I have been 39 for so many years that I don’t know how old I am…and don’t care! I just enjoy every day and hope to keep it up for many more years. When I first went to Hong Kong in 1971 (I lived there for 30 years before coming to Shankers), I noticed how detached and quite unfriendly many were there. The Americans lived in Repulse Bay, the Brits in Mid-levels, the Germans in Kowloon and seldom did anyone talk to each other. And no one spoke to the Chinese unless ordering them to do something.
I am from San Francisco, where everyone is friendly, whether you know them or not. Smiles and "good mornings" are commonplace when walking down any street. I decided to try and break up the cliques by establishing the “UP Club”. I read that the word up is the most-used word in the English language. Look it UP! I hired 30 young ladies and designed an outfit that had a jacket down to the knees from the back, with hot pants peeking out when viewed from the front.
I had the names of every executive in each foreign company in HK. I gave each girl an office building and, knowing who to ask for, they would go to the reception desk and ask to see Mr. Jones or whomever. Of course, the reception girl wanted to know why a girl in hot pants wanted to see him. My girls would reply: “It’s private”, and would be shown in. They were selling memberships with a “Passport to Pleasure in Hong Kong” for 100HKD, which would be 1000HKD today. It had many discounts for restaurants, sailing, horseback riding, etc. and the girls would get 10% commission. They sold 2,000 in the first three months and a total of 6,000 in the following two years. I am still a good friend of the first Chinese member who joined and people are talking to each other even to this day!
In 1972, I met Raymond Chou, the producer of most of the Bruce Lee films. He asked me if I wanted to be in a movie with Bruce Lee. Having recently arrived in HK, I didn’t know who he was. I said sure, as I thought it would be a kick to be in a Chinese movie. The next day we signed a contract and Raymond called Bruce and said to get rid of the guy he had, and I got the job of the Big Boss in The Way of the Dragon. I didn’t even have to audition and started filming early the next morning. It has become a cult film and is still showing many places in the world up to today. I tried to get residuals but Raymond said, “We don’t do that in Hong Kong”. I’d be a millionaire today if I had been able to get them.
Years later, I set up the Bruce Lee Café / Museum in HK. It was the only such place in the world and more than 20,000 fans from everywhere came to see it. The HK Government made me a Goodwill Ambassador for bringing so many tourists there. I had many original posters and items that Bruce gave me. Over 200 publications wrote stories about it and 28 TV crews from as many countries filmed there. Bruce once told me: “I won’t make you rich, but I will make you famous”. I said… I’d rather be rich!
I recently published a book called Remembering Bruce Lee, and Jon Benn’s Other Adventures. It has 304 pages with 12 pages of photos, many rare ones taken with my camera on the set. As I have lived in Asia for 42 years plus three in Mexico and two years in Europe, I have many interesting stories to tell. I'll be having a book signing at Sliders on Yongkang Lu on June 2 in the afternoon and at The Apartment on June 19. You are all invited!
Photography by Brandon McGhee ©