HELLO AMERICA!—During my last months under contract to 20th Century Fox in the 1960s, I made sure when corresponding with my two best buddies, Chris Robinson and Ron Walters both under contract to Universal Studios at the time about my Hong Kong assignment. I had witnessed a riot on Nathan Road, the main street of Kowloon, which was right in front of my hotel room.
The streets were filled with protestors against the proposed ferryboat-fare raise. It wasn’t long before the crowd became a mob, and started breaking street lights and pulling rain guards off cars. The police came with riot shields, guns, and gas masks. They finally had to shoot tear gas into the crowd. Some of it blew up into my room. As I gasped for breath, I thought this might be the end of me. Down the street from the hotel, the mob burned and looted the Shin Hing Department Store (the Bullocks of Kowloon). I watched the violence from my window until three in the morning.
The next night, the protest erupted again, but further down the street. This time, the police fired into the crowd killing one person and wounding three others. Now, a curfew was established between one and six in the morning. Absolutely no one was allowed on the street.
Finally, the Sand Pebbles film company with Steve McQueen returned from the location at Three Fathoms Cove, Tolo Harbor in convoy, at a speed of 20 miles an hour, so that if anything erupted we would all be together. We traveled first by car, then by boat. The first day, it took two and a half hours to reach the San Pablo. She had a rough trip being towed from Tamsin Harbor. The waves were so high that the tug pulling her sometimes lost sight of her when she dipped down. But here we were shooting in the New Territories as this British-led land was called – a base five miles from the Communist border. We had to have special permits to be there.
While shooting again in Three Fathoms Cove, six of us had an adventure. Steve McQueen, a girl reporter, Joan Vertigan of the South China Morning Post, Tom Middleton, Ted Fish, Barney Phillips, Joe Turkel and I were in a motor launch headed for home across Tolo Harbor when the motor died.
We were stranded five miles from the Chinese Communist border! The San Pablo was miles away with the rest of the company. The only boat we could see was an ocean-going tug, hauling a huge dredge. It seemed to be flying a red flag. Joe Turkel leaped to the bow of our launch and whistled, and waved. Surprisingly, the tug veered toward us. When it got to about a quarter of a mile away, we saw it was manned by Chinese.
They spoke no English, but they threw us a line and towed us. Fortunately, a Hong Kong police boat appeared with a Chinese crew and a British maritime officer aboard. We jumped in their boat, and they took us to Tai Po dock where our cars were waiting. We might have ended up in Communist China if we had continued with the other boat! As we got off the dock and crossed the tracks of a nearby railroad, we had to pass through a waiting train. Another train came by and the guys almost got hit. What a day it was!