LeBell Locked: Judo Gene's Top 10 Hollywood Moments
"Judo" Gene LeBell is a two-time national judo champ, a master of submission holds and a one of the greatest Hollywood stuntmen to ever flip a Chevy Malibu. He taught Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris and several of today's top cage fighters how to break arms and choke people out. As a tribute to the grappling master, rising WWE superstar Daniel Bryan has started calling his finishing hold "the LeBell Lock" and even used the move to win the US championship belt on a pay-per-view last Sunday.
While LeBell has performed such manly feats as knocking out a top-ranked light heavyweight boxer in the first mixed martial arts match and wrestling real-live bears (he really did this), every time you catch Gene in one of his countless film or television appearances, he's usually getting his ass kicked by the likes of Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson or even Herman Munster. Gene once told me that he's made more money by losing fights than he ever did from winning them, meaning that making movie stars look like badasses is a hell of a lot more lucrative than making himself look like one. So here are "Judo" Gene LeBell's top ten Hollywood moments, and he's getting his rear end handed to him in almost every one of them:
10) RAGING BULL (1980): Robert DeNiro didn't get to throw a punch at Gene in Martin Scorsese's black and white boxing masterpiece, but Gene is seen as a ring announcer ducking folding chairs after a riot breaks out in the film's first fight scene. During filming, Gene had the cajones to ask the "Boardwalk Empire" director why he was shooting the movie in black and white like it was a crazy idea.
9) EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE (1978): Gene plays one of the idiot bikers who gets roughed up by Clint Eastwood, Clyde the orangutan and some chubby dudes from a greasy spoon for good measure. At one point, Clint socks Gene in the face and his riding goggles split in half.
8) LOCK UP (1989): Although Stallone doesn't face off against Gene mano-a-mano in this sentimental prison epic, Gene and Sly do collide during a really muddy game of tackle football. "Lock Up" was filmed at Rahway State Penitentiary in New Jersey with real convicts used as extras so Stallone was happy to have Gene around in case a chokehold ever became necessary.
7) 4 FOR TEXAS (1963): This comedy western sports the Rat Pack's upper echelon with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin in the leads. Ursula Andress and Anita Eckberg are also around to add some much needed visual appeal. During the movie's final all-out brawl, former pro-wrestler Mike Mazurki (best known for playing Moose Malloy in the noir classic "Murder My Sweet") body slams the hell out of Gene in the dust. Mazurki insisted on retaking the scene several times. Gene got slammed over and over again, but earned an extra 300 bucks for every fall. Iron Mike was teaching Gene how to work the system.
6) AIRPLANE (1980): In the scene where Robert Stack is nearly overwhelmed by donation-seeking do-gooders and assorted religious freaks while he's trying to make his way through the airport, Gene is the Jehovah's Witness…
5) THE BIG BRAWL (1980): Gene sure got his ass kicked a lot in 1980. In this early attempt at making Jackie Chan into an American movie star, Gene gets squeezed to death by the mustachioed H.B. Haggerty in the movie's opening fight scene. Since he dies right off the bat, LeBell had no scenes with Jackie Chan in this movie, but he does play the cantankerous cabbie that pulls a gun on Chan and Chris Tucker in the first "Rush Hour" eighteen years later. Unfortunately for the audience, Gene doesn't choke Tucker into unconsciousness.
4) THE INCREDIBLE HULK (TV SERIES, 1978): Just like having a guy sink in quicksand, every old TV show had its boxing and/or wrestling episode and "Judo" Gene plays either a ref, ring announcer or fighter in just about every one of them from "The Beverly Hillbillies" to "That 70s Show." In the first season episode of "The Incredible Hulk" called "The Final Round," Gene plays a ref with the thankless task of trying to eject a jade-hued Lou Ferrigno from the ring during a boxing match. The Greenskinned Goliath tosses a hapless LeBell into the second row of seats for his trouble.
3) THE JERK (1979): Gene gets tossed in the pool by a bare-chested, medallion wearing Steve Martin during the chop-socky scene of this comedy classic. What's even funnier than the scene itself was that Gene had to go to an audition right after filming was done and didn't have the chance to change out of his sopping wet leisure suit.
2) BLUE HAWAII (1961): Gene may be the Godfather of Grappling but he still had to get thrown by the King of Rock and Roll in this piece of musical cotton candy. Gene is uncredited in the barroom brawl scene but his trademark red hair is unmistakable.
1) IRONSIDE (1967): For a time in the late 1960s, Gene LeBell became Bruce Lee's favorite punching bag. Of course "The Green Hornet" (1967) boasts some pretty impressive Lee-LeBell fight scenes, but the episode of the Raymond Burr handicapped detective series "Ironside" (1967) titled "Tagged for Murder" displays their brutal onscreen chemistry as well as anything. Check it out for yourself: