David Carradine: Hanging out with the Grasshopper. Part two

The shooting schedule on Kung Fu went surprisingly smoothly and in spite of his many eccentricities I realized that Carradine was the ultimate professional. When David was on the set he liked to make it appear that he was unprepared and unsure of what was happening next. This was far from the case and in fact not only did Carradine know his own lines but everyone else’s lines as well. One of David’s favorite things to do on set was to secretly touch off flash paper with one of his ever-present oval cigarettes. He seemed to really enjoy the resulting explosion. I use the word explosion advisedly, as David liked to fire up huge wads of flash paper that often resulted in the smell of burning flesh permeating the air. I hatched a plan and took off for the magic store where I purchased enough flash paper, flash cotton and flash string to arm a third world nation. The next day I greeted Carradine on the set with a cheery, “I have some extra flash paper. I thought you might have a use for it.” Carradine’s eyes lit up like a child at Christmas or, more to the point, like a pyromaniac at a house warming party! The next day I introduced David to flash cotton and it was a huge success. The next day I trotted out the flash string and explained to him that if you had a wad of flash cotton concealed in your hand with a length of the cotton hanging down it would act like a fuse. David’s eyes sparkled intensely and he quickly corrected me, “No, it IS a fuse!”  From that moment on we became the best of friends.

I can honestly say that David Carradine is one of the most unique and extraordinary men I have ever worked with and he still had a surprise in store for me. On the final day of shooting in the middle of a scene David jumped up onto the stage set and addressed the audience of extra’s crowded on the set. In a dramatic manner that made Max Maven seem understated, David gave an impromptu mind reading performance for the entire audience and showered them with juicy details about me. Really inside material that I was shocked he knew!

With a flourish David concluded his performance by asking a spectator to reach into his jacket pocket and inside was a piece of paper with my mothers maiden name written on it. Game, set and match to Carradine as I was left speechless. I puzzled about how he discovered all this information but Carradine just smiled his Kwai Chang Caine smile and refused to tell me. He had really surprised me and fooled me and wasn’t ready to give away his methods!


About fifteen years after the events described I was attending a ceremony dedicated to my very dear friend Billy McComb. After the Ash ceremony took place all those present adjourned to a local pub for bangers and mash and English beer. As we were eating our food and trading stories about our favorite Irishman I noticed an intense looking gentleman sitting on his own at the side of the room. Since he was one of the few people in the room that I didn’t recognize I went over and introduced myself.

To my delight it was Patrick Culliton and the two of us found a quiet corner and drank a couple of pints of beer together. Needless to say the conversation focused on our mutual relationship with David Carradine. Suddenly Patrick became very animated and remembered back to an early morning call from Carradine who asked him to run a ‘make’ on me for his mind reading stunt. “How did you know all that really personal information about me?” Then the final piece of the puzzle fell into place. “Oh, that was easy.” Said Pat “All I did was phone McComb!” We smiled and toasted Billy with our beers. As always, without even being there McComb had the final word in clearing up a puzzle.

I had first seen David Carradine from the confines of Irma’s secret control centre. I was sitting with my friend Professor Dave Bourne and the occasion was the wedding reception of David’s younger brother Keith. My last meeting was in Toronto when he asked me to hang around as his guest to talk magic and deplete the Canadian supply of Stolichnaya. I wish I had said yes.  I would say RIP Grasshopper but I am sure that wherever you are you are already giving them hell.

~ by Nick Lewin on May 30, 2010.

One Response to “David Carradine: Hanging out with the Grasshopper. Part two”

  1. Hi Nick,Great story. Milbourne Christopher always had a lit cigarette with balls of flash paper tucked into his belt for in instant flash. I had a terrible experience once with flash paper. I was performing on an outdoor stage at the Rocky Hill State Fair in R .I. I had a routine where I used a piece a flash paper which I touched to a candle to create a flash of fire. It was 90 degrees on stage, but about 120 degrees backstage. I was soaking wet. I did the effect…I touched paper to the flame . it ignited and quickly stuck to my wet hand & burned like hell. I refuse to do Outdoor shows. The crowds are great, but I can’t take that kind of heat.
    How do we get a hold of Patrick Culliton? We wanted to talk with him about a couple of Houdini projects.

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