When ‘Bruce Lee’ came to town

Ron Yinn, bottom row, left, and Barefoot Man, back row, second from right, enjoy simpler times on the beach in 1974.

The year was 1974 – it was a very different Cayman at the time. No TV, no radio, no roundabouts. If you took a photograph with your Kodak Instamatic camera, your film was sent away to Miami for processing and you’d see the prints about three weeks later.

We grocery shopped at By-Rite, Comart and Merren’s in the heart of George Town where cows and goats often held up traffic.

That was the same year that The Caymanian Weekly and The Cayman Compass merged, becoming the Caymanian Compass. Billy Bodden and Reid Dennis managed the paper and Friday was the big day. That is when newspapers came off the press and were stuffed into the “Tommy the Turtle” van (remember that?) and myself, Larry Cayasso, Alberto Estevanovich and Reid Dennis did the paper delivery run. None of us, with the exception of Dennis, were on the payroll – it was just a fun day! We were the Three Musketeers, having a jovial time touring the island and drinking Heineken (Greenies) while dropping off the paper at gas stations, stores, banks and a few government offices. The last stop was always Borden’s Pizza in West Bay.

During that wonderful epoch, the Galleon Beach Hotel’s Manager, Dave Mitchell, would show films on a noisy, reel-to-reel film projector in the outside screened patio. It was a popular bi-monthly event and the most sought-after films were those with Bruce Lee. Lee’s martial arts movies were in demand worldwide, and in Cayman, Bruce Lee was king. He was the Brad Pitt/Tom Cruise of that era.

Ron Yinn from Canada, who was of Asian descent, was a regular visitor to Cayman and always stayed at the Galleon Beach Hotel. For me, Yinn’s visit in the summer of 1974 was the perfect excuse to start some marl-road gossip and play a practical joke; however, I had no idea that my little hoax would lead to a frenzy.

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“You know … that man over there looks just like Bruce Lee,” said one of the waitresses, pointing at Yinn.

(That dubious statement was a golden opportunity for a prank.)

Ron Yinn cooks up freshly caught lobster (1974). – Photos: Courtesy of Ron Yinn

“I’ll tell you something, if you promise to keep it to yourself … don’t repeat this to anyone,” I said to the waitress. I pulled her close and whispered a concoction in her ear: “That IS Bruce Lee; he’s on vacation and he doesn’t want to be bothered by reporters or fans, so make sure you keep this hush-hush.”

She let out a faint shriek, covered her mouth with her hands and ran out the door. “Priceless,” I thought to myself. “What a conniver I am.”

I told Yinn about my little prank; he laughed and demonstrated a few karate kicks that he had seen Bruce Lee do on the silver screen.

He had heard about the paper delivery run and asked if he could join us. We agreed with the condition that “the Greenies” were on his tab. As we cruised through Bodden Town, East End, North Side and beyond, I had noted that at nearly every stop, we were asked if Bruce Lee was actually on the island; after all, we were the Caymanian Compass and we should know. Of course, being the mischievous individual I was, I confirmed his visit – I even pointed to the van and added a little spice to my bamboozle. “Yes, of course, he’s here; he’s in the van but doesn’t want to be bothered,” I said, nonchalantly.

I did not realize it at the time, but that was a mistake; I had gone too far. My joke began to snowball. Next, we stopped at Hell, the Turtle Farm and the Inferno Club and then on to Borden’s Pizza, the final stop of the paper run. Through the entire ride, everyone scolded me for the prank I had created, especially since the real Bruce Lee had passed away the year before.

“Relax, guys, it’s just a little white lie … no damage done,” I said.

I had not got the word “lie” out of my mouth when we pulled into the Borden’s Pizza parking lot, and that’s when it hit me – my caper had gone viral. There were at least 50 people waiting for us with cameras, autograph books and hand scribbled signs that read “WE LOVE YOU, BRUCE LEE!” The most despairing sight of all were a few small children in their karate uniforms, complete with yellow and black belts. Oh no! What had I done?

Dennis spewed out some X-rated words that I cannot repeat in this story. Estevanovich was saying something rapid in Spanish and Yinn was grinning ear-to-ear. “Wow, I’m famous!” he boasted.

Ron Yinn, aka ‘Bruce Lee,’ learns about the Greenies (Heineken) way of life in Cayman back in the day.

“No, you’re not famous,” said Dennis. “Bruce Lee is famous and they think you are him and when they find out Bruce Lee died a year ago, you will be persona-non-grata.”

But Yinn was having none of Dennis’s pessimism; this was his moment of fame and it would be cruel to the fans to end the charade at this point. At my coaxing, he jumped out of the van and demonstrated a few awkward, amateurish-looking karate kicks. The crowd went into frenzy; they snapped photos, covered Yinn with hugs and kisses and bought us pizza.

While we stuffed ourselves, Yinn autographed T-shirts, magazines and pizza boxes and I learned a lesson that day: Never underestimate the power (and danger) of marl-road gossip.

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