“It took all the time in the world, six books that didn’t get published, over seventeen years, before I got published. I believe in perseverance above everything. Perseverance overcomes intelligence, overcomes luck, overcomes everything. Perseverance wins.” -- Edward Bunker From The Good, The Bad, And The Bunker
Grifter. Father. Armed Robber. Writer. Short Con Operator. Actor. Convict. Screenwriter. Career Criminal. Redemption To quote the Kris Kristofferson song The Pilgrim; Chapter 33 “He's a poet he's a picker he's a prophet he's a pusher. He's a pilgrim and a preacher and a problem when he's stoned. He's a walkin' contradiction partly truth and partly fiction. Taking every wrong direction on his lonely way back home.”
For my money Edward “Eddie” Bunker is one of the greatest American crime novelists ever. His art is one of the truest examples of the old adage, “write what you know”. His works of literature span five novels No Beast So Fierce (1973). James Ellroy had this to say about Bunker’s debut novel, “The most gritty and realistic novel about armed robbery.” The Animal Factory (1977) Little Boy Blue (1981) Stark (2006) and Dog Eat Dog (1995) which is now a film Directed By Paul Schrader and Starring Nicholas Cage and Willem Dafoe and premiering at Midnight Madness this year. There is also a short story collection Death Row Breakout and Other Stories which was posthumously published in 2010. As well as an autobiography Mr. Blue: Memoirs of a Renegade (1999) issued in the United States as Education of a Felon (2000)
Well before Eddie Bunker was a writer he was a hardened criminal. He was a short con operator who specialized in cons “The Match”, “The Strap”, and “Laying The Note”. Bunker was a drug dealer and an armed robber. He was once shot in a liquor store robbery attempt. He also dabbled in extortion and forgery. “Do the crime, do the time.” And Eddie served his. Eddie Bunker had the distinction in 1951 to be the youngest inmate of San Quentin prison. In one of Bunker's brief sojourns on “the outside” he befriended Louis Wallis who was the wife of Hal Wallis producer of Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon. It was during this four and a half year bid that Bunker would discover books and begin to write. While in San Quentin the prisoner in the cell beside him Caryl Chessman was sentenced to death row. Chessman had written a book entitled Cell 2455 Death Row about his experience awaiting execution and a first chapter excerpt appeared in Argosy, a pulp magazine. Eddie Bunker was doing a stretch in solitary confinement, "The Hole", where you were not allowed to read anything except the bible. Chessman gave the Argosy pulp to Bunker to read and it was here Eddie had an epiphany, “It blew my mind that a convict, much less one on death row (could write a book) and that night all of a sudden it just came to me, “If he can do it, why can’t I do it. I’m not facing the death penalty. I have all the time in the world.” Louis Wallis sent him a Royal portable typewriter and a subscription to the New York Times Sunday edition and Book Review. He sold his blood to pay for postage to submit his manuscripts to dozens of magazines and publishers. During a sentence in Folsom prison he would meet and befriend Danny Trejo. The two would become friends who would later act together in films. By the time Eddie Bunker's time was all said and done Eddie would spend eighteen years of his life incarcerated. Upon his release in 1975 he finally went straight and never looked back. He began to pursue writing and acting full time.
In 1978 the adapted screenplay of his novel No Beast So Fierce was released as Straight Time. The film directed by Ulu Grosband would star Dustin Hoffman in the lead role; the film would also mark Mr. Bunker’s first screen credit playing the character “Mickey”. Many years later a young director would study this film at Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute for Filmmakers. That director’s name, Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino would cast Eddie Bunker in the role “Mr. Blue” in Reservoir Dogs. 1980 would see Bunker playing the character “Chadwell” in Walter Hill’s The Long Riders It was in 1985 that Eddie would act in the film Runaway Train. Mr. Bunker was also one of the co-writers of the Runaway Train screenplay. The film would see three Oscar nominations. Best actor Jon Voight. Best actor in a supporting role, Eric Roberts and best film editing, Henry Richardson. Not bad for a Canon film that was produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. All and all he would have close to thirty screen credits. Some of his notable appearances include parts in Running Man, Miracle Mile and Tango & Cash to name a few. It is said that Jon Voight’s character in Michael Mann’s Heat was modeled after Eddie.
The novels and screenplays of Mr. Bunker are raw, visceral experiences made even more poignant by the fact that he lived it. He confronts pain, rage, race and frustration exactly how you think he would. Head on. The arc of Edward Bunker’s life is a true testament of redemption and rehabilitation. Mr. Bunker would pass away on July 19, 2005 at the age of seventy-one from complications due to surgery. His books live on.