The Way David Carradine tells it, when he drove onto the Warner Bros. lot in 1971 to shoot the first scenes of Kung Fu, he was directed to Lorne Greene’s parking space. No surprise, really: Times had turned, and Kwai Chang Caine’s ass-kicking hippie Zen was completely at odds with the staunch verities of the Ponderosa. For better and for worse, Carradine’s dusty, garrulous autobiography, Endless Highway (Journey Editions, $24.95), shows this larger cultural change refracted through a man who has been by turns film-industry brat, beatnik, soldier, acidhead, fake TV ”Chinaman,” woolly-headed mystic, taciturn actor, idealistic director, and much-married chump.
Carradine’s a natural anecdotalist, and his book is a pithy, occasionally stirring read—no more so than when he writes about his childhood in Los Angeles and the paradise of being the son of actor John Carradine. But his parents’ marriage flew apart, and Carradine’s later childhood reads like a blueprint for other Hollywood scions: half siblings, prep schools, reform schools, girls. The ’60s are upon us by the time he has his own success, and Carradine’s sharp narrative edge gets blunted in an endless, unleavened parade of buddies, babes, and mind-expanding substances.
Women, especially, get short shrift in this tale. About one of Carradine’s more serious loves, we find no more description than that she was ”a pretty little girl with big tits,” and it’s hard to muster sympathy over his attempts to juggle concurrent relationships with Barbara Hershey (who had just given birth to his son) and Season Hubley (Escape From New York). Yet bitter, gleaming diamonds stud the book, such as when Carradine argues with Ingmar Bergman over killing a horse for a scene in 1977’s The Serpent’s Egg, and the director retorts, ”Little brother, I’m an old whore. I have shot two other horses, burned one, and strangled a dog.”
And according to Carradine, performers aren’t much better than directors. Early in Endless Highway, Carradine writes that ”anybody who tells you that actors are good friends is completely full of it; they’re…cross-sections of self-centeredness; as cruel as eight-year-olds, and as kind as coyotes.” His book’s fault is that such harsh, laconic judgments fall on everyone but the author. C+