Mr. Blue

It’s Freaky Friday and time for true crime.  Today’s post is a departure from my usual fare of murderer and mayhem.  We’re gong to talk about a man who was a criminal, an author, and an actor.  Meet Mr. Blue.

The Reservoir Dogs is one of my very favorite movies.  It tells the story of a diamond heist gone terribly wrong.  It’s a story about deception and is full of stories within stories.  Watch the trailer:

Note that you did not meet Mr. Blue in the trailer.  Mr. Blue’s part isn’t much more than a cameo. He’s easy to miss.  Click here to see which one he was.

Edward (Eddie) Bunker was born on New Years Eve of 1933 in Los Angeles, California.  His father was a stagehand, and his mother was a professional dancer.  By the time Eddie was four, his parents had divorced.

Edward was placed in a boarding home where he first learned the concept of theft when another kid stole his candy.  He ran away for the first time at five, beginning a pattern that would repeat itself for the rest of his childhood.

At the age of nine, Eddie’s IQ tested at 152.  Despite his intelligence, he made decisions that suggested he didn’t consider consequences.  He bucked authority at every opportunity.  Eddie spent much of his time in and out of schools for troubled kids.

During one of his periods of freedom Eddie met and befriended Louise Fazenda Wallis–a early 1900s film actress who had over 300 movie credits.  Through her, Bunker experienced another way of life.  Unfortunately, Louise was Eddie’s only friend who wasn’t a former convict or involved in some illegal activity.  Eddie kept getting into scrapes with the law.

By the time he was seventeen, Eddie was the youngest resident of San Quentin Prison.

Photo courtesty of mugshots.com

While serving time at San Quentin, Eddie boxed, got high…and read. The library allowed convicts to check out five books for each seven day period.  Eddie checked out as many books–both fiction and non-fiction–as he was allowed.

Eddie’s behavior put him into contact with Jack Santo and Emmet Perkins–Barbara Graham‘s accomplices in the Mabel Monohan murder).

Bunker also came into contact with Caryl Chessman (the Red Light Bandit) who authored four books while he languished on death row.  It was Chessman who inspired Eddie Bunker to try his hand at writing.

Louise Fazenda Wallis made sure Eddie got a typewriter, and he started writing.  It took him eighteen months to write his first novel.  Like many first novels, it was unpublishable.  However, Eddie understood that this–writing–was his ticket out of the convict cycle.

With Louis Wallis’s help, Eddie was paroled from San Quentin in 1956.  He was 22 years of age.  Eddie was well read.  He understood he fit the profile for a criminal psychopath–which in modern terms is a sociopath.  He resolved to use his intellect to control his impulses and stay out of jail.

Soon, though, Eddie was back to his old tricks.  Louise Fazenda Wallis, who had been his savior in the past, suffered a mental breakdown.  Her husband refused to let Eddie see her again.  She died in 1962.

Louise’s influence lost, Eddie sank deeper and deeper into criminal activity.  He would spend many more years in and out of correctional facilitates.  Some friendships he made behind bars–like that of Danny Trejo–lasted the rest of his life.  Through all this, Eddie continued to write.

His first novel, No Beast So Fierce was accepted for publication while Bunker was awaiting trial for bank robbery and narcotics charges.  No Beast So Fierce was published in 1973 and earned critical acclaim.

While he served his time, Eddie wrote his second novel, Animal Factory.  He also wrote articles about racial crisis in America’s prisons which appeared in Harper’s Magazine.  Bunker’s writing helped him get paroled in 1975.

Eddie Bunker never went back to prison.  Over the course of his criminal career, Eddie had served time for robbery, check forgery, and drug dealing.  He had escaped from more than one institution and had spent a year of his life on the run.  While incarcerated, he had assaulted correctional officers.  Eddie Bunker claimed his own brand of crime fiction was based on these experiences.

In 1978, he c0authored a film adaptation of No Beast So Fierce called Straight Time.  The film starred Dustin Hoffman.  In 1985, Bunker was coauthor of a screenplay for Runaway Train, starring Jon Voight and Eric Roberts.  In 1999, Bunker’s novel Animal Factory was adapted for the screen.  Willem Dafoe and Edward Furlong starred in the film.

Watch the preview for Straight Time:

In addition to his work on screenplays, Bunker continued to write fiction.  Little Boy Blue (1982) and Dog Eat Dog (1992)–my favorite–were published during his lifetime.

Eddie’s novels explore crime and punishment with the kind of insight that comes from years of experience.  Common themes in his work illustrate the lifestyle of the ex-con who is adrift in society, unable to find gainful employment and often returning to crime.

Eddie Bunker’s autobiography Mr. Blue: Memoirs of a Renegade  was published in 1999.  It was reissued in the US under the title Education of a Felon in 2000.  Bunker also appeared in twenty-seven films.

On July 21, 2005, Eddie Bunker died from complications of a surgery to improve circulation in his legs.  Bunker was a longtime diabetic, and the circulation problems likely had to do with his diabetes.

Two novelsStark (2006) and Death Row Breakout and Other Stories (2010), were published posthumously.

Watch Eddie Bunker talking about his life on this short video:

Eddie Bunker was a fascinating character.  He overcame his own bad behavior to write some fantastic crime fiction.  His work is a great example of the old adage, “write what you know.”  I, an unabashed fan, wish he’d written more.

 Sources:

Education of a Felon by Edward Bunker

“Edward Bunker, 71. Ex-Con Wrote Realistic Novels about Crime” by Dennis McLellen. Los Angeles Times, July 24, 2005.

Edward Bunker on Wikipedia