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Edward Bunker mugshot taken at an unknown California prison
|Born||Edward Heward Bunker|
December 31, 1933
Hollywood, California, United States
|Died||July 19, 2005 (aged 71)|
Burbank, California, United States
|Occupation||Author, screenwriter, actor|
Edward Heward Bunker (December 31, 1933 – July 19, 2005) was an American author of crime fiction, a screenwriter, convicted felon and an actor. He wrote numerous books, some of which have been adapted into films. He was a screenwriter on Straight Time (1978), Runaway Train (1985) and Animal Factory (2000).
He started on a criminal career at a very early age, and continued on this path throughout the years, returning to prison again and again. He was convicted of bank robbery, drug dealing, extortion, armed robbery, and forgery. A repeating pattern of convictions, paroles, releases and escapes, further crimes and new convictions continued until he was released yet again from prison in 1975, at which point he finally left his criminal days permanently behind. Bunker stayed out of jail thereafter, and instead focused on his career as a writer and actor.
Bunker was born "on New Year's Eve, 1933" into a troubled family in Los Angeles. His mother, Sarah (née Johnston), was a chorus girl from Vancouver, and his father, Edward N. Bunker, a stage hand. His first clear memories were of his alcoholic parents screaming at each other, and police arriving to "keep the peace." When they divorced, Bunker ended up in a foster home at the age of five, but he felt profoundly unhappy and ran away. As a result, Bunker went through a progression of increasingly draconian institutions. Consistently rebellious and defiant, young Bunker was subjected to a harsh regime of discipline. He attended a military school for a few months, where he began stealing and eventually ran away again, ending up in a hobo camp 400 miles away. While Bunker eventually was apprehended by the authorities, this established a pattern he would follow throughout his formative years. By age 11, Bunker was picked up by the police and placed in juvenile hall after he assaulted his father. Some sources cite that this incident, along with extreme experiences such as the severe beating he experienced in a state hospital called Pacific Colony, created in Bunker a life-long distrust for authority and institutions.
Shoplifting and similar crimes also landed Bunker in juvenile hall, most notably Preston Castle in Ione, California, where he became acquainted with hardened young criminals. Although young and small, he was intelligent, streetwise and extremely literate. He soon learned to hide his fear and embrace his dog-eat-dog surroundings. A long string of escapes, problems with the law and different institutions – including a mental hospital – followed.
At the age of 14, Bunker was paroled to the care of his aunt. However, at age 16 he was caught on a parole violation, and was this time sent to adult prison. There, he believed, he could either be predator or prey, and did his best to establish himself in the former category. In Los Angeles County Jail, he stabbed another inmate (Bunker claims it was convicted murderer Billy Cook, although circumstantial evidence shows Cook couldn't have been the victim) and soon gained a respectful reputation as a fearless young man. Some thought he was unhinged, but in his book Mr. Blue: Memoirs of a Renegade he stated this was a ruse designed to make people leave him alone.
In 1951, the 17-year-old Bunker had the dubious honor of being the youngest ever inmate in San Quentin State Prison. While in solitary confinement he was situated close to the death row cell of Caryl Chessman, who was writing on a typewriter. He had already met Chessman earlier, and Chessman sent him an issue of Argosy magazine, in which the first chapter of his book Cell 2455, Death Row was published. Bunker, inspired by his encounter with Chessman, drew upon his literary influences and decided to try writing his own stories.
When friend Louise Fazenda, a former star of the silent screen, arranged for him to have a typewriter, Bunker started to write. The resulting work, smuggled out, was considered unpublishable, but Bunker's talent had been recognized. (This manuscript eventually became No Beast So Fierce.)
Bunker was paroled in 1956. Now 22, he was unable to adjust to living in normal society. As an ex-convict, he felt ostracized by "normal" people, although he managed to stay out of trouble for several years. Although Fazenda attempted to help him, after she was diagnosed with a nervous breakdown her husband pronounced many of her former friends – including Bunker – personae non-gratae in the Wallis household. Bunker held down various jobs for a while, including that of a used car salesman, but eventually returned to crime. He orchestrated robberies (without personally taking part in them), forged checks, and engaged in other criminal activities.
Bunker ended up back in jail for 90 days on a misdemeanor charge. He was sent to a low-security state work farm, but escaped almost immediately. After more than a year, he was arrested after a failed bank robbery and high-speed car chase.
Pretending to be insane (faking a suicide attempt and claiming that the Catholic Church had inserted a radio into his head), he was declared criminally insane.
Although Bunker eventually was released, he continued a life of crime. In the early 1970s, Bunker ran a profitable drug racket in San Francisco; he was arrested again when the police, who had put a tracking device on his car, followed him to a bank heist. (The police expected Bunker to lead them to a drug deal and were rather shocked by their stroke of luck.) Bunker expected a 20-year sentence, but thanks to the solicitations of influential friends and a lenient judge, he got only five years.
In prison, Bunker continued to write. He finally had his first novel No Beast So Fierce published in 1973, to which Dustin Hoffman purchased the film rights. Bunker was paroled in 1975, having spent 18 years of his life in various institutions. While he was still tempted by crime, he now found himself earning a living from writing and acting. He felt that his criminal career had been forced by circumstances; now that those circumstances had changed, he could stop being a criminal.
He published his second novel, Animal Factory to favorable reviews in 1977. A 1978 movie called Straight Time based on No Beast So Fierce was not a commercial success, but Bunker participated in the drafting of the screenplay and got his first acting part in the movie. Like most of Bunker's parts, it was a small part, and Bunker later appeared in numerous movies, such as The Running Man, Tango & Cash and Reservoir Dogs, as well as the film version of Animal Factory, for which he also wrote the screenplay.
Bunker had better luck robbing banks in real life than he did in the movies. In Reservoir Dogs, where he was most fondly remembered as Mr. Blue, he played one of two criminals killed during a heist. In The Long Riders, he had a brief role as Bill Chadwell – one of two members of the James-Younger Gang killed during a bank robbery in Northfield, Minnesota.
Bunker's hard-boiled and unapologetic crime novels are informed by his personal experiences in a society of criminals in general and by his time in the penal system in particular. Little Boy Blue, in particular, draws heavily on Bunker's own life as a young man.
A common theme in his fiction is that of men being sucked into a circle of crime at a very young age and growing up in a vicious world where authorities are at worst cruel and at best incompetent and ineffectual, and those stuck in the system can be either abusers or helpless victims, regardless of whether they're in jail or outside. Bunker maintains that much of his writing is based on actual events and people he has known. In an interview, he explained his preoccupation with crime as a theme with these words: "It has always been as if I carry chaos with me the way others carry typhoid. My purpose in writing is to transcend my existence by illuminating it."
In Bunker's work, there is often an element of envy and disdain towards the normal people who live outside of this circle and hypocritically ensure that those caught in it have no way out. Most of Bunker's characters have no qualms about stealing or brutalizing others and, as a rule, they prefer a life of crime over an honest job, in great part because the only honest career options are badly paying and low-class jobs in retail or manual labor.
Bunker's autobiography, Mr. Blue: Memoirs of a Renegade, was published in 1999.
In 1977, Bunker married a young real estate agent, Jennifer. In 1993, their first son, Brendan, was born. The marriage ended in divorce. A diabetic, Bunker died on July 19, 2005 in Burbank, California, following surgery to improve the circulation in his legs. He was 71.
Bunker was close friends with Mexican Mafia Leader Joe "Pegleg" Morgan as well as actor Danny Trejo, who is the godfather of his son, both of whom he first met in Folsom State Prison. Michael Mann based the character of Nate, played by Jon Voight, on Bunker for his 1995 film Heat.
- Straight Time (1978) – Mickey (also co-screenwriter, based on his novel No Beast So Fierce)
- The Long Riders (1980) – Bill Chadwell
- Runaway Train (1985) – Jonah (also co-screenwriter)
- Slow Burn (1986) – George
- Shy People (1987) – Chuck
- The Running Man (1987) – Lenny
- Miracle Mile (1988) – Nightwatchman
- Fear (1988) – Lenny
- Relentless (1989) – Cardoza
- Best of the Best (1989) – Stan
- Tango & Cash (1989) – Captain Holmes
- Reservoir Dogs (1992) – Mr. Blue
- Best of the Best 2 (1993) – Spotlight Operator
- Distant Cousins (1993) – Mister Benson
- Love, Cheat & Steal (1993) – Old Con
- Somebody to Love (1994) – Jimmy
- Caméléone (1996) - Sid Dembo
- Shadrach (1998) – Joe Thorton
- Animal Factory (2000) – Buzzard (also co-screenwriter, based on his novel)
- Family Secrets (2001) – Douglas Marley
- 13 Moons (2002) – Hoodlum No. 1
- The Longest Yard (2005) – Skitchy Rivers
- Nice Guys (AKA: High Hopes) (2005) – Big Joe
- Venus & Vegas (2010) – Micky the Calc (filmed in 2004; released posthumously) (final film role)
- No Beast So Fierce (1973)
- The Animal Factory (1977)
- Little Boy Blue (1981)
- Dog Eat Dog (1995)
- Mr. Blue: Memoirs of a Renegade (1999) – issued in the U.S. as Education of a Felon (2000)
- Stark (2006)
- Death Row Breakout and Other Stories (2010) – published posthumously
- According to the State of California. California Birth Index, 1905–1995. Center for Health Statistics, California Department of Health Services, Sacramento, California. Searchable at http://www.familytreelegends.com/records/39461
- Dellinger, Robert. Edward Bunker remembers his first sentence. he wrote from the heart. And from experience: "Two boys went to rob a liquor store." Los Angeles Times, October 1, 2000.
- Bunker, Edward (August 2001). Education of a Felon: A Memoir. St. Martin's Griffin. p. 55. ISBN 0-312-28076-9.
- Edward Bunker Biography (1933–)
- Powell, Steven (2012). 100 American Crime Writers. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 41. ISBN 9780230525375.
- Baime, Albert. Review of Education of a Felon: A Memoir. Accessed January 27, 2008.
- Connolly, John; Burke, Declan (2016). Books to Die For: The World's Greatest Mystery Writers on the World's Greatest Mystery Novels. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc. p. 297. ISBN 9781451696578.
- Press, The Associated. "Edward Bunker, Ex-Convict and Novelist, Is Dead at 71". The New York Times. Retrieved 2018-08-06.
- McLellan, Dennis. Edward Bunker, 71; Ex-Con Wrote Realistic Novels About Crime [obituary]. Los Angeles Times, July 24, 2005.