The Bank-Robbing Felon Who Became a Great Writer and Actor


Great comeback stories, especially the ones where something tragic stopped someone from following their dreams and passion, can be a huge source of inspiration. Since last year, actors making comebacks has been a much-discussed topic. The Academy Awards only increased the subject after Ke Huy Quan and Brandon Fraser won Oscars for the two male actors categories, each actor having their own different, yet beautiful, comeback stories to the big screen.

These stories are always nice to witness. However, there is a different type of comeback story, where someone had a pretty rough upbringing and was still able to turn their life around and become who they wanted to be.

Edward Bunker was a writer, actor, and advisor who sadly passed away in 2005 due to a surgery complication. Nevertheless, he was involved in some great crime-related productions that used a lot of his knowledge from his personal criminal past and experience of being incarcerated. Going against everything and everyone, Bunker was able to turn the tables and become a somewhat well-known name in Hollywood.

Here is more about this fantastic story that shouldn’t be forgotten.

Edward Bunker’s Life Story

Edward Bunker in The Longest Yard movie
Paramount Pictures

Bunker was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1933. It could be said he was born into show business: his mother was a chorus girl that appeared in Busby Burkeley movies, and his alcoholic father was a stagehand and grip. Bunker was raised by an aunt until he was placed in foster care for shoplifting when he was only seven years old. The shoplifting was only the beginning: as he got older, he committed several other crimes and was ultimately placed in juvenile reformatories.

Bunker was only 17 years old when he had collected an impressive number o terms in the juvenile hall and was sent to San Quentin State Prison in California, where he was the youngest inmate. He was in prison for 18 years total for check forgery, assault, and other crimes.

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During his time behind bars, he used to talk through the vents in the isolation cells with the ones on Death Row. That’s when he met serial rapist and kidnaper Caryl Chessman, who became a writer and inspired Bunker to try writing also. Bunker told The Los Angeles TImes, “I had never imagined that a prison inmate, much less one condemned to death, could write a book and have it published.”

But Chessman had succeeded in doing that, and so a spark of creativity and possibility was created. Since then, until he was out of prison, he wrote various short stories and six novels until he wrote his first published novel, No Beast So Fierce. He got out and continued his career as a writer.

Beating All Odds

The Animal Factory
Animal Productions LLC

Edward Bunker’s first love was writing. Even later, when he tried his hand at different things, he admitted that his passion for writing was bigger than anything else. He told the LA Times, “Stories were my great escape from the misery of my world.”

After retiring, the actress Louise Fazenda Wallis became one of the main benefactors of the McKinley Home for Boys, and she took a liking to Bunker. While he was incarcerated, she sent him a used typewriter, a thesaurus, and a subscription to the New York Times. Bunker subscribed to Writer’s Digest as well and started a correspondence course in English at the University of California.

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Bunker wrote various successful novels, including his autobiography Education of a Felon. Inmates could grab from the prison’s library five books per week. He read them fiercely at every opportunity he could so that he would finish and pick new ones. He even met some of the great writers of this century, including Aldous Huxley and Tennessee Williams when he was working as a driver for Wallis when he was a teen. The novelist has been celebrated by critics and fans everywhere. His fame became international, and he has been praised, especially in France, due to the elements of existentialism in his books – that is so loved by the French literary audience.

Writer, Actor, and Advisor

Reservoir Dogs cast
Miramax Films

It was clear how ambitious Bunker was, and he didn’t stop himself from exploring and trying new things, such as being an actor. He acted in an impressive 27 projects, and they all had a common theme: action and criminal dramas – which was also the common theme in his novels.

The new actor was a part of the cast in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, and his character was named Mr. Blue after Bunker’s other autobiographical novel, Little Boy Blue. Tarantino said he was a fan of Bunker’s books. The writer starred in Tango and Cash, Straight Time (in a minor role), Runaway Train, The Longest Yard, and many more.

Because he loved writing so much, he became a screenwriter. Bunker’s debut, No Beast So Fierce, became the movie Straight Time starring Dustin Hoffman, which he helped adapt. He also wrote the screenplay for Dog Eats Dog, The Animal Factory (based on one of his novels), and Runaway Train. Bunker was a part of the cast on No Beast so Fierce, Runaway Train, and The Animal Factory, where he starred in a minor role alongside William Defoe. When he wasn’t credited as the writer or in the cast, he worked as an advisor.

Bunker’s fascinating life proves that it’s never too late to start again, and that you never know how life will turn out.

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