10 Asian American Actors From Hollywood's Golden Age – History

Anna-Might-Wong. Credit score: Normal Photographic Company/Getty Photos
Actors of East Asian descent typically confronted restricted and typecast roles in Previous Hollywood, however they paved the way in which for future generations.
The Golden Age of Hollywood, also called Classical Hollywood or Previous Hollywood, spanned the a long time between 1910 and 1960 and usually featured white film stars corresponding to Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart and Elizabeth Taylor—however Asian American actors additionally acted in distinguished roles throughout the time. 
The Golden Age of Hollywood’s depiction of Asia and Asian individuals was intertwined with the specter of “yellow peril,” a cultural phenomenon marked by the concern that East Asian individuals posed a social, financial and political risk to the USA. The phenomenon, steeped in racism, was triggered by a number of elements, together with the concern of attainable army invasion from Asia, perceived competitors by Asian employees to the white labor power and potential ethnic contamination on account of genetic mixing between Asians and white individuals.
On the silver screens of Previous Hollywood, the anxieties of yellow peril typically manifested as typecast, exotic depictions of Asia and Asian those that empowered Western heroes and justified the domination of Asians, in response to Gina Marchetti’s 1994 e-book Romance and the “Yellow Peril”: Race, Sex, and Discursive Strategies in Hollywood Fiction.
Regardless of these limitations, Asian American actors throughout Hollywood’s Golden Age overcame racism, broke limitations and paved the way in which for Asian American actors of up to date Hollywood and impartial cinema.
Actor Anna Might Wong, c. 1930.
Silver Display Assortment/Getty Photos
With a profession spanning from 1919 to 1961, Anna Might Wong is named the primary Chinese language American movie star. Wong, whose start identify was Wong Liu-tsong, acted in additional than 60 films all through her profession, in addition to on tv, theater and radio. In 1922 she made her characteristic debut at age 17 in The Toll of the Sea. Wong grew to become well-known for her roles in The Thief of Baghdad (1924), Shanghai Specific (1932) and The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong (1951). All through her profession, she was typically typecast into stereotypical roles just like the unique slave woman or a villainous dragon girl. 
“I used to be so bored with the elements I needed to play,” she said in a 1933 interview. “Why is it that the display screen Chinese language is almost at all times the villain of the piece, and so merciless a villain—murderous, treacherous, a snake within the grass. We aren’t like that.” 
In 1949, after Wong had taken a break from display screen appearing, an article within the South China Morning Publish famous, “Miss Anna Might Wong, making her first movement image in six years (‘Influence’), says she acquired bored with being a villainess and in any other case presenting the Chinese language in an uncomplimentary gentle. Her present portrayal is sympathetic and she or he says she is going to make extra films if she is obtainable agreeable elements to play."
Wong acted in just one extra movie, Portrait in Black (1960), earlier than her demise in 1961.
Carroll Baker and James Shigeta within the 1961 movie, "Bridge to the Solar."
LMPC/Getty Photos
Born in Hawaii, James Shigeta was a 3rd technology Japanese American who served within the Korean War. Upon his return to the USA, he started his American profession as a nightclub entertainer below the pseudonym “Guy Brion.”
Shigeta was identified for his function as Wang Ta in Flower Drum Tune (1961), a movie adaption of the musical that was the primary Hollywood movie to have a majority Asian American cast and was nominated for 5 academy awards. Shigeta additionally stood out for his roles in The Crimson Kimono (1959), Stroll Like a Dragon (1960), and Bridge to the Solar (1961). 
Within the 2006 documentary The Slanted Display: Asian Males in Movie and Tv, Shigeta recalled when an MGM director advised him early in his profession, “When you have been white, you'd be a hell of a giant star." Shigeta remarked this dialog was “the primary time that [he] had some form of a clue as to the truth that there is likely to be some discrimination on the market.” 
Actor Nancy Kwan, c. 1960.
Silver Display Assortment/Getty Photos
Nancy Kwan is a Chinese language American actress who started her profession enjoying the primary character within the British-American romantic drama movie The World of Suzie Wong (1960). The next 12 months, she performed the function of Linda Low in Flower Drum Tune, a movie tailored from the 1958 Broadway musical. 
A 1960 Los Angeles Instances article accompanied by a photoshoot of Kwan acknowledged the star was typically typecast. “There’s a helpful little gimmick within the film enterprise known as ‘typecasting,’ which ends up in stars doing the identical function again and again as a result of they give the impression of being the half,” the article reads. “Due to her beautiful Eurasian seems to be, Nancy Kwan, star of ‘The World of Suzie Wong,’ had alarming visions of herself enjoying an countless succession of geisha ladies, Madame Butterflies, and James Michener heroines. So she marched all the way down to a photographer’s and zipped out and in of costumes, wigs and make-up.” 
Reflecting on her profession in a Might 2021 interview for Rappler, a Filipino information web site, Kwan mentioned, “Once we began within the movie enterprise within the early '60s, there have been only a handful of Asian actors within the movie enterprise. All of us knew one another. All of us supported one another and sure, I want we had extra help.”
Japanese American actress Miyoshi Umeki poses together with her Academy Award for Finest Supporting Actress within the movie, "Sayonara," c. 1958. 
Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Photos
Japanese American singer and actress Miyoshi Umeki was the primary East Asian American actor to win an Academy Award, which she gained for Finest Supporting Actress in Sayonara (1957), a film starring Marlon Brando about an American Air Drive pilot throughout the Korean War who falls in love with a Japanese dancer performed by Miiko Taka. Umeki was additionally identified for her roles as an immigrant image bride in Flower Drum Tune and as a Japanese housekeeper within the American sitcom The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (1963). 
In a 2018 interview in Entertainment, Umeki’s son Michael Hood requested her why she agreed to talk with a heavy accent in her function in Flower Drum Tune. “I didn’t like doing it,” she replied, “however when somebody pays you to do a job, you do the job, and also you do your greatest.”
Umeki confronted scrutiny for her Japanese heritage within the wake of World War II. She was solely 13 years outdated when the struggle broke out and was nonetheless dwelling in Japan. In a 1959 episode of the Mike Wallace Interview, referring to her life in Japan throughout the struggle, the journalist requested her, “Did you hate America?,” to which she replied, “No, I didn’t. I simply hated struggle as a result of I used to be combating with starvation. I used to be simply wishing that the struggle would finish, right now or tomorrow.”
Keye Luke as Lee Chan and Warner Oland in yellowface as Charlie Chan within the 1937 movie "Charlie Chan on Broadway."
John Springer Assortment/Corbis/Getty Photos
Keye Luke was a Chinese language American actor who began his Hollywood profession in an uncredited supporting role in The Painted Veil (1934) which starred Greta Garbo. Born in China, Luke immigrated to the USA when he was three years outdated. He was solid in The Painted Veil when a MGM producer was in search of a Chinese language actor who had “good English diction," in response to Turner Classic Movies.
Luke had initially labored in Hollywood as a industrial artist doing promotional art work for Fox and RKO theaters. In accordance with his 1991 obituary in the New York Times, after being denied roles due to his race, Luke mirrored within the early Nineties, “A Chinese language function ought to be performed by a Chinese language actor if he can play it. But when an actor could make you’re feeling the truth, that particular person ought to get the half.”
Luke was greatest identified for his function as Lee Chan, the “Quantity One Son,” within the Charlie Chan movies. His first huge function was in Charlie Chan in Paris (1935). The Charlie Chan movies featured the detective work of a fictional Honolulu police chief who was portrayed as a pastiche of Sherlock Holmes and an archetypal Asian sage. 
In accordance with the 2017 textbook Race in American Movie: Voices and Visions That Formed a Nation, these movies depicted the Asian Charlie Chan as affable and clever—however the detective was often performed by a white actor in yellowface. Charlie Chan’s sons, often performed by Asian American actors, assisted his investigations and have been labeled “Quantity One Son,” “Quantity Two Son,” and “Quantity Three Son.” Luke’s 1991 obituary in The Guardian was headlined, “Hollywood’s Quantity One Asian.” 
Sidney Toler and Benson Fong within the 1946 movie, "Darkish Alibi."
LMPC/Getty Photos
Born in Sacramento, California, Benson Fong started his profession in an uncredited role in Charlie Chan on the Opera (1936). Fong later was solid within the function of Tommy Chan, the “Quantity Three Son,” in a number of of the Charlie Chan movies. He additionally performed the function of Grasp Wang in Flower Drum Tune, together with different roles in numerous movies corresponding to Japanese officer, Chinese language clerk, houseboy, South Korean scout, chef, and guerilla. 
Benson Fong was married to Gloria Suie Chin, an actress who was also called “Maylia.” In accordance with her 2016 obituary in the Hollywood Reporter, the actress signed a contract with Columbia Footage and given the stage identify Maylia, which implies “stunning” in Cantonese. Maylia’s first function was that of a servant in Singapore (1947) and she or he later went on to play an orphaned Chinese language teenager in To the Ends of the Earth (1948). 
A poster for the movie, "The Breath of the Gods," that includes Tsuru Aoki, c. 1920.
LMPC/Getty Photos
Sessue Hayakawa was a Japanese actor who typically performed the romantic lead—a rarity for Asian males in American cinema. Hayakawa started in silent movies like The Storm (1914) and Cecil B. deMille’s The Cheat (1915). Later, Hayawaka was nominated for an Academy Award for Finest Supporting Actor for his function because the Japanese commander Colonel Saito in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), a struggle epic about World Conflict II. 
In accordance with the e-book Sessue Hayakawa: Silent Cinema and Transnational Stardom, Hayakawa’s manufacturing firm tried to favorably mildew the actor’s picture to the American public by exhibiting him as safely assimilated into U.S. tradition, whereas additionally emphasizing his Japanese traits.
Hayakawa was married to the actress Tsuru Aoki, who was additionally an actor within the silent movie period. In accordance with a 2005 article in Camera Obscura by Sara Ross, the development of Aoki as an adoring spouse to Hayakawa was important to his success as a romantic lead in early Hollywood cinema. 
Whereas Aoki’s profession was largely overshadowed by her husband’s, she was a prolific actress who was contracted with Common Footage and acted reverse her husband in lots of movies, together with The Dragon Painter (1919), a silent movie a few delusional painter, performed by Hayakawa, who believes his fiancée is a princess who was captured and remodeled right into a dragon. The couple acted collectively for the final time in Aoki’s remaining movie and first talkie, Hell to Eternity (1960), earlier than her demise in 1961. 
Li Lihua, c. 1956
Bettmann Archive/Getty Photos
Li Lihua was a Chinese language movie star who got here to Hollywood within the Fifties to behave within the struggle movie China Doll (1958), wherein she performs a Chinese language lady prostituted out by her impoverished father who misplaced his farmland to Japanese invaders. Whereas Lihua had already starred in additional than 40 Chinese language-language movies, she was known as “a newcomer of delicate loveliness” in a 1958 evaluate of China Doll in Movie Each day.
Past an icon of Asian magnificence, nonetheless, Lihua was a cultural mediator who set herself aside from different intercourse symbols of Hollywood’s Golden Age. In a 1956 interview in World At this time, Lihua remarked, “I refuse to be photographed in a scantily clad pose… I refuse to take action not solely due to my ideas, but additionally as a result of I’ve by no means proven any flesh in any of the movies I starred in in China or Hong Kong.”
FACT CHECK: We try for accuracy and equity. However should you see one thing that does not look proper, click here to contact us! HISTORY critiques and updates its content material often to make sure it’s full and correct.
Twice every week we compile our most fascinating options and ship them straight to you.


Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button