Asian-American Cinema Part III - Asian-Americans in Hollywood - The 1950s & 1960s

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 24, 2009 04:58pm | Post a Comment
Before the dominance of Hollywood, most Asian-American actors roles were limited to the background and in offensive roles. Two APA actors, Anna May Wong and Sessue Hayakawa, nonetheless became superstars. They and a few other pioneers attempted to produce a genuinely Asian-American Cinema in the silent era.

By the dawn of
the studio era, Hollywood was the dominant voice in American film and Asian-American actors were once again limited to stereotypical roles, often in supporting roles for white actors in yellowface. Largely due to the influence of Asian-American theater and the efforts of those APA players involved, an authentic Asian-American Cinema was reborn in the '70s and '80s, ultimately expanding and diversifying in the 1990s and 2000s.

In the 1950s, an overwhelming majority of Hollywood films with Asians focused on interracial romance, mostly with women as war trophies. On the stage, musicals about the Far East like The King and I, South Pacific and Flower Drum Song were in vogue. Those, along with TV series like Hawaiian Eye, encouraged many Asians to pursue acting as a career. Anna May Wong's The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong became the first TV show to star an Asian American.


Aki Aleong 
Barbara Yung  Beulah Quo
                                Aki Aleong                                                 Barbara Yun                                   Beulah Quo              

Bill Saito Candace Lee   Chang Tseng
                                  Bill Saito                                                    Candace Lee                                 Chang Tseng   

Cherylene Lee 
Dale Ishimoto  France Nuyen                             Cherylene Lee                                              Dale Ishimoto                             France Nuyen   

George Matsui George Takei  Gerald Jann
           George Matsui                                    George Takei                                               Gerald Jann

Ginny Tiu  Henry Nakamura 
James Hong
                          Ginny Tiu                                                         Henry Nakamura                               James Hong     

 James Shigeta Jaqui Chan   Jerry Fujikawa
         James Shigeta                                        Jaqui Chan                                                 Jerry Fujikawa

Judy Dan  Kam Fong Lisa Lu
                         Judy Dan                                           Kam Fong                                                   Lisa Lu 

Lucille Soong 
Mai Tai Sing  Mako
           Lucille Soong                                Mai Tai Sing                                       Mako (aka  Mako Iwamatsu)

Michi KobiMiiko Taka   Miyoshi Jingu
                 Michi Kobi                                                    Miiko Taka                                             Miyoshi Jingu

Miyoshi Umeki  Noel Toy  Pat Suzuki                   Miyoshi Umeki                                          Noel Toy                                                    Pat Suzuki      

Patrick Adiarte  Paul Togawa  Poncie Ponce
                        Patrick Adiarte                                                   Paul Togawa                                Poncie Ponce        

Reiko Sato 
Robert Kino  Shuji Joe Nozawa (aka Fuji)                       Reiko Sato                                       Robert Kino                                Shuji Joe Nozawa (aka Fuji)

Tsai Chin  Victor Wong  Virginia Ann Lee
                Tsai Chin                                                  Victor Wong                                                Virginia Ann Lee   

Yuki Shimoda  Warren Hsieh Willie Soo Hoo
                 Yuki Shimoda                                         Warren Hsieh                                            Willie Soo Hoo

Not pictured: Bill Saito, Edo Mita, Guy Lee, Hideo Inamura, James Yagi, May Takasugi, Robert W. Lee, and William Yokota

I Was an American Spy Korea Patrol Peking Expressjapanese war bride   Hell's Half Acre House of Bamboo Love is a Many Splendored Thing the teashouse of the august moon Batlle Hymn inn of the sixth happiness sayonara   crimson kimonochina doll geisha boy Quiet American  Tokyo After Dark

Asian American Related Films of the 1950s:

Go for Broke, I Was an American Spy, Korea Patrol, Peking Express (all 1951), Feng ye qing, Japanese War Bride, A Yank in Indo-China (all 1952), China Venture, Forbidden, Target Hong Kong (all 1953), Hell's Half Acre (1954), House of Bamboo, The Left Hand of God, Love Is a Many Splendored Thing (all 1955), The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956), Battle Hymn, China Gate, Sayonara (all 1957), The Inn of the Sixth HappinessChina Doll, The Geisha Boy, Ghost of the China Sea, The Quiet American, South Pacific (all 1958), Blood and Steel and The Crimson Kimono, Tokyo After Dark (all 1959)

The 1960s also the growth of minority-minded civil rights like AIM, the Black Panthers, the Brown Berets and the Yellow Brotherhood. With Asian-themed musicals no longer in vogue, Asian actors struggled to find work in the entertainment industry. As a result, Asian theatre blossomed, beginning in earnest with Los Angeles' East West Players in 1965 and followed by San Francisco’s Asian American Theatre Workshop, New York’s Oriental Actors of America and Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, and Seattle’s Theatrical Ensemble.

The theater groups performed Asian-created works by the likes of Edward Sakamoto, Frank Chin, Hiroshi Kashiwagi,  Momoko Iko and Wakako Yamauchi.

On TV, Asian American actors continued to be nearly non-existent with Green Hornet, Hawaii Five-O, Hong Kong, I Spy and Star Trek being exceptions.

In film, the fetishization of Asian women continued. More shocking was the way films like Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Thoroughly Modern Millie still represented Asian men in the most hateful ways.


Bill M. Ryusaki Brian Tochi Chao Li Chi
               Bill M. Rusaki                                                Brian Tochi                                                Chao Li Ch 

 Gina Alajar Harold Sakata Irene Tsu
                   Gina Alajar                            Harold Sakata                                                     Irene Tsu 

Jack Soo Joanne Miya John Fujioka
                      Jack Soo                              Joanne Miya                                                John Fujioka 

June Kyoko Lu Kieu Chinh Lloyd Kino
             June Kyoto Lu                                            Kieu Chinh                                                    Lloyd Kino 

Lynne Sue Moon Miko Mayama Nancy Kwan
                  Lynne Sue Moon                                  Miko Mayama                                                Nancy Kwan                                  
Pat Morita Soon Tek Oh
                        Pat Morita                                                              Soon-Tek Oh

Not pictured: Alicia Li, Arthur Song, Brian Fong, Hans William Lee, James Shen, Lee Kolima, Linda Ho, Marc Marno, Reiko Sato, Tiko Ling, Tina Chen, Tsuruko Kobayashi, Willard Lee and Yoshio Yoda

Mountain Road Walk Like a Dragon World of Suzie Wong  Bridge to the Sun Cry for Happy Flower Drum Song Operation Bottleneck A Girl Named Tamiko Confessions of an Opium Eater The Road to Hong Kong Satan Never SleepsWomanhunt Diamond Head TamahineThe Ugly American Man in the Middle Dimension 5
Paradise Hawaiian Style
  Kill a Dragon
Nobody's PerfectThe Wrecking Crew

Asian American Related Films of the 1960s:

Hell to Eternity, The Mountain Road, The Wackiest Ship in the Army, Walk Like a Dragon, The World of Suzie Wong (all 1960), Bridge to the Sun, Cry For Happy, Flower Drum Song, Operation Bottleneck, Seven Women from Hell, Visa to Canton (all 1961), A Girl Named Tamiko, Confessions of an Opium Eater, Girls! Girls! Girls!, The Horizontal Lieutenant, The Road to Hong Kong, Satan Never Sleeps, Womanhunt (all 1962), Diamond Head, Donovan's Feef, Tamahine, The Ugly American (all 1963), Man in the Middle (1964), Dimenson 5, Paradise, Hawaiian style, 7 Women, Walk Don't Run (all 1966), The Final War of Olly Winter, Kill a Dragon, The Mystery of the Chinese Junk, The Sweet and the Bitter, Thoroughly Modern Millie (all 1967), The Green Berets, Nobody's Perfect (both 1968) and The Wrecking Crew (1969)
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