Asian-American Cinema Part IV - The 1950s

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 24, 2009 04:58pm | Post a Comment
The fourth of a nine part series on Asian-Americans in front of and behind the camera

During the silent film and Hollywood eras, most Asian-American actors' roles were usually limited to the background and in offensive roles. Two actors, Anna May Wong and Sessue Hayakawa, nonetheless became superstars. They and pioneers like Esther Eng, Marion Wong, and the folks at Grandview Film Company (not to mention numerous actors) gamely attempted to produce and sustain an alternative and viable Asian-American Cinema.

Hawaiian Eye
Hawaiian Eye with Poncie Ponce (right)

In the 1950s, Hollywood roles for Asian-American women were usually limited to the objects of war time romance. On the Broadway stage, musicals about the Far East like The King and I, South Pacific and Flower Drum Song were in vogue although Asian characters were usually portrayed by white actors in yellowface. Asian stage performers typically enjoyed more attention on so-called Chop Suey Circuit, an mostly Chinese-American strand of Vaudeville

Roles for Asians were slightly more in number on television. In it's early years, the small screen was a much more diverse place than the big screen. It was there, in 1951, that Anna May Wong became the first Asian-American to star in her own series, The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong, which aired on the DuMont Network


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 Edo Mita                                   Cherylene Lee                                            Dale Ishimoto                                    Edo Mita

France Nuyen Guy Lee George Matsui
             France Nuyen                                             Guy Lee                                               George Matsui     

George Takei Gerald Jann Ginny Tiu                          George Takei                                         Gerald Jann                                              Ginny Tiu 

 Henry Nakamura 
Hideo Inamura James Hong
                     Henry Nakamura                                          Hideo Inamura                                     James Hong

 James Shigeta James Yagi Jaqui Chan
         James Shigeta                                       James Yagi                                                   Jaqui Chan  

Jerry Fujikawa Judy Dan Kam Fong
                  Jerry Fujikawa
                                               Judy Dan                                                 Kam Fong 

  Lisa Lu  Lucille Soong Mai Tai Sing
                                         Lisa Lu                                                  Lucille Soong                             Mai Tai Sing     

  Mako Michi KobiMiiko Taka
                        Mako (aka  Mako Iwamatsu)                                 Michi Kobi                                    Miiko Taka     

Miyoshi Jingu Miyoshi Umeki Noel Toy
                   Miyoshi Jingu                                      Miyoshi Umeki                                                  Noel Toy

  Pat Suzuki Patrick Adiarte  Paul Togawa                      Pat Suzuki                                                Patrick Adiarte                                            Paul Togawa         

  Poncie Ponce  Reiko Sato Robert Kino
                      Poncie Ponce                                              Reiko Sato                                            Robert Kino 

Shuji Joe Nozawa (aka Fuji) Tsai Chin Victor Wong             Shuji Joe Nozawa (aka Fuji)                      Tsai Chin                                                    Victor Wong

Virginia Ann Lee Yuki Shimoda Warren Hsieh
            Virginia Ann Lee                                      Yuki Shimoda                                          Warren Hsieh 

 Willie Soo Hoo
                  Willie Soo Hoo

Not pictured: 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


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

Relevant Tags

Minorities (6), Television (50), 1950s (25), Asian-americans (40), Hollywood (86), Asian-americans (40), Chinese-americans (15), Japanese-americans (14), 1960s (48), Civil Rights (11), Asian-american Cinema History (10), Asian-american Theater (4), Asian-american Cinema (12), Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (58), Korean-americans (16), Independent Film (5), Asian-american Cinema History (10)