Tag Archives: Philip Ahn

Great Moments in Classic TV 2019

25 Jan

In 2019, I saw 425 TV episodes, 325 of them American and 100 Japanese. I will focus here on highlights from classic American TV that I discovered this past year.

The single series I watched the most episodes from was “Perry Mason,” for a total of 70. I’ve been going slowly, but methodically, through the nine-season box set I purchased in 2017 and I watched from “The Case of the Renegade Refugee” (Season 5 / #13, Dec. 9, 1961) to “The Case of the Simple Simon” (Season 7 / #24, April 2, 1964).

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Asian Detectives in 1930s Hollywood

1 Nov

Once upon a time Asian super-sleuths, independent crime-fighters of Chinese or Japanese origin who were usually one or two steps ahead of the police in solving murders, were quite popular in Hollywood. They were, with one notable exception, played by Caucasian actors. There were three distinct characters around whom series of films were created in the 1930s: Charlie Chan, Mr. Moto and Mr. Wong. The Chinese Chan was portrayed by Swedish-born Warner Oland in the 1930s, Sidney Toler in the late ’30s and early 1940s, and Roland Winters in the late ’40s. The Japanese Mr. Moto, an agent working for the International Police, was played by Austro-Hungarian actor Peter Lorre. The Chinese Mr. Wong was played by British actor Boris Karloff. Lorre and the Chan actors played their roles with distinct Asian accents while Karloff played the Oxford-educated Wong with his normal voice. All three characters drew on the stereotype of the exotic, inscrutable Asian sage with depths of knowledge and wisdom derived from ancient traditions. Chan, in particular, was given to issuing frequent fortune cookie-style aphorisms that were often played for laughs. (E.g. “Mind like parachute – only function when open” and “Inconspicuous molehill sometimes more important than conspicuous mountain.”)

Charlie Chan (Warner Oland):

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Asian Stars in TV Westerns, Part 1: Lisa Lu in “Bonanza”

8 Jan

About a year ago, I picked up a DVD called “Top TV Westerns” that included a 1961 episode of “Laramie,” entitled “Dragon at the Door,” that happened to be about a troupe of traveling Japanese entertainers out west, with the lead character played by Japanese actress Nobu McCarthy. I was intrigued by the episode’s respectful treatment of its Japanese characters, avoidance of stereotype, and the honest depiction of culture clash in the interaction between the two American stage drivers, the series’ regular protagonists, and the five Japanese characters. I wondered how many other TV western episodes featured Asian guest stars like this and I did some research and found quite a few, including an episode of “Wagon Train” with Sessue Hayakawa as a traveling samurai (“The Sakae Ito Story”); an episode of “Rawhide,” in which Miyoshi Umeki played a geisha out west (“Incident of the Geisha”); and an episode of “Cheyenne,” in which the title character, working for a railroad, finds himself with a Chinese “bride,” played by Lisa Lu, whom he has to care for until he can reunite her with her father and send them back to San Francisco (“Pocketful of Stars”). After those, the one I most wanted to see was “Day of the Dragon,” an episode of “Bonanza,” guest-starring Lisa Lu and also featuring such august Asian-American performers as Philip Ahn and Richard Loo, along with series regular Victor Sen Yung, who played the Cartwrights’ cook, Hop Sing. I found this episode in a Bonanza box set of the series’ third season.

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