June 3rd, 2008

carole lombard 02
  • vp19

Of Asians and acting

It's 1928, and you're the casting director at Warner Bros. You're making a silent film called "The Crimson City," and your female lead is supposedly a Chinese woman who's sold into slavery. Whom do you cast?



The first one, you answer -- that's obvious. But you would be wrong.

Instead of the first actress, Anna May Wong, it was the second, Myrna Loy, who was chosen (although Wong ended up with a supporting role). Both had made about two dozen or so films at this time, although Wong's career began several years before Loy's.

The story of how Hollywood rarely gave black actors or black characters a fair shake is no secret, Well, Asians have had comparable problems dating back to the silent era, and every Tuesday and Thursday this month Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. is casting a spotlight on the situation with its theme, "Race And Hollywood: Asian Images In Film." (One of the highlights is the premiere of a documentary, "Anna May Wong -- Frosted Yellow Willows: Her Life, Times and Legend," on Wong's career as the first Chinese-American film star, and the hurdles she had to overcome.) The story is more or less chronological, beginning with an array of silent-era films and moving up to recent times.

Comparing Wong and Loy is fascinating. Both were born in 1905; Wong was a native Angeleno, while Loy grew up in Montana. While Wong had no personal grudge against Loy, it was frustrating to her to see a non-Asian cast in such roles. After making "The Crimson City" (which now, unfortunately, is a lost film), Wong went to Europe, where she made a few films before returning to America several years later. Loy -- not yet endowed with her later reputation as a sophisticated wife -- continued to be cast in Asian roles through 1932. In her fine autobiography "Myrna Loy: Being And Becoming," she reflects with some ruefulness over playing such parts.

The schedule (all times ET):

Tuesday, June 3:
7 p.m. --
"The Slanted Screen" (2006). A documentary on the portrayal of Asian men in American film.
8 p.m. -- "The Cheat" (1915). A society woman makes a costly bargain to pay off her debts. Sessue Hayakawa, Fannie Ward, Jack Dean. Directed by Cecil B. DeMille.
9:15 p.m. -- "Broken Blossoms" (1919). An Asian man in London falls in love with an abused child. Lillian Gish, Richard Barthelmess, Donald Crisp. Directed by D.W. Griffith.
11 p.m. -- "The Dragon Painter" (1919). An artist obsesses over a beautiful woman he believes has been turned into a dragon. Sessue Hayakawa, Toyo Fujita, Edward Peil.
midnight -- "Mr. Wu" (1927). A Chinese patriarch goes mad when his daughter falls for an Englishman. Lon Chaney, Louise Dresser, Anna May Wong.
1:45 a.m.-- "The Bitter Tea of General Yen" (1932). An American missionary falls in love with a Chinese warlord. Also known in film lore as the first movie to play at Radio City Music Hall. Barbara Stanwyck, Nils Asther, Walter Connolly. Directed by Frank Capra.
3:30 a.m.-- "The Mask Of Fu Manchu" (1932). A Chinese warlord threatens explorers in search of the key to global power. Boris Karloff, Lewis Stone, Myrna Loy.

Thursday, June 5:
7 p.m. --
"Anna May Wong -- Frosted Yellow Willows: Her Life, Times and Legend" (2008). A documentary on the life and career of pioneering Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong.
8 p.m. -- "The Toll of the Sea" (1922). An American sailor marries then deserts the Chinese beauty who had saved his life. Anna May Wong, Kenneth Harlan, Beatrice Bentley.
9 p.m. -- "Old San Francisco" (1927). An Asian villain menaces a family of aristocratic Spanish settlers. Dolores Costello, Warner Oland, Anna May Wong.
10:45 p.m.-- "Piccadilly" (1929). The dancers at a London nightclub get wrapped up in jealousy and murder. Among the last British silents. Gilda Gray, Jameson Thomas, Anna May Wong.
12:45 a.m. -- "Daughter of the Dragon" (1931). A Chinese princess gets caught between the ruthless warlord Fu Manchu and a handsome secret agent. Anna May Wong, Warner Oland, Sessue Hayakawa.
2 a.m. -- "Shanghai Express" (1932). A beautiful temptress rekindles an old romance while trying to escape her past during a tension-packed train journey. Marlene Dietrich, Clive Brook, Anna May Wong. Directed by Josef von Sternberg.
3:30 a.m. -- "Anna May Wong -- Frosted Yellow Willows: Her Life, Times and Legend" (2008). A documentary on the life and career of pioneering Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong.
4:30 a.m. -- "A Study in Scarlet" (1933). Sherlock Holmes is called in to solve the case when secret society members start dropping like flies. Reginald Owen, Anna May Wong, June Clyde.

Tuesday, June 10:
8 p.m. --
"Charlie Chan at the Circus" (1936). The Asian detective investigates threatening letters sent to a circus' owner. Warner Oland, Keye Luke, Frances Ford.
9:30 p.m. -- "Charlie Chan in Honolulu" (1938). The Asian detective discovers a murder on a ship bound for Hawaii. Sidney Toler, Phyllis Brooks, Victor Sen Yung.
10:45 p.m. -- "The Scarlet Clue" (1945). Charlie Chan tracks down a spy ring that has stolen plans for a new radar system. Sidney Toler, Mantan Moreland, Benson Fong.
midnight -- "Thank You, Mr. Moto" (1937). An Asian detective competes with treasure hunters for the key to a priceless golden hoard. Peter Lorre, Pauline Frederick, Sidney Blackmer.
1:15 a.m.-- "Daughter of Shanghai" (1937). A young woman tracks down the smugglers who killed her father. Anna May Wong, Philip Ahn, Charles Bickford.
2:30 a.m. -- "Mr. Wong In Chinatown" (1939). The Asian sleuth sets out to solve the murder of a Chinese princess. Boris Karloff, Grant Withers, Marjorie Reynolds.
3:45 a.m. -- "Phantom of Chinatown" (1940). Asian sleuth Mr. Wong fights to keep a killer from winning control of a rich oil deposit. Keye Luke, Lotus Long, Grant Withers.
5 a.m. -- "The Jade Mask" (1945). Before Charlie Chan can catch a pair of murderers he has to prove their victims are really dead. Sidney Toler, Mantan Moreland, Hardie Albright.

Thursday, June 12:
8 p.m. --
"The Good Earth" (1937). Epic adaptation of the Pearl Buck classic about Chinese farmers battling the elements. Paul Muni, Luise Rainer, Walter Connolly.
10:30 p.m. -- "Dragon Seed" (1944). Chinese peasants fight to survive the Japanese occupation during World War II. Katharine Hepburn, Walter Huston, Agnes Moorehead.
1 a.m. -- "China Sky" (1945). A dedicated doctor joins the Chinese in their fight against Japanese invaders. Randolph Scott, Ruth Warrick, Anthony Quinn.
2:30 a.m. -- "First Yank Into Tokyo" (1945). An army pilot infiltrates the Japanese during World War II. Tom Neal, Richard Loo, Barbara Hale.
4 a.m. -- "Back To Bataan" (1945). An Army colonel leads a guerrilla campaign against the Japanese in the Philippines. John Wayne, Anthony Quinn, Beulah Bondi.

Tuesday, June 17:
8 p.m. --
"Go For Broke!" (1951). The true story of World War II's all Japanese-American unit. Van Johnson, Lane Nakano, George Miki.
9:45 p.m. -- "Bad Day At Black Rock" (1955). A one-armed veteran uncovers small-town secrets when he tries to visit an Asian-American war hero's family. Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Anne Francis.
11:15 p.m. -- "The Teahouse Of The August Moon" (1956). An Okinawan translator introduces U.S. occupation forces to the joys of local life. Marlon Brando, Glenn Ford, Eddie Albert.
1:30 a.m. -- "Walk Like A Dragon" (1960). A cowboy's love for a Chinese slave girl triggers controversy in a Western town. Jack Lord, Nobu McCarthy, James Shigeta.

Thursday, June 19:
8 p.m. --
"Bridge To The Sun" (1961). An American woman marries a Japanese diplomat on the eve of World War II. Carroll Baker, James Shigeta, James Yagi.
10 p.m. -- "China Doll" (1958). A World War II veteran searches for the daughter he left behind in China. Victor Mature, Li Li Hua, Ward Bond.
midnight -- "Sayonara" (1957). American soldiers in post-war Japan defy convention when they fall in love with local women. Marlon Brando, Red Buttons, Miyoshi Umeki. Directed by Joshua Logan.
2:30 a.m. -- "The World Of Suzie Wong" (1960). A Hong Kong streetwalker tries modeling and falls for the artist who's painting her. William Holden, Nancy Kwan.

Tuesday, June 24:
8 p.m. --
"The Crimson Kimono" (1959). Two detectives clash over the hunt for a stripper's killer in Los Angeles' Japanese district. Victoria Shaw, Glenn Corbett, James Shigeta.
9:30 p.m. -- "The Mountain Road" (1960). An American officer helps villiagers against the Japanese during WWII. James Stewart, Lisa Lu, Henry Morgan.
11:30 p.m. -- "Flower Drum Song" (1961). A refugee travels to Chinatown as a mail-order bride. Adaptation of the Broadway Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Benson Fong, Nancy Kwan, James Shigeta.
2 a.m. -- "Enter the Dragon" (1973). A U.S. agent enters a martial arts tournament to spy on an international super-villain. Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly.
3:45 a.m. -- "Kill a Dragon" (1967). Chinese villagers hire a team of karate fighters to rid their home of a gangster. Jack Palance, Fernando Lamas, Aldo Ray.

Thursday, June 26:
8 p.m. --
"Rush Hour 2" (2001). A Hong Kong trip turns into a working vacation when two detectives stumble on a counterfeiting ring. Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, John Lone.
10 p.m. -- "The Joy Luck Club" (1993). Four Asian-American women work through complicated relationships with their mothers. Kieu Chinh, Ming-Na, Rosalind Chao.
12:30 a.m. -- "The Killing Fields" (1984). An American journalist and his Cambodian adviser fight to survive the country's communist takeover. Sam Waterston, Haing S. Ngor, John Malkovich.
3 a.m. -- "Mr. Baseball" (1992). A slumping major leaguer is traded to a Japanese team. Tom Selleck, Ken Takakura, Ava Takanashi.

For more on TCM's series, go to http://www.tcm.com/2008/aif/index.jsp
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