A sitdown interview with James Hong can morph unexpectedly into an episode of “Dancing With the Character Actors.” “Ought to we dance a little bit?” Hong urged. “It’s a must to assume, ‘This can be a 92-year-old man,’ too!”
James Hong is not any atypical 92-year-old man. And whereas he can clearly lower the rug, what’s really astounding is a Hollywood profession at the moment in its 68th yr.
“I have been an actor since 1953 or ’54,” he mentioned. “In all probability the one dwelling man that has labored with Groucho Marx!”
That is the place it started, with Groucho. At present, 445 display credit later, Hong has been in “Chinatown,” “Blade Runner,” “Bonanza,” “The Large Bang Idea,” and a memorable episode of “Seinfeld.” The listing goes on and on.
Turner Basic Films host Ben Mankiewicz mentioned, “You may need been in additional TV and movies than anybody else ever.”
“I might assume so, for main motion pictures and TV,” Hong replied. “There’s some guys which were in stage performs and such.”
“Acch, who goes to performs?”
Overlook the 445 credit – that he even has 4 credit is a tribute to his fierce willpower.
The son of Chinese language immigrants, Hong was born in Minneapolis in 1929. “It was Chinatown. However in Minneapolis, Chinatown consists of two Chinese language shops!”
“And one in all ’em was your dad’s?”
“Yeah. He had an herb retailer, and we lived on the second ground.”
As a younger boy, Hong did not communicate a lot English. That made him a goal at school: “I believe my class was, you already know, most likely 500 youngsters. I used to be the one Asian pupil. So, the bullies would choose on me and beat me up so as a result of, you already know, bullies are bullies, proper? They’re going to choose on the underdog.”
Hong’s mother and father wished him to be an engineer; that is what he studied in faculty. Then, he was drafted to combat within the Korean Conflict.
Mankiewicz requested, “What was it prefer to be a Chinese language American within the Military?”
Hong mentioned, “Certainly one of my Military fellow mates there mentioned to me, ‘, James, I believe you may need an issue, as a result of in case you are in an American Military outfit [and] cost the Koreans, they may shoot you since you’re an American. And if you happen to retreat, the People will shoot you additionally, as a result of they assume you’re a ‘gook’ wearing an American outfit!’ So, he acquired me a little bit bit perturbed with that assertion, you already know?”
Hong entertained troops by doing impressions. He acquired laughs … after which he acquired an concept. After the struggle, he moved to Los Angeles the place he pursued his new dream: present biz.
A giant break got here when he appeared on Groucho Marx’s radio present, “You Guess Your Life”:
Marx: “The place are you from, Jim?”
Hong: “Minneapolis, Minnesota.”
Marx: “Minnesota! Pay attention, I believed you is likely to be, as a result of Hong is a effective, outdated Scandinavian identify!”
Subsequent got here small elements on TV, usually demeaning. He was the Chinese language solider, the Chinese language prisoner, and the man working a Chinese language laundry.
Mankiewicz mentioned, “You did not play fully-rounded characters; you performed stereotypes, and that is it.”
“When you did not play the roles that got to you, you’d be not working in any respect,” mentioned Hong. “And, so, in a way, as a way to sustain my craft, I needed to take these roles because the Chinese language railroad employee or laundryman and so forth.”
Although he was getting extra work, Hong was additionally compelled to confront racism. One incident nonetheless stings:
“That is a really hurtful factor,” he sighed. “I used to be in London doing the son of Charlie Chan. J. Carrol Naish was Charlie Chan.”
Naish, who was of Irish ancestry, needed to have his eyes made up day by day to look Oriental. “That acquired below his pores and skin,” Hong mentioned.
“So, someday he was on digicam; I used to be off digicam. I missed one line. He says, ‘What is that this, a faculty for Chinese language actors?’ And you already know, I used to be shocked. I did not know what to do. He began to advance me. I had my fist clenched. I believed he was gonna slug me with one thing, you already know? He walked previous, and had me fired.
“And I went to his dressing room and apologized. I mentioned, ‘I am sorry, Mr. Naish, you already know, I missed the road.’ He would not forgive me. He had me fired.”
Hong shrugged. “I do not speak about it. it simply hurts an excessive amount of.”
Mankiewicz requested, “So, primarily he had you fired since you had the audacity to be of Chinese language descent in a film stuffed with Chinese language individuals?’
“That is proper. I believe he simply was very prejudiced.”
By the Seventies, Hong had already amassed just a few hundred credit, together with enjoying Faye Dunaway’s butler in “Chinatown.” He is additionally within the sci-fi cult traditional “Large Bother in Little China,” a job he fortunately remembers.
Extra not too long ago, he is been in each iteration of “Kung Fu Panda,” and this yr Hong will obtain a star on the Hollywood Stroll of Fame.
He’s a dwelling character actor legend, and a champion for standing up towards racism and preventing the stereotypes confronted by Asian People in Hollywood and past.
Hong mentioned, “In each position I performed, I attempted to make it a human being. And that is why I believe I saved working, as a result of I believe not solely the studio, however the individuals noticed that James was portraying a Chinese language as an actual particular person, and never only a cliché character.”
“It isn’t straightforward to do, to impart humanity into a personality that’s written so stereotypically,” mentioned Mankiewicz.
“Sure. That is true.”
At 92, the characters hold coming. And Hong already has tasks lined up so as to add to these 445 credit.
“Are you gonna retire?” requested Mankiewicz.
Hong replied by reciting: “Whether or not it’s nobler within the thoughts that suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, to die… Okay, what was the query now?”
“I believe we’ve got our reply. You are not retiring.”
“What’s that phrase?”
“I imply, if I had been making a film, I might rent you for one thing. You would be the primary particular person I might rent!”
“Yeah. Properly, it needs to be not less than double scale, okay?”
“Properly, you then’re out,” Mankiewcz laughed.
“I knew it!”
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Story produced by Gabriel Falcon. Editor: Joseph Frandino.
Supply & Picture rights : https://www.cbsnews.com/information/james-hong-an-actors-guide-to-longevity/
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