James Hong — From Groucho Marx and Clark Gable to the Eyeball Jar Guy in “Blade Runner”
Posted on August 22, 2018 at 8:00 am
James Hong is one of the few Asian actors who has been successful in Hollywood for decades, and the success of the all-Asian cast of “Crazy Rich Asians” has prompted a great story about him in Deadline.
He has worked on films with Clark Gable (Soldier of Fortune) and in TV with Jane Wyman in one of the only TV episode John Ford ever helmed (The Bamboo Cross) and many, many others, but it was Groucho Marx who gave Hong his start in the most unusual way. Marx had been alerted to a Chinese man out of Minnesota who was an impressionist. Marx booked Hong on his show You Bet Your Life, and Hong — doing spot on impressions of Peter Lorre, Jimmy Stewart, James Cagney and Groucho himself — was a huge hit with television audiences. So much so that Hong landed an agent — with Bessie Loo (the only agent for Asians at that time).
Hong battled racism in the industry and in the portrayals of Asian characters on screen, but too often had to settle for stereotypical parts.
He said the role of Mr. Ping in the Kung Fu Panda film franchise where he does voice over, “was a wonderful peak in my career” because even though it was animated, he was “sort of a leading character. I did the voice as a cross between a Jewish mother and a Chinese waiter.”
Asked what advice he would give to others coming up the ranks, he was adamant: “The young people have to fight and gain more ground. They have to continue to fight for better images and more roles. There are a few roles, but they are still not casting Asians in leading roles like businessmen,” he said, before adding with a laugh, “And I’m sure it will get better because China has all the money.”