Asian Americans in Hollywood
13 Films on Screen
Last summer the Dryden Theatre presented the series “In Solidarity: Celebrating Asian/Pacific American Directors,” which focused on directors of Asian and Pacific Islander descent who told stories through their own lens. But Asian Americans were working in film since the silent era, both in front of and behind the camera. This series will highlight three of the biggest Asian American contributors from the first seven decades of cinema: actress Anna May Wong, actor Sessue Hayakawa, and cinematographer (and George Eastman Award honoree) James Wong Howe.
Anna May Wong, born to Chinese parents in Los Angeles, started acting in her teens and during the silent era became a well-known actress and fashion icon. Unfortunately, many of the roles offered to her tended to demean her culture, but Wong shone in the roles she did accept and delivered memorable performances from the silent era into the 1940s. Despite her fame and popularity, Wong’s greatest disappointment was being turned down for the role of O-Lan in MGM’s adaptation of Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth.
Japanese-born Sessue Hayakawa emigrated to the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century and turned to acting in 1914 and quickly became a matinee idol with the release of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Cheat in 1915. He became highly sought after but was frustrated by being typecast. In response, he formed his own production company, Haworth Productions. There he made nineteen films over five years, including one of his greatest successes, The Dragon Painter, in 1919. Hayakawa continued to work through the 1960s and appeared in over 100 films over his fifty-year career, and earned an Academy Award nomination for his supporting role in The Bridge on the River Kwai.
James Wong Howe got his big break into cinematography when he took some still photos of silent star Mary Miles Minter and darkened her eyes in the image by having her look at a dark surface. Minter requested that Howe be the cinematographer on her next film and a career spanning fifty years and nearly 140 films. Howe’s continual innovation in his field led to ten Academy Award nominations and being recognized as one of the ten most influential cinematographers of all time. He received the George Eastman Award at the George Eastman Museum for his work in 1957.
March 1: The Toll of the Sea (Chester M. Franklin, 1922)
March 8: Piccadilly (E.A. Dupont, 1929)
March 15: Shanghai Express (Josef von Sternberg, 1932)
March 22: Daughter of Shanghai (Robert Florey, 1937)
March 29: The Cheat (Cecil B. DeMille, 1915)
April 5: The Dragon Painter (William Worthington, 1919
April 12: Bridge on the River Kwai (David Lean, 1957)
April 19: Mantrap (Victor Fleming, 1926)
April 26: Transatlantic (William K. Howard, 1931)
May 10: Picnic (Joshua Logan, 1955)
May 17: The Old Man and the Sea (John Sturges, US 1958)
May 26: Hud (Martin Ritt, US 1963)
May 27: Sweet Smell of Success (Alexander Mackendrick, US 1957)