Man of 600 Roles and Counting

Quick–who’s your favorite Asian American actor? How about who’s your favorite Chinese-Minnesotan actor? This dude, I’ll bet.

Photo by 20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock James Hong Big Trouble In Little China – 1986

James Hong turned 93 this year, and he’s been acting since before the Korean War. In honor of Asian American & Pacific Islander month, it seemed only fitting to celebrate a gentleman who has had to play That Chinese Guy for seven decades. He only just got the star he deserved.

Number One Son

Hong was born in Minnesota in 1929. His father owned a restaurant. James spent a few of his early years in Hong Kong but came back home and completed high school in the land of golden gophers, making pies and serving coffee at dad’s business. Apparently, he hung out with the drill team helping with their sets and props. While he studied civil engineering at USC initially, his interest was more in their acting school.

I must interject to point out that my mother was born in 1930 in the Midwest and also went to high school less than a hundred miles away. She was a cheerleader before she got a Ph.D. in American Studies. Maybe they saw each other across the football field! Cheerleading and being part of the drill team were clearly handled by different cliques by the time I was in high school.

James finished the engineering degree, which sounds more like his parents’ idea than his, and worked as a road engineer in LA, acting on the weekends. He then went into the army during the Korean War (my father, same age, was sent to Germany during the Cold War). While he was in basic training, the army assigned him to Special Services, the entertainment division. They realized, as he did, that the Korean troops would likely shoot at him in a U.S. uniform, and that his own troops might as well. Better to have him tell jokes, do skits. Something tells me he always played the hapless Korean.

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Y is for York

Queen Elizabeth of York, painter unknown, which is typical. Photo from wikimedia.

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious by this summer sun of York…

Opening of Shakespeare’s Richard III

Meanwhile in the north… not all of the Renaissance happened in Italy.

Elizabeth of York was glorious summer, indeed. She was the daughter, sister, niece, wife, and mother to kings–and queens. As Alison Weir says, in her fabulous biography of this fascinating linchpin of history:

Elizabeth of York’s role in history was crucial, although in a less chauvinistic age, it would, by right, have been more so.

Alison Weir, Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World

In other words, if she’d been more of Penthesilea type, a bit more Eleanor of the Aquitaine and a bit less Jane Bennett, then maybe she’d have been Queen Elizabeth I. Or, maybe she’d have been thrown in the tower with her brothers. Hard to say.

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X is for X-Chair

It really was called an X-chair. It was also called the Dante or Dantesca chair, the Luther chair, and the Savonarola chair. The last name is the craziest; there really was a Savonarola, who played a pivotal part in the history of one city. But he had nothing to do with the chair. Imagine, if you will, the Rasputin spatula!

We’re nearing the end of the alphabet. Dots will be connected.

The Dante chair, photo from grandvoyageitaly.com.

Simple, But Unbending Design

The simple design of the folding camp chair had been discovered early on in civilization terms. The Egyptians had them, and the Romans used them extensively, especially in military campaigns. A simple-X design that folded in the middle, sometimes also called faldstools. Perfect for those Charlemagne-era banquets, where you have to feed all the thanes and earls after they pledge fealty and argue about how to fend off the thanes and earls of the ruler across the border. Also handy at Red Weddings.

Medieval faldstool, like your folding campstool only centuries old. Photo from wikipedia.

The Renaissance twist was to build the chairs from sturdier pieces of wood. However, these did not bend and instead sported elaborate carvings on the back, arms, and legs. The seat would be a sturdy piece of leather covered by a cushion. The place where the legs intersect was called a “boss.”

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