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James Hong, J Carroll Naish, and the TV Series Incident
Last Edit: BroadwayTonyJ 11:13 am EST 01/27/22
Posted by: BroadwayTonyJ 11:11 am EST 01/27/22
In reply to: re: James Hong, wow! 'CBS Sunday Morning' salutes veteran Chinese-American actor at 92 - TGWW 07:10 am EST 01/25/22

I don't think racism had anything to do with it. Also, I seriously doubt that Hong was literally fired from the show. The New Adventures of Charlie Chan was a very bad, syndicated TV show that ran during the 1957-58 season for 39 episodes -- the first 5 were filmed in the U.S. and the final 34 in the UK. J Carroll Naish, who had been a respected and prolific character actor in films, was basically washed up in movies and took the role at age 60 just to keep working. He did not make a very convincing Charlie Chan and was probably one of the worst white actors to play that character.

The show had low production values, poor direction, and hackneyed scripts. James Hong was hired to play Barry Chan beginning with the 4th episode and appeared in 25 of the first 33 shows. Unfortunately, he was seriously miscast and really did not have the acting chops back in '57 to handle the role of Charlie's son, which was meant to be a sort of light, comic foil for Naish's Charlie. Hong was embarrassingly bad in the role, very wooden, and amateurish, especially when compared to the performances of the great Keye Luke and Victor Sen Yung who played Lee and Jimmy Chan in the 20th Century Fox Charlie Chan film series. Luke and Yung were highly skilled actors with Hollywood good looks and masters at delivering rapid fire dialogue and deftly countering Warner Oland and Sidney Toler's pseudo-Chinese aphorisms with very funny Americanized quips.

Sadly, while the performances of Keye Luke and Victor Sen Yung were often the highlights of the film series, Hong's portrayal was pretty much a drag on the TV version and had little to no chemistry with Naish. I doubt very much that Hong had any sort of contract with the Chan producers. He was probably just hired for the episodes that included his character. Given how miscast he was, it's amazing that he was included in 25 episodes. Possibly he was kept on simply because he was the only Asian-American actor in the cast.

My guess is that after his confrontation with Naish in episode #33, the creative staff just decided not to have his character appear in the final 6 shows. I have no doubt that Naish treated him badly, even shamefully. However, a washed up, 60-year old, film character actor would not have had the pull or authority to fire anyone. After the Chan TV show mercifully ended, Naish had a few nondescript roles in some other TV projects and then retired.

James Hong admits that many of his early roles were terrible and that he took them just to hone his craft. I have seen a number of his films from the 50's and 60's but actually don't remember his performances. However, in the 1974 classic Chinatown, he really did find his niche as a film actor. He played the butler of Evelyn Mulray (Faye Dunaway) and gave a very strong, memorable performance. He appeared in a number of scenes, had little to no dialogue, but had great presence and did most of his acting with his eyes and body language. In what could have been a throw away role, he turned it into something special. After Chinatown, he had a great career in both film and TV and richly deserves the accolades he is now receiving. The Seinfeld performance in '91 ironically made him a star after decades of great (but overlooked) work.
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