Jadin Wong – pioneering Asian performer – dies
Jadin Wong was so devoted to entertainment that, in the throes of World War II, she jumped out of an airplane about to go down and into German territory, snuck across the Black Forest and made her evening appointment to perform with Bob Hope for U.S. troops, her family said.
Ms. Wong, who died March 30 at age 96, will be honored May 24 at the Museum of Chinese in America in New York, where she spent much of her life after launching her career in San Francisco.
“She was a real firecracker. She took that stereotype of the demure Asian female and turned it on its head,” said Cynthia Lee, director of exhibitions at the Museum of Chinese in America. “She really felt she had a mission that went much beyond just a career for herself.”
Ms. Wong was born in Marysville (Yuba County) in 1913 and moved to Stockton as a child. Her father worked for the railroads while her mother raised the family’s six children.
As early as age 5, Ms. Wong knew she wanted to be a performer, her brother Wally Wong of New York said. Ms. Wong would go to the local park and sing and dance for nickels, which she saved to pay for dance and voice lessons.
“Jadin was really a born dancer, a born performer,” he said. “She was always totally devoted to the art form.”
Her parents, however, were not so enamored of her career choice, which they said was unbecoming for a young woman, Wong said. They forbade her from going into show business, and Ms. Wong ran away from home at 17 to pursue a performing career.
“At that time, there were almost no performing jobs for Asian Americans, so she had to make a stand in her own family as well as in Hollywood,” Lee said.
She was caught by a truant officer after a few months and brought home, at which point she ran away again. This time she headed for Hollywood, with $45 secretly given to her by her mother, Wong said. Unable to find work, Ms. Wong slept on park benches and tap danced for spare change.
A producer for 20th Century Fox spotted her and she was cast in her first film, “Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation,” Wong said. She went on to appear in dozens of movies, including “Year of the Dragon” in 1985 and, most recently, at age 92, “The Pink Panther.”
She was also a star on the nightclub circuit, performing at San Francisco’s legendary Forbidden City on Sutter Street, among other gigs on what was known at the time as the “Chop Suey Circuit.”
When live theater began to falter with the advent of television, Ms. Wong opened a talent agency, specializing in finding jobs for Asian American performers in movies, TV and Broadway. She worked until she became paralyzed by a stroke four years ago, Wong said.
“She always told people, if you have talent … and you’re willing to train and work hard, you can perform any role you want,” her brother said.
Undeterred by the often racist nature of early roles for Asian Americans, Ms. Wong believed that any role for Asian Americans brought diversity to mainstream entertainment and would eventually lead to better roles, Lee and Wong said.
In San Francisco, Ms. Wong was remembered for her independent spirit and for opening doors for other Asian Americans entertainers.
“Jadin Wong … defied tradition and broke racial and gender stereotypes to pursue an unconventional path,” said Sue Lee, director of the Chinese Historical Society of America in San Francisco. “We owe much to her brazen nature for carving a path in show business for Asian Americans today.”
Ms. Wong outlived two husbands. She is survived by her brother and several nieces and nephews.
E-mail Carolyn Jones at email@example.com.
The NYone had interviewed Ms Wong in 2005.
Here are some excerpts from that article:
One On 1: Talent Manager/Singer/Dancer Jadin Wong
By: NY1 News
“Age is a number, and I have an unlisted one,” says Jadin Wong.
The self proclaimed “old broad” is 90. Not that you’d believe it from her energy level, her ability to dance, and a sense of humor honed through some 70 years in show business.
Jadin Wong has been called New York’s foremost talent manager of Asian-American actors, singers and dancers over the last 30 years, providing opportunity and encouragement for performers from 8 to 80. One of her clients, B.D. Wong, is currently starring on Broadway in “Pacific Overtures.”
She’s lost none of the feistiness that first got her into show business in the 30’s, going against the perception of Asian women at the time.
“I’m unusual for an Asian girl. They’re very subservient. I’m very nice to people, but I’m not your average Chinese girl,” she says. “I kick tush.”
Wong had been a performer, a dancer, all her life.
But has Wong seen any improvement for the Asian-American performer in her 30 years as an agent?
“It’s getting better for the Asian, but this is still America,” she says. “It’s like a Caucasian actor in Hong Kong saying, ‘Why don’t they make more pictures for Caucasians?’ Because you’re in Hong Kong, that’s why.”
Here is a link to NY1 News for the rest of the article.