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[PROFILE] Jadin (Anna May) Wong - Agent/Actress/Dancer

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  • madchinaman
    Superstar Jadin Wong, 88, finally considers retirement Douglas Quan http://www.jrn.columbia.edu/studentwork/cns/2002-05-15/471.asp How is 88-year-old acting
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 6, 2003
      Superstar Jadin Wong, 88, finally considers retirement
      Douglas Quan
      http://www.jrn.columbia.edu/studentwork/cns/2002-05-15/471.asp

      How is 88-year-old acting agent Jadin Wong celebrating her
      retirement? By giving herself a memorial, of course.

      From the earliest days of her career as a glitzy showgirl in San
      Francisco's world-famous Forbidden City nightclub, to her stand-up
      comedy routines in the '60s and '70s, to her present job
      representing hundreds of Asian-American performers, Wong has always
      dared to be different.

      In keeping with her larger-than-life persona, Wong is marking her
      retirement, scheduled for the end of this year or early next year,
      with a big room, cocktails, live singing and dancing, and
      reverential speeches.

      "I would like to hear the good things people say about me when I'm
      alive," Wong said recently from her midtown Manhattan apartment,
      which she also uses as an office.

      Her desire to give herself a living memorial comes as no surprise to
      people who know her. "She's one of a kind," said Arthur Dong, a
      filmmaker who featured her in a documentary about the Forbidden City
      in the 1980s.

      Wong's influence in breaking down racial barriers in the
      entertainment industry has been highlighted in countless articles
      documenting her dancing, singing and acting career, which took her
      from the stages of Broadway to cabarets from London to Rome to Hong
      Kong.

      "She's been the foremost supporter of Asian-American talent in New
      York City," said Arista, an actor, writer and producer who has known
      Wong for eight years.

      When Wong (whose first name is actually Anna May)graduated from high
      school in the 1930s, she left her Stockton, Calif., home to chase
      her Hollywood dreams, something rarely heard of in the culturally
      isolated Chinese communities of the time.

      She began her Hollywood career with roles in Charlie Chan and Mr.
      Moto flicks. But her first love was dancing, and eventually the
      tall, slender young woman received a scholarship to train and
      perform with the San Francisco Opera Ballet.

      Some members of the Chinese community were taken aback by her
      provocative acts in the late '30s and early '40s at the Forbidden
      City, a club featuring all-Asian revues and stars like "The Chinese
      Sinatra" and "The Chinese Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers."

      "The first eight months, we were ostracized," Wong said of those
      days of short skirts and high kicks. "They would say things
      like, 'Why don't the girls go get a good job?'"

      In those early days, the club catered to a mostly white clientele.
      But with time, the Chinese community began patronizing the club,
      too, especially after Wong made the cover of Life magazine in 1940,
      an honor she attributes to her shapely breasts and long legs.

      During the Second World War, Wong traveled overseas to entertain
      American soldiers. When the war ended, Wong returned to the United
      States to discover that the nightclub scene was beginning to drift
      as television invaded people's homes.

      Wong set her sights overseas again, performing dance and song
      routines in cabarets all over Europe, and later in Asia. In the
      late '50s, she performed on the luxury cruise liner the Leonardo da
      Vinci.

      Eventually, she found herself back in the United States, landing
      roles in Broadway plays including "The King and I" and in "The World
      of Suzie Wong." During this time she met the man who became her
      husband, Edward Dowling, a Broadway producer. He died in 1967.

      Always looking to try something new, Wong began doing stand-up
      comedy in the '60s, amusing crowds with her line, "I may be Wong,
      but I think you're beautiful."

      Her wide range of work was later recognized by Congresman Norman
      Mineta in a speech before the House in 1985. "Whereas before, Asians
      could only get jobs in the industry in stereotypical roles,
      portraying coolies, cooks, and servants, Jadin was recognized for
      her talents as a dancer and an actress," Mineta said.

      For the last quarter of a century, Wong has been busy managing her
      own acting agency, which has built up a clientele of over 700 Asian-
      American actors. How she ended up on the managing side of the
      business was purely accidental: the agency that represented her was
      destroyed by fire, and she was brought in to help out.

      A "Theater Week" cover story once described Wong as a "sweet Lotus
      Bloosom with a heart of gold, and tough Tiger Lady -- both living in
      one woman."

      Wong was not offended. "I was brought up as a nice Chinese girl, to
      be genteel, don't be too vocal, always be nice," said Wong, who was
      named one of the 500 most influential Asian-Americans by "Avenue
      Asia" magazine in the late '90s. "You can't do that and be in this
      business. Sometimes, you have to kick ass, and I do."

      One of Wong's clients, a performance artist named Zoie Lam,
      remembers how intimidated she was by Wong's straight-shooting style
      the first time they met in the mid-'80s.

      Wong's advice to the young actress was blunt. The roles for Asian-
      Americans are limited -- take what you can get. "You can't control
      other people's perceptions of you," Wong told her. "They're going to
      see you as a China doll."

      "Even though she was tough, it was like tough love," Lam said. "She
      was very honest."

      Wong says Asian-Americans have made great strides in recent years,
      landing more and more prominent roles in film, television and
      theater.

      However, she says the chances of an Asian man being cast as the love
      interest of a pretty blonde on a daytime soap opera are still
      remote. While Hong Kong movie stars like Jackie Chan and Chow-Yan
      Fat are good at what they do, Wong is concerned that their films may
      leave audiences with the impression that Asian-Americans can only
      perform in martial arts.

      There is a desperate shortage of Asian-Americans producers,
      directors and writers, she added.

      As she points to the theater memorabilia featured prominently on the
      walls of her apartment -- including a photo of her sitting next to
      Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Becall, and signed greetings from Frank
      Sinatra and Bob Hope -- it becomes quite evident that she is
      approaching retirement with ambivalence.

      At 88, she recognizes that she deserves to give herself a break. But
      as she pulls out her resume -- the one that lists her height as
      5'4'', her weight as 105 and her hair color as "silver fox" -- and
      tells a reporter, not once, but twice, that she is "famous, you
      know," it is clear she will never lose her love for the stage.

      "Look it, she's 88," said Sharon Jensen, executive director of the
      Non-Traditional Casting Project, a nonprofit organization that
      advocates on behalf of minority actors. "She's still going to the
      theater, putting herself out there like she's in her 20s. There are
      few people anywhere with that passion."

      Wong said people who don't follow their heart usually "wind up on a
      psychiatrist's couch."

      "You've got only one life to live," she said. "Do something you
      love."
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