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[R.I.P.] Noel Toy - Dancer at the Famed "Forbidden City Night Club"

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  • madchinaman
    Noel Toy -- famed exotic dancer of 40s Chuck Squatriglia, Chronicle Staff Writer Friday, January 23, 2004 http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 25, 2004
      Noel Toy -- famed exotic dancer of '40s
      Chuck Squatriglia, Chronicle Staff Writer Friday, January 23, 2004

      Noel Toy Young, a Bay Area native who dazzled audiences and raised
      eyebrows on both coasts with her seductive nude fan dances in the
      1940s, has died at the age of 84.

      In this day and age, when Victoria's Secret models prance around on
      prime- time television, it's hard to think of a stripper as
      scandalous. But 60 years ago, Mrs. Young was just that, appearing on
      stage wearing nothing more than ostrich plumes.

      She was known as Noel Toy, and she was the nation's first Chinese
      American fan dancer -- she'd be called an exotic dancer nowadays --
      and among the most famous women to practice the art.

      But Mrs. Young was more than a stripper, according to those who knew
      her. She was, they said, a pioneering performer who shattered the
      day's stereotypes about women in general and Chinese women in
      particular. She was sensual, outspoken and rebellious in an era when
      women were expected to be prim, reticent and submissive.

      "She was an outrageous rebel," said Arthur Dong, a documentarian
      whose film "Forbidden City" chronicled the nightclub of that name
      and Mrs. Young's role in its success. "You never thought of a
      Chinese woman being like Noel, and that's what made her so special."

      Mrs. Young was born Ngun Yee in San Francisco, the first of eight
      children born to parents who came to California from Canton. Soon
      after her birth, the family opened a laundry in Inverness, where,
      the story goes, they were the only Chinese residents.

      Mrs. Young was just months away from a journalism degree at UC
      Berkeley when she was offered a role in the Chinese village show at
      the World's Fair on Treasure Island in 1939, a job that required
      little more than standing around in a Chinese gown. It led to other,
      racier gigs.

      "Well, school was dull," Mrs. Young told the New York Post in
      1941, "and I couldn't see anything wrong about appearing there. I
      went home and told my mother what I was planning to do, and she
      raised the roof."

      Mrs. Young was known to offer different accounts of the same event,
      and said a few years ago that her mother hadn't learned of her
      career choice until a photograph of Mrs. Young appeared in the
      newspaper. However it happened, though, the mother soon embraced the
      daughter's line of work.

      "I guess it's true that you can get used to anything," Mrs. Young
      told a reporter in 1941, "because now (my mother) sees me in the
      nude in nightclubs and thinks nothing of it."

      Mrs. Young's big break came in 1939 when businessman Charlie Low
      offered her a job at Forbidden City, which was the nation's first
      and only Chinese nightclub when it opened at 363 Sutter St. Low
      thought Mrs. Young was just the thing to bring in the crowds.

      Mrs. Young changed her name to Noel Toy, which she chose because she
      loved Christmas, and hit the stage. Business tripled within three
      months, making Forbidden City one of the nation's hottest nightclubs
      and earning Mrs. Young a national reputation as the "Chinese Sally
      Rand" -- a reference to the popular fan dancer.

      She began performing at other clubs around the city and appeared in
      newspapers and in Life magazine. Before long, a promoter by the name
      of Lee Mortimer came from New York and brought Mrs. Young back to
      the Big Apple, where she packed them in at the Stork Club, Maxie's,
      the 18th Club, Lou Walter's Latin Quarter and Leon & Eddies -- where
      her show ran for 26 weeks.

      "If I'd stayed there any longer, they would have had to reverse the
      name 'Leon' and made it 'Noel and Eddie's,' " she told a reporter
      upon her return to San Francisco in 1943.

      She was dancing at the Latin Quarter one night in 1945 when a
      soldier in the audience named Carleton S. Young found himself
      suddenly spellbound.

      "I'm going to marry you," he told her right then and there.

      She only laughed. She had a strict rule against dating soldiers or
      actors, and Young was both. But he proved a persistent man, and they
      married that year. Their marriage lasted until Carleton Young's
      death in 1994.

      Mrs. Young gave up dancing at her husband's request and began a
      career in acting. She appeared alongside the biggest stars of the
      era, including Clark Gable and Susan Hayward (in "Soldier of
      Fortune") and Humphrey Bogart and Gene Tierney (in "The Left Hand of

      But Mrs. Young soon grew tired of being typecast as what she
      called "the ornamental Oriental," said her nephew Michael Now, and
      gave up acting for real estate in 1954.

      She continued to act from time to time, however, making appearances
      on "M*A*S*H," "Family Affair" and other programs. She also appeared
      in John Carpenter's 1986 film "Big Trouble in Little China,"
      starring Kurt Russell.

      Mrs. Young remained a trim and curvaceous woman of 94 pounds until
      her death. She often went out on the town in Los Angeles, where she
      lived until moving to Antioch late last year, wearing a revealing
      dress or short skirt and high-heeled shoes, Now said.

      "Until the end, she was quite scandalous," he said with a laugh.

      Mrs. Young died Dec. 24 in a Vallejo hospital after suffering a
      stroke five days before. She lived in a retirement home in Antioch.

      In addition to Now, Mrs. Young is survived by two sisters, Lotus Now
      of Rio Vista and Alyce Wu of Walnut Creek; and three brothers, Ken
      Hom of Hercules, Joe Hom of El Cerrito and Henry Hom of Oakland.

      A memorial service will be held 1 p.m. Jan. 31 at Hollywood Forever
      Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., in Hollywood.
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