Monday, March 14, 2011

Chinese Vaudeville

After the tap dancer and St. Mary's all-girl Chinese music orchestra, Harry Haw introduces a Chinese Bing Crosby and lets him have a go at it before giving him the gong. The fellow impersonating Bing is Sammee Tong, an actor, comedian, and singer who is remembered today only for his role as the houseboy in the 1950s television series Bachelor Father , and often cited in Multicultural and Ethnic Studies texts as an example of the demeaning and embarrassing Asian stereotypes perpetuated in American culture. But back in the 1940s, Sammee Tong was the master of ceremonies at Oakland herbalist Fong Wan's New Shanghai Cafe, where he was billed as "Chinatown's Playboy Songster". I've been unable to find any information about Sammee's career earlier than an uncredited role as a waiter in Charlie Chan in Shanghai (1935). But since he was a San Francisco native, like Harry Haw, it's certainly possible that he was a member of Harry's Chinese revue.

Looked at today, the following clip from Stowaway is a very precious record of the ephemeral history of Chinese American vaudeville.