He spoke Mandarin with Keanu Reeves in “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” He backflipped his way out of a fight in “Wayne’s World 2.” He was the supportive, noodle-loving Mr. Ping in “Kung Fu Panda.” On television, he was the maître d’ in the episode of “Seinfeld” titled “The Chinese Restaurant.”
Without exaggeration, Hong might be the most prolific actor in Hollywood history. With more than 600 credits to his name, he may lay claim to the most credits of any actor, living or dead.
Hong’s path to stardom started, as many do, as a child practicing in front of a mirror. But he kept his acting aspirations from his parents.
“Well, you know, Chinese parents want you to do some professional jobs rather than be an actor,” Hong says. “Being an actor is like the last rung in the ladder of professions. They don’t even call it a profession because it’s shameful to demonstrate your feelings in front of an audience. You were taught to be kind of quiet and to keep to yourself.”
Still, he received some of his favorite acting inspiration from his father’s herb shop in Minnesota.
“All the laundrymen from Minneapolis had nothing to do on weekends, so they would gather at my father’s store, herb store,” Hong recalls. “I remember that, because we’d have those little wooden stools and they all gathered there, and they hired these Chinese opera people from San Francisco to come and do their thing … I was only a little boy. You watch them with wide eyes, ‘Wow! What a profession.'”
He started his career as a civil engineer
To please his parents, Hong graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in civil engineering. While working for Los Angeles County building roads, he continued to try to find work as an actor and comedian.
His big break came on a TV show called “You Bet Your Life,” hosted by Groucho Marx.
“I did impersonations of Groucho, James Cagney, and so forth,” Hong said.
His appearance was a hit. “I got the second-biggest fan mail ever on the Groucho Marx show,” he said.
That TV appearance landed him an agent, and with it, the start of a career in Hollywood.
“All of a sudden, they wanted me to be in a movie,” Hong said. That movie was “Soldier of Fortune,” a 1955 film starring Clark Gable.
“It was just some kind of experience I never forgot, to act with Clark Gable. Then, right after, I got my union card and I started one after another. I had to quit civil engineering,” Hong said.
Soon enough, he was acting alongside the likes of John Wayne, William Holden and Jennifer Jones.
Hong battled stereotypes along the way
“From then on, it was 10 movies or TV [shows] a year,” Hong recalls. Those early roles, however, were limiting, to say the least.
“Asians were put into a movie or TV mainly as a gimmick,” Hong said. “We were never thought of playing the main roles, the leading people. That’s the way it was.”
Hong began his career during an era of flagrant yellowface in Hollywood, where white actors would routinely play Asian characters. Marlon Brando played an Okinawan local in “The Teahouse of the August Moon,” Mickey Rooney played the bucktoothed Mr. Yunioshi in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” and John Wayne played Mongol emperor Genghis Khan in “The Conqueror.”
Even in “The New Adventures of Charlie Chan” — a crime TV series in which Hong played a supporting role — Irish American actor J. Carrol Naish played the lead as a Chinese American detective.
“Any other movie that demanded an Asian lead most of the time was played by Caucasian actors with their eyes taped up and their little teeth,” Hong said. “I ended up in the early career mostly playing laundrymen, or persecuted Chinamen … it was tough, very tough, to get out of the mold.”
But Hong didn’t let Hollywood’s narrow lens limit his abilities.
“I did the best as an actor to overcome the cliché-ness because I had to in order to keep working,” Hong said. “I took those roles and then I used what my teachers had taught me and put the real feelings, even if it’s a villain … I try to find what makes the person really that person.”
That doesn’t mean Hong didn’t also stand up against misrepresentation. In 1962, he was given a script for a film called “The Confessions of an Opium Eater,” directed by Albert Zugsmith.
“I read the script, I said, ‘This is terrible,'” Hong said. “All the roles were the opium dope people and the prostitutes and so forth.”
He organized a group of people to approach Zugsmith’s office to make a case for a rewrite.
“I said, ‘This is not a good image of the Chinese … You’ve got to improve the image of the Asians here,” Hong said. Zugsmith, however, would not be convinced, and the movie continued on with production.
It led him to start his very own theater company
Realizing that Hollywood wouldn’t be able to provide the roles Asian Americans deserved, Hong set out to carve his own space. Along with actor Mako Iwamatsu, Hong helped organize an Asian American acting group in Los Angeles. Their first production was “Rashomon,” a stage play based on two short stories written by Japanese author Ryūnosuke Akutagawa and adapted into film by Akira Kurosawa.
“That started the industry noticing who we were,” Hong said. “We weren’t just extras, or gimmick people. We were in a play that we organized. We were the main, lead people. We were the actors. And we commanded attention.”
That acting group turned into the legendary theater group, East West Players.
“East West Players were formulated to showcase works by Asians, who wrote the play, who designed the stage, who act in the play,” Hong said. “It was all done by Asian people, professional people.”
And Hong knows better than anyone the importance of having a space for Asian American creatives in Hollywood, where roles are still lacking.
“Even though the actors and singers have talent, they can’t move forward because there are not enough roles,” Hong said. “That’s a shame, because it’s a waste of good talent. We can’t express ourselves in the way we want to in the mainstream movies and TV because it’s controlled by somebody else.” But he is still confident that change is coming soon.
“Asians are beginning to do their own plays and own TV series and movies and getting big box office. So it’s only a matter of time.”
Helped usher in new generations of Asian American actors
East West Players has nurtured great talent over its 55 years. Actors such as Randall Park, George Takei, John Cho and Daniel Dae Kim have all been associated with the theater. And according to East West Players’ current artistic director, it is thought that at one point, 70% of Asian American actors in Hollywood had a connection to East West Players.
“You know, seeing this thing grow as it is to what it is … I still can’t believe it,” Hong said of the theater company. “I have to be proud of what I’ve done. But you can’t be too proud, because there’s too much work to do.”
Even at 91 years old, Hong isn’t ready to slow down any time soon.
“I could just retire on my pension, my (Screen Actors Guild) pension, and go to Europe and tour, and India,” Hong says. “But something inside me, inside of James Hong, wants to keep on going and do more movies and progress … I’m going to do other movies until I can’t walk anymore and can’t talk anymore. Then, I’ll take that tour.”
As of July 2020, Hong has 469 TV credits, 149 feature films, 32 short films and 22 video games to his IMDB page. That makes for a total of 672 credits, and a breathtaking legacy that will live on in Hollywood history.
Tour de France: Tadej Pogacar poised to win after stunning time-trial ride
Tadej Pogacar is set to win the Tour de France ahead of strong favourite Primoz Roglic in one of the most dramatic turnarounds in the race’s history.
Pogacar, 21, will be confirmed as the youngest winner for 111 years at the end of Sunday’s largely processional stage to Paris.
The UAE-Team Emirates rider overhauled a 57-second deficit to Roglic, who was thought to be a far stronger rider on stage 20’s time trial to La Planche des Belles Filles.
It will be a first Grand Tour victory for Slovenian Pogacar, who took the yellow jersey from compatriot Roglic after he had held it for 13 days.
Pogacar is now 59 seconds ahead of Roglic at the end of a day of drama reminiscent of the 1989 Tour, when Greg LeMond unexpectedly overhauled Laurent Fignon in a final-day time trial to win by eight seconds.
Richie Porte of Trek-Segafredo will be on the podium in Paris for the first time, taking third, three minutes and 30 seconds down.
Pogacar won the stage, one minute 21 seconds ahead of Roglic’s Jumbo-Visma team-mate Tom Dumoulin. Porte climbed to third overall after finishing in third place on the stage.
Britain’s Adam Yates of Mitchelton-Scott will finish ninth in the general classification, 9mins 25secs behind the winner.
What happened to Roglic?
Roglic has looked imperious throughout the three-week race thanks to support from his powerful team, featuring some of the sport’s best riders, including Dumoulin, Wout van Aert and Sepp Kuss.
The 36km stage from Lure to La Planche des Belles Filles was a challenging course that finished, unusually for time trial, with a category 1 climb. Roglic, 30, was considered a far better time triallist than Pogacar, and began the stage strongly.
But Roglic hit trouble at the changeover from super-fast specialist time-trial bikes to a more conventional road machine before the climb, struggling to clip into his pedals, wobbling when being pushed away and never seeming to find his typical rhythm.
Roglic, who claimed his first Grand Tour victory at last year’s Vuelta a Espana, looked desperate as he crossed the line, his helmet pushed upwards and slightly lop-sided, knowing already he had lost the race.
Desperation turned to confusion and dejection as he sat on the ground in his full yellow skinsuit, trying to comprehend how he had committed one of modern cycling’s biggest chokes.
And as Pogacar sat down for his post-race TV interview, Roglic interrupted it to embrace his countryman.
“I just didn’t push enough,” said Roglic. “It was like that. I was more and more without the power I needed but I gave it all until the end.
“We’ll see what happens next. I can be happy with the racing we showed here so let’s take positive things out of it.”
From a distant second, Pogacar takes it all
Roglic had been favourite to win the 107th edition of cycling’s greatest race, alongside defending champion Egan Bernal of Ineos Grenadiers.
However, Bernal abandoned the race before stage 17 following a disastrous climb up the Grand Colombier on stage 15, where he cracked and lost more than seven minutes to Roglic.
It was one of the biggest downturns in form for a defending champion in recent history, and put an end to Ineos’ record of winning every Tour since 2015, four of which were as Team Sky.
Ineos looked set to have something to celebrate as they tried to seal the polka dot King of the Mountains jersey through their second protected rider Richard Carapaz.
But despite 2019 Giro d’Italia winner Carapaz’s attempts to deliberately ride a slow first section before blasting up the mountain, Pogacar’s epic performance eclipsed him and he took the jersey.
It is the second of three jerseys Pogacar will claim at this year’s race – he will also pick up the young riders’ white jersey.
In total Pogacar picks up prize money of 500,000 euros (£458,270) for the yellow jersey, 25,000 euros (£22,900) for the King of the Mountains award, and a further 20,000 euros (£18,300) for being the best placed young rider.
“I’m really proud of the team,” Pogacar said. “They did such a big effort. We were dreaming of the yellow jersey from the start. Amazing.
“It was not just me today, we needed the whole team for the recon. I knew every corner and knew exactly where to accelerate. Congrats to all my team.
“I didn’t hear anything on the radio in the final five kilometres because the fans were too loud so I just went full gas.
“My dream was just to be on the Tour de France and now I’ve won it. It’s unbelievable.”
General classification after stage 20
1. Tadej Pogacar (Slo/UAE Team Emirates) 84hrs 26mins 33secs
2. Primoz Roglic (Slo/Jumbo-Visma) +59secs
3. Richie Porte (Aus/Trek-Segafredo) +3mins 30secs
4. Mikel Landa (Spa/Bahrain McLaren) +5mins 58secs
5. Enric Mas (Spa/Movistar) +6mins 07secs
6. Miguel Angel Lopez (Col/Astana) +6mins 47secs
7. Tom Dumoulin (Ned/Jumbo-Visma) +7mins 48secs
8. Rigoberto Uran (Col/EF Pro Cycling) +8mins 02secs
9. Adam Yates (GB/Mitchelton-Scott) +9mins 25secs
10. Damiano Caruso (Ita/Bahrain McLaren) +14mins 03secs
Stage 20 result
1. Tadej Pogacar (Slo/UAE Team Emirates) 55mins 55secs
2. Tom Dumoulin (Ned/Jumbo-Visma) +1min 21secs
3. Richie Porte (Aus/Trek-Segafredo) Same time
4. Wout van Aert (Bel/Jumbo Visma) +1min 31secs
5. Primoz Roglic (Slo/Jumbo-Visma) +1min 56secs
6. Remi Cavagna (Fra/Deceuninck-Quick-Step) +1min 59secs
7. Damiano Caruso (Ita/Bahrain McLaren) +2mins 29secs
8. David de la Cruz (Spa/UAE Team Emirates) +2mins 40secs
9. Enric Mas (Spa/Movistar) +2mins 45secs
10. Rigoberto Uran (Col/EF Pro Cycling) +2mins 54secs
Navalny says he can walk and recognize people as he eyes “clear road” to recovery from poisoning
Navalny posted a picture of himself walking down a staircase on Saturday, writing that he is regaining his physical and mental capacity.
“Quite recently, I did not recognize people and did not understand how to talk,” Navalny wrote. “Every morning the doctor came to me and said: Alexey, I brought a board, let’s figure out which word we can write on it. This drove me to despair because although I understood in general what the doctor wanted, I did not understand where to get the words from.
“Now I’m a guy whose legs are shaking when he walks up the stairs, but this guy thinks: ‘Oh, this is a staircase! People get up on these. Perhaps we should look for an elevator.’ And before, I would have just stood there and stared at it blankly,” the post added.
In the post, Navalny thanked the doctors of the Charité Hospital in Berlin, where he is undergoing treatment. The German government has said the Kremlin critic was poisoned with a chemical agent from the Novichok group, a conclusion supported by two other labs in France and Sweden.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Friday questioned the water bottle as evidence and added that poisoning is one version of what happened to Navalny but it has not been confirmed as traces of poison were not found in Navalny’s blood by Russian labs.
Mary Ilyushina reported from Moscow, Rob Picheta wrote in London.
State Dept. provides House Dems docs previously given to Ron Johnson’s Biden probe
Democrats have described Johnson’s probe as a politically motivated smear campaign against President Donald Trump’s challenger that has already been discredited and tainted by Russian propaganda. The intelligence community has identified a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian lawmaker, Andriy Derkach, as an agent of a Russian disinformation campaign intended to denigrate Biden.
“This ‘investigation’ is obviously designed to boost the president’s campaign and tear down his opponent, while our own intelligence community warns it is likely to amplify Russian disinformation,” Engel said in a statement. “We’re going to make sure the American people see the whole picture, not just cherrypicked information aimed at breathing new life into debunked conspiracy theories.”
Democrats have raised concerns that material gathered by Derkach, who met in December with Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, has been laundered into Johnson’s material. Johnson has strenuously denied the allegations, but Democrats sought the documents he obtained from the State Department to understand the direction his probe is taking. POLITICO first reported that Derkach mailed information about the Bidens to Johnson, but Johnson’s office has denied receiving anything from Derkach.
Derkach has pushed many of the same claims against Biden that Johnson, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is pursuing. Johnson’s probe centers on allegations that a Democratic public-affairs firm sought to leverage Hunter Biden’s position on the board of Burisma in order to influence the Obama-era State Department.
Johnson has also alleged that Hunter Biden’s role was itself a conflict of interest because his father, who at the time was the vice president, was spearheading U.S. policy toward Ukraine.
Johnson has drawn condemnation in recent weeks for characterizing his probe as potentially fatal to Biden’s presidential candidacy, a political calculation that Democrats said removed any doubt about the goal of his investigation.
Some Republicans have expressed discomfort with Johnson’s probe, too. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) last week described it as a “political exercise” and said he opposed Johnson’s efforts to subpoena additional witnesses as part of the investigation. POLITICO reported earlier this year that Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, warned Johnson that his probe could aid Russia’s election-meddling efforts.
“It is not the legitimate role of government, for Congress or for taxpayer expense, to be used in an effort to damage political opponents,” Romney said this week, referencing Johnson’s earlier comments that called into question the Wisconsin Republicans’ assertions that the investigation has nothing to do with the upcoming election.
Engel has accused the State Department of racing to aid Johnson’s effort despite stonewalling House Democrats in numerous other investigations, including its impeachment inquiry in 2019. He cited a recent internal directive, revealed last month by POLITICO, that urged state Department offices to provide key documents to Johnson by the end of September.
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