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
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
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
Ms. Wong outlived two husbands. She is survived by her brother and
several nieces and nephews.