Monday, October 23, 2017

Keye Luke: From Artist to Actor


As Number One Son Lee Chan
Hubby and I have been watching old episodes of Kung Fu, which featured actor Keye Luke as the blind Master Po. To older generations he is remembered from the Charlie Chan serials as Charlie Chan's Number One Son Lee Chan. Wikipedia says that he was the first Chinese-American contract player signed by RKO, Universal Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and was one of the most prominent Asian actors of American cinema in the mid-twentieth century. However, before he was an actor, he was an artist.

According to IMDb, Keye Luke was born in Canton, China. He grew up in Seattle, Washington, and entered the film business as a commercial artist and a designer of movie posters. He was hired as a technical advisor on several Asian-themed films, and made his film debut in The Painted Veil (1934). It seemed that he appeared in almost every film that called for Chinese characters, usually in small parts but occasionally, as in The Good Earth (1937), in a meatier, more substantial role. In addition, he played Dr. Kildare's rival at the hospital in the Dr. Kildare series at MGM.

As Blind Master Po
More from Wikipedia says Luke worked on several of the murals inside Grauman's Chinese Theatre, and he did some of the original artwork for the 1933 King Kong pressbook. Luke also painted the casino's mural in The Shanghai Gesture. He published a limited edition set of pen and ink drawings of The Rubiyat of Omar Khayyam in the 1950s. He also created illustrations for the books The Unfinished Song of Achmed Mohammed by Earle Liederman, Blessed Mother Goose by Frank Scully and an edition of Messer Marco Polo by Brian Oswald Donn-Byrne (unpublished). Other art done by Luke included the dust jackets for books published in the 1950s and 1960s. It was through his studio art work that he was recruited for his first movie roles.

I always find it fascinating to learn about an actor's life before the acting began, so just thought I'd share! By the way, are you a fan of Kung Fu? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

3 comments:

Norma Beishir said...

I used to watch Kung Fu! Is it airing on cable or streaming?

William Kendall said...

I know the name, but I can't recall seeing him in anything.

Maria McKenzie said...

@Norma: We got DVDs from the library, but I have seen it on one of those nostalgia channels. I think it's on Me TV:).

@William: I'd see the credits on Kung Fu and see his name, but it wasn't until I looked him up did I realize he was Number One Son;).