Given his phenomenal career and interesting personal history, it is, I freely admit, a little disappointing that the first place I think of him from involves some really unfortunate fake facial hair. Still, the character is one of those interesting M*A*S*H Korean characters—someone who’s intelligent and clever and is working as a wandering peddler because, you know, his entire country is war-torn and he doesn’t have a lot of good options. He’s definitely better at what his character is shown as doing than any of the American characters would be; he’s needed, and he’s capable. And we don’t know what happens to him from there, because War Is Hell.
He was born Guangzhao. A relative (Wikipedia is not more specific than that) was a crusading Assistant Attorney General here in Washington State. He was an artist for some of the murals in Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and did some of the art of the pressbook for King Kong. And also, you know, he did some acting here and there. As in he has 125 TV credits and 101 movie credits. He was Charlie Chan’s Number One Son. He was film’s original Kato, before Bruce Lee would get the role for TV. He was Master Po on Kung Fu.
Yes, if you’re familiar with East Asian family names, it’s pretty easy to establish—even ignoring that Asian characters on M*A*S*H are about ninety percent Koreans—that he played a wide variety of East Asian nationalities. Plus whatever Brak is. However, I’d say most of them are Chinese. And maybe that’s because there’s a lot of Chinese characters in Western media and not as many, well, Korean ones. Still, he and James Hong seem to have that in common. Luke was even working in Hollywood in the days where he could’ve been expected to play Japanese villains while the actually ethnically Japanese actors were in internment camps.
What else he has in common with Hong is that they both appeared on a lot of classic television, including Perry Mason. (Which featured plotlines involving both Japanese and Chinese characters; the characters Luke played were both Chinese. The same is true for Hong. Both appeared on the episode “The Case of the Weary Watchdog.”) I’m pleased to note he even did an episode of the Bruce Lee Green Hornet, because that’s a nice hat-tip to its history. He did a fair number of Westerns, because any Western with a sense of actual history needs a Chinese character now and again. He even did an episode of The Littlest Hobo!
And he got his US citizenship in 1945. You know, when he legally could. Because before that, people born in China could not become naturalized US citizens. It’s frustrating to keep running across that particular law. However, if you’re going to write about people who immigrated to the US from China before 1945, that law’s going to keep sneaking up on you. He was, it seems, a fairly common figure in mid-century film, being part of several different series even beyond the Charlie Chan ones. And then he voiced Charlie Chan in an animated series, I believe the first time the character was actually played by a Chinese actor in the American adaptations. So yeah.
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