It’s been a while since we’ve talked about someone without a Wikipedia page. Usually, it’s someone behind-the-scenes. However, this is a solid character actor we’re talking today. He’s the person I’ve chosen to move up and fill Gavin McLeod’s slot, because I very much wanted to make sure we got to him while he was still eligible. Frankly, the kind of person who doesn’t have a Wikipedia page is also the kind of person you don’t hear is dead until you go to write about them and, oh, look. So since he turns 91 next month, it was clear he needed to be talked about as quickly as I could slide him in.
The biographical information about him is all over the place. Generally, it’s agreed that he was born in El Paso, Texas. But the Google sidebar says Tsushima, Nagasaki, Japan, and a site called Wall of Celebrities says Tsushima, North Korea. The M*A*S*H fan wiki has barely any information about him and says he’s ethnically Korean, but most other sites suggest he is in fact ethnically Chinese, or part Chinese and part Mexican. IMDb features a quote from him that says, “I’m Chinese and part Mexican, just not sure what part it is.” But is that metaphorical? From someone who was born in El Paso, that’s possible, but maybe not.
What’s definitely true is that he was both a popular entertainer in LA’s Chinatown and a consistently entertaining character actor over decades who also did stage work. What’s definitely true is that he was one of the few actual Korean War veterans to appear on M*A*S*H over the years—possibly that’s where the fan wiki is confused. He goes by “Curlee” and called himself the Sex Symbol of Chinatown, and that combines to indicate a great sense of humour about himself, something that always disposes me to like someone.
He has done four classic spin-off/follow-ups of TV, having appeared on After MASH, Trapper John MD, Archie Bunker’s Place, and Still the Beaver. I’ve actually seen two of those—I’m not a big enough All in the Family fan to have tried Archie Bunker’s Place and am not a huge Trapper John fan, either—but not in many years, so I don’t know if there’s an observation that “restaurant owner” is strangely familiar, but I would’ve put it there if I had been the writer. Still, this is another one of those places where I’m left wondering how many other actors have that sort of record, like someone who did both Barney Miller and Fish or both Mary Tyler Moore and Lou Grant as different characters.
Most of us probably remember him from one or another of his eleven episodes of M*A*S*H. He even played named characters five times, albeit once as one of several men claiming the same name. Several of those characters are among the most entertaining one-shot characters in the history of the series; part of it is that Lee-Sung really sells the bit, no matter what the bit is. He’s a lot of fun, and he’s having a lot of fun with it. And certainly I’m sure he’d rather we talk about that than how he was on the pilot of Pink Lady and Jeff.