pioneer entertainer jadin wong dies at 96

Last week, celebrated Chinese American dancer, comedienne and talent agent Jadin Wong, whose career spanned night clubs, theatre, comedy and film, died of natural causes in New York City. She was 96: Famed Dancer and Agent Jadin Wong Dies at 96.
Born on May 24, 1913, in Marysville, CA, Ms. Wong grew up in Stockton and started dancing at age five. She moved to San Francisco and headlined as a dancer in 1938 at Charlie Low's Forbidden City, the country's best-known Chinese-American nightclub (such as the one featured in Rodgers & Hammerstein's musical of C.Y. Lee's "Flower Drum Song"). Wearing an exotic headdress and costume, she was featured in Life magazine and written up in Walter Winchell's column in New York. Critics praised her "Dance of the Moon Goddess," in which she performed to Debussy's "Clair de Lune."

In 1941 Ms. Wong was set to make her Broadway debut as a housegirl in Lowell Barrington's The Admiral Had a Wife. Starring Uta Hagen, Alfred Drake and Jose Ferrer, it was a wartime comedy set in Hawaii. However, it closed out of town in Wilmington, DE, because it was set to open only days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Ms. Wong once recalled, "How do you do a satire after that?" She then married her dance partner, Li Sun; they toured the country throughout the 1940s but later divorced.

During the 1950s, Ms. Wong stayed in Europe for five years, entertaining the troops. Once she returned to the States, she said she realized that TV had killed the nightclub business, so Wong reinvented herself as a comedy act in the 1960s. She once recalled, "A booker in the Catskills said, 'You're a dancer, you're a woman and you're Chinese. It'll never work. If you're so funny, say something funny.' I told him 'F*ck you!' and I got the job." Wong was billed as "the Oriental chanteuse with a new slant on life," and her theme song was: "I May Be Wong, But I Think You're Beautiful." In 1964 she married Broadway producer Eddie Duryea Dowling, who directed Hellzapoppin’ (1938) and An Evening With Bea Lillie (1952) and worked in the Shubert Organization.

In the 1970s Ms. Wong shifted careers again, by running Jadin Wong Management. The talent agency specialized in handling over 400 Asian-American actors for the next three decades. Her clients were cast in Broadway shows like Miss Saigon and South Pacific, as well in TV and film. Wong sometimes acted herself, appearing in movies like "Year of the Dragon" (1985) and "China Girl" (1987). In 1997 she married her third husband, ex-ballplayer Gil Chichester.
I wasn't very familiar with Ms. Wong's career, but it's plain to see she was a true pioneer and treasure to the Asian American entertainment community. According to the story, the Museum of Chinese in America plans to host a tribute to Ms. Wong's life on May 24, which would've been her 97th birthday.

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