Keye Luke

Keye Luke
Larry Armstrong / Los Angeles Times


Keye Luke
Film: South side of the 7000 block of Hollywood Boulevard
Born June 18, 1904 in Guangzhou [formerly Canton], China
Died Jan. 12, 1991 of stroke in Whittier, CA

Keye Luke was the perpetual Asian American sidekick in dozens of films over six decades. He will be forever in the public eye as Charlie Chan's "No. 1 son" in that classic mystery series.

His career ran a gamut from the bewildered but pleasantly courteous son in 13 of the 46 Chan films to the blind, omniscient Buddhist monk who was David Carradine's mentor in the "Kung Fu" TV series.

He had begun at the studios as a commercial artist (his paintings, portraits and drawings were exhibited often over the years) and made his film debut in the 1934 Greta Garbo vehicle, "The Painted Veil."

"I was extremely lucky," he told The Times in 1986. "I started at the top."

And he stayed there for nearly 150 parts, including the "Dr. Kildare" series, the Green Hornet's fighting servant Kato, "Oil for the Lamps of China" and "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing."

His roles involved such kindly older men as the curio shopkeeper in the "Gremlins" films and the beloved father in the New York company of "Flower Drum Song."

Luke said he left the Chan series after the 1938 death of Warner Oland, "the only Charlie Chan."

While many have criticized the casting of Oland — a Swede portraying an Asian sleuth — Luke defended both Oland and his own portrayal of the passive son.

"He gave a faithful portrayal of a Chinese Mandarin scholar" and studied both Chinese culture and Chinese dialogue, Luke said in 1986.

"How can it (the Chan character) be demeaning . . . when the character was the hero? People respected him, police departments consulted with him."

But his favorite role was as Master Po, the monk of the Shaolin Temple in "Kung Fu."

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