Friday, February 27, 2009

Fancy Miss Nancy

Flower Drum Song (1961)

Fabulastic Thombeau and That Darn Dray are just too clever; our latest Mystery Guest was the lovely star of The World of Suzie Wong (1960) and Flower Drum Song (1961), Miss Nancy Kwan, whom we patently adore.

In typically shortsighted fashion, Hollywood must have been asking themselves, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Nancy Kwan? After the initial hoopla surrounding Suzie Wong and Flower Drum Song died down, there were scant opportunities for Asian leading ladies. There were even attempts to "change" Nancy's image; she made an alluring French ye-ye girl...

...but was less convincing as Yvette Mimieux's doppelganger.

Kwan's mentor, producer Ray Stark (to whom she was under personal contract), protected her interests as much as he could: interestingly, Nancy's roles in Honeymoon Hotel (1964) and Arriverderci, Baby! (1966), two glamorous if inconsequential sex comedies, did not specify her characters as being Asian. This could have been a turning point in her film career (not to mention film history), but after her association with Stark ended, Hollywood backpeddled and handed her such decorative roles as "Nurse Tomiko Momoyama" in a (God help her) Doug McClure vehicle, Nobody's Perfect (1968), and "Yu-Rang" (geddit?) in The Wrecking Crew (1969), the last of Dino's smarmy Matt Helm spy spoofs.

The Wrecking Crew (1969)

The sad truth is, there was simply no place in Hollywood for a beautiful, glamorous movie star who happened to be Asian. Like Dorothy Dandridge before her, Nancy Kwan was hailed as a superstar in her first major films; and then found that there were no more roles being tailor-made for the ethnically-specific box she was confined to.

Still, La Kwan was Hollywood's first bona fide Asian leading lady, so homage must be paid. Had she come along a few decades later, perhaps she would have become the superstar she should have been. On the other hand, since she's been Hollywood's only bona fide Asian leading lady since the 1960's, times haven't really changed that much, have they?

Visit Nancy Kwan's official website here.


  1. So lovely... Greatest hair! And how many of us wanted to stand before a 3-way mirror and see different versions of ourselves in each panel after "I Enjoy Being a Girl?!"

  2. So good to have this background and your point of view. It shows that the short-sightedness of Hollywood is second to none. There's something hauntingly sad about her career. She deserved better.

  3. Thombeau -- Smooches! And, in the immortal words of Edna Turnblad: "I'm sure she loves you, too!"

    Poseidon3 -- Some of us have attempted to do so, and were appalled by the reflection from behind.

    Toby -- She sure as heck deserved better than hawking Pearl Cream ("made fwum reahl puhls!").

  4. Great post. Nancy's amazing. She's beautiful and talented. It's a shame that she never got the parts she so richly deserved.