Luke in Charlie Chan publicity photo
June 18, 1904|
|Died||January 12, 1991
Whittier, California, USA
|Cause of death||Stroke|
|Resting place||Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier|
|Spouse(s)||Ethel Davis (1942–1979; her death)|
Keye Luke (Chinese: 陸錫麟, Cantonese: Luk Shek Lun; June 18, 1904 – January 12, 1991) was a Chinese-born American actor. He was best known for playing Lee Chan, the "Number One Son" in the Charlie Chan films, the original Kato in the 1939-1941 Green Hornet film serials, and Master Po in the television series Kung Fu. He was the first Chinese-American contract player signed with RKO, Universal, and MGM and was one of the most prominent Asian actors of American cinema in the mid-twentieth century.
Luke was born in Canton, China to a father who owned an art shop, but grew up in Seattle. He was part of the Luke family, a relative of Wing Luke, namesake of Seattle's Wing Luke Asian Museum. He had four siblings who all migrated to California during the Depression. His younger brother Edwin Luke also became an actor in the Charlie Chan series. Keye Luke became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1944—in a moment fictionally recreated in Lisa See's novel Shanghai Girls.
Before becoming an actor he was a local artist in Seattle and, later, Hollywood, working on several of the murals inside Grauman's Chinese Theatre. He did some of the original artwork for the 1933 King Kong pressbook. Luke also painted the casino's mural in The Shanghai Gesture. He published a limited edition set of pen and ink drawings of The Rubiyat of Omar Khayyam in the 1950s. Other art done by Luke included the dust jackets for books published in the 1950s and 1960s. It was through his studio art work that he was recruited for his first movie roles.
Luke made his film debut in The Painted Veil (1934), and the following year gained his first big role, as Charlie Chan's eldest son in Charlie Chan in Paris. He worked so well with Warner Oland, the actor playing Chan, that "Number One Son" became a regular character in the series, alternately helping and distracting 'Pop' Chan in each of his murder cases.
Keye Luke left the Charlie Chan series in 1938, shortly after Oland died. The unfinished Oland-Luke film Charlie Chan at the Ringside was completed as Mr. Moto's Gamble, with Luke now opposite Peter Lorre.
Unlike some performers who failed to establish themselves beyond a single role, Keye Luke continued to work prolifically in Hollywood, at several studios. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cast him in a recurring role in its Dr. Kildare film series, and Monogram Pictures featured him in its Frankie Darro comedies and starred him as Mr. Wong in Phantom of Chinatown. Unlike Boris Karloff, who had preceded him in the Mr. Wong role, Luke played the detective without any exotic touches. Though his Mr. Wong was of Chinese descent and able to speak Chinese, he was otherwise an ordinary American gumshoe, with no trace of a foreign accent or "Oriental" philosophy.
RKO Radio Pictures used Luke in its popular adventures of The Falcon and Mexican Spitfire. Luke also worked at Universal Pictures, where he played two-fisted valet/chauffeur Kato in its Green Hornet serials. In 1946 Universal mounted a low-budget serial consisting largely of action footage from older films; Keye Luke was hired to match old footage of Sabu in the serial Lost City of the Jungle.
In 1948, Keye Luke returned to the Chan mysteries, which were now being produced by Monogram and starred Roland Winters as Chan. "Number One Son" appeared in the last two Chan features, The Feathered Serpent and The Sky Dragon. In both of these films, Luke was older than the actor playing his father.
Luke continued to play character parts in motion pictures. He had a featured role in The Chairman (1969) starring Gregory Peck. He provided the voice of the evil Mr. Han in Enter the Dragon (1973) starring Bruce Lee. Luke played the mysterious old Chinatown shopowner Mr. Wing in the two Gremlins movies, he had a significant role in Woody Allen's 1990 movie Alice, and was the voice of Zoltar and Colonel Cronus in Battle of the Planets.
In 1958, Luke had a featured Broadway role in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Flower Drum Song, directed by Gene Kelly. The soundtrack album captures his singing of the part of Mr. Wang, the family patriarch.
Keye Luke also worked in television. In 1955, he played Li Wong, a laundryman and property owner in the episode "Annie and the Chinese Puzzle" of the syndicated western series, Annie Oakley. He made two guest appearances on Perry Mason: in 1962 he played murderer C.C. Chang in "The Case of the Weary Watchdog"; in 1965 he played house servant Choy in "The Case of the Feather Cloak." In 1972, "Number One Son" ascended to the role of Charlie Chan himself, thus becoming the first actor of Chinese descent to play the role: he supplied the voice of "Mr. Chan" in the animated television series The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan. He was also known for his role of Master Po in the television series Kung Fu. He appeared in a few episodes of Dragnet, including roles as a restaurant owner in "The Big Amateur" and a jade dealer in "The Jade Story." He appeared also in episodes of M*A*S*H; most memorably "Patent 4077," in which he played Mr. Shin, an itinerant metalsmith who made a surgical clamp the surgeons needed for a critical operation. In the mid-1980s, Luke played 'The Ancient One' on the soap opera General Hospital. In 1983, he guest-starred in the Magnum, P.I. episode "Forty Years from Sand Island". In 1984, he played the elderly shop owner at the beginning of Joe Dante's Gremlins. In 1985, he appeared in the show Miami Vice as General Lao Li, head of an Asian drug cartel, in the episode "Golden Triangle (Part II)". In 1986, Luke played the gardener in an episode of The Golden Girls.
Luke voiced Brak on the original 1966 Hanna Barbara series Space Ghost and all of the villains on the Scooby Doo, Where Are You? episode "Mystery Mask Mixup". He also voiced the villain Zoltar in the animated series Battle of the Planets (1978). He played Governor Donald Cory in a 1969 episode of Star Trek entitled "Whom Gods Destroy", and was going to play Doctor Noonien Soong in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Brothers" but illness prevented him from doing so; Brent Spiner ultimately took over the role.
In the Fractured Fairy Tales episode "The Enchanted Fly," one of the rewards offered to the man who would rescue and marry the princess is "an autographed picture of Keye Luke."
Writer and filmmaker Timothy Tau wrote, directed and produced a short film about Keye Luke's earlier life and work, entitled "Keye Luke," which premiered at the 2012 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival as a Visual Communications "Armed With A Camera" Fellowship film. The film was also Closing Night Film of the inaugural 2013 Seattle Asian American Film Festival. Feodor Chin starred as Keye Luke. Archie Kao starred as Edwin Luke, Keye Luke's brother. Kelvin Han Yee starred as Lee Luke, Keye Luke's father.
- The Painted Veil (1934) (uncredited)
- Charlie Chan in Paris (1935)
- Oil for the Lamps of China (1935)
- Mad Love (1935)
- Charlie Chan in Shanghai (1935)
- Shanghai (1935)
- Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936)
- Charlie Chan at the Race Track (1936)
- Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936)
- King of Burlesque (1936)
- Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937)
- The Good Earth (1937)
- Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo (1937)
- International Settlement (1938)
- Mr. Moto's Gamble (1938)
- Barricade (1939)
- The Green Hornet (1940 serial)
- Phantom of Chinatown (1940)
- The Green Hornet Strikes Again! (1941 serial)
- The Gang's All Here (1941)
- Bowery Blitzkrieg (1941)
- Let's Go Collegiate (1941)
- Mr. and Mrs. North (1942)
- Across the Pacific (1942)
- The Falcon's Brother (1942)
- The Adventures of Smilin' Jack (1943 serial)
- Salute to the Marines (1943)
- Andy Hardy's Blonde Trouble (1944)
- Secret Agent X-9 (1945 serial)
- First Yank into Tokyo (1945)
- Lost City of the Jungle (1946 serial)
- Sleep, My Love (1948)
- The Feathered Serpent (1948)
- Sky Dragon (1949)
- Mysteries of Chinatown (TV series, 1949–50)
- Macao (1952) (uncredited)
- Fair Wind to Java (1953)
- South Sea Woman (1953) (uncredited)
- World for Ransom (1954)
- Hell's Half Acre (1954)
- The Bamboo Prison (1954)
- Godzilla Raids Again (1955) (uncredited)
- Around the World in Eighty Days (1956 film) (1956) (uncredited)
- Rodan (1956) (uncredited narrator)
- Yangtse Incident (1957)
- The Californians in episode "China Doll" (NBC-TV, 1958)
- Richard Diamond, Private Detective as Dr. Lin Chang in "Chinese Honeymoon" (CBS-TV, 1958)
- Gigantis the Fire Monster (1959, VA for Shoichi Tsukioka) (uncredited)
- Nobody's Perfect (1968 film) (1968)
- Project X (1968 film) (1968)
- The Chairman (1969)
- The Hawaiians (1970)
- Noon Sunday (1975)
- The Amsterdam Kill (1977)
- Just You and Me, Kid (1979)
- M*A*S*H (CBS-TV, 1980)
- Gremlins (1984)
- Miami Vice (NBC-TV, 1985)
- A Fine Mess (1986)
- The Golden Girls (NBC-TV, 1986)
- Dead Heat (1988)
- The Mighty Quinn (1989)
- Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
- Alice (1990)
- Flint, Peter B. (January 16, 1991). "Keye Luke, Actor, Is Dead at 86; 'No. 1 Son' and 'Kung Fu' Master". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-17.
- Obituary Variety, January 21, 1991.
- Files of Jerry Blake, Keye Luke, www.filesofjerryblake.netfirms.com/html/keye_luke.htm
- Howard M. Berlin, The Who's Who of Charlie Chan's Family, http://www.drberlin.com/chan_family/story.htm
- IMDB - Magnum P.I.: Forty Years from Sand Island
- Christopher Stipp, /Film, This Week In Trailers: Keye Luke, Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap, Here, I Wish, The Angels' Share, http://www.slashfilm.com/week-trailers-keye-luke/
- Todd Brown, Meet The Original Kato in Short Film Biopic Keye Luke, Twitch Film, http://twitchfilm.com/news/2012/04/meet-the-original-kato-in-short-film-biopic-keye-luke.php
- Keye Luke - 2012 LA Asian Pacific Film Festival, http://laapff.festpro.com/films/detail/keye_luke_2012
- Ed Moy, Writer's Journey: Q&A with 'Keye Luke' Director Timothy Tau, http://edmoy.blogspot.com/2012/04/q-with-keye-luke-director-timothy-tau.html
- Moira Macdonald, The Seattle Times, Seattle Asian American Film Festival Gets Under Way, http://seattletimes.com/html/movies/2020207886_atatheater25columnxml.html
- Seth Sommerfeld, Seattle Metropolitan Magazine, Kickstarting Kato: Timothy Tau Discusses His Short Film About Keye Luke, http://www.seattlemet.com/arts-and-entertainment/film/articles/timothy-tau-discusses-his-short-film-about-keye-luke
Further reading 
- Ken Hanke, Charlie Chan at the Movies Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1989. ISBN 0-7864-1921-0. (Examination of the Charlie Chan feature films, with firsthand commentary by Keye Luke)
- Herbie J. Pilato, The Kung Fu Book of Caine: The Complete Guide to TV's First Mystical Eastern Western. Boston: Charles A. Tuttle, 1993. ISBN 0-8048-1826-6
- Lisa See, "Shanghai Girls". New York: Random House, 2008 fictionally recreates Keye Luke's, Anna May Wong's LA Chinatown.
- Darrell Hamamoto, Monitored Peril: Asian Americans and the Politics of TV Representation, University of Minnesota Press, 1994 has a critical commentary on Luke's cinema.
- Allan Luke, Another ethnic autobiography? Childhood and the cultural economy of looking. In: Hammer, R. & Kellner, D. (Eds.) Critical Cultural Studies Reader. Peter Lang, New York, 2008, has a family account of Luke's work.
- Keye Luke at the Internet Movie Database
- Keye Luke at the Internet Broadway Database
- "Keye Luke: What the Doctor Called For"; Aljean Harmetz, The New York Times (December 23, 1990)
- Obituary in the New York Times (January 16, 1991)
- Keye Luke at Memory Alpha (a Star Trek wiki)
- Keye Luke at Find a Grave