Philip Ahn

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Philip Ahn
Philip Ahn.gif
Ahn on the television series Bonanza
Born Pil Lip Ahn
(1905-03-29)March 29, 1905
Highland Park, Los Angeles
California, U.S.
Died February 28, 1978(1978-02-28) (aged 72)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Complications from surgery
Resting place
Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles
Alma mater University of Southern California
Occupation Actor
Years active 1935–78
Religion Presbyterian
Korean name
Hangul 안필립
Hanja 安必立
Revised Romanization An Pil-lip
McCune–Reischauer An P`il-rip

Philip Ahn (March 29, 1905 – February 28, 1978) was a Korean-American actor. He was the first Asian American film actor to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


Ahn was born Pil Lip Ahn (안필립) in Highland Park, California. His parents emigrated to the United States in 1902 .[1] Ahn's father, Dosan Ahn Chang-ho, was an educator and an activist for Korean independence during the colonial period.[2]

When he was in high school, Ahn visited the set of the film The Thief of Bagdad, where he met Douglas Fairbanks. Fairbanks offered him a screen test, followed by a part in the movie. However, his mother told him, "No son of mine is going to get mixed up with those awful people."

Ahn graduated from high school in 1923, and went to work in the rice fields around Colusa, California. The land was owned by the Hung Sa Dan, or Young Korean Academy, a Korean independence movement that trained Koreans to become leaders of their country once it was free from Japanese rule. Since Koreans could not own land in California, the Academy put the property in Ahn's name. Unfortunately, the rice crops failed because of heavy rains, and Ahn found himself deeply in debt. He went to work as an elevator operator in Los Angeles to pay back the debt and help support his family.

It was not until 1934 that he could afford to attend the University of Southern California. His father told him if he really wanted to be an actor, he had to be the best actor he could and convinced him to take acting and cinematography courses. While still a student, he appeared in a stage production of Merrily We Roll Along, which toured the western United States.

Ahn served as president of the USC Cosmopolitan Club, was chairman of the All University Committee on International Relations, and was assistant to the dean of male students as advisor for foreign student affairs. He organized visits by foreign dignitaries, including Princess Der Ling of China, Indian journalist Chaman Lal and archeologist-explorer Robert B. Stacey-Judd. After completing his second year, however, Ahn dropped out to act full-time.

Film career[edit]

Philip Ahn (middle) and his siblings, Susan Ahn and Ralph Ahn in 1942.

Ahn's first film was A Scream in the Night in 1935. He appeared in the Bing Crosby film Anything Goes, though director Lewis Milestone had initially rejected him because his English was too good for the part. His first credited roles came in 1936 in The General Died at Dawn and Stowaway, opposite Shirley Temple. He starred opposite Anna May Wong in Daughter of Shanghai (1937) and King of Chinatown (1939).

During World War II, Ahn often played Japanese villains in war films. Mistakenly thought to be Japanese, he received several death threats. He enlisted in the United States Army, having served in the Special Services as an entertainer. He was discharged early because of an injured ankle and returned to making films.

Ahn appeared in Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, Around the World in Eighty Days, Thoroughly Modern Millie and Paradise, Hawaiian Style, with Elvis Presley. He got to play Korean characters in Korean War movies such as Battle Circus (1953) and Battle Hymn (1956).

Television roles[edit]

In the mid-1950s, he appeared on television in the religion anthology series, Crossroads. In 1958, he was cast as Charles Wong in the episode "The Cheater" of the 1958 NBC western television series, Jefferson Drum, starring Jeff Richards. He appeared too on David Janssen's Richard Diamond, Private Detective and in the CBS sitcom, The Eve Arden Show. From 1959 to 1962, Ahn was cast in four episodes of ABC's Adventures in Paradise, starring Gardner McKay; from 1960 to 1962, he was cast in four episodes of the ABC/Warner Brothers crime drama, Hawaiian Eye.

Ahn appeared twice on two ABC adventure dramas, Follow the Sun and Stoney Burke. He was cast as Quong Lee in the 1960 episode "Blind Marriage" of the ABC western series, The Rebel, starring Nick Adams. In 1962, he was cast as James Wong in the episode "The Case of the Weary Watchdog" of the CBS legal drama, Perry Mason. In 1965, Ahn appeared in the third episode, "Carry Me Back to Old Tsing-Tao", of the NBC adventure series, I Spy.

In 1968, Ahn made a USO tour of Vietnam, visiting both American and Korean troops in South Vietnam. In 1976, Ahn played the part of a Korean father on CBS's M*A*S*H ('Hawkeye' - Season 4, Episode 19), the part of a grandfather in another episode ('Exorcism' - Season 5, Episode 13), and the part of Winchester's tailor ('Change Day', Season 6, Episode 9).

Ahn in Kung Fu.

Ahn's last major role was as "Master Kan" on the television series Kung Fu. A Presbyterian, Ahn felt that the Taoist homilies his character quoted did not contradict his own religious faith.


For contributions to the motion picture industry, Ahn was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6205 Hollywood Boulevard. He was the first Asian American actor to receive a star on Hollywood Boulevard.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Ahn was actively involved in the Korean community of Los Angeles. He worked to make Los Angeles a sister city of Pusan, Korea. He also helped to bring the Korean Bell of Friendship to San Pedro, California. The Bell of Friendship has been seen in many subsequent movies. He served for twenty years as honorary mayor of Panorama City, California.

He worked to have his father and mother buried together in Seoul. His father had been buried far from the city because the Japanese hoped to play down his independence work. His mother had died in California. They had not seen each other from the time Dosan returned to Korea in 1926, before the birth of his youngest son. Working with the Korean government, Ahn helped to establish a park to honor his father and was able to have his parents buried there.

Ahn's younger brother, Philson, had a minor acting career. He was best known as "Prince Tallen" in the twelve-episode serial Buck Rogers, featuring Buster Crabbe.

In the 1950s, Ahn opened a Chinese restaurant with his sister, Soorah. "Phil Ahn's Moongate Restaurant" was one of the first Chinese restaurants in the San Fernando Valley, and lasted for more than thirty years before finally closing.

Ahn died on February 28, 1978, due to complications from surgery.

Partial filmography[edit]



  1. ^ "Matinee Classics - Phillip Ahn Biography & Filmography". Retrieved 27 January 2013. 
  2. ^ Davé, Shilipa; Nishime, Leilani; Oren, Tasha G. (2006). East Main Street: Asian American popular culture. Retrieved 27 January 2013. 
  3. ^ "Hollywood Walk of Fame database". 

External links[edit]