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Victor Sen Yung

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Victor Sen Yung
Yung c. 1946
Sen Yew Cheung or
Victor Cheung Young

(1915-10-18)October 18, 1915
DiedNovember 9, 1980(1980-11-09) (aged 65)[1][2]
Resting placeGreenlawn Memorial Park, Colma, California, U.S.
Other namesSen Yung
Sen Young
Victor Sen Young
Victor Young
Years active1937–1980

Victor Sen Young (born Victor Cheung Young or Sen Yew Cheung; October 18, 1915 – body discovered November 9, 1980[3][2]) was an American character actor, best known for playing Jimmy Chan in the Charlie Chan films and Hop Sing in the western series Bonanza. He was born in San Francisco, California to Gum Yung Sen and his first wife, both immigrants from China.[4]

When his mother died during the flu epidemic of 1919, his father placed Victor and his younger sister, Rosemary, in a children's shelter, and returned to his homeland to seek another wife. He returned in 1922 with his new wife, Lovi Shee, once again forming a household with his two children.[5]

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Sen Yung made his first significant acting debut in the 1938 film Charlie Chan in Honolulu, as the Chinese detective's "number two son", Jimmy Chan. In this movie, Sidney Toler replaced the recently deceased Warner Oland as Charlie Chan and Sen Yung replaced Oland's "number one son" Lee, who had been played by Keye Luke. Luke left the series in 1938, leading to the need for a "number two son".[6] Sen Yung played Jimmy Chan in 11 Charlie Chan films between 1938 and 1942.[6] Sen Yung played the character of Jimmy Chan very much as Luke played Lee Chan, namely as the bumbling, Americanized son who constantly hinders his father's work.[6] The cultural clash between Chan père, a Chinese immigrant whose values were fundamentally those of China as expressed in his amusing pseudo-Confucian aphorisms vs. his well meaning, but inept Americanized sons gave the series much of its appeal, together with the fact that for all of Charlie Chan's putdowns of his sons there was a genuine paternal love and warmth being expressed.[7]

Moonlighting from the popular Chan series, Sen Yung won critical acclaim playing the nuanced role of Ong Chi Seng, a young attorney assisting Howard Joyce (played by James Stephenson), defending Leslie Crosbie (played by Bette Davis), accused of murder in the classic Warner Bros. film noir melodrama, The Letter (1940), directed by William Wyler. In common with other Chinese-American actors, Sen Yung was cast in Japanese parts during World War II, such as his role as the treacherous Japanese-American Joe Totsuiko in the 1942 Humphrey Bogart film Across the Pacific.

During World War II he joined the U.S. Army Air Forces just as his erstwhile co-star Sidney Toler was set to revive the dormant Charlie Chan series at Monogram Pictures. According to author James L. Neibaur, Sen Yung's military obligations forced him to decline rejoining the series immediately, but Monogram gave him a standing invitation to work there when his tour of duty was up. He was temporarily replaced in the Charlie Chan series by Benson Fong, who played "number three son" Tommy Chan (and once by Keye Luke's real-life brother, Edwin Luke, as "number four son" Eddie Chan). Sen Yung's military service included work in training films at the First Motion Picture Unit and a role in the Army Air Forces' play and film Winged Victory.[8]

Victor Sen Young and Willie Best in Dangerous Money (1946)

In 1946 Sen Yung resumed his Hollywood career at Monogram, now billed as Victor Sen Young and reunited with Sidney Toler. Toler's health was failing; Monogram was conserving Toler's waning energy, limiting his scenes and giving him long rest periods during filming. To relieve the burden on Toler, Monogram entrusted much of the action to Victor Sen Young; he and either Mantan Moreland or Willie Best shared much of the footage in Toler's final three films, Dangerous Money, Shadows Over Chinatown, and The Trap. The addition of Moreland as Chan's black chauffeur, Birmingham Brown, reflected the fact that by this time the Chan pictures had a significant following among black Americans, who liked a film series that for once did not feature a white hero.[9] Moreland's popularity in the Chan pictures was so great that he was booked for a nationwide vaudeville tour, forcing him to be replaced in Dangerous Money by Willie Best.

Following Toler's death in 1947, Victor Sen Young appeared in five of the remaining six Charlie Chan features. His character "Jimmy" was renamed "Tommy" (author Scott MacGillivray contends that "Jimmy" was so closely associated with Sidney Toler that audiences would miss seeing Toler opposite him, resulting in Monogram making the change).

Victor Sen Young continued to work in motion pictures and television, in roles ranging from featured players (affable or earnest Asian characters) to bit roles (clerks, houseboys, waiters, etc.). He was cast as the compassionate Chinese restaurant owner "Quong Kee" in Tombstone, Arizona, in the 1957 episode, "Quong Kee", of the syndicated television anthology series Death Valley Days, hosted by Stanley Andrews. In the story, an aging Quong Kee recalls how in 1881 he brought together the Bostonians Art Gresham (Walter Kelley) and his mother (played by Mary Newton) with the saloon musician Ann Bailey (Eugenia Paul), who after a topsy-turvy romance became Mrs. Art Gresham.[10]

Arguably even more than for his work in the Charlie Chan films, Victor Sen Yung is well remembered as "Hop Sing," the irascible cook and general factotum on the iconic television series Bonanza, appearing in 107 episodes between 1959 and 1973.[11] Bonanza series creator David Dortort told the Archive of American Television that the "Hop Sing" character generated massive fandom - "Victor was just absolutely delightful. He loved the part; he loved doing it. In fact, he began to develop fans, to the extent that I wrote him in as the featured part in a number of shows.”[11]

In Bachelor Father (1957-62), Victor Sen Yung had a recurring role as the scheming "Uncle Charlie", a character that Asian rights activist Guy Aoki commends as "a slick, Americanized character. I thought it was great that way back in the ’50s, audiences saw a Chinese American who acted just like anyone else."[12]

In the early 1970s, Sen Yung had a recurring role in seven episodes of the tv series Kung Fu, which starred David Carradine as a Shaolin monk, also in the Old West.

Sen Yung was also an accomplished and talented chef. He frequently appeared on cooking programs, and authored The Great Wok Cookbook in 1974.[11]

Plane hijacking

In 1972, Sen Young was on Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 710, which was hijacked. The FBI stormed the plane, and in the ensuing gunfire Sen Young was shot in the lower back. He and another wounded passenger survived, but a third passenger and the two hijackers were killed.[13]

In 1975, he appeared on Garry Moore's To Tell The Truth and related the events of the hijacking. With Sen Young dressed in a sportcoat and flanked by two dissimilar imposters, none of the four panelists chose him as the character actor.

Death and legacy

Victor Sen Young died in his North Hollywood home in 1980, aged 65. The actor, who ran a small mail-order Chinese pottery business, was creating clayware and curing the items with an oven, and died of natural gas poisoning from a gas leak. His body was found November 9, but he had reportedly been dead at least ten days, from possibly around October 31.[14]

Some reports suggested that he was murdered,[15] but police ultimately ruled the death accidental.[16] The eulogy at his funeral was given by fellow Bonanza actor Pernell Roberts, who also paid the funeral expenses. He is buried at Greenlawn Memorial Park in Colma, California.

The Victor Sen Young memorial scholarship is awarded each year by the Chinese Alumni Association of the University of California, Berkeley, where Sen Young majored in animal husbandry.

Selected filmography



  1. ^ DOB per California Birth Index, Accessed June 19, 2023.
  2. ^ a b Wisconsin State Journal, November 10, 1980, Section 1, p. 10
  3. ^ DOB per California Birth Index, Accessed June 19, 2023.
  4. ^ His father's name is given in the dedication to the Great Wok Cookbook.
  5. ^ United States Census, 1930, Household of Gum Young Sen, San Francisco (Districts 251-409), San Francisco, California. NARA Publication: T626, roll 209; Enumeration District Number: 0393; Family Number: 584; Sheet Number and Letter: 30B; Line Number: 59
  6. ^ a b c Backer 2012, p. 88.
  7. ^ Huang 2010, p. 265.
  8. ^ San Antonio Light, September 29, 1944, p. 8-C
  9. ^ Huang 2010, p. 263-264.
  10. ^ "Quong Kee on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved November 5, 2018.
  11. ^ a b c "The actor who played Bonanza's Hop Sing actually was an acclaimed chef". MeTV National Limited Partnership. March 13, 2019. Retrieved October 20, 2020.
  12. ^ Aoki, Guy (July 10, 2014). "INTO THE NEXT STAGE: REDISCOVERING SAMMEE TONG IN 'BACHELOR FATHER'". Rafu Shimpo. Retrieved October 20, 2020.
  13. ^ Ada Evening News, July 6, 1972, p. 1
  14. ^ "'Bonanza's' Hop Sing found dead". Evening Independent. St. Petersburg, Florida. November 10, 1980. p. 11-A. Retrieved June 3, 2018.
  15. ^ Valley Independent, November 11, 1980, page 8
  16. ^ Indiana (Pennsylvania) Gazette, November 10, 1980, page 4


  • Backer, Roy (2012). Mystery Movie Series of 1930s Hollywood. Jefferson: McFarland. ISBN 9780786490189.
  • Huang, Yunte (2010). Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History. New York: Norton. ISBN 9780393079166.

External links

This page was last edited on 18 April 2024, at 05:43
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