FUN WITH THE FOLLIES
San Francisco came alive when the Grant Avenue Follies ladies celebrated their 11th anniversary with a splash bang show before a packed house at the Four Seas Restaurant in Chinatown. This event was so popular when I arrived to find a packed room, I had to beg and borrow a table when over anxious diners grabbed my reserved table and would not give it up when requested. Thanks to Follies organizer, Cynthia Yee had waiters set up a table for me halfway into the dance floor so my guests Dr. David and Jayne Yee, Howard and Pat Seto, Sylvia Eng, Dr. Steve and Phyllis Gee and I could enjoy the fun filled show the Follies ladies staged. What a shame people are so rude and inconsiderate of reservation rules because it doesn’t bode well for the organizers, for the cause and Chinese people in general.
Luckily cramped as we were, Emcee Chuck Gee added to the liveliness of their shows, and of courseHank Quock with his he/she performance of Endless Love always brings down the house. The room was festively decorated due to the handiwork of Howard and Marleen Luke but it was a packed solid room as I was told thirty more than expected came to enjoy the fun night – and the Follies were too good hearted to turn anyone away. Proceeds all went to On Lok Senior Services, a wonderful cause I was happy to support.
In between the tapping twinkle toes of the Follies gals were the regal performances of former Chinese Sky Room dancer Pat Chin, of all-white and silver gowned Ivy Tam with her queenly feathered headdress and the coquettish teasing strip dance by Coby Yee, as agile and smooth as in her prime days at the Chi Chi Club. Jimmy Borges, formerly known as Jimmy Jay, flew in from Hawaii to sing his heart out for his old Forbidden City friends accompanied by ever popular pianist George Chanwho sings a pretty note too. Richard Kishimoto of the Lamplighters Musical Group sang his old favorite the Hawaiian Wedding Song.
But it’s the Grant Avenue Follies ladies that set up the mood of the evening with their broad smiles as they tap dance with top hat and tails or red umbrellas. So out hats off to them all and congratulations for entertaining us so many wonderful times. They are Emily Chin, Avis See Tho, Lani Owyoung, Gloria Gee, Terri Chiu, Michelle Wong, Lillian Poon, Sheena Victoria, Marlene Luke, Pat Chin, and Leader Cynthia Yee, the latter one of the original dancers of the famous Forbidden Citynightclub of the 1930s-70s. In the audience cheering the performers on were fellow former Forbidden City showgirls Kay Koopman, Fawn Leong, Arlene Wing, and the famed Dorothy Toy Fong of the popular Hollywood dance team of Toy and Wing. Such fun to see the “old timers” who never lose their glamour and inspire us all to stay fit and try to kick up our legs like these limber ladies do.
Also in the audience was Filmmaker Arthur Dong who had just entertained a packed auditorium of the San Francisco Main Library with a power point presentation of old photos from Forbidden City and other nightclubs of San Francisco Chinatown. He also introduced his new book Forbidden City USA, sales of which benefited the Asian American Studies Department of SF State University, a long-standing popular program headed by his sister, Lorraine Dong, former Chinese Historical Society of America president.. We reminisced that it had been almost 20 years since we met when he had first begun his interest in the Chinese nightclubs of San Francisco’s past, especially Forbidden City. I was already writing for AsianWeek and encouraged his venture because I always had a fondness for Chinese American history which was such an untold commodity in those days.
When I asked Arthur Dong about how and when his interest in Chinatown nightclubs started, he told me, “In the 1980s as a filmmaker, during the course of some research, I spotted an Asian Weekarticle on dancer Jadin Wong written by Gerrye Wong that mentioned Jadin performed at the Forbidden City. My old memories of the nightclub reawakened so I headed to NYC to meet Jadin. Staying with longtime friend, Kevin Gee, I discovered that his stepfather was none other than Charlie Low, the impresario who had created Forbidden City, and my interest in Chinese American nightclubs has been non-stop since then.” When asked about his new exhibition, he continued, “After four years of collecting archival material, I produced the documentary, Forbidden City, U.S.A. focusing on Charlie’s club. All Along I wanted to do something with my collection, including writing a companion book, knowing that a fifty-six minute film could never capture all the stories, ephemera, and photos I had amassed.”
Arthur was with his son when we met, and when I asked where did he hope to see himself in 5-10 years, he quickly said, “attending my son’s Chinese grammar school graduation in 2017 and then his English high school graduation in 2022 and seeing him grow up to be a healthy, well-rounded, sensitive human being.” That could be every parent’s dream!
Dong’s exhibition will be held at the Jewett Gallery of the San Francisco Main Library until July 6, 2014. On May 6 he will be presenting a book talk and signing of his book in the Koret Auditorium of the library, starting at 6pm. Dong welcomes and looks forward to meeting others who have lived in the San Fran area and southward so he can share from his book about the little known facts of the people who grew up in San Francisco’s Chinatown.
Thank heavens, according to Maurice Chevalier, for little girls like the Grant Avenue Follies for rekindling old memories of the glamorous Chinese night clubs.
COMING ON STAGE
Tony award-winner B.D. Wong will return to his hometown of San Francisco come June 4 when he makes his ACT debut in the US Premiere of James Fenton’s acclaimed adaptation of The Orphan of Zhao. Playing from June 4-29, this is the story of a country doctor who, in the aftermath of a political coup, is forced to sacrifice his own son in order to save the last heir of a noble and massacred clan. Director Carey Perloff said this play will give insight into a vivid moment in Chinese culture and although the story has been told in China for years, it coming to ACT continues the company’s exploration of Chinese culture with a remarkable cast of Asian American actors. Byron Au Yong,composer of Stuck Elevator, is composing many of this show’s songs and live musical interludes in the production. In the cast are Marie France Arcilla, Stan Egi, Philip Estrera, Nick Gabriel, Cindy Im and Orville Mendoza. Info:www.act-sf.org,
DINING IN SAN FRANCISCO
A wonderful pre or post-show dinner in San Francisco could be at Palio D’Asti near Sacramento and Montgomery Sts in the Financial District. As personable owner Martino DiGrande welcomed us, he said the mission there is to honor Italy’s glorious cultural and culinary traditions: utilizing traditional techniques and authentic ingredients in a way that connects yesterday and today, with an old world approach to fine dining. Martino, scion of a Sicilian restaurant family, trained in Sicily, and was hired by Palio right out of school, he recalls. He became General Manager, part owner and in 2012 took over the reins of Palio completely. He was the brain behind the restaurant’s popular “$1 pizza” happy hour that draws fans from throughout San Francisco’s downtown. We enjoyed watching Executive Chef Mauricio Martinez hone his craft at the open kitchen while dining in the beautiful décor of the restaurant’s main dining room. Reservations needed, call (415) 395-9800.
IN THE SOUTH BAY
South Bay Chinese Service Club honored 18 high school seniors with its 2014 scholarships at an award ceremony at the Mayflower Restaurant in Union City, a service activity which began in 1970. Guest speaker Superior Court Judge Stuart Hing told the students his own career path was not a straight one, first playing in a rock band, and then working as a senior marketing representative for Xerox before deciding to go to law school. Earning honors and nice cash prizes were recipients Katie Chang, Winston Hsieh, Jennifer Chen and Brian Wing from Logan High School. From American High school were winners Rosemond Ho, Levina Lin, and leigh Anne Tang. Mission San Jose High recipients were Vivian Jair, Rachel Lai, Kerrie Wu, Tammy Tseng and Zhang Zongning. Other honorees included Irvington’s Kevin Hsu and David Kang, Gregory Ngim from Alameda and Michiko Zerda from Alsion Montessori. Congrats all, and bouquets to SBCC dinner chair Joe Woo, President Steve Cho, and a wonderful hardworking committee.
Mark down May 17 on your calendar and make plans to gather your family and friends for the Always Dream Foundation’s second annual Kristi Yamaguchi’s Reading Adventures at Happy Hollow Park and Zoo. Celebrity athletes and authors are joining Kristi and the Foundation to read their favorite book. This year’s lineup features authors Bob Barner and Dave Keane with family entertainment by Disney Jr.s Choo Soul with “Genevieve.” For a fun family day, come from 10 am to 4 pm toHappy Hollow, 1300 Senter Rd., San Jose.
ATTENTION PHOTO BUFFS
An invitation comes from Eddie Wong who invites you to join thousands of people across the US and abroad on Saturday May 10 as they shoot photographs and short videos celebrating the everyday lives of Asian Pacific Americans. He says, “Your creative works will be featured in Flickr and possible selected for an online photo/video exhibition by the Smithsonian Institution’s Asian Pacific American Center for display from late May to December 2014.” Curating the exhibit is Eddie Wong, former director of the Center for Asian American Media. Visit www.smithsonianapa.org/life2014 to register for the project, learn how to take and upload photos and video, and see sample work, adds Eddie Wong.
It seems anyone, young and old, professional or weekend photo buff, can participate. Wong said “Just be sure to take your pictures and video on Saturday May 10, which coincidentally is the 145thanniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Although Chinese workers, as you remember, built the entire western half of the railroad, they were not included in the historic photograph marking this monumental achievement. Wong wants to extend his sincere invitation to help celebrate our diversity and achievements by creating a huge family album depicting how we live, play, work and worship by joining “A Day in the Life of Asian Pacific America. Sign up before May by going on to www.smithsonianapa.org/life 2014.