Friday, June 14, 2013

Monroe Leung

Monroe Tom Leung was born in Los Angeles, California on April 19, 1915. According to the 1920 U.S. Federal Census, he was the seventh of eight children born to Tom and Wong. The family lived in Los Angeles at 1619 Pico Street. His father was a salesman of Chinese herbs. Their address was the same in the 1930 census. His father was a “herb doctor” who had his own office. Leung attended Los Angeles High School (left, 1934 yearbook photo). The family remained at the same address in the 1940 census.

In her book, Sweet Bamboo: Saga of a Chinese American Family (1990), Louise Leung Larson wrote:

Monroe wanted to go to art school, but there was no money
for that, so he did jobs. (Papa had recognized Monroe’s talent 
for art and one Christmas, when Monroe was about 14, bought 
him a drawing board, which he hid at the office. Monroe 
happened to see it, but didn’t let on.) Against the odds, he got a 
job as a beginning artist at Warner Brothers cartoon studio. 
Monroe had a wonderful sense of humor, demonstrated in the 
cartoons he drew. In later years, he occasionally sold cartoons
to magazines.

He was in a group photo here (scroll down to third photo). On September 19, 1942, Leung enlisted in the Army. According to the U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946, at Ancestry.com, he had two years of college. In the “Civil Occupation” category, he was designated “Skilled painters, construction and maintenance”. His height was five feet three inches and weight was 116 pounds. Leung was a member of the Army Air Force First Motion Picture Unit. He was in a group photo here (scroll down to second photo). I Dream of Genealogy has this entry by Dianne Kiyomoto: 

Leung, Monroe T; 2nd Lieutenant; Army; Air Corps draftsman, 
1505th Army Air Force Base Unit, 1st Motion picture animation unit.

He served with artist Wayne Thiebaud. Charles Strong interviewed Thiebaud who recalled the motion picture unit’s project and what happened after the war.

CS: The one assignment that sounded rather ominous was 
where you were making maps for the Japanese invasion. 

WT: That was very late in my service….I went through an 
investigatory procedure to see if I could be assigned to a secret 
project. And the secret project turned out to be located in the 
old Hal Roche Studios, redesigned to make this elaborate, full 
scale map of Japanese islands. And the artists were pulled there 
to make these models from stereoscopic photographs to make 
these amazing reduplications of the Japanese islands, which 
were photographed as if the pilots were actually flying over them. 
Overhead cameras would move over them with fake clouds 
coming under them and everything so that the pilots could have 
dead reckoning for bombing. It was such an effective plan and 
project that it got a medal of commendation. But I got there on 
VJ Day, so I ended up playing basketball with Ronald Reagan 
who was one of the commanding officers, and I also worked 
throwing out films, and actually doing some films on evacuation 
instruction. Then I was discharged. 

CS: Fascinating. So what happened after the war?

WT: I went back to try to sell cartoons in New York and went 
with another cartoonist friend, Monroe Leung (we were in the 
service together), a wonderful fellow. After about a month he 
decided to come home, and I ended up trying to sell cartoons. 

One of Leung's cartoons was published in Chinatown and China City in Los Angeles (2011). Leung was a watercolorist, too. The Collected Best of Watercolor (2002) featured one of his works.

A PR Newswire 2005 press release, “ ‘Inspiring Lines’ Exhibition in Chinatown Honors Six Chinese-American Pioneers In the Commercial Arts”, announced Leung’s work in the exhibition.

Leung passed away November 17, 2004, in Monterey Park, California.

(Tomorrow: Monroe Leung Cartoons)

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