Some news reports claim Fang was born in Canton, China. The Illinois State Register (Springfield, Illinois), February 18, 1917, published the following.
This Chinaman Actor Was Sailor.Fang said he served during the Spanish-American War. In the Boston Post (Massachusetts), March 11, 1917, Fang elaborated on a recipe for Dewey.
In a very brief period, Charles Fang, the Chinese actor who plays the part of Wee See in Metro’s serial, “The Great Secret,” in which Francis X. Bushman and Beverly Bayne are co-stars, has become recognized as one of the best exponents of real Chinese characters on the American stage.
Fang became an actor by accident. He was born in Canton, China, and comes of a well-to-do Chinese family. He was taken to San Francisco when a child and remained there until he was shipped aboard the Olympia, Admiral Dewey’s flagship. It was while on this warship that Fang’s talent was discovered.
When I was attached to the personal staff of the late Admiral Dewey on board the Olympia, he one time asked me to make him a real Chinese dish, one that would suit his boiled dinner tastes. I did, and he told me it pleased him very much. He asked me what I called it, and I told him the Chinese name for it was Yat Ko Main. Here it is—an inexpensive dish:Another Fang and Dewey story appeared in the Canton Repository (Ohio), June 26, 1917.
To one quart of boiling beef stock add two sliced onions, a small bunch of diced celery and a quarter of a pound of finely minced ham. Boil a quarter of a pound of noodles in clear water for 10 minutes; drain and soak in cold water. When the soup is done, add a tablespoonful of “soye” and the noodles. Boil up once and serve.
Patriotic ChineseAs far as I can tell, Fang never said when or how he traveled east to New York City.
In Metro’s coming picture there is a Chinaman who was born and raised in the United States and who was on Admiral Dewey’s flagship, the U.S.S. Olympia, when it sailed into the harbor of Manilla in 1898. His name is Charles Fang. “I am thirty-six years old,” said Mr. Fang, “but I am ready to go, I care not whether it be in the army or the navy. I was in the navy four years. At Manilla in 1898 I was steward in the wardroom of the Olympia, and afterwards I served through the campaign against the Moros in the Philippine islands. My parents were Chinese, but I was born in San Francisco. I have an honorable discharge from the navy and I expect that I can get in, even if I am older that I was when I first fought for the stars and stripes.”
The 1901 and 192 Orange, New Jersey city directories list a laundryman named Charles Fang at 215 Washington. The 1910 U.S. Federal Census has a Charles Fong in East Orange, New Jersey. He was a laundryman born in California, however, his age at 37 puts his birth year at 1873.
So far the earliest newspaper mention of Fang was in the Philadelphia Inquirer (Pennsylvania), June 25, 1916.
Chinese Objects to QueueFang’s first film to be released was “Broken Fetters” on July 3, 1916. “Broken Fetters” was reviewed in Moving Picture World, July 1, 1916.
Charles Fang, an Americanized Chinese, who plays a character part in “The Quitter,” in which Lionel Barrymore is starred, objected to wearing a queue until he was told that he could not be used otherwise. He then consented to putting on the pig-tail wig, but took it off the moment he was not working before the camera.
“Broken Fetters” at Met.
“Broken Fetters,” which was shown at the Metropolitan theater last light, is an exceptionally entertaining, elaborate and thrilling photoplay that will prove one of the strongest foundations for Bluebird films for some times. The story carries the Oriental atmosphere through until the end, with just a smattering of the white slave traffic to make it interesting. It is the story of a young American girl who was adopted by a Chinese merchant. Later she is brought to this country, where she is kept prisoner in one of the darkest holes in Chinatown. A young artist secures here for a model. The artist falls in love with her and attempts to free her. By this time the Chinaman who is holding her prisoner falls in love with her. He tries to force his attentions upon her, and a lively tussle occurs. Finally he is killed and the girl is taken by the artist to his own home.
The sets and staging are wonderfully realistic. The acting, too, is most worthy. As the innocent little girl, brought up in Chinese surroundings, Violet Mersereau portrayed a character that is unusually artistic. Especial mention must also he given Frank Smith and Charles Fang for their fine characterizations.
The story is replete with thrills and the action never lags.
Art by Burton Rice
Fang’s second film, “The Quitter”, was released July 10, 1916.
Around this time there was another Charles Fang who worked on at least one film. The New Orleans States (Louisiana), August 27, 1916, printed this item.
Fang’s Oriental Music for “The Yellow Menace’Fang’s next film, “In the Diplomatic Service”, was released October 16, 1916. The San Jose Evening News (California), November 29, 1916, said “… and Charles Fang. Fang is a Chinese comedian, and was recently styled by New York critics ‘the Chinese Charlie Chaplin.’”
One of the special features in connection with “The Yellow Menace” serial is a complete musical score which has been composed by Charles Fang, native of Canton, China, and a graduate of Yale University.
Mr. Fang spent many weeks in the studios where the picture was being filmed, studying the Oriental setting, and while the score is typically Mongolian, it us, at the same time, popular in character.
More praise for Fang was in the New Orleans States (Louisiana), December 3, 1916, “Charles Fang, who often appears on the screen with Francis X. Bushman in Metro-Quality productions, is a Chinaman. He is an excellent actor.”
More publicity for Fang was found in the Cleveland Plain Dealer (Ohio), February 18, 1917.
Charles Fang had the spotlight unexpectedly thrown on him recently when he attended a picture show and held a coupon that entitled him to a prize, to be presented on stage.“The Great Secret” was Fang’s fourth film.
Charles Fang will be remembered as the Chinaman who is walking away with the acting honors in “The Great Secret” serial.
Fang wrote a lengthy piece on Chinese food for the Boston Post, March 11, 1917.
During World War I Fang encouraged other Chinese to contribute either by enlisting and through funding.
Fang’s visit to New York Chinatown was covered in the New York Tribune, June 18, 1917.
“No Want ’List Melican Army,” Chinatown Tells Dewey’s Ex-CookThe Bismarck Daily Tribune (North Dakota), September 20, 1917, noted Fang’s appearance in “The Slacker”.
Charlie Fang, Now Movie Actor, Stumps for Recruits, but Verdict Is: Charlie Chappel Better Charlie Fang”—Fifty-four Celestials Subscribe to Red Cross Fund
Charlie Fang, the Chinese motion picture actor and former cook for Admiral Dewey on the flagship Olympia, came down to Chinatown yesterday to recruit Celestials of conscription age for the service on the West front in France. His talk in Chinese and English fell upon several hundred mute ears, and what Pell and Doyers and Mott streets think of Charlie and his idea could be expressed with safety only in Cantonese.
The place selected by Charlie for the campaign was not in the highways and byways, but in the five-sent motion picture house of Sam Kutinsky, at Chatham Square, where the screen was displaying Fang himself throughout the day in a Metro film with Francis X. Bushman.
Ah Suey, a salesman of Won Soy Wong, of Newark happened to be in Mott street with his six-cylinder Studebaker, and took his family to their the illustrious Mr. Fang. He listened until his countryman had finished his appeal and them walked out, grunting and smiling.
“Charlie Chappel Better”
As he emerged into Chatham Square again he bumped into Charlie Boston, the well known beacon light of the customs inspectors whenever Ed Norwood sends them up from the Barge Office on an opium raid.
“Hello, Suey,” exclaimed Boston. “You ready list army? What you think Charlie Fang>”
“I don’t like Chinaman actor with Melican picture. Wu Ting Fang bester actor. Charlie Chappel better Charlie Fang.”
Presently Won-on Kee and High Fook, of Pell Street, came out, but merely grinned when the trained ferret of the customs raiders asked their opinion of the man who made the show for Dewey at Manilla Bay.
Mr. Boston, remarking that he would give the San Francisco recruit-teeter the once-over, passed Sam Kutinsky the high sign and walked in. Ten minutes later he came out, and with the philosophy of a Chen Yen Wing explained how Chinatown felt in response to the appeal of Mr. Fang, of ’Frisco.
Calls Recruiter Funny
“You see,” volunteered Boston, “Chinamen funny people to ’Mericans. They don’t like see Chinaman play Chinaman with ’Merican company. You unstan that why only few Chinaman give damn what Charlie Fang talk about. Chinaman sees ’Merican play Chinaman in movie picture and laugh cause ’Merican very funny.”
Mr. Boston then threw out his chest and, pointing proudly to a Liberty Bond button, continued, “Charlie Fang, he nearly forty years old. He don’t have to go to war. Chinamen like hear fella what go war himself. You unastan? Bushwa.’
It was quite a different story when Charlie Fang himself came out of Sam Kutinsky’s. He is about five feet tall, was nattily dressed, and wore large spectacles with broad amber rims.
“We should have American-born Chinamen at the French front,” he said in excellent English. “I served through the fight at Manila, and when my next picture is done I’m through with the movies. I will enlist again in the navy as a chief cook or steward if the government will take me. I went into service in 1896 in San Francisco, where I was born. I was Admiral Dewey’s boy, and was just behind him on the bridge of the Olympia when he went into Manila Bay. I stayed in the service in th Philippines and got my honorable discharge in 1900, and I ask no Chinaman to do more that I an going to do myself.
“Those to old to enlist can subscribe to the Red Cross and—” “Red Cross right,” interrupted Mr. Boston. “You come now to dinner with me at Port Arthur and I show you there fifty good Chinamen give you money for Red Cross. You went [sic] men list army, you call up Barge Office, tell Walter Murphy, Ike Harris, Ed Norwood, Frank Zorga. They scare very Chinaman, make him go in army.”
Charlie Boston made good his promise later and Charlie Fang at the Port Arthur for fifty-four subscriptions as a starter for Chinese contributions to the Red Cross.
“The Slacker,” Metro’s great special patriotic production de luxe, in which the gifted star, Emily Stevens appears, has been given a cast of unusual distinction by its author-director William Christy Cabanne.According to Motography, September 22, 1917, Fang was associated with a new company.
… Well known Metro favorites make up the larger part of the cast. Among these are … and the ever-popular Chinese actor, Charles Fang. …
Chinese Comedian FeaturedFang was on the move again as reported in Dramatic Mirror of Motion Pictures and the Stage, March 30, 1918.
Charlie Fang, the Chinese comedian, is being featured by George W. Shepard, president of the Screen Craft Company. Fang possesses a blank countenance that is irresistible as a mirth provoker. Fang’s first release under the banner of the Screen Craft Company, which was recently done under the direction of Robert B. Carson, and another one-reel feature of Charlie Fang, which is American for Hung Loo, is now completed. The title is “Fang’s Fate and Fortune.”
Will Direct for Scrantonia Corp.
C.R. De Barge, Vice-President, to Supervise Production of Features
The Scrantonia Photoplay Corporation which has announced for immediate release, six one-reel comedies featuring Charlie Fang, the inimitable Chinese comedian, have already expanded operations and will immediately commence the producing of six and seven-reel photo plays, to be released by way of the state right market through Jesse J. Goldberg.
Advertisement appeared in Moving Picture World,
March 30, 1918 and Chinese in Hollywood (2013)
The Cleveland Plain Dealer (Ohio), March 31, 1918, also reported Fang’s new employer.
Film Now Boasts Chinese ComedianOn September 17, 1918 Fang signed his World War I draft card. He resided in Manhattan, New York City, at 355 West 58th Street. He was actor employed by the Norma Talmadge Film Company at 318 East 48th Street, New York City. Fang’s description was short, slender build with black eyes and hair.
The Scrantonia Photoplay Corporation, producers of one-reel comedies, have completed the first six productions which are now offered to State right buyers through Jesse J. Goldberg, sales and exploitation representative of that company. The six comedies were produced at the studios of the Scrantonia Photoplay Corporation at Scranton, Pa. and are entitled: “The Chinese Musketeer,” “Feet and Defeat,” “Cheerful Liars,” “Fate and Fortune,” “Parson Pepp,” “The Ring and the Ringer.”
The leading character in each of these comedies is Charles Fang, reputed to be the only Chinese comedian in America. To those who have seen Fang’s work on the screen, he appears to possess an unusual and infectious smile, and while his work carries with it the mannerisms of the Oriental, there is said to be an American flavor to it withal.
Talmadge’s “The Forbidden City” was released October 6, 1918. She and Fang appeared together in a lobby card. The Bridgeport Times (Connecticut), November 8, 1922, explained a bit of the film’s production.
During the making of “The Forbidden City,” starring Norma Talmadge, a Selznick picture playing at the Empire theatre today, the studio in New York took on a very Oriental air. In order to give the proper atmosphere to the picture, P. L. Yuam, the best informed expert on Chinese history and customs in America, was engaged for research work. Mr. Yuam also supervised the making of all costumes and scenic effects.Fang was in the cast of “Mandarin’s Gold” which was reviewed in Variety, January 31, 1919.
Among the more prominent members of the cast are several Chinese actors who are widely known in this country, including Charlie Fang, the Chinese screen comedian. Lee Wayne, another well known Oriental actor, is also in the cast, while Sam Kim is making his first appearance on the screen in this production.
The American portion of the cast includes Thomas Meighan who needs no introduction to the screen fans.
The Miami Herald (Florida), September 28, 1919, published the following.
First Chinaman of Film Is in CheckersFang was mentioned in Stage and Screen (1920).
Charles Fang, appearing in the mammoth William Fox production of Henry Blossom, Jr.’s, great racing melodrama “Checkers” at the Central theater, was the first Chinaman to be screened. Shortly after he returned from Manila, where he had served as a steward on Admiral Dewey’s flagship, Fang was engaged for a small part in a picture then being made on the west coast.
For several years he was afraid to mingle with his countrymen, for until quite recently the Chinese were greatly opposed to their own appearing in the silent drama. Men high in the various tongs stated that in all the motion pictures the Chinese were forced to portray roles that were villainous, and that a fair picture of a Chinaman never had been screened. if the role of a Chinaman were interpreted by an American actor, the Chinese admitted that they could not stop the unfair impression which the work was getting of the Chinaman; but they insisted that one of their own race should not forget the land of his birth to the extent of spreading aboard a bad impressions of his fellow countrymen.
It was in 1917, many years after he had made his debut on the screen that Charlie Fang was reinstated in favor by the Chinese. He appeared in person at a theater in the heart of Chinatown, New York, where a picture in which he had a prominent part was being shown, and proudly displaying his honorable discharge from the U.S. navy, appealed to his countrymen to support the United States in every way. Since that day he has been in the good graces of the Chinese.
The 1920 census recorded moving picture actor Fang in Moriah, New York, where he, another actor, a cameraman and scenic artist were boarding, apparently for a movie production.
Motion Picture News, October 16, 1920, noted Fang’s role in “The Honorable Gentleman”.
The first Hugo Ballin independent production, which the W.W. Hodkinson Corporation has scheduled for early release, under the working title of “The Honorable Gentleman” has an “extraordinary strong cast,” in the opinion of the Hodkinson organization.The New York Tribune, June 11, 1922, said a new film company would use Fang.
… Little Charlie Fang, who has been seen for the past six years in many Mack Sennett productions, is cast as “The Hatchetman” and himself to be probably the most consummate Chinese actor on the screen.
New Motion Picture Firm to Produce in New YorkApparently Fang had some martial arts skills according to the Omaha World-Herald (Nebraska), July 30, 1925.
A new motion picture firm has just come to light. It is the Lustre Photoplays. Inc. of which J. W. Foster is the president and Robert Carson,
The plans of the new corporation call for three producing units, which
will stage twenty two-reel semi-western pictures; twelve five-reelers and fifty.two one-reel comedies in which Charlie Fang. a Chinese comedian, will be the chief luminary. The first producing unit which will stage the two-reel subjects will begin work next Monday at Plattsburgh, N. Y., where a studio has just been completed for the use of Lustre Photoplays. Judith Jordan will be starred in these short subjects.
Demonstrate Jiu JitsuFang’s screen appearances dried up after 1925. But he still found work helping to cast Chinese in films. The Canton Repository (Ohio), December 16, 1928, said … “A great help on the Chinese was Charlie Fang, one of the best-known Chinese actors in the business. He has been helping on Oriental pictures for years. We told Charlie what we needed and he went out and found some of the best Chinese types in the whole cast.”
Walter Miller and Charles Fang are called upon to display real skill at jig jitsu in “Sunken Silver,” the Pathe serial adapted from Albert Payson Terhune’s novel, “Black Caesar’s Clan,” in which Miller is featured with Allene Ray and which opens Sunday at the Moon theater. Fang, who plays an important role in the story, also acted for the company as official instructor of jiu jitsu. This art of self-defense in which one’s opponent is compelled to sue his strength to his own disadvantage os splendidly demonstrated when Big Ivan Linow is worsted by Fang, only half Linow’s size.
According to the 1930 census, Fang had a room at 110 122nd Street in Manhattan. He was a self-employed stage actor.
In 1930 Fang found roles on the stage in “Gold Braid” and “Roar China”. The following year he appeared in “Just to Remind You”.
Fang’s final film role was in “My Sin”. He was credited in the Hollywood Spectator, November 1931.
Fang was in Cole Porter’s musical, “Anything Goes”, which ran for almost a year on Broadway, from November 21, 1934 to November 16, 1935. Variety, November 27, 1934, reviewed “Anything Goes”.
Below: Pages from The Playbill for “Anything Goes”
at the Alvin Theatre, New York City, February 1935
at the Alvin Theatre, New York City, February 1935
Washington will have an opportunity to renew acquaintance with Billy Gaxton and Victor Moore, who scored on their first appearance here together in “Of Thee I Sing,” when “Anything Goes” comes to the National Theater December 2.
The partnership, which began so auspiciously in that political lampoon, has been carried on brilliantly in the present Vinton Freedley musical hit, which directs its shafts against the national worship of the big-shot gangster. “Anything Goes” has just completed a run of one year on Broadway.
The libretto of the musical has been developed by the combined talents of Guy Bolton, P. G. Wodehouse. Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse, and Cole Porter has provided a series of lilting songs which have won international acclaim.
In addition to Moore and Gaxton the cast includes Benay Venuta and Irene Delroy in the leading feminine roles; Leslie Barrie, Helen Raymond, Paul Everton, Vera Dunn, John C. King, Florence Earle, Houston Richards, May Abbey, George E. Mack, Drucilla Strain, Maurice Elliot, Billy Curtis, Val Vestoff, Pacie Ripple, Robert Lynne, Vivian Vance, Richard Wang, Charlie Fang and the Singing Foursome.
Below: Pages from The Playgoer for “Anything Goes”
at the Forrest Theatre, Philadelphia, November 1935
Fang had the same address on his World War II draft card which he signed in April 1942. He had income from the Works Project Administration. His description was five feet two inches, 110 pounds, with brown eyes and black hair.
On November 18, 1947, Fang filed a Social Security application which had his name as Charles J. Fang.
An obituary for Fang has not been found. The New York, New York Death Index, at Ancestry.com, has a Charles Fang who passed away November 2, 1956, in Manhattan.
Fang’s filmography is here.
(Next post on Friday: Four Seasons by Ling-fu Yang)