In 1953,James Hong left Minnesota with a buddy in a Buick and hit Route 66, bound for California.
After serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, during which he put on shows for his fellow troops, the Minneapolis native planned to spend a summer in Los Angeles before resuming his engineering studies back home.
Then an unlikely big break changed his life: impressing Groucho Marx with an impression of Groucho Marx on an episode of “You Bet Your Life.”
He moved to L.A., got an agent and started booking small roles. The rest was history — much to the initial disapproval of his tradition-minded parents.
“They thought I was crazy. They thought I was no good,” said Hong, 93, with a smile on a recent afternoon in the courtyard of his Beverly Hills home.
“James Hong had to be a black sheep and become an actor.”
Back then, he had no idea how far his acting dreams would take him, the challenges he’d face as a Chinese American in Hollywood, or that he’d become one of the most prolific film and televisionperformers in American history.