Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Lia Chang Picks: Arthur Dong’s Forbidden City: Chinese-American Nightclubs, 1930-1970

Lia Chang with her autographed copy of Arthur Dong's Forbidden City, USA: Chinese American Nightclubs, 1936-1970 on Thanksgiving Day in Las Vegas on November 27, 2014. Photo by Marissa Chang-Flores

Lia Chang with her autographed copy of Arthur Dong’s Forbidden City, USA: Chinese American Nightclubs, 1936-1970 on Thanksgiving Day in Las Vegas on November 27, 2014. Photo by Marissa Chang-Flores

Love, Love, Love “Forbidden City: Chinese-American Nightclubs, 1936-1970”, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Arthur Dong’s new book which captures the magic and glamour of a Chinese American nightclub scene that peaked in San Francisco during World War II.

I read it cover to cover during my Thanksgiving holiday with my family in Las Vegas and highly recommend it.

“Forbidden City, USA” is the culmination of Arthur Dong’s nearly thirty-year devotion to the topic of Chinese American nightclubs, originally inspired by his research for his documentary of the same name.  I first met Arthur when he came to New York to interview dancer turned manager of Asian American talent Jadin Wong (my former manager) for the documentary. The tome is Dong’s virtual love letter to those who paved the way and made their mark for today’s Asian American performing artists.

Jadin Wong, Dancer. Contemporary photo taken in 1985 by Arthur Dong. Copyright 2012 DeepFocus Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Jadin Wong, Dancer. Contemporary photo taken in 1985 by Arthur Dong. Copyright 2012 DeepFocus Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

“Forbidden City, USA: Chinese American Nightclubs, 1936-1970,” co-authored with his sister Lorraine Dong, features excerpts of interviews with Forbidden City owner Charlie Low; dancers Jadin Wong, Dottie Sun, Ivy Tam (Mrs. Charlie Low #4), Jackie Mei Ling, Jade Ling, Mary Mammon, Noel Toy, Tony Wing, Dorothy Toy and Paul Wing of Toy and Wing; singers Frances Chun, Larry Ching and Toy Yat Mar; and choreographer and producer Walton Biggerstaff.

Charlie Low, Forbidden City Impresario, MC, and sometime performer. Contemporary photo taken in 1985 by Arthur Dong. Copyright 2012 DeepFocus Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Charlie Low, Forbidden City Impresario, MC, and sometime performer. Contemporary photo taken in 1985 by Arthur Dong. Copyright 2012 DeepFocus Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Previously unpublished personal stories, along with over four hundred stunning images and rare artifacts, are presented in this “sexy and insightful chronicle” of Asian American performers who defied racial and cultural barriers to pursue their showbiz dreams.
forbidden city usa

Purchase the book from Amazon.com by clicking here.

In the mid-1930s Prohibition had been repealed and the Great Depression was waning. With a global conflict on the rise, people were out to drink, dine, dance, and see a show to forget their woes—and an emerging generation of Chinese American entertainers commanded the stage in their own nightclubs. “Forbidden City, USA” reveals the sassy, daring, and sometimes heartbreaking first-hand accounts of the dancers, singers, and producers who lived this story, and weaves in a fascinating collection of photos, postcards, menus, programs, and even souvenir chopsticks. Together they recreate a forgotten era, taking readers on a dazzling tour of the old “Chop Suey Circuit.”
The slideshow below features Contemporary photographs taken by Arthur Dong during the making of his documentary, alongside vintage glamour promotional images.

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Dong’s previously published works as editor and contributing writer include the exhibition catalogues for shows that he also curated: “Chop Suey on Wax: The Flower Drum Song Album” at the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum in, San Francisco and “Hollywood Chinese: The Arthur Dong Collection” at the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles.

Arthur Dong

Arthur Dong

As a film student at San Francisco State University, Arthur Dong produced “Sewing Woman,” his Academy Award nominated short documentary in 1984. The film focused on his mother’s immigration to America from China. Instead of finding an outside distributer for the film, Dong then started his own company, DeepFocus Productions, and serves as its producer, director and writer. Dong has produced, directed, written, edited, and filmed independent films on social issues such as gay rights and the Chinese American experience. He has gone on to produce many other highly praised films including “Coming Out Under Fire,” winner of the Peabody Award in 1995. A two-time Rockefeller Media Arts Fellow as well as a Guggenheim Fellow in Film, Dong has served on the boards of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Film Independent, OutFest, and the National Film Preservation Board at the Library of Congress. In addition to the 1995 Peabody Award for  his highly praised film “Coming Out Under Fire,” he honors include three Sundance Film Festival awards, an Oscar nomination, the Berlin Film Festival’s Teddy Award, Taipei’s Golden Horse Award, a GLAAD Media Award, and five Emmy nominations.

Other articles about Arthur Dong:
Oct. 23: Meet Forbidden City, USA’s Author and Filmmaker Arthur Dong at the South Pasadena Library
Jun. 4: Meet Forbidden City, USA’s Author and Filmmaker Arthur Dong in L.A. Chinatown
STORIES FROM CHINESE AMERICA: The Arthur Dong Collection, Vol. 2 as 4 disc DVD Box Set, Parties in LA (11/6) and SF (11/13)
Hollywood Chinese: The Arthur Dong Collection Exhibition at the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles, has been extended through November 7, 2010
Multimedia: George Takei, Nancy Kwan, Lisa Lu and Tsai Chin attend Hollywood Chinese: The Arthur Dong Collection Exhibition Opening Night
The Chinese American Museum partners with Academy award nominated filmmaker Arthur Dong on a groundbreaking exhibition about Hollywood’s forgotten past
In Arthur Dong’s Hollywood Chinese, Chinese Tinseltown Tales told by Asian Silver Screen Icons

Other articles by Lia Chang
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HAMILTON, James Houghton, Usman Ally, Ayad Akhtar, Stephen McKinley Henderson, John Douglas Thompson and Suzan-Lori Parks among 2015 Obie Award Winners
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Hamilton Sweeps 2015 Lucille Lortel Awards with 10 Wins; Between Riverside and Crazy Garners 3
AN AMERICAN IN PARIS AND FUN HOME Lead 2015 Tony Award Nominations with 12 each; Ken Watanabe, Ruthie Ann Miles, Kelli O’Hara, Chita Rivera, Bradley Cooper, Kristin Chenoweth, Bill Nighy, Helen Mirren, Elisabeth Moss, Carey Mulligan, Ruth Wilson, K. Todd Freeman, Patricia Clarkson Among the Nominees
Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Between Riverside and Crazy Garners 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Drama
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Photos: Aasif Mandvi, Sheetal Sheth, Jimmy O. Yang, Raymond J. Lee, Tobias Wong and more celebrate HBO’s AAPI Heritage Month Screening of Jonathan Yi’s “East of Main Street: Taking the Lead” Documentary
George Takei Receives Distinguished Medal of Honor at Japanese American National Museum’s 2015 Gala Dinner; JANM Acquires Japanese American Incarceration Artifacts once slated for public auction
White House Blog: Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month; ‏White House Summit on AAPIs is May 12
President Barack Obama’s Proclamation for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, 2015
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An Intimate Evening with Author Amy Tan at the New-York Historical Society
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Photos: Inside THE FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE CD Release Concert with André De Shields, Kevin Mambo, Adam Chanler-Berat, Michael Friedman and More
Photos: National Black Theatre Festival 2013; NBTF runs August 3-8, 2015 and will include Act III – A Celebration of Life Reception saluting the late theatre icon Garland Lee Thompson, Sr.
Crafting a Career

Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.
All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2015 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at liachangpr@gmail.com

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