Hop Sing & Me
Posted August 27, 2009on:
The theme of this post is times have changed (I hope), prompted by the suggestion from Madama Ambi that I write about Hop Sing, the cook on the old TV show, Bonanza (14 years on the air beginning in 1959).
You may not know this but in the world of Bonanza there are folks who self-describe themselves as Bonanzologists and a place on the web called Bonanza World.
I loved Bonanza as a kid in suburban St. Louis. It was an institution in our family to go to Buckingham’s for fried chicken on Sunday nights and take our leftovers in bags we decorated with the words, “save for Bonanza.” I loved watching Westerns on TV and bellying up to the bar for a bottle of Diet Dr Pepper and a shot glass.
I also loved Buckingham’s, a restaurant located in an old house, because it had the best cinnamon rum rolls (with raisins). As kids we always hoped we got there in time to get the cow pitchers for our milk
This was also the restaurant where my brother flung mashed potatoes into the eye of a customer at another table. My parents got out of there quickly that night. I’m innocent. I wasn’t born yet and probably wouldn’t have had his aim, anyway.
Now to Hop Sing, who was born in Canton, China, and came to the U.S. as an immigrant. On the show, he represented a stereotype and yet he also had wisdom and humor, as quoted in Bonanza World:
Hop Sing: “What can I do for Number One Boss of Ponderosa?”
Ben: “Just a cup of your good coffee.”
Hop Sing: “Cup in cupboard, coffee on stove. Help yourself!”
Ben (about the boys): “I think they might have run into some trouble…”
Hop Sing: “Always do! How you help by not eat?”
The character of Hop Sing allowed Bonanza to explore racism. According to Bonanza World, Hop Sing came to live with the Cartwrights after Ben Cartwright and his wife, Marie, found him in Virginia City “beaten by some local toughs. Ben chased the other men off and took Hop Sing home with him until he got well, but Hop Sing never left.”
Victor Sen Yung, who played Hop Sing, was a character actor with a very long list of credits in movies and television. And yet he was invisible without his Asian costume – whether he was Hop Sing, in Charlie Chan movies or played Japanese men in World War II movies.
Yung appeared on the To Tell the Truth program in 1975, talking about a 1972 hijacking in which he was shot in the back and two other passengers died. (Celebrity panelists interviewed three people – two imposters and the actual person – and said who they felt was the real one.) In his sports coat, no one picked Yung. Amazing, considering his long credits.
Meanwhile, back to me: You would think that with all that fried chicken during the years I watched Hop Sing on Bonanza, that I would have heart disease and not breast cancer. After all, this was deep fried chicken, the good stuff that no one in his or her right mind would eat today, especially not weekly.
Back then in the early 1960s, most women with breast cancer died from it; now most live. A vast majority live. (I will keep saying that to myself.)
I do not care to look up the statistics, but I believe this. I have to believe this. Certainly I meet women who are 10, 20 and even 30 years out from their diagnoses. They are very inspiring. I want to be one of them.
One last thought, before I go. In the words of Hop Sing, if you want a good latte or good cappuccino, “Help yourself.”
Have an idea for a cultural icon I should work into this blog? Let me know via email or comment. This was a challenging one.