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Sessue Hayakawa Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (3) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (1) | Trivia (6) | Salary (2)

Overview (3)

Date of Birth 10 June 1889Nanaura, Chiba, Japan
Date of Death 23 November 1973Tokyo, Japan  (cerebral thrombosis)
Birth NameKintarô Hayakawa

Mini Bio (1)

Sessue Hayakawa was born in Chiba, Japan. His father was the provincial governor and his mother a member of an aristocratic family of the "samurai" class. The young Hayakawa wanted to follow in his father's footsteps and become a career officer in the Japanese navy, but he was turned down due to problems with his hearing.

The disappointed Hayakawa decided to make his career on the stage. He joined a Japanese theatrical company that eventually toured the United States in 1913. Pioneering film producer Thomas H. Ince spotted Hayakawa and offered him a movie contract. Turns in The Wrath of the Gods (1914) and The Typhoon (1914) turned Hayakawa into an overnight success. The first Asian-American star of the American screen was born.

He married actress Tsuru Aoki on May 1, 1914. The next year his appearance in Cecil B. DeMille's sexploitation picture The Cheat (1915) made Hayakawa a silent-screen superstar. He played an ivory merchant who has an affair with the Caucasian 'Fannie Ward', and audiences were "scandalized" when he branded her as a symbol of her submission to their passion. The movie was a blockbuster for Famous Players-Lasky (later Paramount), turning Hayakawa into a romantic idol for millions of American women regardless of their race. However, there were objections and outrage from racists of all stripes, especially those who were opposed to miscegenation (sexual contact between those of different races). Also outraged was the Japanese-American community, which was dismayed by DeMille's unsympathetic portrayal of a member of their race. The Japanese-American community protested the film and attempted to have it banned when it was re-released in 1918.

The popularity of Hayakawa rivaled that of Caucausian male movie stars in the decade of the 1910s, and he became one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood. Hayakawa made his career in melodramas playing romantic heroes and charismatic heavies. He co-starred with the biggest female stars in Hollywood, all of whom were, of course, Caucasian. His pictures often co-starred Jack Holt as his Caucasian rival for the love of the white heroine (Holt would later become a top action star in the 1920s),

Hayakawa left Famous Players-Lasky to go independent, setting up his own production company, Haworth Pictures. Through the end of the decade, Haworth Pictures produced Asian-themed films starring Hayakawa and wife Tsuru Aoki that proved very popular. These movies elucidated the immigrant's desire to "cross over" or assimilate into society at large and and pursue the American Dream in a society free of racial intolerance. Most of these films are now lost.

With the dawn of a new decade came a rise in anti-Asian sentiment, particularly over the issue of immigration due to the post-World War I economic slump. Hayakawa's films began to perform poorly at the box office, bringing his first American movie career to an end in 1922. He moved to Japan but was unable to get a career going. Moving to France, he starred in The Battle (1923), a popular melodrama spiced with martial arts. He made Sen Yan's Devotion (1924) and The Great Prince Shan (1924) in the UK.

In 1931 Hayakawa returned to Hollywood to make his talking-picture debut in support of Anna May Wong in Daughter of the Dragon (1931). Sound revealed that he had a heavy accent, and his acting got poor reviews. He returned to Japan before once again going to France, where he made the geisha melodrama Yoshiwara (1937) for director Max Ophüls. He also appeared in a remake of "The Cheat" called The Cheat (1937), playing the same role that over 20 year earlier had made him one of the biggest stars in the world.

After the Second World War, he took a third shot at Hollywood. In 1949 he relaunched g himself as a character actor with Tokyo Joe (1949) in support of Humphrey Bogart, and Three Came Home (1950) with Claudette Colbert. Hayakawa reached the apex of this, his third career, with his role as the martinet POW camp commandant in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), which brought him an Academy Award nomination for Best Suporting Actor. His performance as Col. Saito was essential to the success of David Lean's film, built as it was around the battle of wills between Hayakawa's commandant and Alec Guinness' Col. Nicholson, head of the Allied POWs. The film won the Best Picture Academy Award, while Lean and Guiness also were rewarded with Oscars.

Hayakawa continued to act in movies regularly until his retirement in 1966. He returned to Japan, becoming a Zen Buddhist priest while remaining involved in his craft by giving private acting lessons.

Ninety years after achieving stardom, he remains one of the few Asians to assume superstar status in American motion pictures.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood

Spouse (1)

Tsuru Aoki (May 1914 - 18 October 1961) (her death)

Trivia (6)

His father had been the governor of the Chiba Prefecture in Japan.
His father belonged to the military nobility but he left the Naval Academy for a theatrical stage career. He worked with the female tragic star Sada Yacco. Then he traveled through Europe, studying the classics, and returned to Japan where he presented works by William Shakespeare ("Otelo" in his own translation), Henrik Ibsen and others, in the Imperial Dramatic Company. During a US tour in 1913, legendary producer-director Thomas H. Ince noticed him and prompted him into a film career playing exotic villains.
One of eight actors of Asian descent nominated for an Academy Award in an acting category. The others are Miyoshi Umeki who won Best Supporting Actress nominated for Sayonara (1957), Mako nominated for The Sand Pebbles (1966), Ben Kingsley who won Best Actor for Gandhi (1982), Haing S. Ngor who won Best Supporting Actor for The Killing Fields (1984), Pat Morita nominated for The Karate Kid (1984), Ken Watanabe nominated for The Last Samurai (2003), and Rinko Kikuchi nominated for Babel (2006).
According to silent film historian Kalton C. Lahue, Hayakawa owned a gold-plated Pierce Arrow, and hired a liveried footman to go along with it. When fellow actor Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle also acquired the same type of car, Hayakawa donated his no longer one-of-a-kind auto to the Long Island Fire Department.
He and his wife Tsuru Aoki were famous for their lavish parties during the early 1920s. According to historian Kalton C. Lahue, they held frequent luncheons for 150 guests, buffet suppers for as many as 900 and sit-down dinners for 250.
During the high point of his career, Hayakawa and wife Tsuru Aoki lived in a landmark home, built in the style of a French castle, at the corner of Argyle and Franklin streets in Hollywood. Demolished in 1956, this corner is now the site of the Franklin Street entrance to the Hollywood / 101 Freeway.

Salary (2)

The Typhoon (1914) $500 /week
The Tong Man (1919) $200,000

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