A Year: Day to Day Men: 9th of November

An Autumn Afternoon

November 9, 1980 marks the passing of character actor Victor Sen Yung.

Victor Sen Yung , born Sen Yew Cheung, was born in San Francisco to parents who were both immigrants from China. After his mother died in the great flu epidemic of 1919, he and his younger sister were placed in a children’s shelter by their father, who returned to China seeking a new wife. Upon his father’s and his new wife’s return, the family again reunited as a household.

Sen Yung made his first significant acting debut in the 1938 “Charlie Chan in Honolulu”, as the detective’s ‘number two son”, Jimmy Chan. In this movie, Sidney Toler had his first role as Charlie Chan, replacing the recently deceased Warner Oland; Sen Yung replaced Oland’s ‘number one son’ Lee, who had been played by actor Keye Luke. Sen Yung played his Jimmy Chan role for ten “Charlie Chan” films from 1938 to 1942.

In 1940 Victor Sen Yung played the crucial role of the lawyer’s clerk Ong Chi Seng in the Bette Davis film “The Letter”, a film noir murder story. Like other Chinese-American actors, he was cast in Japanese roles during World War II, appearing as a traitor in the 1942 Humphrey Bogart film “Across the Pacific”. After enlisting in the Army Air Force, Sen Yung’s military service included training films and a role in the Army Air Force play and film “Winged Victory”.

After the war, Victor Sen Yung resumed his Hollywood career, appearing in the final two of Sidney Toler’s  Charlie Chan films, “Shadows Over Chinatown” and “The Trap”. Following Toler’s death in 1947, Sen Yung continued in films but also appeared on television, most notably as Hop Sing, the cook on the long-running “Bonanza” western series, appearing in 102 episodes during its fourteen year run.

An accomplished and talented cook, Sen Yung frequently appeared on cooking programs and authored “The Great Wok Cookbook” in 1974.

Victor Sen Yung died under unusual circumstances at his North Hollywood home in 1980. A creative ceramic artist with a small business, he died of natural gas poisoning from a gas leak while creating clayware and curing the items in an oven. After an investigation, the authorities ultimately ruled the death an accident. A memorial scholarship is awarded each year at his alma mater, the University of California at Berkeley. Victor Sen Yung’s eulogy was given by fellow “Bonanza” actor Pernell Roberts, who also paid the funeral expenses.

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