James B. Leong

James B. Leong (born Leong But-jung and sometimes credited as Jimmy Leong) was a Chinese character actor and filmmaker who had a long career in Hollywood beginning during the silent era.

James B. Leong
Leong But-jung

November 2, 1889
Shanghai, China
DiedDecember 16, 1967
Los Angeles, California, USA
EducationIndiana State University
OccupationActor, director
Spouse(s)Agatha Tarwater (m. 1934)


James was born in Shanghai, and he moved to the United States with his parents when he was young.[1] He graduated from college in Muncie, Indiana, in 1915[2] and briefly worked at a newspaper before moving to Hollywood, where he worked at first as a technical director for filmmakers like D. W. Griffith and Wesley Ruggles.[1][3][4]

By 1919, he had started his own production company — James B. Leong Productions, later known as the Wah Ming Motion Picture Company — to show Chinese life as it really was.[5] (He had grown tired of seeing Chinese people portrayed as kidnappers and assassins on the screen.)[6] Under this banner, he wrote and directed the 1921 film Lotus Blossom.[7] He said he planned to write and direct four films a year, but this doesn't seem to have come to fruition. (A planned follow-up, The Unbroken Promise, doesn't seem to have been filmed.)[8][9]

Instead, he appears to have taken on work as an actor: Over the ensuing decades, he'd play more dozens of smaller roles in Hollywood films, and also continue to work as a technical director and dialect coach.[10] He also appears to have earned a good deal of money as a grower of silk crops in the 1940s.[11][12]

He married Agatha Tarwater in 1934; the pair had a son together. Leong became a U.S. citizen in 1958.[1]

Selected filmography

As writer-director

As producer

  • China Speaks (1937)

As actor


  1. "Veteran Chinese Actor Becomes U.S. Citizen". The Los Angeles Times. 26 July 1958. Retrieved 9 November 2019.
  2. "Young Chinese, Former Student Here, in City to Exhibit Film Play". The Muncie Evening Press. 22 August 1921. Retrieved 9 November 2019.
  3. "Shadowgrams". The Wausau Daily Herald. 21 June 1920. Retrieved 9 November 2019.
  4. "Brief Notes of Movie Land". The Casper Star-Tribune. 10 December 1922. Retrieved 9 November 2019.
  5. "The Silent Drama". The Cincinnati Enquirer. 26 June 1921. Retrieved 9 November 2019.
  6. "Movie Notes". The Austin American-Statesman. 10 April 1921. Retrieved 9 November 2019.
  7. "The Real China on Celluloid". The Los Angeles Times. 13 June 1920. Retrieved 9 November 2019.
  8. "Secrets of the Movies Revealed". The Evening News. 13 January 1922. Retrieved 9 November 2019.
  9. "Camera Chatter". The Oakland Tribune. 10 December 1922. Retrieved 9 November 2019.
  10. "Behind the Scenes in Hollywood". The Ottawa Journal. 20 January 1934. Retrieved 9 November 2019.
  11. "United States, China Weaving a Silken Noose for Japan's Doomed Industry". The Moline Dispatch. 6 May 1943. Retrieved 9 November 2019.
  12. "Leong in "Blood Alley"". The El Paso Times. 16 October 1955. Retrieved 9 November 2019.
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