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James Hong on the First & Only Asian Talent Agent, Bessie Loo

James Hong on the First & Only Asian Talent Agent, Bessie Loo

By Billy Ingram

WIKI: Bessie Loo (December 30, 1902 – October 28, 1998) was an American actress, casting director, and talent agent. She owned the Bessie Loo Talent Agency for over 40 years, and represented many of the Asian-American actors in 20th-century Hollywood.

“A little bit about Bessie,” Hong said in an interview with the Television Academy. “Because she certainly deserved it, during Good Earth, the making of Good Earth, she had a small role. If you look at it carefully, she was inside of a tent or a shelter. And I think her husband or some other character had died, and she's crying and crying. And that was Bessie Loo's so-called acting career in those days. During Good Earth they hired tons of people from LA, almost anybody available worked on that movie, because in those days the movie's producer could afford hiring the extras because they worked for peanuts, right? And they just went for big crowd scenes, as you remember, like Cecil B. DeMille, and all these millions of people on the set, thousands if not millions.

“Same thing with Good Earth, thousands of Chinese were hired. So they quickly asked Bessie, 'Bessie Loo, would you kindly help us hire some of the actors? Smaller roles and not big roles,' Because the big roles were all white people, as you can remember. And so the small roles, 'Cause you know the community, and help us get some extra.’”

That was the start of her career because, at the same time, Bessie Loo started an agency that hired the extras and small roles for Good Earth. “So then from that movie on,” Hong said, “She became the agent for Asian-Americans in Hollywood. And she spanned through I don't know how many decades of just hiring the people for Hollywood. She did Hollywood a great service. In other words, she was the only agent in town for, if you wanted an Asian-American in your movie, you call Betsy Loo. So, I knew that was the person I wanted to represent me. Besides there was nobody else.”

Bessie Loo had a home at the top of the Franklin Hills in Los Angeles. “We were from Minnesota,” Hong said. “We still had our stocking caps and our gloves from Minnesota, I don't know why we brought it to California. So during Christmas, Don Parker and I decided that we would go up to Bessie Loo's house and knock on the door. Now, that takes a lot of gumption, but when you're young, you're willing to do anything, right? I didn't have an agent yet, see. So we got dressed in our stocking cap and our gloves, and we've got a couple of candles, lit the candles, knock on her door. And when she opened it, 'Silent night, holy night, all is calm,' and all that stuff. She just was totally breathless.”

Loo never forgot that night when Hong and his family sang Christmas carols in front of her door. “So in a sense,” James Hong continued. “I encourage and don't really encourage, do whatever you can, but get yourself a good agent. Trying to think here, you must, that's for all the young actors out there, you just got to do it. You got to do something that's outstanding, and not get arrested of course, but there's thousands of other actors out there aside from you. So go to it, do your thing.”

 

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