The great silent movie star, Sessue Hayakawa, was — and is — a mystery to most Americans. How much did you know about him and his amazing career?
Would you believe that the very proper-looking chap pictured above was a genuine matinee idol who out in public could count on dozens of female fans spreading fur coats in front of him so that Hayakawa’s feet were protected from rain puddles? Onscreen, he was considered the sexy bridge between white Americana and the non-white “other.”
He successfully rode the strange Japanese craze that affected silent moviegoers before World War I. By the early 1920’s Hayakawa’s Hollywood career was over, and he promptly went international. Some say he is still the biggest Japanese film star ever internationally.
So how much did you know about Hayakawa? Let’s check the answers to our Monday Quiz (to review the questions, just scroll down to the blog below), and find out.
1) Answer: We have to come clean here. This is a trick question. ALL four are correct. Sergei Eisenstein admired all as “wonderful actors,” and we are not about to argue with the great Russian director. By the way, Hayakawa features were sometime played on the same bills alongside those of Charlie Chaplin and William S. Hart.
2) Answer: b) and c). Sessue means “snowy island,” a monicker Hayakawa much preferred to his given name, Kintaro.
3) Answer: a) Cecil B. DeMille, whose 1915 title The Cheat almost instantly made Hayakawa a silent movie star. Hayakawa plays a sexy villain.
4) Answer: a) True. For more details check out author Daisuke Miyao’s biography, Sessue Hayakawa: Silent Cinema and Transnational Stardom.
5) Answer: a) and c). At the peak of his Hollywood career, Hayakawa matched the $5,000-per-week earnings of Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks. That was an immense fortune in those days.
6) Answer: b) Hayakawa was famously cast as a Japanese military officer in 1957’s The Bridge on the River Kwai.
7) Answer: b) False. Hayakawa was married just once, to Japanese actress Tsuru Aoki. The union lasted from 1914 to 1961, until she died.
8) Answer: a) True. Hayakawa was an excellent businessman. In 1918, when his contract with producer Jesse Lasky ran out, he formed his own production company — Haworth Pictures Corp. — and produced his own films, most of which were financially successful.
9) Answer: a) Hayakawa began the European phase of his career, living in France for many years. His films proved highly popular there and in other European markets.
10) Answer: b) Japanese critics were deeply impressed by Hayakawa’s appeal to “beautiful blond women.”