Every once in awhile we like to resurrect lesser known actors from Hollywood’s Golden Era. One actor, who had the good looks to be a leading man, but who never made it (perhaps he should have changed that name) — was William Ching.
Certainly, classic Hollywood was no stranger to name changes — to anglicize, to shorten (marquee space was a valuable commodity) and to convey the idea that a star underneath it all was just a regular person. In any case, there was much sturm und drang connected to Ching’s surname.
For the record, Ching really WAS his last name. And his family was as far as you can get from being Asian. The actor was born William Brooks Ching in St, Louis in 1913, to a well-off family that boasted of a long English ancestry. Before serving in the Coast Guard in World War II, Ching carved out a nifty early career as a vocalist. He sang baritone.
After the war Universal signed Ching to a studio contract, and then fretted about that surname. The result? Universal decreed that henceforth he should be billed as “William Brooks.” He appeared as thus in the 1947 western Michigan Kid.
Still, unconventionally proud (for an aspiring actor) of his last name, Ching insisted that his original surname be re-instated, despite the confusion it might cause among audiences. It was. We wish we could report that the result was a flourishing career.
We can’t. Ching went on to accumulate some 50 movie and tv credits over a 13-year career. He spent its latter half on a range of popular Fifties tv series. The good news is that Ching did not retire in genteel poverty. He proceeded to make a fortune in Southern California real estate. (At 75, Ching died of heart failure in 1989.)
Some of his most notable big-screen outings:
That’s Ching above in the 1950 Humphrey Bogart drama, In A Lonely Place.
That’s Ching (above center) in perhaps his best remembered feature, George Cukor’s 1952 outing with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. He plays the former’s arrogant husband-to-be.
That’s Ching above left confronting a young Jerry Lewis in 1953’s Scared Stiff.