Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Monday, December 1, 1997

Chinese actress Soo Yong
takes final bow

SINCE this is the alleged season when 'tis better to give than receive, the legacy of Chinese actress Soo Yong and her husband, Chun Ku (C.K.) Huang, is worthy of retelling.

They were Hawaii residents from the early 1960s to '80s. But the Huangs were highly atypical in their lifetime exploits and achievements, even in their contributions after death.

The more famous and glamorous of the pair was Mrs. H., born Ah Hee Young in Wailuku, Maui. The graduate of Mid-Pacific Institute and the University of Hawaii had intended to become a teacher, but ended up in Hollywood while pursuing her doctorate at USC.

She bluffed her way into movie auditions, snaring choice Asian roles with her talent and zeal. Under the stage name Soo Yong, she played both the mistress and the aunt in "The Good Earth" with Paul Muni, and was Jack Soo's mother in "Flower Drum Song."

Soo Yong also had supporting roles in "Soldier of Fortune" with Clark Gable, "Peking Express" with Joseph Cotton, "Love is a Many Splendored Thing" with Jennifer Jones, and "The China Seas" with Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow and Rosalind Russell.

"The movies were lucrative, but it was not possible to find big starring roles. So, Soo starred herself in original monologues that sparkled with wit and satire," according to "Traditions for Living, Volume II," a book published by the Associated Chinese University Women in 1989.

"These were dramatic and humorous, and she was proud that she had created them herself. Given at universities, clubs and different organizations across the country, Soo captivated her audiences."

In 1941, she married a young fellow from Tianjin turned American businessman, C.K. Huang, in Winter Park, Fla. He was equally as artistic, blessed with the ability to play Chinese instruments and perform a sword dance. For 25 years, they spent winters in Florida and summers in Maine.

Then, in 1961, the Huangs returned to Soo Yong's roots, Hawaii, and became active in the cultural and social scene. C.K. organized the Honolulu Peking Opera Group, and Soo Yong continued to write and perform her ethnic improvisational shows.

When C.K. died in 1980, and Soo Yong passed away in 1984, both in their 80s, the islands lost two extraordinary residents. They had no children.

Their wills designated that a large portion of their estate be the corpus of an endowment administered by the Chun Ku and Soo Yong Huang Foundation. Until two months ago, that duty was performed by a handful of trustees, who included Soo Yong's eldest niece, Aileen Wong Ho.

"She was talented and creative, fun to be with and had a zest for life," remembers Ho, a Makiki resident.

IN September of this year, Ho and the other trustees transferred management responsibilities for the Huang Foundation, which has a current book value of $550,000, to the UH Foundation. Thus the interest distributions will continue to finance institutional grants and graduate scholarships in Chinese culture, theater and drama.

In essence, then, while C.K. and Soo Yong Huang are no longer alive, their money and good intentions are still helping Hawaii and its young people. What a way to honor one's alma mater.

To paraphrase the motto of the Energizer Bunny, such a legacy just keeps on giving, and giving, and giving.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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