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Artist Tyrus Wong: Remembering Hollywood and Traces of Discrimination

Artist Tyrus Wong migrated with his father from Taishan to Sacramento when he was nine years old and never returned back home to see his mother or sister. Together, Tyrus and his father later relocated to Los Angeles living in a small, one bedroom apartment while his father worked in a gambling house to make ends meet. While attending school at Benjamin Franklin Junior High School in Pasadena, Tyrus' gift for drawing became evident to a teacher, who helped him earn a scholarship at Otis College of Arts and Design - which was a big feat at the time for an immigrant. During the Depression, Tyrus and friends Sissee and Eddy See opened the popular bohemian Chinatown hangout Dragon's Den, as Lisa See immortalized in her family memoir On Gold Mountain. Years later, Wong became a production illustrator in the film industry, creating classic imagery for films such as Bambi and others. Although he is now ninety-eight years of age, you can still find Wong every Sunday flying his twenty-foot long handmade kites along the Santa Monica beach. When the Chinese American Museum opened its doors to the public, its first major retrospective celebrated Wong's artistic career, even featuring his kites. Tyrus Wong invited us to his house in Sunland, CA, to talk about his early years in Old Chinatown, his kites and the film industry.

 

Becoming an Artist
Chinese lettering laid the foundation for his artistry.

 

Memories of Dragon's Den
Chinatown's first Bohemian hangout.

 

Remembering Hollywood
Tyrus Wong created the Asian-inspired backgrounds of Bambi.

 

Traces of Discrimination
Tyrus Wong shares his experiences with discrimination even as his career flourished.

 

After Retirement: Kites
Tyrus continued his creative output in his old age building and flying kites.

 
 
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