This is an online encyclopedia of personalities of Old Time Radio. It is designed for educational and entertainment purposes.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Barbara Jean Wong (1924-99)

Barbara Jean Wong was born in Los Angeles on March 3, 1924. At the age of five, she became a performer, working on radio (she could read and she had a good, clear speaking voice). She was known as the "Chinese Shirley Temple"... her parents had her hair permed into a similar style to that of Shirley's. Jean (she used her middle name) began working in movies a couple of years after that. In 1937, she began doing some programs for CBS. One of her first projects was the Christmas special series, The Cinnamon Bear, in which she played the part of Judy Barton. This was supposed to be incognito. None of the actors on this series were credited and the producers didn't want anyone to know who the actors were. Some of the surviving actors (including Jean Wong) came out in the mid 1990s and told who the performers were. They could remember who everyone was, except who played Jimmy Barton, Judy's twin brother. Soon after this, on another network (NBC), Barbara Jean Wong began portraying Arbadella Jones, the daughter of Amos Jones on Amos 'n' Andy. (Radio was the first medium to recognize that an actor of any race can play any part. Some people are critical of two white actors portraying black characters, but these weren't demeaning in any way. It should be pointed out that all Asian parts on radio, until relatively late in radio history, were played by white performers!)

Jean began working in the movies, playing the part of one of Charlie Chan's daughters in the Charlie Chan movie series. Her featured part movie career lasted from 1938-55. Her last role was uncredited, a nurse in the epic motion picture, Love is a Many Splendored Thing. In most of her movies, she was a backdrop, part of the scenery.

Radio was the bread and butter of Jean's career. She was heard on several episodes of the Lux Radio Theater, Hallmark Playhouse/Hallmark Hall of Fame, Cavalcade of America, and many other shows.

Educationally, Jean earned degrees in drama and English from the University of Southern California and Columbia University. After she decided to get out of the motion picture business, she earned a California teaching credential from Cal State Los Angeles and taught school in Los Angeles until her death of respiratory problems on November 13, 1999. She died at her home in the Tarzana section of Los Angeles. She was preceded in death (1988) by her husband, Robert Wah Lee, whom she married in 1950.

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