In May 1965, actress Nancy Kwan — who’d achieved stardom five years earlier for her performance as Suzie Wong in the romantic drama film “The World of Suzie Wong,” also starring William Holden — was interviewed on Kauai by Honolulu newspaperman Sean O’Neill during filming of the comedy “Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N.,” in which she co-starred with Dick Van Dyke.
Nancy Ka Shen Kwan, who was born in Hong Kong in 1939, the daughter of a Scottish mother, Marquita Scott, and Kwan Wing Hong, a prominent Cantonese architect, said that “When I found out I was going to do a movie in Hawaii, I was delighted. Look at the mixture of your races. Isn’t it attractive?”
She continued with, “My parents met while my father was studying at Cambridge. Prior to the invasion of Hong Kong by Japan during World War II, my mother evacuated to London and never returned to Hong Kong. I was raised by my father. I can’t say that I was the poor little country girl who earned fame and fortune in the movies. I had my own nursemaid and pony as a child, and we had resort homes in Borneo, Macao and Japan.”
When Kwan was 12, her father sent her to Kingsmoor boarding school in England, and “I was later accepted by London’s Royal Ballet and trained as a dancer for four years. After appearing with the corps de ballet in several productions, I returned to Hong Kong to open a ballet school.”
While in Hong Kong, she met Hollywood film producer Ray Stark, who asked her to understudy for the title role in “The World of Suzie Wong,” and when actress France Nuyen, who’d been Stark’s first choice for the role, became ill, Stark replaced her with Kwan.
Kwan’s celebrity grew even further a year later, in 1961, when she starred as showgirl Linda Low in the film adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway musical “Flower Drum Song,” which also featured Hawaii-born actor James Shigeta.
Thrice married, Nancy Kwan appeared in over 50 films and now resides in Los Angeles.
Hank Soboleski has been a resident of Kauai since the 1960s. Hank’s love of the island and its history has inspired him, in conjunction with The Garden Island Newspaper, to share the island’s history weekly. The collection of these articles can be found here: https://bit.ly/2IfbxL9 and here https://bit.ly/2STw9gi Hank can be reached at email@example.com.