Every Keye Luke scene on M*A*S*H is a gift

The 'Kung Fu' legend became an ageless and timeless treasure, creating hundreds of truly memorable characters.

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Film legend Keye Luke on M*A*S*H
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"If you can't spot quality, who needs you?"

That's one of the earliest lines the great Golden Age actor Keye Luke utters in the first of three guest appearances on M*A*S*H. It sums up Luke's career, though, as one of the most memorable and influential Asian-American character actors of all time. If you don't know his name, you probably know his work.

In the sixth season M*A*S*H episode "Patent 4077," Luke plays Mr. Shin, a merchant who turns out to be a master craftsman capable of creating a surgical clamp that Hawkeye and B.J. desperately need.

In his first scene, he taunts the boys into first buying rings and then commissioning the clamp. For those watching who recognized the famous actor, the cajoling tone the actor takes likely added an extra layer of comedy, coming from the actor who played the blind, soothing Master Po to "Grasshopper" David Carradine on Kung Fu from 1972 to 1975.

For Luke, who in his real life was deeply spiritual, taking on characters where he could mold unique personalities that resonated with viewers was the only kind of work he wanted to do.

“A Hindu sage once said we're all fragments of the eternal, playing for a while as individual personalities," Luke told The Cincinnati Enquirer in 1973. "And while you play, you might as well realize your potential because, as one philosopher said, the rest is silence."

As Master Po, Luke wore makeup to appear older and padded robes to appear larger. On M*A*S*H, you can see his smaller frame, his younger face, and more pep. Luke said transporting himself through time, through his art, made him feel more alive.

"In my opinion, I have just begun to scratch the surface of art, music, literature, and theater," Luke said. "It's wonderful to keep the mind interested and active. An author once described the epitaph for a Chinese character named Ah-Loy as, 'He was not old, he was not young. His years were merely a clarity of the spirit.'"

Luke was born in China, but his family moved to the United States when he was three years old, settling in Seattle. He wasn't pursuing acting at all when he was cast in his first role. Instead, he was making advertising art for Grauman's Chinese Theater. His boss saw a star in him, though, and introduced him to the studio casting director, hyping up Luke out of sincere belief in his talent, "from out of China's 400 million souls, I give you that country's greatest actor."

On the big screen, he nabbed two iconic roles, as "Number One Son" Lee Chan in the Charlie Chan films and as Kato in the original 1940 superhero film serial The Green Hornet.

At least one person on M*A*S*H was geeked to have Luke onset. On his blog, M*A*S*H writer Ken Levine name-dropped Keye Luke as one of the coolest people he met working on the show, citing hundreds of roles the actor performed. Levine was involved in writing two of Luke's three guest spots.

"What was fun was meeting veteran actors like Keye Luke who had been in tons of movies and shows," Levine wrote, adding, "He had amazing stories."

In addition to the master craftsman of "Patient 4077," Luke treated M*A*S*H fans to two more characters, each the polar opposite of the other. In "A Night at Rosie's," he's a gambler hustling the room, and in "Death Takes a Holiday," he's a priest running an orphanage at Christmas.

Luke lived through the Golden Age of Hollywood and stunning everyone became one of its brightest stars. In an interview published in the 2016 book Conversations with Classic Film Stars, the veteran character actor said through all his timeless work onscreen, he remained in awe of both the past and present.

"I don't live in the past, but I glory in the past. I think it's beautiful and the memories are golden and fragrant," Luke said. "But I'm more interested in life today. I find it's still miraculous and full of wonders."

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LarryLeeMoniz 36 months ago
Keye Luke is one of my all time favorite actors! It is so great that you recognize the mans charm, and talent! His Master Po on Kung Fu was legendary. Every role he played on M*A*S*H, was amazing!
ncadams27 36 months ago
Victor Sen Yung, who played Hop Sing, the cook on Bonanza, also played Number Two Son Jimmy Chan in the same Charlie Chan series that featured Keye Luke.
Peter_Falk_Fan 36 months ago
I watched every episode of "Kung Fu" as a kid. I remember Keye Luke fondly as Master Po with his famous "Patience, young grasshopper.". I would sometimes say that to my kids.
lillymarie 36 months ago
Wow! Harry Morgan actually owned the horse col. potter had on mash. Wonderful
Wiseguy lillymarie 36 months ago
A. Wrong article.
B. The article clearly mentioned several horses played "Sophie" and Harry Morgan owned the horse used in the finale.
justjeff 36 months ago
It's so ironic that Keye Luke played a well-educated, English speaking "Number One Son" in the Charlie Chan series of films, but the role of Charlie Chan itself was given to non-Asian actors such as Warner Oland and Sidney Toler.

As per Wikipedia: "...in later decades critics increasingly took a more ambivalent view of the character, finding that despite his good qualities, Chan also reinforces condescending Asian stereotypes such as an alleged incapacity to speak idiomatic English and a tradition-bound and subservient nature. Many also now find it objectionable that the role was played on screen by Caucasian actors in yellowface. No Charlie Chan film has been produced since 1981."

Here's Keye Luke during those "Charlie Chan" days...
Mato1970 justjeff 36 months ago
And Keye Luke would eventually be the voice of Charlie Chan in the Hanna-Barbara cartoon series "The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan." So basically, he's the only actual Asian to play the Charlie Chan role.
justjeff Mato1970 36 months ago
...only on the technicality of voice acting...However, no Asian ever did a live action film (that I'm aware of)...
Andybandit 36 months ago
I liked Keye Luke on Mash. I never liked when Frank was so mean to the Asian people. Then again he was rude to everyone except Margret.
DIGGER1 36 months ago
R.I.P. to: Keye Luke, Kellye Nakahara, Philip Ahn, Mako, Jerry Fujikawa("WHIPWASH" HWANG), Soon-Tek Oh, Johnny Yune, Noel Toy, Yuki Shimoda, John Fujioka, Haunani Minn, Jack Soo, Noriyuki "Pat" Morita, Frances Fong(the "1st Rosie"), Tadashi "Tad" Horino, Rollin Moriyama, Bob Okazaki(Doo Pak in "RALLY 'ROUND THE FLAGG, BOYS"), Chao Li Chi and Arthur Song. Outstanding Asian actors who made "MEMORABLE" appearances on 'M.A.S.H. God bless each and every one of them. They are solely missed.
Wiseguy DIGGER1 36 months ago
You mean "sorely" missed?
Michael 36 months ago
Philip Ahn, "Master Kan" on Kung Fu, also appeared on MASH three times.
WordsmithWorks Michael 36 months ago
Let's see if I can pull those roles out of the old brainbox: The tailor who Charles ripped off during the scrip exchange. The grandfather who needed the 4077th exorcised (that episode also featured semi-regular M*A*S*H* guest actor Virginia Lee). And...

AARRGGHH! IMDb, here I come.

Oh yeah, the father on the "Hawkeye" episode. I didn't care for that one. Just an Alan Alda vanity episode.

Thanks for the memory test, Michael.
WordsmithWorks 36 months ago
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daDoctah 36 months ago
Was surprised to spot him in "Andy Hardy's Blonde Trouble" as a new doctor just moved into town. Judge Hardy (Lewis Stone) was a little uncomfortable about this replacement for his long-time family physician, but Keye Luke had already played Dr Lee in a couple of the "Dr Gillespie" pictures around that same time.
WordsmithWorks 36 months ago
Another acclaimed Asian actor - Mako - gave some memorable M*A*S*H* performances. The Lieutenant bringing a guerilla to justice despite the (I believe wrong-headed) efforts of Hawkeye, BJ and Margaret. The Korean surgeon Potter and Hawkeye (who was characteristically arrogant and rude) went to help. The Chinese officer who arranged for the return of wounded American prisoners at Rainbow Bridge. Finally, a North Korean soldier who captures Hawkeye to care for his wounded comrade who ultimately dies.

Solid portrayals from a solid actor.
DethBiz 36 months ago
My favorite Keye Luke role will always be as the Grandfather in the 80s movie Gremlins.
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