The blog title above might make you wonder if something happened to Fresh off the Boat. Perhaps if you were older or well versed in pop culture, you might wonder if something happened to copies of All American Girl (1994), Mr. T and Tina (1976) or even The Green Hornet (1966). August 27, 2020 was the 69th anniversary of the premiere of the first television series featuring an Asian American actor, The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong. In this show on the DuMont television network, Asian American pioneer Anna May Wong plays an art gallery owner who also solves crimes. This sounds to me like a great premise for a show. So how did all trace of this series get lost, with no copies or scripts behind left at all?
The fact that I had never heard of the DuMont network and that I would be surprised if any of you had heard of it, helps explain how Anna May Wong would get a chance to be the lead of a series during the 1950’s. According to writer Nicole Chung, who wrote about her own search for the series, The DuMont Network always lagged behind the big networks of NBC, and CBS. That desperation of being behind would lead them to take a chance at having Anna May Wong headline a show. The network even featured an African American in a show, the Hazel Scott Show. Anna May Wong’s birth name is Wong Liu-Tsong, from which the title of the show came. The show lasted one season and had ten episodes. In 1976, copies of DuMont shows were said to have been loaded onto trucks and dumped into Upper New York Bay.
This is not the first time that historic television shows have been lost, and the list of lost shows is pretty long. There are other lessons than the obvious one to make sure that there are usable, readable back up copies (a lesson usable in multiple areas of life). First, pioneering efforts such as the Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong need to be remembered, recognized and patronized. It is sad that this show and other performers on similar shows, like Hazel Scott, are not better known. Efforts like Gold Open are helpful in this regard. Second, just showing appearing in media is not enough – having influence on what is made is just as important. It was a long time between The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong appearance in 1951 and The Green Hornet in 1966, and definitely a long way until Fresh off the Boat in 2015.