Mummy, am I a thespian. . .?

April 13, 2012


Within days of being in Kowloon, a friend, who was returning to the UK, nominated me as his replacement and passed my telephone number to Golden Harvest and Shaw Brothers studios, as the contact person for the provision of Gwai Los or “barbarians” for parts in the local film industry. This turned out to be a lucrative sideline for me, for although I never took agent’s fees from the personnel I provided, I made sure I was always one of the players. At two to three hundred dollars per appearance, and with the studios rolling out several films each month, the likelihood of at least one Caucasian white face gracing the screen during the course of a month’s running time was high. I never missed an opportunity.

I had the job for about three days when I was called upon to provide thirty people to act as ambassadors, diplomatic staff and high-ranking military personnel in China at the time of the Boxer Rebellion. We would be required to wear period costume i.e. tails, wing-collars, mutton chop whiskers, scarlet tunics, golden epaulettes, admirals’ coats etc. and “mingle” at a huge reception apparently given by the Empress.

As anyone who knows film work, the bugbear of the studios is the frequent “Get ready” followed by “No, not yet, stand down. Soon.” It was no different in Hong Kong. Consequently, we were sent to the canteen on numerous occasions to wait.

At about this time, an Italian film crew, with local facilities support from Shaw Brothers, was in Hong Kong to film “Flatfoot Goes East” (Piedeone a Hong Kong) and Al Lettieri was playing the second lead. Film buffs among you will remember Al, as the menacing Sollozzo, who in the company of the bent policeman, Captain McClusky, (Sterling Hayden), is seated at a table in a restaurant when they are gunned down by Michael (Al Pacino) in a violent and bloody scene in The Godfather.

Our group, not presently required, yet again, made its way en masse to the canteen, which was empty except for a solitary figure, deep in thought, smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee, at a table near the door. As soon as the first guys saw Mr Lettieri, they quickly ducked back out and stopped the rest of us.

We couldn’t resist doing what we did next.

Forming a single file, all thirty of us, walked past the gobsmacked actor’s table, and one by one, pointed an index finger, pistol fashion, at him and made our own version of pistol shots. I think the twentieth in our group had “performed” before the bemusement left Al’s face and he roared with laughter in appreciation.

I’m guessing the selection of opera cloaks, frock coats, top hats, mutton chop whiskers and cavalry officer uniforms, in some way, initially blurred the relevance of the charade, and the homage we intended to pay.

One Response to “Mummy, am I a thespian. . .?”


  1. All this talent…and a ‘barbarian’ too. It just takes one’s breath away!


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