Asian American actor of stage and screen Wood Moy died on Nov. 8 at the age of 99. Moy was best known for his role in Wayne Wang’s 1982 independent black and white noir Chan is Missing.
Born in Canton, China, Moy came to the United States in 1921, but attended St. John’s University in Shanghai, where he started to develop an interest in acting. In 1937, he returned stateside and attended New York University where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in 1941. He also served in World War II in the U.S. Army’s 987th Signal Company, one of two all-Chinese-American outfits.
In 1947, Moy along with his future wife, Mamie Louie, and his future brother-in-law, Henry Louie arrived in San Francisco from Cleveland to grow East Wind, a magazine that focused on the Chinese-American experience.
Moy was the first member to join Frank Chin’s Asian American Theatre Training Program at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. He went on to write the play Lo Foo and the Missing Ming Artifact for the Asian American Theater Company in 1983 where he played detective Charlie Chan. In 1994, he appeared in the Berkeley and Los Angeles theatrical adaptations of Maxine Hong Kingston’s novel, The Woman Warrior as well as the plays The Wash and Pay the Chinaman.
Chan Is Missing was a groundbreaking film as it was seen as the first Asian American independent film. Directed and produced by Wang, the film based its title on the Charlie Chan film series about the aforementioned immigrant Honolulu-based detective. Subverting the Charlie Chan trope, the film follows two cabbies (one of them being Moy), searching for the mysterious Chan, who has disappeared with their money. The film explores the issues experienced by Chinese-Americans in American society. In 1995, the film was named for inclusion into the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry for its cultural significance.
Moy’s other film and television credits include 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers as well as Final Analysis, Class Action, Howard the Duck and Knight Rider.
His wife Mamie died in 2007. Moy is survived by his children Lincoln, Kenneth, and Cynthia and his grandchildren Brian, Matthew, Jacqueline, Travis, and Quentin.