Ah Fong's, Los Angeles 1973
Born in Sacramento in 1916, Benson Fong graduated from high school, studied briefly in China and returned to California to open a grocery store. He went on to have two significant careers as a character actor in movies and television shows and as the owner of the popular Ah Fong’s chain of restaurants.
Both careers came about by accident. In 1943, he was randomly approached by a talent scout for Paramount Pictures and landed a role in a film called China, starring Loretta Young and Alan Ladd. He was also offered a 10-week acting contract for $250 a week. ‘I couldn’t read lines too well, but World War II was under way and all the studios were looking for actors with Oriental features,’ he told an interviewer.’ I bicycled around from one set to another, playing a Japanese here, a Filipino there, a Chinese on still other days.’ Other films in which he appeared included The Keys of The Kingdom (1944), Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), His Majesty’s O’Keefe (1954) and Our Man Flint (1961). Fong’s most renowned role was as Tommy Chan (Number Three Son) in several Charlie Chan films, including Çharlie Chan in the Chinese Cat (1944), The Scarlet Clue (1945) and Dark Alibi (1946.) Later in his career, he made four guest appearances on Perry Mason, seven on My Three Sons as Ray Wong and four on Kung Fu. He appeared as Mr Tang Wu in Disney’s The Love Bug (1968) and played The Old One in the 1986 TV film Kung Fu. Fellow actor Gregory Peck first sparked the idea of being a restaurateur when they appeared together in Keys of the Kingdom, and suggested they open a place together.
The idea appealed because Fong wanted a regular income – he had met his wife Gloria by then and wanted to start a family. Unwilling to risk his friend’s money, he saved up $11,000 and opened his first Ah Fong’s on Vine Street in Hollywood in 1946. By 1971, other locations opened – on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, in Beverly Hills, Westwood, Encino and Anaheim. Known for its exquisite Cantonese cuisine with dishes such as Chicken in a Bag and Lobster in Garlic and Scallion Sauce and potent tropical drinks, among the regulars at Ah Fong’s were celebrities such as Lenny Bruce, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner, Sonny Bono, Jodie Foster, Dolly Parton, David Carradine, Fred Astaire and Jack Lemmon. Errol Flynn reportedly ate in the kitchen with the chef.
The Ah Fong’s name was created, Benson said, while looking at the wrapper of an’ Oh Henry!’ candy bar. Benson Fong, who wittily described himself as ‘half a pound Oriental and eight ounces Yankee,’ retired from his business in 1985 and died in 1987. by the time of his death, only one Ah Fong’s remained, owned by a relative, but it eventually closed.
Courtesy Private Collection.
Each order includes a print of the interior menu.
All printed in USA.