04 July 1908
Grass Valley, Nevada County, California,
United States of America
29 June 1959|
San Francisco, California,
United States of America
American actor with Chinese features. About September 1923, Chester (Age 15) visited China with his parents. The ship's passenger list shows his Dad, Wing Hing Gan (1879-1962) and his Mom, Soi Lin Wong (1888-1958) was born in San Francisco as was his Dad. Son Chester, was born "Grass Valley, CA (Nevada County) on JULY 3, 1908". Much later records, such as WWII military, wife's naturalization and California and Social Security Death Indexes state a July 4th day of birth. There is a CA County Birth Record for "Wing H. Gon born Nevada County CA, JULY 3rd, 1908 to Mother: LYNE". My speculation is that this birth record is Chester Gan's and he was either named after his Dad or the transcriber mis-read the record. The Mom's name may be a phonetic transcription the same as "Soi Lin" on the 1923 ship's passenger list. Records for the Mom show various first, middle, and last names but usually include "Wong" as one of them (Shee, Chee, See, Cee, Lee, Lillie). Another speculation is that Chester "moved" his birthday to July 4th in a spirit of Americanisation/patriotism. He enlisted in the US Navy in January 1943 and was discharged in October 1945.|
Chester's Mom and Dad were married about 1904 and moved several times (according to Census, ship's passenger lists and City Directories) between 1908 and 1930 going from Grass Valley, CA to Spokane, WA to Portland, OR to Seattle, WA and finally to San Francisco. Evidently, the Dad was moving for better jobs. The parents remained in San Francisco for the rest of their lives but Chester went to Los Angeles and was working at a garage as an auto mechanic in 1930.
He had bit parts in movies as early as 1930 and gradually moved up the "ladder" of more and bigger parts. He ran a "slipper" shop in LA's Chinatown by 1939, was a leader of the "young China movement" to improve the Chinese image in America and was called "Chinatown's ambassador of goodwill". He sometimes doubled as an assistant director as he was good at "handling" the Chinese extras.
After his Navy enlistment, he opened a photography studio in San Francisco and in 1948 went to Hong Kong and there married his Chinese born wife, Mei Heong Lee (1924-2009). They had 4 children who were very young when he died in 1959 "after a brief illness" (obit) having recently completed a role in the TV series "Flight".
*At least two sources list a birth date of July 3.
Real name: Chester Bue Gan
|Films listed on this page: complete Hal Roach filmography.|