Chester Gan

born: 04 July 1908
Grass Valley, Nevada County, California,
United States of America
died: 29 June 1959
San Francisco, California,
United States of America
(age 50)

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
Height: 5'5"
Films listed on this page: complete Hal Roach filmography.


Vagabond Lady
Japanese fisherman

Pan Handlers
Chinese customer

Acknowledgements: (1908 Jul 3 Nevada Co Birth Record Wing H. Gon) (1918 Portland OR WWI Draft Card of Dad, Wing Hing Gan) (1920 Census Portland OR) (1923 Passenger;Chester Bue Gan b.3 July 1908 Grass Valley) (1930 Census LA; Chester Gan auto mechanic) (1940 Census LA; Chester Gan; actor Motion Pictures) (1936 Leader "Young China movement") (1939 has LA slipper shop) (1941 Chinatown Goodwill Ambassador) (1940 WWII Draft; ht.5'5") (1943 Navy enlistment) (1945 Photo Studio San Francisco) (1948 Returns Hong Kong w new wife) (1955 Wife's Naturalization record) (1958 Mom's obituary) (1959 Death: CA Death Index) (1959 Obituary "SF Examiner") (1959 FindaGrave)
Jim Jarvis (research and bio)
Brent Seguine (information)
Craig Calman (information)

This page was last updated on: 05 July 2019