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May 27, 2024 37 mins

Over the course of an extraordinarily long career, Tyrus Wong worked across a range of media in a whole collection of industries – animation, live-action film, commercial art, public art, greeting cards, and in his last years, kitemaking in his personal workshop.

Research:

  • Tom, Pamela, writer and director. “Tyrus.” PBS American Masters. 9/8/2017. https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/tyrus-about-the-film/8917/
  • "Tyrus Wong." Encyclopedia of World Biography Online, Gale, 2022. Gale In Context: U.S. History, link.gale.com/apps/doc/K1631010885/GPS?u=mlin_n_melpub&sid=bookmark-GPS&xid=943f33c3. Accessed 1 May 2024.
  • PBS American Masters. “Biography.” https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/tyrus-wong-biography/9197/
  • Fang, Karen. “Commercial Design and Midcentury Asian American Art: The Greeting Cards of Tyrus Wong,” Panorama: Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art 7, no. 1 (Spring 2021), https://doi.org/10.24926/24716839.11548.
  • Friedl, Erik. “Flights of Fancy.” 1987. Via YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09Ta8BCrbLw
  • Wu, Tara. “How Tyrus Wong’s Christmas Cards Captivated the American Public.” Smithsonian. December 2020. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/tyrus-wong-christmas-card-captivated-american-public-180976239/
  • Chang, Rosalind. “A Profile of Tyrus Wong.” Angel Island Immigrant Station Foundation. https://www.immigrant-voices.aiisf.org/
  • Fox, Margalit. “Tyrus Wong, ‘Bambi’ Artist Thwarted by Racial Bias, Dies at 106.” New York Times. 12/30/2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/30/movies/tyrus-wong-dies-bambi-disney.html
  • Wong, Eddie. “Angel Island Profile: Tyrus Wong.” Angel Island Immigration Statoin Foundation. Via YouTube. 8/8/2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PUTsngXHbH8
  • Fang, Karen. “’Chinese Jesus’ in a Broom Closet: The Many Archives of Tyrus Wong.” Opening the Vault: Media Industry Studies and its Archives Peter Labuza, editor, Spectator 41:2 (Fall 2021): 20-30.
  • See, Lisa. “On Gold Mountain: The One Hundred Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family.” Vintage Books. 1995.

See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

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Transcript

Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:01):
Welcome to Stuff You Missed in History Class, a production
of iHeartRadio. Hello, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Tracy V.
Wilson and I'm Holly Frye.

Speaker 2 (00:17):
Not long ago, we did a topic because I had
it on my list two times, and I said, we
might have another episode about somebody who was somehow on
my short list two times, and here it is today.
This is about artist Tyrus Wong, who was born in
China and brought to the United States as a child
at a time when immigration to the United States from

(00:40):
China was banned under the Chinese Exclusion Act. Then, over
the course of just an extraordinarily long career, he worked
across a range of media in a whole collection of industries.
There was animation and live action film, commercial art, public art,
greeting cards, and in the last years of his life,

(01:01):
kite making in his personal workshop. He went by a
few different names over the course of his life for
some reasons we will get to, but as an adult
he was pretty much known as Tyros. His friends, a
lot of them called him Thai, and that's how he
was typically credited on the films that he worked on,
and it was Tyros Wang was how he signed his artwork.

(01:21):
That is the name that we will stick with today.
Tyros Wang was born wuan Ganyo on October twenty fifth,
nineteen ten, in the village of Titian in the Guangdong
Province of China. His parents were named Saipo and Li Si,
and he was born during a tumultuous time in China.
This was just a year before the start of the

(01:42):
Chinese Revolution of nineteen eleven. This revolution led to the
end of the Qing dynasty, which was China's last imperial dynasty.
This uprising had grown out of ongoing issues of instability,
including the Opium Wars of the mid nineteenth century, the
First Sino Japanese War at the end of the nineteenth century,
and the Russo Japanese War of the early twentieth century,

(02:05):
matt gave Japan control over what had been Chinese territory
in Manchuria. As an adult, Tyrus described his father as
well educated, a man who knew a lot about things
like poetry and literature and calligraphy, but their family was
living in poverty, and eventually his parents decided that Tyrus's

(02:25):
father would take him to the United States, where they
thought he would have better opportunities. They kept in touch
through letters after this, but Tyrus never saw his mother
or his sister again. He left aboard the SS China
in either nineteen nineteen or nineteen twenty. There were sources
used in this episode that had each of those years.

(02:46):
At this point, immigration to the US from China was
outlawed under the Chinese Exclusion Act, which also made it
illegal for Chinese people to become US citizens. The Chinese
Exclusion Act was the first law that played major restrictions
on who could enter the United States. It was originally
written as a ten year ban, but then it was

(03:07):
extended and then made permanent in nineteen oh two. The
only exceptions to the Chinese Exclusion Acts immigration band were
people like diplomatic official, students, and teachers traveling with certification
from the Chinese government, as well as people who had
already been in the United States prior to November seventeenth,
eighteen eighty. However, a couple of things happened after the

(03:30):
Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in eighteen eighty two that
shifted how it could be enforced. One was the US
Supreme Court's decision in United States versus wangkim Arc in
eighteen ninety eight. That's another topic that's been on my
episode list for a long time. Wangkim Arc had been
born in San Francisco to Chinese parents, and he was

(03:52):
denied re entry into the United States after a trip abroad.
The Supreme Court in his case decided that the birthright
citizenship provisions of the fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which
was passed in the wake of the US Civil War,
also applied to people born on US soil to Chinese parents.

(04:13):
The other was the nineteen oh six San Francisco earthquake
and fire, which we talked about on the show in
November of twenty nineteen, and we just ran it as
a Saturday Classic. San Francisco City Hall was destroyed along
with all the records it contained, and this made it
possible for people to say that they had been born
in the US but could no longer prove it because

(04:34):
their records had been destroyed in that fire. Children of
US citizens who are born abroad are also eligible for citizenships,
So this meant that, for example, a Chinese man could
return to China and say his wife had given birth there,
creating a paper trail for a child, who could then
enter the US, whether it was really his own child
or someone else's child using that identity. Of course, people

(04:58):
had tried to immigrate from China to the United States
using false identities long before this nineteen oh six earthquake,
but the destruction of all those records led to an
enormous increase in these kinds of entries into the country.
It also sparked a trade in identities and papers as
people tried to reunite with family members or help people

(05:21):
they knew get into the United States. Chinese people being
brought to the US under this kind of paper trail
became known as paper sons or less often paper daughters.
In response to this surgeon illegal entries into the country,
the United States built an immigration station at Angel Island
in San Francisco Bay, intended to identify and deport paper

(05:44):
sons and other Chinese people who didn't meet the legal
criteria for entry. While people from other nations also entered
the United States through Angel Island, most were Chinese, and
immigration inspectors were intentionally looking for reasons to keep Chinese
people out. Arrivals from China to Angel Island were separated

(06:05):
by sex and subjected to degrading medical exams before undergoing
extensive questioning about their family history and their life in China.
Their purported family members in the United States were then
similarly questioned with those two sets of answers compared to
see whether they matched. These were questions like what direction

(06:28):
does your house face, how many windows does it have,
how many stairs are there? What's the floor made of?
What were the names of all your neighbors? Did any
of them have pigs? How many pigs? Questions that were
really detailed, really specific, and not necessarily something a typical
person would actually know or remember. If you ask me

(06:51):
how many windows my neighbor's house has, even visualizing it
in my head, I don't know.

Speaker 1 (06:58):
I wouldn't pass this test. They were are meant to
be unpassable as much as possible. Word about these interrogations
quickly spread within the Chinese community, and people trying to
enter the US would carefully memorize answers to prepare for them,
and people also had to keep their memories of all
the answers fresh because this process would be repeated if

(07:20):
a Chinese person ever traveled outside the US and tried
to return, or if their immigration status was questioned for
some reason while they were in the US. This happened
to Tyris Wong at one point when he crossed the
border into Mexico to visit Tijuana as a young man,
and then was stranded there for about a month.

Speaker 2 (07:38):
When Tyros was brought to the United States, his father
traveled under the name look Get and Tyrs was documented
as Luktai Yau. When they arrived at Angel Islands, officials
immediately separated the two of them from one another. Tyros's
father had been in the US before, and he was
processed and released. But for about the next ten year

(08:01):
old Tyros was the only child at Angel Island. He
had no idea where his father was or whether he
would ever see him again. A month is such a
long time for a child to be without a parent,
especially in this kind of environment, but a lot of
people who were detained at Angel Island were held for

(08:21):
a lot longer.

Speaker 1 (08:23):
Tyris was housed in a small barracks like building with
triple bunk beds. He was assigned to a top bunk
where it was always hot. He also just had nothing
to do. At one point, a guard gave him some
chewing gum and showed him how to chew it, and
Tyros chewed it until it ran out of flavor, and
then put it on top of the radiator, let it melt,

(08:44):
caught it on a piece of paper when it slid
to the bottom, and then put it on top again,
over and over, just to try to pass time. In
a documentary made later in his life, he said that
Angel Island was miserable and that he hated it there. Ultimately,
Tyrus and his father passed their interrogations and they were
reunited For a while. His father worked for a cobbler

(09:07):
in Sacramento, and then, for reasons that aren't entirely clear,
he went to Los Angeles for work and he left
Tyros behind. It was during this period that Tyrus started
going by the name Tyros Wong. A teacher anglicized the
name Tyros from his paper son name of Tai Yao,
and he kept his original family name of Wong. Tyros

(09:31):
seems to have started out trying to follow his father's
instructions to behave himself, but after a while he started
taking a day off school every week to go fishing,
and then that progressed to skipping more days and then
more than a month of just not going to school
at all. He also got into various boyhood mischief, and
after his school sent a report card to his father

(09:52):
in Los Angeles. Soon Tyris got a letter with money
for a train ticket and instructions to come to La immediately.
As an adult, Tyros said that once he arrived, his
father slapped him in the face for the way he
had been behaving. That probably sounds horrifying, I know. When
I heard him tell this story in a documentary, I
was like, Oh, no, your relationship with your father must

(10:14):
have been horrible. It wasn't.

Speaker 2 (10:16):
As an adult, Tyros had a lot of fond memories
of his father, describing him as very strict, but also
as recognizing and encouraging Tyrus's interest in and aptitude for art.
By this point, art was really the only thing that
Tyros was interested in, the only thing he liked to do.
His father taught him calligraphy and had him practice every night,

(10:39):
using a paintbrush dipped in water to write on pieces
of old newspaper because they couldn't afford paper or ink.
When Tyrus's father found him playing baseball with some neighborhood boys,
he made him stop because if Tyrs hurt one of
his hands that could interfere with his ability to become
an artist.

Speaker 1 (10:57):
And the idea that Tyros might study art or even
become a professional artist was almost unbelievable within their community. Overwhelmingly,
Chinese people in the United States were working as manual
laborers or in restaurants or laundries, because those are the
only jobs that were really open to them. When one
of Tyros's middle school teachers brought up the possibility of

(11:19):
getting a scholarship so that he could study at Otis
Art Institute, his father was working at a gambling den
and they were living in a boarding house.

Speaker 2 (11:28):
Tyros did get that scholarship, though, and when it ran out,
he really didn't want to go back to a typical school,
so his father decided to borrow money to cover the
cost of his tuition for the next term, insisting that
Tyros had to work hard and apply himself to his
study of art so that his father would know that
this expense.

Speaker 1 (11:48):
Was worth it. Tyros worked as a janitor to help
pay for his time at Otis Art Institute, which was
the first professional school of the arts established in Los Angeles.
In addition to studying the work of European masters. He
spent a lot of time at the library studying Chinese art.
He was particularly interested in the art of the Song Dynasty,

(12:09):
which spanned from about nine sixty to twelve seventy nine.
Landscapes were particularly important in Song Dynasty art, often portraying
sweeping views of the natural world, with mountains and vistas
overwhelming any people or built elements in the scene. Many
of these works also used calligraphy like brushwork in an

(12:29):
evocative way to suggest the details that were part of
the scene. Shortly before Tyrus finished his courses at Otis
Art Institute, his father got sick. When his father died
in nineteen thirty five, Tyros was twenty five and at
that point really on his own. We'll talk more about
that after a sponsor break. While tyrs Bang was studying

(13:00):
at Otis Art Institute, he was also starting to exhibit
his artwork alongside other artists, especially other Asian artists. These
included Hideo Date, who had been born in Japan, and
Benji Okubo, who was born in California to Japanese parents. Today,
the term Orientalist is more often used to describe artwork

(13:21):
by Western artists that's been inspired by Asian art and culture,
but at the time these young artists were known as
the California Orientalists or the Los Angeles Orientalists. Together, Tyrus
Wong and Benji Okubo founded the Oriental Artists group.

Speaker 2 (13:40):
Of Los Angeles. Throughout the nineteen thirties, these and other
Asian and Asian American artists in California were really developing
a full artistic movement. Wong's work during this period included
murals on the walls and menu art for the Dragon's
Den restaurant in Chinatown, which Eddie had opened in the

(14:00):
basement of his Antiques tour. Benjiokubo and Hideo Date were
part of this as well, and The Dragon's Den became
famous for its decor and its food, and it became
a popular hangout for Hollywood actors. Wong's artwork also appeared
in exhibits at the Art Institute of Chicago, including the
first official International Exhibition of Etching and Engraving in nineteen

(14:24):
thirty two and the International Exhibition of Contemporary Prints for
a Century of Progress in nineteen thirty four. Other artists
in these exhibitions included people like Henri Matisse, Marie Lawrensa,
Pablo Picasso, and Vasily Kandinski, but in the nineteen thirty
two catalog, Wong was listed only as tyrists, with no

(14:46):
mention of his country of origin. Some of Wong's work
during the nineteen thirties was for the government as part
of the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project. This program
was part of the collection of legislation, relief efforts, and
other initiatives known as the New Deal, spearheaded by President
Franklin D. Roosevelt in his administration as the US tried

(15:07):
to recover from the Great Depression. At its peak in
nineteen thirty six, this program employed more than five thousand artists.
Wang created two paintings a month for exhibition in government buildings,
along with some murals. In nineteen thirty seven, his work
was included among the pieces that the US government sent
to represent this federal project at the Paris Exhibition. But

(15:31):
at some point Wang lost his position in the program
when it was discovered that he was not a US citizen,
and at that point it was also not legal for
him to become one. On June twenty seventh of that
same year, which was nineteen thirty seven, Tyrus Wang got
married to Ruth Kim, something he later described as the

(15:51):
most joyous moment of his life. Ruth had been born
in California to Chinese parents, and she and Tyros had
met at the dragons Den while she was working there
as a waitress. In nineteen thirty eight, they had their
first of three daughters, who they named Kay. Ruth played
a huge part in Tyrus's career as an artist, including
recommending that he worked for Walt Disney after their daughter

(16:13):
was born. While Tyros was making some money through art commissions,
he really wanted and really needed a steady job once
he was married and had a child. In nineteen thirty eight,
he was hired as an in betweener working on Mickey
Mouse shorts. Most people hired to work as animators for
Disney started out in the in betweener pool. This was

(16:34):
considered to be the best way to learn to be
an animator and specifically how to do it for Disney animation,
but a lot of artists found and probably still find
this to be a tedious and repetitive job. More senior
animators would draw the key frames marking the beginning and
the end of a character's motion, and then the in

(16:55):
betweeners would draw all those frames that it took for
the character to me smoothly from one key frame to
the next. It's this very similar thing drawn over and
over again. Yeah, little variation. Tyrus Wong really did not
like this job. But then he heard that Disney was

(17:18):
working on an adaptation of Bambie A Life in the
Woods by Felix Salton, and this novel tells the story
of a fawn named Bambi growing up in the forest,
and it is interpreted as both an early environmentalist novel
and as an allegory about the persecution of Jews and
the rise of anti Semitism in Europe. The Nazis banned

(17:38):
it as a Jewish propaganda in nineteen thirty five. Disney
had started working on its adaptation of Bambie shortly after
their first animated feature film, which was Snow White, came
out in nineteen thirty seven, and from an artistic point
of view, Disney was kind of struggling with it. These realistic,
detailed backgrounds that had been part of Snow White just

(18:01):
weren't working for a story that took place entirely in
the forest with animal characters. Wong read the book and
he liked it, and even though he'd only been at
Disney for a couple of months, he thought that he'd
be a better fit for Bambi than for the in
Betweener Pool. On his own time, he made a set
of small forest paintings, drawing on his own experience as

(18:24):
a landscape painter and his study of song dynasty art,
along with other influences, and then he took these paintings
to Tom Codrick, art director on Bambie. While the backgrounds
and snow white had been really detailed, Wong's examples for
Bambi were a lot softer. They used calligraphy like brushstrokes
to suggest things like leaves and the branches of trees,

(18:47):
rather than tightly defining all of them. The characters that
were drawn separately on animation cells stood out against this background.
Wong's backgrounds also gave the forest around the characters a
more evocative and almost mysterious atmosphere. His approach to this

(19:08):
background art wound up influencing everything else about the film,
including things like the dialogue and the score. Although Wong's
work was used as an example all across the teams
of people who were working on this film and played
a huge part in how the final product looked and felt.
In the three and a half years he was there,

(19:28):
Wong was never actually introduced to Walt Disney. He also
didn't get into a lot of specifics, but he did
later say that he felt like some of the other
people working at Disney treated him differently from everyone else,
whether that was because of racism, professional jealousy, or a
combination of the two, or some other thing. In May
of nineteen forty one, while Bambi was still in production,

(19:52):
unionized animators that Walt Disney productions went on strike. So
this strike and the labor movement within the animation industry
are really a whole other story, but the process of
organizing a union and the decision to go on strike
had been incredibly divisive among Disney artists. Some of the

(20:14):
artists were deeply loyal to Disney and specifically to Walt
or they felt like they were artists, not the type
of workers who should form a trade union. Others, though,
were fighting for a lot of the same things that
have led workers in other industries to unionize, things like
job security, more equitable pay structures, and reasonable working hours.

(20:39):
Artists who weren't receiving on screen credit also wanted credit
for their work, and a lot of people were really
angry that they had never received long expected profit sharing.
After the success of Snow White, Disney workers who wanted
to unionize joined the Screen Cartoonists Guild, while Disney also

(20:59):
had its own company union, called the Federation of Screen Cartoonists.
Tensions escalated between these two groups of workers, and between
the Screen Cartoonist Guild and Disney management. Art Babbitt, who
was Disney's highest paid animator, left his position as president
of the Disney Company Guild to join the Screen Cartoonist

(21:19):
Guild and continue to work on organizing the other animators.
Disney fired Babbitt along with a group of other employees
who had joined the union, and the nineteen forty one
Disney Animator strike started a few days later. This strike
went on for five weeks, with President Roosevelt sending a
federal mediator to try to negotiate.

Speaker 1 (21:40):
Ultimately, Disney did.

Speaker 2 (21:42):
Recognize the Screen Cartoonists Guild and signed a collective bargaining
agreement with the union. Disney was also forced to rehire
Babbitt and some of the other animators who had been
fired over their organizing efforts, but a lot of animators
either quit or lost their jobs all of this, and
one of them was Tyrus Wong, who was fired before

(22:04):
production wrapped on Bambi, even though he hadn't participated in
this strike. I am not sure of the details of
why specifically he was fired, but it's described as having
been in connection to all of this, even though he
didn't participate. When Bambi was released in theaters, he was
credited as backgrounds on a slide with nine other names.

(22:28):
There was nothing in those credits to suggest how influential
he had been on this film. A couple of months
after the Disney strike ended, Japan attacked the US naval
base at Pearl Harbor, drawing the United States into World
War II. On February nineteenth, nineteen forty two, President Franklin D.
Roosevelt issued Executive Order in ninety sixty six, ordering people

(22:50):
of Japanese ancestry, including Japanese American citizens born in the US,
to be imprisoned at concentration camps located away from the
West Coast. We have a two part episode on Executive
Order ninety sixty six that came out in February of
twenty seventeen.

Speaker 1 (23:08):
The people who.

Speaker 2 (23:08):
Were imprisoned under this executive order included Tyres Wang's artistic
colleagues Benji Okubo and Hideo Date. Both of them were
incarcerated at Heart Mountain Relocation Center. Executive Order ninety sixty
six didn't apply to Wong since he was Chinese not Japanese,
but he and other people who were from China or

(23:30):
other parts of Asia outside of Japan, was faced with
the possibility of being mistaken for a Japanese person and imprisoned.
He started wearing a button on his lapel to identify
himself as Chinese. World War two and the mass incarceration
of Japanese immigrants and their children disrupted the Asian art
movement that had been developing in California over the previous decades.

(23:53):
The artists who had been working and exhibiting together before
the war really never came together in the same way
again after the war ended and people were eventually released
from the camps. We will get some more of Wang's
work during and after the war. After a sponsor break.

(24:19):
After being fired from Disney, Tyrus Wong was contacted by
Warner Brothers Pictures about coming to work for them, but
this wasn't to do animation work. It was for live
action films. He was reluctant to do this at first
because he did not have any experience working for live
action movies at all. He took this job though, and

(24:40):
he worked with Warner Brothers until nineteen sixty eight. He
did a lot of concept art and pre production illustration
work in this role, so he really helped to set
the visual look and feel for a lot of movies.
These included Rebel Without a Cause, The Wild Bunch, Sans
of Yajima, and Anti Mame, along with many others. According

(25:04):
to a profile of him at the Angel Island Immigration
Station Foundation, he also participated in a strike of Warner
Brothers artists and wound up being jailed overnight at one
point during this strike.

Speaker 1 (25:18):
This wasn't his only job. He also started hand painting
dinnerware for the Winfield Pottery Company in the late nineteen forties.
This was connected to a rise in popularity of a
style of home decor known as Chinese Modern, and he
painted porcelain pieces with things like birds, flowers, and bamboo.
There were no do overs in this hand painted dinnerware,

(25:41):
so each design he created had to be done correctly
on the first try, with no way to make adjustments
or corrections afterward. In the nineteen fifties, Dick Kelsey, who
he'd worked with at Disney, suggested he start designing greeting cards,
specifically Christmas cards was something else he didn't really know

(26:01):
much about. He had not been raised as a Christian,
he'd not really celebrated Christmas. But his wife, Ruth, was
a Presbyterian and had been a Sunday school teacher, and
she had also studied literature at UCLA. So while Tyrs
created the artwork, Ruth suggested themes and motifs and wrote
inscriptions for the insides of the cards. The production schedule

(26:26):
for greeting cards meant that he spent a lot of
his time in the summers listening to Christmas music to
set the mood, because every year's designs were due by
the autumn of the previous year. Tyris Wong's Christmas cards
became very popular and sought after, and they were also
clearly identified as his designs. He signed each of them,

(26:47):
and his contracts with greeting card companies specified that those
signatures could not be removed. A lot of his earlier
greeting card work was with regional publishers in California, and
one of these publishers, Fiforgnia Artists, named Wong its Artist
of the Year in nineteen fifty five. Some of these
publishers also distributed cards through Hallmark, and by the nineteen

(27:09):
sixties Wong was working with Hallmark directly. Greeting card companies
also released display albums of his work with a brief biography,
both as a sales tool and for collectors of his work.
These Christmas cards continued to feature the evocative brushwork and
Chinese style that had been part of his work on Bambi.

(27:30):
Some of these designs were relatively secular, images of things
like decorated tree boughs or a kitten playing with some
string next to a sprig of holly, or some wintry
scenes or fruit. Others were more explicitly religious, like angels
or one that was one of his daughters praying by
a lit candle, or marry Joseph and the infant Jesus

(27:53):
together in a cave like grotto. Sometimes particularly popular cards
would influence the themes of his future designs, like in
nineteen fifty four, one of his cards depicted a shepherd
and a flock of sheep under a tree that had
just bright pink bows. I love them, they are very striking.
Also on this as a very starry sky. This one

(28:16):
card sold more than a million copies, and it led
to additional bright pink foliage in subsequent years. He later
said the greeting cards were the work that he was
the proudest of. By the time Wong started working on
the Christmas cards, things had changed somewhat for Chinese immigrants
to the United States. China was allied with the United

(28:38):
States during World War II, and in nineteen forty three,
as the war was ongoing, Congress repealed the Chinese Exclusion
Act and other laws that banned immigration from China and
restricted the rights of Chinese people in the United States.
The US still tightly limited the number of people allowed
to immigrate to the US from China, but it became

(28:58):
possible for Chinese people already in the US to seek citizenship.
Tyris Wong became a US citizen three years later in
nineteen forty six.

Speaker 2 (29:08):
It had also been illegal for Chinese people and people
from some other nations to buy property in parts of
the United States. A number of states had passed so
called alien land laws, mainly starting after the end of
World War One. These banned people who were not eligible
for citizenship from owning.

Speaker 1 (29:28):
Or leasing property.

Speaker 2 (29:30):
In many areas, land deeds also included racially restrictive covenants,
which banned the sale of a property to people of
a specific race, and a lot of the US, racially
restrictive covenants prevented property from being sold to black people,
but in places with the larger population of other racial

(29:51):
or ethnic groups, sometimes religious groups, these covenants often targeted
them instead. The US Supreme Court struck down racially restrictive
covenants as unconstitutional in Shelby versus Kramer in nineteen forty eight,
and it did the same with alien land laws in
Fuji versus California in nineteen fifty two. Once they were

(30:14):
legally able to, the Wong family bought a house in Sunland, California,
which is today considered part of Los Angeles. Even though
the laws and covenants that had made it impossible for
them to buy a house before had been ruled unconstitutional,
finding one was still a difficult process for them. The
family would find a suitable home, only to be told

(30:35):
that it had already been sold, but then still see
that it was on the market weeks later. Wong said
that when they finally chose a house to buy, they
made sure a neighbor would be okay with their living
there before they even made an offer. In the nineteen seventies,
Tyrus Wang retired from his work in commercial art. He
had developed a shakiness in his hands that made painting

(30:58):
more difficult. Instead, he started spending a lot of his
time making kites, building on things he had learned from
his late father while he was still a child. He
used materials like bamboo, ritan, paper, and silk to make
beautifully decorated, intricate kites, and then he would take them
to Santa Monica Beach to fly. Once a month, he

(31:19):
was oft in there with a whole collection of these kites,
like flocks of birds or butterflies, or fish in different colors,
or long centipedes, like one hundred different segments of centipede body,
each of the segments made from a separate panel, and
all of them separately constructed and balanced and decorated. In

(31:42):
nineteen seventy eight, he and Ruth went on a trip
to China, and after they returned, Ruth had a series
of strokes, and after that she developed dementia. For about
fifteen years, Tyros stepped away from public life almost entirely
to take care of her. She died in January of
nineteen ninety five, and their friends really wondered how Tyris
would go on. He gradually returned to the public eye, though,

(32:07):
and in the last years of his life, Tyrs Wong
started getting some recognition for his earlier work. He had
worked in so many different media, some of which we
have not even touched on in this episode, like sculpture
and scarf painting and book illustrations. For example, he illustrated
a book called Footprints of the Dragon, a Story of

(32:28):
the Chinese and the Pacific Railways by Vanya Oaks in
nineteen forty nine. He and his work had come to
be seen as kind of a bridge between different generations
of Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans, as well as between
the Chinese community and the greater communities of California and
the United States.

Speaker 1 (32:47):
In two thousand and one, he was named a Disney
Legend and recognized for his extensive contributions to the movie Bambie.
In two thousand and six, he received the Windsor Mackay
Award at the Annie Awards. That's an industry award by
the Internationally Animated Film Association Hollywood. Windsor McKay, which we
have talked about on the show, was a cartoonist and animator.
We covered him in a two part episode in May

(33:09):
of twenty eighteen. In twenty thirteen and twenty fourteen, the
Walt Disney Family Museum hosted a retrospective exhibition of his
work called Water to Paper, Paint to Sky, The Art
of Tyriswong. He attended this exhibition at the age of
more than one hundred.

Speaker 2 (33:25):
Tyros Wong died at home on December thirtieth, twenty sixteen,
at the age of one hundred and six. Toward the
very end of his life, he had participated in the
making of a documentary about his life called Tyris. This
was finished in twenty fifteen and nationally broadcast on PBS
American Masters in twenty seventeen. In twenty eighteen, he was

(33:46):
honored with a Google doodle on his birthday. Clicking the
kite in the corner of the doodle brings up a
short animation about his life. There's also a forthcoming book
about him called background Artist, The Life and Work of Tyros,
which is planned for release in October. I thought about
putting this episode off when I learned this book was

(34:07):
on the way, But I've worked on this podcast for
more than a decade, and at this point I know
that when I try to do that, what really happens
is the episode just never gets done. Yeah before anyone
since suggestions, Yes, I've tried all kinds of list making
and reminder setting and various strategies to keep this pattern

(34:30):
from happening. I've learned what really needs to happen is
to just go ahead and do the episode and not
delay it for a future eventuality.

Speaker 1 (34:42):
That is Tyrus Wong, who I love. Of course he's lovable.
Do you also have lovable listener mail? I do, I
have listener mail? So this listener mail.

Speaker 2 (34:54):
We've gotten a couple of notes on this topic, and
I'm just going to read one of them, which is
from Elaine. Elaine said, Hi, Holly and Tracy. You mentioned
not being able to find an episode or remember doing
one on the War of Jenkins Eer, but I thought
I remembered hearing about it and it would have been
from stuff you missed in history class. Please see attached screenshot.

(35:14):
I found a four minute episode, so that must be
a very old one with previous hosts. I'm surprised I
remember a four minute episode just sharing. I'm thinking maybe
it also came up in another episode alas I don't
have a pet. Next time I write in, I'll get
a photo of my friends rabbits. Thank you love the show, Elaine,
So thank you Elaine, and to the couple other folks

(35:38):
who sent us a note about this very old episode
about the War of Jenkins Ear. I cannot remember exactly
where this came up. It was in a past episode,
and I was like, I feel like we have talked
about this, and I can find no record of it
that there is indeed a very old, four minute long
episode of the show from the very very early days

(36:00):
the show called why did England and Spain Fight over
an Ear? That is not the episode. I could not
remember though, because what I kept thinking was no, like,
it's a thing that I worked on, and Holly and
I were not involved in the show in any way
until our names start showing.

Speaker 1 (36:20):
Up at the beginning of it.

Speaker 2 (36:22):
So if you're hearing an episode that says that starts
off something like I Am Candace and I am Jane,
we were not involved in the show production at that point.
I think what I'm actually remembering is that for a while,
in addition to doing this podcast, I attempted to do

(36:43):
a whole additional podcast called This Day in History Class
that was a day by day, approximately five minutes every day,
episode on something that happened in history that day. There's
definitely a jenkins Ear episode of This Day in History
Class that I definitely worked on, and I think that
is what I am remembering. So thanks to everyone who

(37:06):
sent notes about this extremely old episode. The mystery is solved,
question mark. I think it's solved anyway, So yes, thank
you so much, Elaine, thank you to everyone else. If
you would like to send us a note or at
History podcastiheartradio dot.

Speaker 1 (37:21):
Com, and you can subscribe to our show on the
iHeartRadio app or wherever else you'd like to get your podcasts.
Stuff You Missed in History Class is a production of iHeartRadio.
For more podcasts from iHeartRadio, visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts,

(37:42):
or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

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Tracy V. Wilson

Tracy V. Wilson

Holly Frey

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