1960: As 'Suzie Wong,' Asian Actress Nancy Kwan Broke Barriers

By | May 9, 2019

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Left: Tony Curtis and Nancy Kwan in 'Arrivederci, Baby!' (1966). Right: Nancy Kwan and William Holden in 'The World Of Suzie Wong' (1960). Source: ullstein bild Dtl. / Getty; IMDB

Screen images are important in world culture -- and the image of Nancy Kwan as Suzie Wong was a groundbreaking one in 1960. Kwan, of Chinese and British heritage, was 20 years old when she starred opposite William Holden in The World Of Suzie Wong, and in doing so became the first Asian actress to play a lead role in a Western film since Anna May Wong, from the silent-film and early talkie era. Nancy Kwan became a sensation not only as an actress, but as a fashion icon, with her hairdo and traditional Chinese dress featured in American fashion magazines.

Kwan's career after The World Of Suzie Wong was uneven, largely due to the limited roles offered to her. 

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Her parents named her Ka Shen. She was called the “Chinese Bardot.” But she is best known by her stage name, Nancy Kwan.

Nancy Kwan was born in Hong Kong on May 19, 1939. Her father, Kwan Wing Hong, a successful Cambridge-educated architect and her English/Scottish mother Marquita Scott, a Conover fashion model met in England and moved to Hong Kong. They divorced when Nancy was two.